Category: ESL

Teaching ESL in Japan and my thoughts on education in general.

NHK English Characters Worse than Nara Mascot?

We were all highly critical of the “freaky looking deer-horned Buddha” mascot that was chosen to represent the Nara Heijo-kyo anniversary, and rightly so, but I fear that even he was more appealing than the two characters that front NHK’s “Eigo de Asobo” children’s TV show.

Meet Kebo and Motch

Let me introduce these ambassadors of the English language…

Kebo and Motch

This picture from the cover of an NHK CD actually shows the two characters in good light. I usually find Kebo on the left, far more frightening than he appears here.

Goodness me! What are those things?

I’m not an expert on children’s shows, and have only recently started watching them regularly while on babysitting duty, but I did find an explanation in English on a post by Japanese blogger gyutaku:

There are two main charactors on this program.

The one is “Kebo” whose name comes from a Japanese word 「毛ぼこり (ball of dust)」.
He looks like a dirty hairy monster for you.
But you will get used to and not mind.
He can speak english appropriately for his age (6 years old).

I’m not so sure I’ll get used to him, but please continue…

The other is “Motch” whose name comes from 「もち (rice cake)」.
He has white smooth skin.
All people will say “How cute it toddling is!”
Because “Motch” is only 3 years old, he speaks only easy and short sentences.

They play together every day.
Motch likes every funny or yummy stuff.

Kebo is good at everything like ガチャピン.
And, he is so gentle that he isn’t angry at Motch’s mischief.

I don’t know what “Gachapin” is, but I found a really bizarre video when searching that word.

Some people like Kebo and Motch, but…

If the original Nara mascot cost over 500 million yen, I can’t help but feel NHK should have splashed a little more cash on these guys. I mean, look at them… a ball of dust and a piece of old rice cake? I blame those of you who don’t pay your TV license fees! Cheapskates! Think of all the poor children who have to suffer Kebo and Motch because you won’t pay your bills!

Now Jenny on the other hand…

Jenny on NHKLittle Rikuto loves Jenny, the native English speaking guest/presenter on the show. Whenever she does her pronunciation practice and we see a close up of her face that fills my 37″ telly, Rikuto, who isn’t even one year old yet, let’s out a little snigger of appreciation and starts drooling. It’s possible he’s trying to practice his English, but I suspect he’s truly happy to see Jenny after watching Kebo and Motch for so long… Featured in T.H.E. Journal

T.H.E. JournalI wasn’t planning to blow my own trumpet, but regular commentator, Keith, told me not to let pride stand in my way, so let me shout it out loud…

My site got featured in T.H.E. Journal! Whoo-hoo!

A sample of T.H.E. Journal magazineI launched, a website offering free ESL materials, in 2006. Since then, it has had 2.3 million page views, about 400,000 visitors, and is now frequented by around 1,500 people a day. This month, it got featured in T.H.E. Journal!

The Technology Horizons in Education Journal, was launched in 1972 and was the first magazine to cover education technology and is still the largest publication of its kind with a circulation of 90,000 readers.

In the April issue, there is a five page article on English language learners by Neal Starkman. The author has interviewed a number of teachers who are under pressure from programs like “No Child Left Behind” to get their students up to an academic level within three years. One of those teachers is Linda Rush, a member of the Discovery Educator Network and teacher of 130 “mildly to moderately developmentally challenged students” from ages 6 to 22. She says,

A lot of teachers go into the classroom and close the door. Technology opens it up – it’s your school, it’s your community.”

Neal then goes on to list some of Linda’s favorite ESL websites including my own,

She downloads videos from TeacherTube. She chooses flash cards from ESL Flashcards. She prints out worksheets from Childtopia. She gets ideas for games from ESL-Kids. She uses ELL activities from Kindersay.

Okay, so it’s only a one-liner, but I’m very chuffed to see my website mentioned in print, plus I get a link from the online version!

Other recent plugs I’d like to thank people for…

Mike talked about my origami site, Oshibori Art, in his post, What is Oshibori Art? He also wrote about our online friendship in Peace Be With My Net Buddy 4 Life… In Japan.

Bill gave a plug for the social bookmarking site, JapanSoc, in his post, Doing What I Can’t Do. He then allowed me to guest blog on the Rising Sun of Nihon, so I wrote a little story of my origami experience before starting

Shane has launched her new blog, The Tokyo Traveler, and she kindly linked to this blog in her Nihon on the Net post.

