Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sending Hikari to Australia

In Japan, many people like to go abroad and do a "homestay" to learn English by immersion and practice speaking English. Some readers may remember when Shima Yamamoto came to stay with my family 14 years ago.

In school, kids who are especially interested in English can compete for the chance to do this through some program called Eiken. They study really hard for standardized tests, have interviews, move up different levels, and jump through more flaming hoops for a chance to go abroad. Rinse and repeat. The kids who do Eiken must REALLY LIKE English because they put up with it.

But one of my students, Hikari, set her mind to learning English long ago, and does quite well. She reached a point in Eiken where she can record a speech and have it evaluated by people who might send her to Australia, by far the most popular location for homestays.

I had been helping her with this speech during the week, and as Thursday rolled around, the time came to record the video. But Hikari hadn't realized she was supposed to memorize the speech, intending instead to read it. So before recording it, we frantically began to help her memorize it. But there was too much speech and too little time.

Kanno Sensei, an English teacher helping record the speech, suggested we write the sentences she couldn't memorize on a large piece of paper to hold behind the camera. Yoshida Sensei quickly agreed. Hikari could read the paper and not worry about memorizing. Kanno Sensei procured large sheets of paper while I frantically wrote the speech with a squeaky magic marker. While a great idea, it quickly proved impractical, as there was far more speech than paper. So we moved to an emtpy classroom and began writing on the board. We quickly encountered the same problem.

In the end, I frantically typed the speech into a powerpoint presentation on a laptop while Kanno Sensei set up the projector. Yoshida Sensei rehearsed with Hikari. Our improvised teleprompter saved the day!

Japanese schools often do odd things that would cause Western teachers to question how "student-centered" the schools really are. But I will never question the dedication of these teachers to their students' success after all the trouble they went through. Full marks for Kanno Sensei and Yoshida Sensei!!


Anonymous said...

Hi there! I'm looking for an old friend of mind, Sunny Kanno, who used to live in Fukushima=ken, and was married to Toshio Kanno at a silkworm farm, and she taught English, I think at a nearby university. When I saw your reference to Sensei Kanno, I wondered if it was Sunny, or if you knew of her, or how I could reconnect with her. I haven't spoken to her in probably 20 years since we used to hang out together at her silkworm farm, but would love to find her again. Aloha, Margaret Bailey. Also, I loved your Yuki Matsuri photos. Yuki matsuri nikai mimashta, or something like that. Write me at Thanks, Margaret

Tyler Beal said...

Hey, Kanno Sensei is a young man that works at Asaka Chugakko in Koriyama City, Fukushima-ken. I seriously doubt he's related, but if you can give me more details about the silkworm farm and other stuff, I may be able to reconnect you through a group of contacts I know.