English conversation classes at Universe Academy emphasize the speaking of English rather than the study of it in the form of written text. These classes are meant to give students greater fluency in their speaking abilities and also to increase their listening comprehension. Native English speakers are employed in these teaching positions so that students are exposed to a more naturally spoken English than they would be with a second language speaker. Also, very little translating, if any at all, is used in these classes for the express purpose of letting the students build their own schema as to the meaning of what they are learning. The intended result of this is to give the students a more fluid quality in their English by reducing the amount of translating they do in their thinking while they are speaking or listening.
In our English conversation classes we have a very diverse student population. Our students range in age from young children of about four or five years, up to middle- aged adults, and their English abilities are as varied as their ages. In our school we have broken down these classes into three basic categories. These three categories are: kindergarten graduate classes, juku conversation classes, and private conversation classes.
The kindergarten graduate classes (K.G. classes) are, as implied by the name, for graduates of our English immersion kindergarten. These students are all elementary age children (first to fifth grade) and attend their own respective elementary schools during the day. They come to Universe Academy in the early evening for a fifty minute class, either once or twice a week. Since these students have already had a full day of school by the time they arrive here, teachers of these classes have to work hard to plan lessons that will hold the students' attention. The best way to do this is to make it fun! Our teachers usually make their lessons fun by including many types of game playing, songs, creative activities, and any other type of activity that contains a definitive English content. The levels of English abilities that these students possess range from upper level beginner to intermediate. One major bonus for teachers of these classes comes from the students' extensive exposure to English during their time in our kindergarten. Because of this exposure, the majority of these students do not exhibit the shyness of speaking English that other Japanese students often demonstrate. In the long term, this lack of shyness is a great benefit for both the students and the teachers and makes the classes very enjoyable for both.
Our juku conversation classes are for middle school students and are meant to supplement the normal English studies that every Japanese adolescent must undertake during their regular course of studies. In their regular English classes at their own schools, these students primarily study English in the written form and get very little meaningful experience using it in the spoken form. This is the reason that our juku conversation classes focus on the speaking and listening portion of English and have no formal grammar studies except where it pertains to the spoken word. Another advantage that our students have is that most of them also attend our formal English grammar classes. These classes are taught in Japanese by our Japanese teachers and they provide the students with a good understanding of the mechanics of English. When these two classes are combined into one program it generally results in our students having a great advantage over their peers who do not attend our school. In short, we are very proud to say that students who take advantage of our well-rounded program of study often show greater improvement, in shorter periods of time, when compared to other students in their respective schools.
Our private conversation classes are probably our most diverse classes where age and ability are concerned. A teacher might be teaching beginning English to a group of four year olds in one class, and the next class might be a challenging conversation with a middle-aged adult about world politics. The one constant in these classes is that they are never dull and they are always a challenge since each class is designed for the levels of the students being taught. And, although we try to keep the same philosophy for these classes as we use in our juku and kindergarten graduate classes (spoken language over the written), we sometimes have to modify our teaching style to accommodate the wants and needs of our students. For example, a former private student of ours was writing scientific papers in English and his specific request was for instruction in the grammar needed for his work. In this case it meant the teaching of active and passive voice, transitive and intransitive verbs, and a number of other grammatical forms considered preferable in scientific writings. On the whole, these classes are valuable not only to the students, but also to the teachers, in that they provide experience that will last throughout a teaching career.
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