My thoughts

Free Online English Lesson
March 26, 2008, 2:51 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

On Sunday, 3/30 at 10:00 am JST, I will be hosting a free online English lesson. We will be studying some videos of Cameron Diaz to learn some real-world English. If you like Cameron or want to practice your English, please join us.

I am an American woman, I live in Seattle, Washington, home of Starbucks, Ichiro, and Microsoft! I lived in Japan and taught English for three years. I am also the same age as Cameron Diaz, if only I looked like her!

You will need Skype, you can download it for free if you don’t have it. If you want to join in, please email me with your skype i.d. My email address is:

Here is the ad that Cameron Diaz recently appeared in, and the last two are ones that we will probably be studying in the class.

Why kids are fun to teach
March 22, 2008, 1:58 am
Filed under: Intermediate, Uncategorized

I used to work at a conversation school in Japan, which was my first experience teaching kids. We taught everyone–adults, kids, companies. The policy of the school was that every teacher had to teach in all areas. Some teachers complained, but I think it was a good policy. A typical day included some inhouse adult and kids classes in the daytime, and then going outside to a company or two in the evening. It made our work more interesting and gave us lots of different experiences, and it also meant that all the instructors were also flexible in the types of classes we could teach.

Two of my three years at this school, I was a head teacher, which means that I was a manager of the teachers. I got to hear all their complaints, and many of them complained about the kids classes, especially some of the male teachers. They found them difficult and uncomfortable to teach. They preferred the companies. For me, it was the opposite. I loved teaching the kids. In fact, I was the only teacher to ask for more kids classes, especially the very small kids. However the office staff gave me more companies and less kids, and the other teachers less companies and more kids.

I became sort of the “expert” of teaching kids at our school. The other teachers found teaching kids difficult, so I had regular training meetings with them about teaching kids. We shared ideas for games and activities. I also met with teachers to help them plan classes.

Here are some of my ideas about why kids are fun to teach:

1. Curiousity. Kids are curious about everything, and it is fun to see them excited and interested in language.

2. Humor. It is interesting to see what kids find funny. It could be a sound you make, and they find it fun to immitate it. I was teaching a class of American 1st graders (6 years old) here in Seattle. We were going over the weather, and I said “sunny.” And they got excited because one of them is named “Sonny.” I think humor is important, kids need to have fun when they are learning.

3. Eager to please. Most kids want to please their teacher, they try so hard. They get so excited when you give them positive attention.

4. Innocence. Kids are innocent, and it is nice to be around. Most of them are sweet and lovable. They have interesting ideas about the world,.

5. They give you presents!

6. You get to sing songs and play games with them.

7. They look up to you. Some are impressed with your skills. I remember when I was showing a kindergartner how to write a word, and she said “How come grownups are always so good at writing?!”

8. They draw you pictures, give you hugs, and get sad when you go away. It is nice to feel so important!

9. They make progress very fast, and it very rewarding to see. It is also neat to see how they develop. Some of the students that I taught in Japan were 6 years old when I started. They were studying the Sesame Street Picture Dictionary and sat on the floor. I graduated them to a table and a real textbook soon after that. When I left, they were 9 years old, amazing at English, and on the 3rd level of the textbook series. They could have good conversations and were really motivated about English.

10. Knowing that you made a difference in a child’s life. For me this was Kaede, who was 5 years old when I became her teacher. At the time, I taught her privately. She was very shy. She would speak with me in her class, and to her older sister. She rarely spoke to anyone else, even her parents. Her grandmother and mother came to me, and told me that they were very worried about Kaede. She had an interview for kindergarten and did not speak at all. Her mother felt guilty, perhaps it was her fault that Kaede was so shy–she had been stressed when she had been pregnant with her. I told them not to worry, but not to push her either. I said that Kaede might grow out of it. They felt better when I said that I had been very shy at that age too. And she did. I only had Kaede for a year, and then I had to switch with another teacher. When I left 2 years later, she was thriving. She had friends at school, talked more, and even talked a lot in her English class. At a school party, she played the piano in front of everyone. Her parents said I was her best teacher, that this is possible because of me. I disagree, she did it, but I like to think that I helped a little.

Teaching English to Children
March 4, 2008, 3:16 am
Filed under: Intermediate


Here at Lingua Espresso, we recently began teaching English to children on-line. This is new for us, and luckily I have experience teaching English to draw from. I taught English in Japan for three years at an eikaiwa (English conversation school) and I have worked with children here in the United States. Currently, I am pursuing my Masters in Education. I am going to talk about some of the things that I have learned about teaching English to children.


