Teaching Foreign Languages: Diversity and Inclusion

With the 2018 JALT International Conference approaching, this Nara Chapter event explored the conference theme, Diversity and Inclusion, at a local level. There were two talks presented by three speakers.

In the first presentation, Akiko Mokhtari, a Japanese teacher of Chinese and English languages discussed her students’ diverse or different perspectives on both languages. To most of her students, Chinese is a new language and they have no fear of losing face by making mistakes or comparing their language performance with that of others. Simply put, it is fun to learn a new language, and a basic command of around 20 sentences of a new language takes learners into an adventure of the language, making them feel proud of their achievements and improvements. Therefore, the majority of Mokhtari’s students demonstrate their positive attitudes towards learning Chinese unlike those learning English, who exhibit their unwillingness or hesitation to communicate in English. Mokhtari interpreted the attribution of such differences as “Chinese = freshness” and “English = familiarity” because her students learned English for at least six years in secondary education. However, this “familiarity” can be diversified into other states such as “boredom,” “plateau,” and “convention.” As a Japanese teacher of English myself, this was a good opportunity to reflect on my own teaching. Mokhtari also discussed “native teachers” and “non-native teachers,” referring to advantages and disadvantages of both parties. Probably this dichotomy can alreday be antiquated in language teaching where the first speaker of a language is not necessarily the best teacher. Students’ learning needs, objectives, styles, and teachers’ teaching backgrounds, methodologies, practices – these are all diverse. Language teachers may need to adopt “diversity” in all respects and devote themselves to their services.

In the second presentation, Hiroko Shikata and Aki Matsunobu talked about their newly established NPO branch, SUPER OSAKA (教育支援協会大阪; Supporting Union for Practical-use of Educational Resources, Osaka). It was founded in November, 2017 as an NPO branch of Tokyo-based SUPER (教育支援協会). One of the main services that SUPER OSAKA provides is Hokago English. Hokago English is after-school English classes, where maximum 20 children from various backgrounds – including children from low income families, with learning difficulties, and with physical or mental disabilities – come and learn English in a supportive and inclusive environment in their local communities. Hokago English accepts any child except those who become physically violent towards other children. A video clip taken at one of their six teaching venues was shown. In the clip a pupil was lying on the floor away from the other pupils who were sitting on the floor and listening to the teacher. Matsunobu said, “We wait until children are ready to study with others. I don’t think those children apparently unfitted for learning in a group are troublesome. In a way, we all have something troublesome in ourselves.” Hokago English charges 2,200 yen for three 40-60 minute lessons a month. Most of the fee covers venue rental fees, study materials, and minimal pay to teachers with almost nothing left for SUPER OSAKA. Shikata said, “It would be impossible to run the class for free even though I understand some parents struggle to allocate the money for their children.” Shikata and Matsunobu strongly believe that any child should be given opportunity to learn and a place in their communities where they feel included. Lastly Shikata said, “We used to have old busybody-like adults in our neighborhood, but they always hoped for sound growth of children in their neighborhood. This is what we want to be.”

The event ended in a friendly and pleasant atmosphere. A photo of all the speakers and participants was taken as a usual ritual before leave-taking. This reunion with my chapter members and friends made me realize how fortunate I am in being a member of Nara Chapter.

Reviewed by Motoko Teraoka

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