Hiromi Tobaru, a graduate student in the Teaching English to Students of Other Languages program, and Tanya Schubert, a graduate student in education, spent the summer teaching Japanese language and culture.
Schubert spent much of her summer teaching Japanese in Minnesota, and Tobaru taught in Himeji, Japan.
Schubert taught Japanese at Mori no Ike, a camp ran through Concordia Language Villages and Concordia University in Minnesota, for six weeks. Mori no Ike is an immersion camp for K-12 American students to learn Japanese. There currently is no institution in Ohio that offers a Japanese immersion program where students can learn and fully experience the Japanese culture.
“It’s a full immersion experience. The students come to a border with their passports and they have to pick a name,” said Schubert. “We can’t use any English with them from the moment they come to the camp. We exchange money, and they get assigned a family. It’s like going to Japan and getting a new identity.”
During the six weeks, Schubert worked with kids of all ages. The students lived in cabins and in order to communicate, teachers and students had to speak slowly and use gestures.
Students participated in classes as well as activities, which taught the students Japanese culture. The students are split into one of four levels for classes based on what they already know. Schubert taught the upper-intermediate students.
“My class was challenging because we were a teacher short,” said Schubert. “I had two different levels in my class.”
Schubert was able to apply several teaching methods she has studied in her classes. While some methods didn’t work as well as expected, other methods helped the students learn surprisingly well.
“In my class, I saw pretty rapid progression. Most of my students couldn’t write in paragraph discourse at all, and some couldn’t even write in all of the alphabets,” said Schubert. “By the end, they were all writing in paragraph discourse and using all three of the Japanese alphabets.”
The students also improved their spoken ability.
“I think some teachers expect the students to be perfect,” said Schubert. “My thought is if they’re having a good time, they’re growing, and if they learn anything about this culture and take it home with them, then it’s an experience worthwhile.”
While Schubert taught in Minnesota, Tobaru taught in Japan through the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship. This program provides undergraduate and graduate college students opportunities to study the Japanese language and culture in Japan for eight weeks at no cost.
Tobaru is a graduate assistant at UF and teaches several Japanese classes. She was not only the first UF student accepted into the Japanese CLS program, but she also was accepted as an instructor.
“I taught Japanese in Himeji, Japan, which is not a very big city in Japan,” said Tobaru. “The people in Tokyo are familiar with foreigners and know how to speak English. The students are coming to Japan to learn Japanese and the director of the program wants students to use Japanese, so they chose a bit smaller of a city.”
Tobaru taught 29 undergraduate and graduate students from different universities throughout the U.S. She had three classes each day and taught the beginning and intermediate level students.
“The concept of the program is that students learn Japanese in classroom but then have to use the language outside,” she said. “When you speak a different language, you also have to speak it in a certain way. You can’t decode an English phrase directly into Japanese.”
The students came from a variety of majors but were required to have at least two years of experience with the Japanese language prior to the program.
“The students had very different backgrounds, and the Japanese knowledge was different among students,” she said. “When I’m teaching at UF, I know what the students have learned so it’s easer to teach. It was very hard the first three weeks to figure out what each student knows and doesn’t know.”
At the end of the eight weeks, Tobaru gained more teaching experience and felt more confident.
“Last year, I didn’t know what my teaching style was. I think I know what my teaching style is now.”
For information about similar opportunities, contact Hiroaki Kawamura, Ph.D., associate professor of Japanese at 419-434-4619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Sarah Foltz