Jason mentioned my Google Speed-Search Lessons in his article, The Lull Has Arrived.

Allan, who has a website for Canadians abroad, has been using my math website with his children. Glad you like the worksheets Allan!

Thanks everybody! 😀

Download Songs for ESL Children

Once a week, I throw my Pooh bag over my shoulder and haul my collection of flash cards and toys to my local kindergarten. With a fresh bunch of children starting their English lessons in a couple of weeks, I’ve taken to revamping the curriculum I’ve been using, and injecting some energy into it with some very genki songs.

The problem with classic children songs

For years, I’ve made do with classic children’s ditties such as Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, the Wheels On the Bus, a bit of Hokey Pokey and some If You’re Happy and You Know It. While these are all well and good, they’re not suited particularly well to ESL classes. The lyrics are hard enough for teachers to remember, let alone 4 and 5 year old Japanese kids.

Over 75 fun songs for children learning ESL

For this school year, I’ve splashed out on the Genki English Teacher’s Download Pack, a whopping collection of over 75 songs and other goodies to brighten up my classes and most importantly, give the children something they can actually sing to! Here’s a great example of Genki English in action:

Ha! I bet you’ve got that song stuck in your head now! I know I have! 😛

Energize your ESL lessons!

I’m looking forward to using these songs to teach some energetic lessons this year. If you teach kids, and are in need of a curriculum or supplementary materials, check out the teacher pack page for a complete list of its contents.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Calls AEON English School

ArnieWhile I’ve been (and still am) waiting for my websites to move to their new web host, I’ve had some time to catch up on my favorite podcasts. One of those podcasts is from, and recently in Mike’s 82nd podcast, we got treated to this brilliant prank call to an AEON English school in Japan:

Arnold Calls English School

There are lots of similar ones on, and you’ll find a load of them here on YouTube, too. Go on, treat yourself to a few laughs! 😀

Get ESL Tips from Chris’ English School

Chris' English SchoolOne of the more recent blogs I’ve subscribed to is that of ESL teacher, Chris Ballard. Born in Hawaii, but now residing in Yanai city in Yamaguchi, Chris runs his own English school out of his own home.

Another disgruntled English teacher? NO!

What makes this blog so unique is that instead of criticising the ESL industry, or even writing articles on “how to teach English”, Chris shows us exactly what he is doing with his students through a diary-type blog that includes photos of their work, and reasons for the activities he chooses.

Examples from Chris’ English School

Recent posts on Chris’ English School include Girls Up which has some great photos of his students studying hard, a look at using a Nintendo DS as a study tool, a selection of photos of his students’ diaries, showing just how much English they are getting through, and motivating posts such as January 2008’s Top 10 students.

A must-read for wannabe school owners

As an ESL teacher myself, what I find most compelling about Chris’ blog is the passion he has for his chosen profession. Very few people care enough about their work to want to blog about it everyday. I’d recommend it to any ESL teacher, but especially to those who are hoping to set up their own school in the future. Having the freedom to teach from home and decide your own curriculum is the dream of most Eikaiwa teachers in Japan, at least those who plan to stay for a while. Subscribe to Chris’ blog and watch how he does it.

I don’t have the energy to teach!

I often feel that way, and it turns out I’m not the only one. It seems teachers across the nation rely on some form of energy drink. My sugar-rush of choice is Ripobitan D (third in this list). Chris swears by the new make-me-happy Garlic Power. How about you? Do you load yourself up on these liquid energizers? If so, which ones?

Elementary School Teacher Loves Dolch Words

I got a very nice email today from an elementary school teacher who wrote to thank me for my Dolch Words website:

Feedback for Dolch-Words.comI love your dolch word website. I use the phrase activities all the time. It has helped with improving fluency and accuracy in a fun way. My students grades 1-5 enjoy the dice game and the rock-paper-scissors. We use all the activities and I have passed it on to other teachers. Thanks so much.

Forgive me for bragging, but it’s a real pleasure getting positive feedback like this. Not only is the teacher happy, but so are the children who use and learn from the material on the site. And when it is passed on to other teachers, who knows how many children I’m indirectly helping to read! 😀

Don’t Forget Your Pencil!

Time for a quick rant about my job as an English teacher in Japan. Before continuing, please read my disclaimer.

This post is about children who forget to bring a pencil to class. Do I even need to say more? Surely that’s like going swimming without you’re trunks! If you’re going to school, take a pencil. It really shouldn’t be any more complicated than that, right?

