STEPHEN SONIDO: Life in Japan as an English Teacher

We live and work abroad, away from our family, away from our friends. The things that were always right in front of us are gone now. The different environment adds pressure.

Focusing on work day in and day out somehow helps relieve tension. But, no matter how busy we could get and how long we could tolerate empty holidays, homesickness kicks in.

This is the reality of being abroad. So, how do we deal with it? The secret to that lies deep inside each one of us: outgrown and forgotten but never lost. It is a buried desire: our longing for fun. You see, much like a career, fun isn’t something that you wait for. Instead, it’s something that you make time for. Having fun doesn’t just happen.

You have to put yourself into it! So, every time you feel depressed or burned out, pick up your phone and call family. They’re all you’ve got. Get yourself a musical instrument. Learn a new skill. Play online games. Have fun with your friends. Sing out loud. Break the silence.

Write a blog. Share your thoughts. Meet new people – who knows? You might find someone special. Learn to cook. Like everyone should. Get out more and get some sun. Release the stress. Explore. You’ll never know what interesting places you’ll find. So, despite all the loneliness and hardships, LEARN TO HAVE FUN!

English Teaching Style in Saitama City

In Japan, Saitama City is well known for the remarkably higher level of English proficiency of its elementary and junior high school students compared to other wards. The curriculum is driven by a program called Global Studies, more commonly known as ‘’GS’’. It is a series of lessons that focus on developing confidence in speaking English through escalating levels of performance-based tests throughout the year. Junior high schools only have from a mere one hour every two weeks to up to two hours per week of English lessons. Most private schools implement two hours per week while public schools have less. However, it is not the number of hours per week that makes the biggest difference –it is the style of teaching.

To this day, ‘’team-teaching’’ style is the standard throughout Japan. English grammar in junior high is taught mainly by the ‘’Japanese Teacher of English’’ (JTE). Most of the lesson is explained in complex Japanese. The native speaker or ALT (assistant language teacher) is there to assist the JTE in listening and pronunciation exercises. Both the JTE and ALT teach in tandem. Global Studies in the other hand has a quite different approach. JTEs teach grammar in their own class without the ALT. They use the textbook CD for listening comprehension and some speaking exercises as well. ALTs have their own ‘’GS’’ time which is usually once a week depending on the schedule. It is here where students can practice the things they’ve learned from their lessons with the JTE. The GS class is mainly taught in English. The JTE’s role in a GS class is making sure that technical English instructions are well understood by the students.

During GS, students are tasked different ‘’projects’’ in line with their current lesson from the textbook. Projects are mostly performance-based tests that involve role playing, speech, discussions and mini debates. Five out of eight big projects are role playing activities designed to develop speaking skills and most importantly, confidence. Mini debates are usually done in the last part of the third semester where students are expected to have already learned more vocabulary and have developed the guts to speak their thoughts out in a logical and easily understandable way.

Finally, as an ALT in Saitama City, I can really say that the gap in the English capabilities of junior high school students here compared to the other wards’ is quite obvious. This is how Saitama City was able to boost the English proficiency level of their next generation.

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