One of the first few Japanese sentences we learned was “すみません、英語がわかりますか?” which is translated as “Excuse me, do you understand English?”. Although most Japanese would have learned some English from about fifth grade of elementary school they often give a sheepish reply to this question, such as “あ、ごめんなさい、全然わかりません” or “少しだけ” to indicate that they do not speak it at all or just a little. But just as often, we would soon realise that they do understand. It was only that they were not too sure of how to speak it. This is such a familiar situation to us but in our case, it is the Japanese language. Many times, we determined to practise our Japanese but lapse comfortably into English among ourselves or when we do talk to a native, we would be at a loss of words after a while and the conversation would stop prematurely if there is no interpreter.
Well, as much as we need a safe and fun environment to learn and speak Japanese, we felt that our Japanese friends would also need such an environment for them to learn and speak English. With this, we began our preparation for the English Circle or some would call it, English Conversation Corner to be held on a weekly basis for children and adults. For some weeks from late January, much work was put in by the team to produce the flyers and finalise the programme details. Once the flyers were done, we spread the word around to friends, acquaintances and the neighbourhood. The response has mostly been positive especially among the younger group of university students, working adults and also parents who want their young children to be grounded in the English language. However, despite the initial verbal commitments, we were not sure how many or if any would follow through with it and come to the English Circle.
So it was with nervous anticipation that we went ahead to set up the place for the first children and adult English Circles at the first Wednesday and Saturday of February respectfully.  We waited as the clock ticked closer to time but as sure as Japanese precision, the doorbell rang right on time to tell us that the first participant has arrived. Both the children and adult sessions started with 3 participants but has since grown. Each session is structured to encourage expression and learning through songs, games and learning topics. It has been a gradual but fun start as each week the children jumped excitedly to the cheery tunes (our youthful facilitators Yuko and Victoria have probably lost a few pounds from jumping with them!) and played games . For the adults , we began with self introduction , ice-breakers , sing-a-long and topic discussion. After the class our students have been staying back for home cooked dinners and a relaxed time of chit chat. We are happy to see that our students have gained confidence in speaking English. We in turn learned more about their culture .We certainly appreciate their friendship and look forward to the coming sessions. 次回、またたのしみにしていますね!

Written by : Pek Kuan

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