Why then, do I have kids who repeatedly forget to bring a pencil? I’m going to assume that they have two bags; one for regular school, and one for English class.. but only one pencil case, and you know which bag that’s in.

After one of my seven-year-olds forgot his pencil for the umpteenth time, I decided to teach him a lesson. Instead of lending him a pencil as I usually do, I sharpened my own pencil and deliberately broke the tip off it. I gave him the tiny broken pencil tip and told him to write with it for the rest of class, and if he didn’t like it (which he clearly didn’t), he should bring his own pencil the next week.

One week passed and back he came, again without a pencil.

So, what can you do? In the Eikaiwa industry, making your student write with a tiny, broken piece of lead is such a horrendous punishment that any other school would have a disciplinary meeting with me and put me under observation! In the Eikaiwa industry, disciplining students doesn’t go much further than having the secretary ask the student to be a little nicer… and to bring a pencil. Why? Because parents pay for their children to enjoy learning English, not actually to learn English. At least that’s the way it seems. Either way, they don’t pay for their children to be told off, and it makes you wonder if ESL in Japan is a big joke.

What did I do? Well, I stepped out of the classroom and told his mum directly, in front of the other mothers, that he had forgotten his pencil (and homework) again, and to make sure he comes to class prepared next time. If you can’t discipline the kid, embarrass the mother!

Teach English Online

Learning English onlineI’ve been teaching English in Japan for over ten years, but I haven’t ventured into online English teaching. However, the internet is now part of our everyday lives, and email is no longer the only common means of communication. People everywhere, young and old, are using webcams, headsets, and software such as Skype to communicate with friends and family.

The demand for English teachers is as strong as ever, but students are looking for cheaper and more convenient alternatives to traditional classes at English schools. Teachers are looking for work at home opportunities that allow them to set their own hours and rates. With the internet, the world of language learning is changing to accomodate both students and teachers alike.

Services offering online English teaching jobs

Here are some resources for teaching English online. If you’ve used any of them or even run them, I’d love to hear your experiences. Leave a comment at the end of this post.

Verbal Planet –

English Flow –

American TESOL –

Teacher James –

Culture Link –

Spoken Skills –

I’m sure there are others, and I will add them as they come to my attention.

Teach English in Second Life

The 3D virtual world of Second Life offers everything you need to recreate that traditional classroom atmosphere.

La Paz, Bolivia, October 8, 2007 – – Educators are now finding that teaching in virtual worlds such as Second Life is most effective when combined with real life activities. The 3D virtual world, Second Life, provides language learners with new opportunities for socially interactive learning, and when it is blended with other online teaching methods language learning becomes a truly communicative, immersive and practical experience… (Source)

Here are some resources for teaching English online in Second Life. Again, if you’ve used them or run them, please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Avatar Languages –

Second Life English –

I’m particularly interested in using Second Life because it would make teaching English so much more fun, and I’d imagine it would be less intimidating for students than sitting in front of a webcam feeling pressured to talk.

Experiences from real online English teachers

Here are some quotes from and links to articles written by work-at-home teachers.

Teaching English Online by Karen Bond, M.A.

I quickly draw up a table on the whiteboard, and we brainstorm different sports. I mention scuba diving, and I find lots of questions in the text box. “What is scuba diving, Karen?”. I try to explain it, but one student is still puzzled. So I do a quick search on the internet, locate a picture, and post it on the whiteboard.

Teaching English Online by James Hogan. An article discussing some obstacles of online teaching.

“James, I am an ESL teacher and am wondering how you get started teaching english online and does it pay enough?  thanks for the help!  Jean”

The quick answer is it’s easy but, if you have a family or other responsibilities, it doesn’t pay enough!

Be a Stay-at-Home English Teacher

There are as many different styles of online teaching as there are companies. Some services allow you to log on whenever it’s convenient for you, and others have set class times. Some provide online materials or software for you to use, and with others you are largely on your own.

My Thoughts and Motivation by John D Buchanan

John D Buchanan's English Kitty websiteI realized that people were willing to pay a lot of money just to speak to native English speakers. So I put together a website, downloaded Skype, did some free advertising and BAM, I was ready!And it didn’t take long until I found my first paying student from Korea. I couldn’t believe it! I finally did it! I offered a service on the Internet, and I made money. I continued to do this month after month, and I became more popular.

Teaching English online – are you ready for it?

