Teaching English to kiddos in Fukushima City!

The Thai boys in the cave in northern Thailand have been rescued, thankfully. The native language of Thailand is not English, but the boys were discovered by two British divers, who did not know Thai. So the first words that the kids and their teacher spoke to their rescuers were in English.

Here’s a video:


I’d heard the first question was “How many of you are there?” because the rescuers wanted (and needed) to find out if all the kids and their teacher were there. (And yes, they were! A miracle!)

I myself have taught English in Japan pretty much continuously in Japan since I arrived in 1995. First I taught on the Jet Program, then in  a school that is designed to train young men and women to work at airports. (We lived in Narita City, home of the New Tokyo International Airport.)

When my husband was transferred to Fukushima City, I of course tagged along, still teaching English. It’s a real blessing for me to have knowledge of what is considered the international language.  I consider myself fortunate.

Currently I am teaching kids in elementary school at what is called a juku. (A school which offers extra tutoring in addition to regular school.) This is in addition to unpaid volunteer work in which I read to kids from English picture books.



It’s a real challenge to teach these kids English because JAPANESE IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN ENGLISH! Common things English speakers–and French speakers and German speakers and maybe even Russian and Greek speakers–take for granted are strange to these native Japanese speaking kids!!  VERY VERY STRANGE…..

Learning English (for them) is entering a world where everything is backwards and nothing makes sense!!!!!

Let’s look at the worksheet I created below:

First of all, notice that I put two lines for their name. This is intentional. Why?

If I only put one line, the younger kids will write only their given name. They don’t know how to write their family name. I want them to practice their family names. So I put two separate lines to let them know they must write two names (what we in English call: first name and last name.)

In what order do they write?

In Japanese, the order of a full name is the opposite of English.  Suzuki Hanako= Family name Given Name This is normal in Japan and many other countries in Asia.

But when using English, some Japanese people prefer Hanako Suzuki and some prefer Suzuki Hanako. I let my students choose which order they want to use.

Next, notice that this is a vowel worksheet. Vowels are not set up in Japanese like in English. It’s a hard thing for them to understand! I want them to pick out the vowels (AEIOU) and realize that these particular letters are incredibly important. This is something the youngest ones have trouble with!

Also notice that there is an upper and a lower-case alphabet. The kids need to practice both, and it’s hard for them to understand upper and lower-case. Japanese writing doesn’t have upper and lower-case. It does have three writing systems though! (Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana)

Look at the worksheet above.

I made it because I wanted to my students to practice the basic plural form of adding an “s” to words.

What makes this hard for many Japanese kids?

Well, the Japanese language often doesn’t use plural! Sometimes it does, but not usually. And when plural is used, “tachi” is added. Not an “s!”

But like I said, the plural form is not often used in Japanese, so it’s a different way of thinking for these kids.

If their Japanese mom points at ducks, she might say, “Mite! Ahiru da yo.” That word ahiru is not in a plural form. But really it’s not necessary because anybody looking at the ducks can see if there is only one or more than one.

Whereas an American mom points and says, “Look! There’s a duck.” or “Look! There’re some ducks.”

And ohmigosh……and don’t get me started on how hard it is to teach a/an and some and the. These words do not exist in Japanese.

Some other things that are difficult to teach (because the kids don’t understand the concepts):

*Putting spaces between words (written Japanese doesn’t use spaces between words and thus kids think it is okay to run words in English together.)

*English doesn’t end a line in the middle of a word, unless a hyphen is used. (In written Japanese, the line is continued until there is no room, then the next line starts even if it is in the middle of a word.)

*English letters touch the bottom line. (In Japanese, kids write in boxes. One letter per box. No part of their writing touches the sides of the box.)

*English letters like y, g, j,p, q all extend BELOW the bottom line. (This is very strange to Japanese kids. Like I just said, no part of their Japanese writing touches the sides of the box. Definitely no extending outside the box!)


Whew! And that’s just at the beginning!!!!!!!!  It’s hard because all kids here are supposed to learn basic English, even if they are not interested in it. In America, the majority of kids may choose whether to study Japanese or not.

So imagine the United States if all kids were required to learn basic Japanese!

Ending my blog post for now—with colors in English and Japanese. You can see how different they are! (Images from Irasutoya.com)




About kireikireikireiI am a mom.

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