It’s something that all Japanese parent dread right? It’s a nightmare isn’t it? You invest a little fortune in your child’s English education only to find out a few years later that the only thing they (your children) still remember is the A, B, C, maybe how to greet people, introduce themselves and words you can learn within an hour as an adult.
While some schools bear the burden of responsibility, the parents have a very important role to play in their children’s English education after graduating from international kindergartens. First, I will talk about what the parents can do to help and then touch on the steps that international schools have to take to provide the children with the best opportunity to retain their English progress and even build upon it in the future.
Make a clear Choice: International School or Eikaiwa?
There seems to be some confusion between the two. The fact that a school hires English teachers who speak English with the children does not make it “international”, it makes it an “Eikaiwa” school. International schools do not teach English, they teach IN English. Eikaiwa schools only teach the language. Most of the activities they use are language activities aiming to develop the language skills of the children. International schools on the other hand use a variety of activities and resources aiming to develop the physical, cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills of the children while communicating in English as the ONLY language. As parents, you have to make that choice. Beware of Eikaiwa schools misusing the term “international”. I believe the children stand a better chance remembering English when they use it in everyday life situations naturally as they grow and develop in a safe environment.
Don’t pressure your child.
They are just children. They don’t know how desperate YOU are for it. They also don’t know how much it costs. If you put too much pressure on your children, they will hate the language for life. The more YOU want it, the less THEY do. Children learn pretty much everything through play. So the best way to teach a child anything is to allow them to play with a purpose in a structured environment. Most importantly, they learn by interacting with someone who knows a little bit more than they do. I contend that Einstein’s older sister is behind his genius. It’s said that he used to spend days and days playing ONLY with his slightly older sister who would’ve presented his brain with the right level of challenge to grow. Let your child play and enjoy learning without worrying about the language, and you’ll see it’s only a matter of time before he falls in love with it.
Provide the tools and environment for continuous development after graduation.
While it would be very helpful for your child to attend regular ESL classes to continue practicing the language he naturally picked up during the early years, it is not a MUST. You could buy English picture books and DVDs for them. It’s a known fact that a rich vocabulary is key to fluency. Reading is crucial for children to develop and enrich the vocabulary. Listening on the other hand is key for good pronunciation. Good readers are good writers and good listeners are good speakers.
English Only policy at school.
The school is the only place for the children to use English. There are three elements that draw that line between Japanese and English for them and are as follows: The place, the time and the people. Simply put, the children should be very clear that, for example, “at Aiwin International School (place), between 08:00 and 18:00 (time), the teachers, the principal and all the staff (the people) speak to me in English”. If the teachers start to speak Japanese in random situations during the day, that line (we mentioned above) gets very blurry, and they will get mixed up.
Train the ears.
Whether we like it or not, we are educating ESL children. Their mother tongue is often Japanese and have had no or very little exposure to the sounds of English. We all know the first 2 years are crucial for language development. What that means is that your literacy program needs to compensate for that lack of exposure by integrating a solid phonological awareness training. That is essential to build a strong foundation in reading. As I said before, reading leads to fluency.