Did you know that Skype and YouTube started as recently as 2003 and 2005 respectively? Skype has over 200 million users and over 100 million video clips are viewed daily on YouTube. The growth of these two services has been phenomenal. Combining telephony and video is already possible and within two or three years, everyone will be video conferencing… and taking it for granted. Not only will the number of users rise dramatically, but the quality of video conferencing software will improve as technology develops.

When our students are used to talking with their friends by videophone, they might find going to a school and paying high tuition fees somewhat wasteful if there are cheaper, more convenient alternatives on the internet. Just as traditional brick and mortar businesses are turning to the net, it may soon be necessary for English teachers to do the same.

What will Rikuto Be?

Rikuto - 9th September 2007I was teaching the future tense using “will” to three Junior High school students today, and since we had some time left at the end of the lesson, I showed them a picture of Rikuto and asked them to write answers to four questions about his future.

Here they are for your own amusement!

1. What will Rikuto be in the future?

Student 1: He will be an English teacher.
Student 2: He will be an English teacher.
Student 3: Maybe he will be an English teacher.

2. Where will he live?

Student 1: He will live in Japan.
Student 2: He will live in Japan.
Student 3: Maybe he will live in Japan near the school.

3. What will he eat?

Student 1: He will eat sushi.
Student 2: He will eat eggs lemons.
Student 3: Maybe he will eat rice.

4. Why will he eat (answer to question 3)?

Student 1: Because he will live in Japan.
Student 2: Because he loves eggs lemons.
Student 3: Because he will be Japanese.

While I was hoping for a little more creativity in their answers, it seems they’re all thinking along the same lines. Rikuto will be bilingual and his dad’s an English teacher so it only follows that he will be an English teacher, too. He will grow up in Japan so it’s only natural that he will like Japanese food, i.e. sushi, rice and …erm… lemons. Finally, since he will live in Japan and like Japanese food, it’s only logical to assume he will be Japanese! Even if he could pass as Swedish!

Note: I have a personal disgust for eggs, so Student 2 was encouraged to change his answer to something more delicious. Why he chose lemons is beyond me.

Business English for Professionals

Since coming to Japan, I’ve worked in almost every English teaching situation you can imagine. I’ve worked in English Conversation chain schools, I’ve been an ALT in Junior high schools, taught at kindergartens and elementary schools. I’ve done “baby” classes, private lessons in coffee shops, English by email, and even dabbled in video conferencing. The most rewarding form of English teaching for me though, would be Business English.

Mitsubishi, Toyota, Sony, Pfizer and Japan Steel are just a few of the companies I’ve had the privilege of teaching at. The single most important factor that makes Business English classes different from any other is that the students really want to learn. Actually, more than that, they have to learn. For these students, promotion and pay rises depend on them learning English, and we all know money is a terrific motivator.

Unlike a typical English course, Business English focuses on language needed in a business environment. This could simply be faxing, emailing, or answering the telephone in English, or it could involve more challenging tasks such as making a presentation, negotiating or chairing a meeting. More often than not, the individual’s needs will be quite unique and may require one-to-one tailored tuition.

Executive Language Training, ELT, is a company offering English classes for executives and professionals with basic, intermediate or advanced level Business English skills. They are the industry leader in providing Business English and foreign language training to fortune 500 companies and executives around the world. They offer a full range of communication skills including business and technical writing, oral communication in Business English, accent reduction, Business English vocabulary and presentation skills.

The content of a course is fully tailored to the students, and is determined by conducting a needs analysis. A teacher qualified to at least an MA degree level is assigned and progress is monitored regularly. The length of the course and number of class hours are custom designed to accommodate busy schedules, and lessons can be taken at the office, workplace, or at Executive Language Training facilities.

I remember taking on a small group of businessmen from Fujitsu. They each had to make a presentation based on their field of work, and it was my job to help them accomplish that. We covered everything from planning and writing the speeches to gestures, pronunciation, intonation and working with 3D models and Powerpoint sildes. With a dedicated teacher and motivated, hard-working students, you can accomplish anything. I’m sure the staff at Executive Language Training take as much pride in their work as I do, and like my students from Fujitsu, I’ve no doubt that their students accomplish their goals.

This post is sponsored by Executive Language Training.

Using computers to teach children

The best move my dad ever made was buying me a computer when I was just nine years old. Back in those days, the idea of having a computer in your own home was just starting to catch on, and I was given this machine I had no idea what to do with.

