At the Vancouver Japanese Language School, our goal is to provide people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds and first languages, the opportunity to study Japanese Language and to learn about the rich Japanese culture that is embedded within it.
We aim to provide students with the tools needed to become a multilingual, global citizen and to enjoy the benefits of being multilingual.
Being multilingual is much like having a key to a door that opens into a room that contains an increasingly diverse group of people with whom communication leads to a more diverse social network. As this more diverse set of social experiences becomes available, we are better able to develop a more open perspective on life.
The optimum way to learn is to make the most of the opportunity to put one’s learned language skills to use in a variety of social settings. Unfortunately, the restrictions imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused us to adjust to different methods of social interaction necessary to proactively become proficient in speaking Japanese.
The challenges to teachers and students are similar in so far as the language learning environment that is so familiar to us is being upended and is forcing us to look at other ways to teach and learn. While the changes to our learning environment have been tumultuous and difficult, it has presented us with an opportunity to review our methodology and priorities in teaching a language.
Traditionally, we are accustomed to hearing or reading the new words or phrases and then repeating and applying those words and phrases with classmates in group settings. The teacher listens and provides encouragement or correction, as necessary. The ratio of instruction and modelling time to practice and observation of actual real-life use tends to be in favour of the former, not because of teacher preferences, but usually due to class time and logistical constraints.
With our introduction to online learning, we have also been forced to look for ways to keep our students engaged, while providing adequate content for learning. Since our students are online and have immediate access to a multitude of resources, we have the opportunity to provide examples of the target language in entertaining and realistic situations using online content. These opportunities may come in the form of video content from YouTube, excerpts from Japanese pop culture, J-pop and even skits performed by teachers and staff at the school.
This is also forcing us to think differently about the use of visual and audio content to promote active engagement and positive language acquisition. The methods by which this can be achieved are many and not the purpose of this article; however, the impact of the aforementioned changes that are forced upon us is the reinvention of our approach to teaching languages and the use of real-word language application. We should view the changes to our teaching environment as an opportunity to re-evaluate what is necessary to learn a language and to leverage what we have learned as we return to in-class instruction.
It is often the case that a child would much rather be informed of something through the screen of the phone, iPad or computer, and any of the apps associated with these than be forced to sit in a classroom, listen and repeat. It is my opinion that this is an opportune time to avail ourselves of the devices we have become so accustomed to using and apply them more proactively in our own classrooms while maintaining the actual social interaction within the community that makes up our school.
While we hope that we can interact in-person and learn Japanese as often as possible in an interactive classroom setting, as language teachers, we should also become the students and learn to adapt to new technologies and methods. It is imperative that we apply these technologies to our classes as we return to whatever the new normal turns out to be.
Principal-Education Division Manager
Read our interview with Mark Batt here.