This is the question that Shino and I have been asking ourselves. Why are there smart high school 3rd graders who struggle in English class? It’s a sore point for many adults that end up thinking there weren’t very smart or just didn’t have a good head for languages. Neither is true. Everyone can learn a second language. You don’t have to be a genius and you don’t have to be born with it.
Does the following sound familiar:
While sitting in class the teacher is talking about a new grammar point. They are using lots of Japanese phrases you have never heard of to describe this new grammar point. You are having difficulty understanding but you feel like you can’t ask a question. You think, maybe it will make sense at the end of the lesson. It doesn’t though. You talk to the teacher after class but the explanation still doesn’t make sense. You go home and try reading the textbook. Maybe you can teach it to yourself.
I had a similar experience in grade 11 (high school grade 2). I chose to study Chemistry for my final two years. I had always gotten high marks in Science. In fact I found science easy. In that first year though I failed my first test. To make it worse my teacher posted the results of the test on the wall at the back of the room. I felt horrified and stupid. To make things worse the teacher was the type of teacher who didn’t like students who said that they didn’t understand. I thought what is wrong? Why can’t I understand? I studied the textbook every night after that, reading the same pages over and over again. The next test I passed.
That was science though. Science has a simple logic that you can follow. Learning a language is different to learning science. It is not easy to self-study in a language. I know because I have been studying Japanese for years bouncing from one terrible textbook to the next. Sorry to say, but there are no good Japanese textbooks. Most of them are drill books. You don’t learn to communicate by using a drill book. With a good book though, you can self study. The problem is that the high school English textbooks are not designed for self study. You cannot just read them and understand.
Let’s continue that story from above:
You study at home reading the textbook over and over again. You try to complete the drills but you don’t understand how to get the right answer. You get to the test and you try to answer it. When you get it back you find you only got 20 our of 100. You look through your answers. Wrong spelling, wrong word order, incorrect word. You ask the teacher about it and she gives you the correct answer, but you don’t know why it’s correct. You try reading the textbook again. The textbook is getting harder and it still doesn’t make any sense. You talk to your parents about it. They shrug their shoulders and say “I was the same.”
If this is you, you are stuck in a cycle that you can’t get out of by yourself. The longer you are in this cycle the harder it will be to break. I’ve had lots of grade three students come to me with saying they can’t understand English but they want to do well on the university tests. They say that when they got to high school it was too hard and they started failing. I always say that I will try my best but you should have come to me earlier.
There are lots of free resources out their on the web. Here is a vocabulary builder made by the British Council. Give it a try in your free time.
A big differences I have seen between Australians and Japanese people is their perspective on sleeping. You can see this difference in high school. High school students in Japan are told that they only need five hours sleep each night. They are told that if they are getting more than five hours sleep a night, then they are not studying hard enough. This may make an Australian high school student wonder “How much time do they have to study each night?” That is because Australian high school students finish school between 3 and 4 pm. Japanese high school students don’t get home until around 7.30pm. That gives them an hour to eat dinner, an hour to have a bath, an hour to relax and then two or three hours to study.
Australia has had the idea of staying at an apartment for a few nights long before there was ever airbnb, couch surfing or any other such arrangements. It is as simple as booking a hotel room except your hotel room comes with all the facilities you need.
I’ve uploaded a video of an apartment my wife and I stayed at for one night in Brisbane city. You can watch it below.
Here’s a free grammar lesson.
Watch the video and then practice.
Fill in the gap
1. Who is _____?
2. _____ is my daughter.
3. Is _____ your son?
4. Yes, ___ is.
5. Who are _____?
6. ______ are my family.
7. Are _____ the person wearing the blue jacket?
8. Yes, ____ is.
Complete the sentences with am, are, is.
- I ____ a teacher.
- You _____ a student.
- They _____ SMAP.
- He _____ a nurse.
- We ____ from Australia.
Why do we use is for he, she and it but not for you?
He is my son
She is my daughter
You are my friends.
When I am with my children I almost always speak English to them. I sometimes speak Japanese to them if I am speaking to a Japanese person. When people around us here me speaking English to my children they always ask me:
“Is your child Bilingual?”
“Does your child speak English?”
“Does your child speak Japanese?”
For our oldest child, 5 years old, the answer is yes. She speaks both Japanese and English and understands both languages. Our second child started speaking more and more English this year. She is very proud of her English ability and often shouts “I can speak English.” or 「私は英語を喋るよ！」Our youngest child is only 1 and a half. He understands both languages but still only has a small vocabulary.
At home I speak only English to my children. My wife also does that but she often also uses Japanese. Since they all go to kindergarten they get lots of practice speaking Japanese. My oldest used to get very upset with us speaking English in the home. We were really worried she wouldn’t want to learn English. We showed her lots of English shows but it wasn’t until we went to Australia that she realised that not everyone speaks Japanese. After the trip she said “I have to learn English so I can speak to my cousins.”
It has been much easier with our second child. She sees our oldest talking English all the time with me and wants to copy. Recently my oldest said “Why do we have to speak English at home?” Our second child copied her and started complaining about it too. I’m not worried though because I know she is just copying what her sister says. When they say they don’t want to speak English I just tell them, “OK, I’ll stop speaking English too. That means no more stories, no more singing.” That usually gives them something to think about.
Do you want your children to be bilingual? Why? Why not?
What does my second child often say?
What helped my first child want to learn English?
What do I say when my children say they don’t want to learn English?
Our youngest child is one and a half. He is the most chatty at that age of all our kids. A lot of what he says is baby but he does have a range of words he likes to say. I’m pleased to say that he speaks a lot of English. Since we live in Japan it’s rare for our children to develop English as their main language.
It helped that we went to Australia for a month. In that time, he learnt birdie, Fifi and cockatoo. Fifi isn’t an English word. It’s not Japanese either. It’s the name of our family cat in Australia. It’s also become our family’s word for all cats as our youngest child calls every cat Fifi now. Birdie is a kids version of bird and cockatoo is a type of bird we often see in Australia. However, he often points at koalas or kangaroos and calls them cockatoo as well.
Since coming back to Japan, he’s learnt a few more words too. Now he can say me, the name of our second child, bubu car, hikoki, shu shu popo and kowai. The last three are all Japanese. Hikoki is plane which he gets very excited about when he sees one. Shu shu popo is the noise a train makes and the word kowai means scary. He says kowai for stink bugs. I think that’s because his teachers say kowai whenever they see a bug. He says our second child’s name with various tones. When I pick him up from kindergarten her name is one of the first things he says very happily. If I put him in the car when she isn’t there he will often look back and say her name puzzled. If he falls over when she is nearby he often says her name as if she pushed him over. When they fight he will come to us with a miserable face and say her name. I’m still not sure if that’s his word for sister or if he is saying her name. As for bubu car. He often says that first thing in the morning as he hears the morning traffic go past our house.
What were the first words your children said?