Teaching English in Japan: Start Young – Kindergarten

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Teaching English in Japan: Start Young – Kindergarten

If there was a word I could use to describe my experience teaching English in a Japanese preschool, or hoikuen, it would be “energy” – because the children have it and the teacher needs it. I mean this in a positive way, of course!

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Teaching in a preschool has become the highlight of my monthly schedule. It’s kind of ironic because it was the place where I was least sure to teach.

So what has changed? I didn’t know how much fun it could be.

As I only visit kindergarten once a month, there is a lot of excitement from the children when they see me. The nursery school in my village welcomes children up to the age of 4, each age group being in its own class. When I arrive, the nursery school staff take me to see each class for a little hello, but I will only give a short 30-minute lesson to 4-year-olds.

Teaching English, Reading Japanese

I have come to see the benefits of introducing English at a young age in preschool and kindergarten. Children are excited to communicate in any way they can, which makes it a great time to teach them a new language.

Their ability to pick up new words at this age is amazing. And there is nothing more rewarding than kids showing you how much they remember every time you see them.

At the start of the day at nursery school, the children have an hour of play. When they see me, they all run up and bring me books to read to them. These books are all written in Hiragana, which I can read (roughly), and often I don’t know what the stories are about. To compensate for this, I’ll either read in a funny voice or sing the wrong words, which is always a hit with kids and teachers.

After recess we all go out, so the kids usually chase me around the playground for about half an hour. Teachers love this because they know children will sleep well during naps now.

And then the lesson begins …

At the time of the English lesson, all the children surround me in their chairs in a semi-circle and the lesson begins. For each lesson, I usually start with a short song and then focus on teaching new words, such as numbers, colors, shapes, and animal names.

The class is always fun, but there are times the kids show how smart they are by trying to make me laugh. For example, I could teach them colors. I’m going to show a flashcard with the color red and one of the kids can shout banana, knowing full well it’s not a banana.

It usually makes all the other kids laugh, so at times like these I need to think things over to get their attention back. Most of the time this can be achieved by quickly switching to a new game that involves a bit of friendly competition, such as “Karuta” or “Fruit Basket”.

After class, I have lunch with the staff who run the nursery school. It’s still as fun as the lesson itself. Often times, I share my travel stories with them, and they always recommend new places to go and new foods to try.

The staff are just fantastic with the kids and even more so with me. Despite our language barrier, we can all communicate very well. Most importantly, we usually laugh together from start to finish.

I firmly believe that introducing English from an early age will make a big difference in the level of English proficiency in Japan. The most important thing is that the kids have fun while learning so that English is not so scary by the time they get to college.

Teaching in kindergarten turned out to be a wonderful experience and a chance to put the children on the right path to learning English. While I’m unlikely to win any prizes for my singing from Japanese story books, it helps create a fun learning environment while I teach them English.

The next article in this series will focus on teaching English in kindergarten, where life begins to get a little more structured for children. Of course, it’s still very, very fun!

Author: Senol Hassan


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