Supporting children’s future through Japanese language education
IWC(Interact With Community)
This month’s Close UP features IWC, whose goal is to promote cohabitation of Japanese citizens and foreign residents in communities through various activities including language classes, friendship exchange events, and interpretation and translation help. From teaching Japanese to running its own office, all activities of IWC are supported by its volunteer members who come together to realize the organization’s mission. For this interview, we asked questions with focus on Japanese language classes that IWC is offering to children.
Misato Ito (Board Chairperson; center),
along with her husband Seiichi (Director; left),
Ena Higuchi (Japanese teacher and office staff member; far right), and students
We first visited Yamanaka Elementary School in Shinagawa City, where IWC runs JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) classes for elementary and junior high school students who do not speak Japanese as their native language. While we were told that all students started the class from the beginner level, we were impressed to see everyone was able to make good communications with teachers. After observing the class, we talked with Yoko Terawaki, an office staff member, and Hiromi Fukunaga, Mitsuko Maekawa, and Masako Yokota, all of who were teaching the classes on the day of the interview.
Please tell us about your JSL program.

At a JSL teacher’s room
of Yamanaka Elementary School

Ms. Terawaki: Our JSL program aims to support students at local elementary and junior high schools who do not have Japanese language skills required to keep up with regular classes at school. Today, we showed you the classroom of JSL I, a short-term immersion course which students attend during part of regular school hours. Every day, students study Japanese here in the morning and return to their own school after lunch time. The students graduate from JSL I in three to four months after they gain basic language skills needed for everyday life at school. For students who still need follow-up support for certain subjects after the graduation, we offer JSL II on Wednesdays and Saturdays during after-school hours. Some of our students come from outside Shinagawa City after learning about our program.

How do you run the classes?
Ms. Terawaki: We divide JSL I course into three classes according to students’ skill level, not their age. So each class may have a first grade student of elementary school and a senior student of junior high school in the same classroom. Although the number of students has become smaller now, we had over 20 students until this March, and the classes were never quiet. One of the advantages of studying as a group is that students are given many opportunities to speak with others. Students also seem to encourage each other by studying with someone in a similar situation. For JSL II, we have classes by grade and use textbooks that the students are using at their school for regular subjects.
A textbook for JSL I, “Nihongo-wo Manabo” (Let’s Learn Japanese)
What are the things you teachers pay most attention to in teaching?

Ms. Fukunaga: Unlike adults who choose to come to Japan, many foreign children tend to feel like they were brought to Japan regardless of their willingness, which often makes it hard for them to be motivated to study Japanese. We are striving to create a fun learning environment by making time for them to speak out as much as possible.

Ms. Yokota: Younger students especially enjoy activities, such as blowing bubbles for a science experiment as we showed today. They also like to compete with each other. I think the key is to give them a chance to “move” during the class.

Ms. Maekawa: When I have questions about how to teach, I always ask my collogue teachers for help. Consulting books or listening to lectures may also be helpful, but IWC has many experienced teachers who can give me great advice. I am working hard to make my class better with the help of those teachers.

A scene in a classroom (Yamanaka Elementary School)
Next, we visited the IWC Center, located in Nishioi, Shinagawa City. Mr. and Mrs. Ito found the building, which was used for a small music school before, to establish a base for various activities of IWC. We were invited to observe a classroom of Japanese language supporting class for high school admission before talking to Mrs. Ito, Board Chairperson of IWC.
Please tell us about how you started the language supporting classes for high school admission.

Mrs. Ito: For children who come to Japan from overseas, the bar is very high to get into high schools in Japan. However, Japanese junior high schools do not accept children who are over 15 years old or have graduated from junior high school in their home country. So, even when those children want to go to high school in Japan, there is no place for them to learn about Japanese language and culture nor is there anyone who can teach them how to study for entrance exams. How could they pass the exam if they have academic skills but are not given a chance to get prepared for it? This is why IWC began offering a language class to support children who aim to enter high school in Japan. Our target is foreign children who are overage for compulsory education. In addition to helping them study Japanese and other regular subjects, we work hard to teach them Japanese etiquette and manners as well. To our delight, all of our graduates since the opening of the classes in 2006 have successfully passed the exams and have been accepted to the schools.

How do you run the class?

Mrs. Ito: We have four classes a week, and each class lasts four hours. Since the students are required to answer many questions at the high school entrance exam, we first focus on improving their Japanese reading comprehensive skills so that they can read and answer as many problems as possible within the time limit. We require them to keep a journal every day as homework. It is really helpful for the students in practicing how to write letters properly and also in expanding vocabulary and the number of kanji characters they know.
Once they develop a certain language level, we introduce lessons by subjects. Many IWC instructors are former school teachers, and we are very proud of the quality of education they provide. For the teachers, social study is the most difficult subject to teach. The students are mostly weak in Japanese. We give them a mock test twice a year, and they do really poorly for the first one. But we know it’s ok. It actually helps us find areas they need to study more. Every one of our students is such a hard worker. We always feel that Japanese children should learn a lot from our students’ efforts.

A class in session (IWC Center)
What are the things you teachers pay most attention to in teaching?
Mrs. Ito: Ito: It is really important to respect the children’s self-esteem. They are often moody, so we wait until they motivate themselves to study. Every child eventually becomes ready to learn. Also, we teachers are aware of a need to understand that each child has grown up in cultures where people think in different ways and practice different religions. It is never good to force them to do as Japanese do.
It is my belief that the key to our activities at IWC is kindness. In the classroom, older students help younger students, children from the same country care about each other, and children from different cultures gradually understand each other. It is our program’s priority to nurture such kindness that is born in communications between the students.
What is your next goal?

Mrs. Ito:We want more people to know that we offer this program to support foreign children for high school admission. Not many organizations offer a similar program, so there should be a lot of children out there who need help. But it is not always easy for them to get information about the program, and they often end up spending too much time before they find us. We accept students anytime during the school year and give full support to a new student who, for example, starts the program in November, so that he/she can be ready for the entrance exams in the following March. However, the earlier they start the better they do. Each day is very important for their progress.
Speaking of myself, I sincerely enjoy my job every day. I can stay full of energy because of our students. I just love our children so much. While staying focused on our mission, I would like to continue to enjoy working for IWC.

We were also able to interview two students at the class on the day of our visit.
Q1 Please introduce yourself.
My name is Cyna Ogura. I am seventeen and am from the Philippines. My name is Shogo Higa.
I am fifteen and am from Bolivia. I have three young brothers.
Q2 How did you know about IWC?
My dad found the program on the Internet. My mom and aunt found the program.
Q3 How do you like studying at IWC?
I enjoy it. I usually spend 20 minutes to write a journal for homework. It is a bit difficult for me. I am not very good at kanji.
Q4 What is your future dream?
I would like to become an accountant. I have not decided yet, but I would like to visit various countries.
Cyna Ogura
Shogo Higa
Cyna, who answered our questions briskly, and Shogo, who was a bit shy at the interview, both showed their music talent by playing piano. Both say that they have already decided which high school they want to attend. We wish both of you good luck and success in achieving your dream!
東京都国際交流委員会 BacknumberJapanese