My dad, on the other hand, knew exactly what he wanted me to do. First he hid the games that came bundled with it in the attic, and asked my neighbor to come round once a week to teach me how to program in BASIC.

From that moment on, I was hooked. I studied computer science right through school and even graduated from university with a degree in Artificial Intelligence.

It won’t be long now until I can encourage my own son to embrace technology and use it for learning. Computers in the classroom are now common place and some Japanese cram schools specialize in using educational software to teach children at their own pace.

Score! Educational CentersIf there is an American equivalent of Japanese cram school, then it would be Score! Educational Centers. There are over 160 Score! centers in the U.S, teaching children from pre-K to 10th grade, helping them catch up or get ahead in Math, reading, writing and a host of different subjects which have been based on the curriculum used in schools.

I was watching the Score! video, and it seems that there are three distinct advantages for your children. They are:

1. The kids grow familiar with using computers
2. The software adjusts to match your child’s ability
3. The kids have fun learning.

I actually feel that years of ‘learning opportunity’ are wasted in regular schools when a child either doesn’t understand and shuts off for the rest of their schooling, or the material is so easy that he or she doesn’t learn as much as they are capable of. One-to-one tuition is definitely the way to go, and computer-based learning makes this possible.

This post is sponsored by Score! Educational Centers / Math Tutors.

Disney English System for Japanese

I just learned from my wife that she has sent off a request for a free Disney English System sample DVD. It’s widely accepted that if you want your child to be proficient in a foreign language, then you should start their learning from a young age.

Disney English System websiteThe last decade has seen Japan’s “English conversation” schools fall over themselves trying to recruit students at a younger and younger age. For example, when I started working at ECC in 1998 their Kids English World program was really taking off, with classes for kids as young as four. The next year, selected teachers were picked and given “special” training for their new course for three year olds. NOVA stepped up and offered classes for toddlers and every other school followed.

The youngest kids I have taught are one and a half year olds, and while fun to watch, you don’t really get much out of them. The argument is however, that because they are listening to native English, they will “absorb it like a sponge”, especially picking up on rhythm and intonation.

So, it’s not really a surprise that Disney is pushing this philosophy hard, offering two programs – one for pregnant mothers, and the other for 0-4 year olds.

I’ll reserve judgement until I see the sample, but my initial reaction is I don’t want my son, little Riku, sounding like Mickey Mouse… or even worse… Donald Duck!

Double without you

One of the biggest difficulties in teaching English to adults in Japan is you are constantly battling against what they have previously learned. Most Japanese have studied English in some capacity for at least six years, most of which, if not all, were at the hands of a Japanese English teacher, and in some cases the teacher wasn’t even an English teacher, just a homeroom teacher reading from an English book!

What this means is that their pronunciation is awful, and their listening ability is equally dreadful. There’s a world of difference between listening to a Japanese speak English and then an Australian. They sound completely different!

It wouldn’t be so bad if English were isolated to situations requiring just English, but unfortunately, a bastardized version of English has been absorbed into Japan’s own national language. There are literally thousands of examples, many of which are abbreviations of English words that, along with different pronunciation, make them unrecognizable to native English speakers, and likewise few Japanese understand the original English versions. Here are some examples:

  • aircon (air conditioner)
  • super (supermarket)
  • basket (basketball)
  • volley (volleyball, confusingly pronounced like “ballet”)
  • pato-car (police car / patrol car)
  • televi (television)
  • radicasse (radio-cassette player)
  • potato (fried potato, used when meaning French fries)
  • note (notebook)
  • persocon (personal computer)

You get the idea. The problem is, most Japanese actually think these are English words, which means you have to un-teach the “English” they know, and start again. This includes going right back to basic ABCs, because…

In Japan, the letter “W” is pronounced “double”, without a “you”. They don’t seem to realize that “W” looks like it does because it’s a double “U”. This leads to the letter “W” being used to mean “double”. Here are some pictures to prove it:

A cheeseburger with W beef!

A cheesburger with W beef!

Some mints with W grapefruit!

Some mints with W grapefruit!

A can of insecticide with “W jet” !

Insecticide with W jet! (???)

I’ll wrap up this post with a little poem I’ve written. I hope you like it.

Double With You

I thought I’d be without you for a while,

You left me and I thought I’d be okay,

I’d come back stronger, last a bit longer,

Feel double without you each day.

When you were gone I lost my will to smile,

By myself, things didn’t go my way,

Together we are stronger, last even longer,

Double me, double you, always.