I believe that having conversations with children is important. Without conversations, they do not understand how to put the language they are learning together. As adults, even high level speakers of English can struggle with this. When I taught children in Japan, before the class had even started, we had simple conversations with them as they were arriving and leaving. How were they doing? What did they do yesterday? Last week? What are they going to do after class? What did they have for breakfast? I also tried to involve conversation as much as possible in my lessons.

I never considered the value of having conversations with kids. It was just a normal activity. However, one evening I was sitting in an izakaya (pub) with a coworker, Neal, and other teachers who worked at Nova. Neal and I were discussing something one of our students had said that day, when one of the Nova teachers said:

“What! Your kids can have a conversation with you?”

Neal and I looked at each other. “Ummm, yes….”

We were startled by this questions, wasn’t this completely normal? We were teaching them English conversation! We were informed by our Nova friends that did not have conversations. They were not allowed to. They had to go by a specific lesson plan, and would get into trouble for not following it exactly. They would just start and end the lesson with out any conversation or chitchat. Whereas, the school I worked for let us plan our own lessons. Although we had to use the textbooks selected for the class, we were free to plan the lesson how we wanted.

There are many problems with the way that Nova taught English, and I believe that the lack of conversation was a huge one. The Nova kids may know grammar and vocabulary, but could they hold a conversation? I think for many of them, the answer is no. I knew that the children I taught could. Some of them even could participate in a speech contest. I wonder if they could make a speech, if they had not the experience of having conversations. Is conversation not the point of learning English from native speakers?

Games and Activities

Teaching kids is quite different than teaching adults. For one thing, adults have a much longer attentions span. Most children can’t focus on one thing for more than ten minutes. Sometimes it is less. You have to be very flexible, have lots of things planned because you are never sure how long something will take or if they can handle doing it. Also sometimes things come up in the lesson that are valuable things to learn. Giving the students choice is very important, and it is good to respond to things that they are naturally curious about and interested in.

I have learned that one of the most powerful tools in teaching children is games and other activities. They need to be having fun while learning, and it is best if they do not know that they are learning–they think they are just having fun. I always started my lessons out with a game, and I used the game to get them to talk. I would play the game with them, and had to be careful because they would try to gang up on me so that I would lose. Games were always short, not more than 5 minutes generally, although the kids would try to extend this. I dealt with that by using a timer, and when the timer went off, we were finished! I used manufactured games like Uno, Operation, Candyland, etc., but some of us also made our own games. We were not simply playing games, but practicing language we were learning.

We also did activities from other materials that we had, such as picture dictionaries, phonics worksheets, songs, chants. We read about American holidays. We also did art in class. The art usually related to what we were studying, and gave them a chance to practice the language in a different way. It is great to involve the arts whenever possible. Research shows that children exposed to arts tend to be more successful in school. They also have more fun while learning. While they were working on a project, we could have conversations too.

In the summer, we tried to beat low enrollment by offering a special kids program. The kids came for half the day, and we had activity classes for them. We did projects, arts, and crafts together and they got to practice their English while doing it. It was a great way to apply what they had learned so far, and to learn new things in a different way, similar to immersion.


It is important to teach children how to read in English, but it is also important to read to them in English. Most children are not read to enough, and being read to makes them better readers. It does not matter if they are 2 years old or 12 years old, they need to be read to. As we are reading, I show them the pictures, ask them what they think is going to happen next, and check for their understanding of what was read.

Research also shows that children record what they hear in their brains. This means that the English they hear as kids, will affect how they speak English as adults. They have better pronunciation and speaking ability. It is even possible that they can pick up the accent of their teacher.

Sometimes I would find an American translation of a Japanese story and read it. I think this type of study is especially meaningful because they know the story, and makes the reading a meaningful experience.

Phonics and Sounds

Phonics are also very important, and are connected to reading. The better understanding a child has about phonics, the better reader he/she is, and the pronunciation is better. If the child is focusing on phonics, syllables, sounds, they start to have a natural pronunciation and way of speaking. If they are Japanese, they also get away from “katakana pronunciation,” where they pronounce English words in Japanese sounds. This is a very common problem with Japanese English speakers.

Children are also naturally curious about all the little sounds we make in English. This curiosity will allow them to be better speakers, as they will have more of a real understanding of the English language.

This is one of my students who had studied at Nova for a few years before leaving and joining my class. She was behind the other kids in her class, and quickly caught up. She really liked studying with us!