Politically correct ESL

Jack and JillI used to use some old textbooks called Jack and Jill, in which the words ‘ugly’ and ‘pretty’ were represented by pictures of an ugly girl and a pretty girl. Jack and Jill was published back in the ’70s, but not much has changed in the book I’m using now, Hip Hip Hooray, in which pictures of pretty and ugly mice are used to teach the same words.

Hip Hip HoorayThere have however been some more significant changes in Hip Hip Hooray. Take the story of Jack and the Beanstalk for example. The original book had Jack hiding in a bread oven, stealing bags of gold, magic hens and golden harps, and finally killing the giant. The politically correct version has Jack hiding behind a stove, taking back the gold originally stolen from his father, and the giant suffers nothing more than a bruised bottom as he falls from the beanstalk.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is another. In the original story, Injun Joe kills the doctor with a knife, but in the modern day version, Tom and Huck witness some men stealing a box of money.

In the politically correct world of mail carriers, firefighters, police officers and flight attendants, I find it increasingly confusing when teaching non-native speakers. For the most part, my adult students learned postman, fireman, policeman and stewardess when they were in junior high school. Now it’s my job to ‘correct’ them, using words I rarely use myself.

When I first came to Japan, the word ‘homemaker’ was prominent in the books I was given. Embarrassingly, I had to call Head Office to find out it meant ‘housewife’, and since there are so many housewives (edit: homemakers) in Japan, I had to start learning this new lingo pretty quickly.

Hangman or Spiderman?To be honest, I’m quite reluctant to teach language I don’t use myself, and I do have limits. When it comes to games, I’ll still play hangman instead of spiderman because I think avoiding the noose is far more motivating than seeing a spider grow legs.

I’d like to hear other people’s opinions on politically correct ESL, so please leave a comment!

Walk the dinosaur

When I was a kid, thirteen to be exact, Was (Not Was) released a song called ‘Walk the Dinosaur’, which was a huge hit in 1988. It’s one of those songs you don’t forget, and I tend to sing it to myself every time one of my elementary school students chooses the ‘dinosaur’ from a bunch of stamps I use for homework and rewarding the kids at the end of each lesson.

Today, in my 4th-6th grade class, without prompting, the kids all started singing the song along with me, and after the first time, they all wanted the ‘dinosaur’ stamp, and we kept singing the song! I found it hysterically funny that a group of Japanese kids, who weren’t even born when Walk the Dinosaur was released, would not only find it funny, but actually make a conscious effort to remember the words and sing it aloud with dinosaur gestures!

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it would be that children do pick up on teacher ‘chatter’, that is the things an ESL teacher says to him or herself during a lesson which the kids aren’t expected to understand. I often talk or sing to myself when I teach…”Now where did I put my pencil?”, “Wow, he actually did his homework this week.”, “Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep them wagons rolling… Rawhide!”

When you say the same things repeatedly every lesson, directly or indirectly, children remember. So, today’s tip is to be aware of what you’re saying, make sure you say it every week, and in a few months your kids will be saying it, too!

Programming and English teaching

When I was about nine, my parents bought me a Commodore 16 home computer, the little brother to the hugely successful Commodore 64. This was to be a turning point in my life as I started computer programming, which eventually led to me a degree in Computer Science.

While I was never really mathematical, I loved problem solving, particularly when I could create the problems I would have to solve. I find figuring out how to fix a bug or get something working in my programs extremely satisfying.

Computer languages offer endless possibilities for creation, but are limited in rules and ‘vocabulary’ which in my opinion makes them relatively easy to learn. Spoken languages are of course, much harder. Japanese for example, despite its strict and simple grammar, is a terribly daunting language with its thousands of Chinese characters. English on the other hand, is riddled with exceptions to the plethora of grammar rules, which makes it hard to learn even with its comparatively small alphabet.

So how do you go about teaching Japanese children a language as complex as English, when they really don’t have any desire or need to learn it. Like a video game, they’d rather play it than program it, right? Well, not if you make the ‘programming’ fun and rewarding.

When in the classroom, don’t just play games to test the kids’ memories; play games that involve problem solving. For example, if you’re doing a spelling race, let them race to search through their books to find the right spelling. If you’re teaching a function such as “How do I get to the toy store?”, write it on the board as “How do I ____ to the toy _____?” and let the kids find the missing words in their books. Alternatively, with something simple like “I want a (hamburger)”, they can experiment with substituting ‘hamburger’ for other words they can find in their books or on posters. My young kids love to use silly Japanese words like unchi (“poop”) in their sentences, but I’m not too bothered if they run around screaming “I want an unchi” because the are using and understanding the function I’m teaching.

Like computer programming, with problem-solving activities your students can have fun finding out for themselves the knowledge they need to win the ‘game’.

Think you can teach Japanese kindy?

I’ve been teaching at Japanese kindergartens for years now, and I always have a lot of fun. The key to success in teaching these classes is to be fun and energetic. While some “proper” teachers complain that they came to Japan to “teach”, and not dance around like clowns, I believe that if your style of teaching is entertaining then your students are going to learn a whole lot more from you… or at least have a blast trying!

Kindy kids are full of energy and really enjoy their English classes if you make them fun. So, with that in mind, I give you Supa Gaijin!

If you can’t view the video, you can see it here at Thanks to Japan Probe for bringing this video to my attention.

‘Macho’ Joe and ‘Gorgeous’ Rod have a few videos up on if you search for “supa gaijin”. You’ll see they’re a right pair of nutters, maybe having too much fun in Japan, but they’ve inspired me to try out some new tricks next time at kindy… if I can get hold of that music somewhere!

Try for more on Joe and Rod. The link doesn’t work for me but hopefully that’s just temporary.

Laughing at the guy who can’t speak English.

I had intended to write about something completely different but I came across this video which I just had to post here. It’s a Japanese game show in which if you laugh, you get the cane. What do they laugh at? Well, although they try their best to keep quiet, it’s hard not to crack up when watching this guy try to speak English…

If you can’t view the video, you can see it here at

Back to School: Rule Reminders

Since I’m back to school tomorrow, I’ve been thinking again about my ESL lessons, and remembered an interesting moment from last term. I was getting frustrated with one of my kindergarten classes so right at the start of the lesson I told the children that if they crawl under the tables they will lose all their points.

I usually give my kindy kids four points at the start of the lesson next to their names on the board. Each point represents a stamp that they get on their ‘stamp card’ at the end of class. When they finish their stamp cards they get a nice present. With the older kids, I start them on two points which encourages them to earn more points as well as be in a position to lose the ones they already have if they misbehave, but the kindy kids seem to respond better to losing points and then earning them back.

Anyway, I was in quite a friendly mood when I gave this ‘lose all your points’ warning and since it was the start of class, some of the kids hadn’t arrived yet. So, I was amazed to see the children pass on my warning to those late comers as they came into the classroom. Needless to say, not one kid went under the tables.

The next week however, while singing the ‘Hello Song’, H-kun snuck away from the group and started for the tables. I quickly stopped the song, and asked him if he remembered last week’s warning. Suddenly, one of the girls said “Eh? You mean we can’t go under the tables this week either?”

The moral of this little story is that young children need to be reminded constantly of the rules. This doesn’t mean disciplining them after they do something wrong, but rather reviewing the class rules before they have a chance to.

If you aren’t already doing this, give it a try! You’ll probably have a trouble free and enjoyable lesson!

Christmas party weekend

This last week has been pretty hectic. The weekend was dominated by Christmas parties with my school’s children’s party on Saturday, another school’s party on Sunday morning, and a party for my adult students on Sunday night.

The first party was a bit crazy. There were about 45 kids and we played all kinds of games including pass the parcel, cake walk, Christmas fruit basket and bingo, and managed to find time for some food and drinks, too. The two highlights were the boy who downed four cups of soda and threw up on the floor, and the seemingly drunk Santa Claus who belched in to the microphone and told the kids his favorite food was reindeer meat! Since ‘Santa’ might be reading this, I better assure you that he wasn’t really drunk… he was just having a little too much fun.

The second party the next morning was relatively problem free with the staff doing a great job. Most of the 50 kids were younger than those the previous day and seemed to get into the silliness of it all much better. I tell you, most of my kids are just too ‘cool’ to have fun, but these little guys had a great time. Santa behaved himself too, so the children went home with their dreams intact.

The adult party was a much smaller affair with about a dozen of my students coming out to the Italian Asian (?) restaurant I had reserved. There were a great mix of personalities and fun was had by all. We went to town on the bingo prizes with something for everyone, and most of the prizes cost more than the price of the party itself! Since I was drinking, I crashed on the school floor, only to wake up at about 5am freezing my goolies off.