Interview: Teaching Young Learners of English in Sendai (Part 2)

In the first part of this interview, Mario Passalacqua discussed the best and worst things about teaching young learners of English, and reopening his English school four days after the biggest earthquake ever to hit Japan. The interview with Mario continues below.

Do you believe that the critical period hypothesis is applicable to learning a second language? Would you support the proposition ‘the younger you start, the better’ when it comes to learning a second language?

I feel that the critical period hypothesis in regards to SLA has some interesting ideas about language acquisition but research has shown that older learners tend to be more successful in becoming fluent due to various factors such as learner motivation and language environment. That being said, I do believe that providing a child with and English rich environment will enable them to “code switch” between languages and thus further their proficiency in both English and Japanese. My school will only accept children who can use and understand Japanese because I believe children must have an understanding of how language works in order to make the study of a second language meaningful to them. Therefore, there is a limit to how young a child can be before starting to learn a second language. Also I feel that, when a child starts learning a foreign language while they are still acquiring their mother tongue, they seem to be more receptive to foreign sounds and intonations only because their mother tongue has not fossilized in their minds yet.

What is the best thing about living and working in Sendai?

I feel that Sendai is the best balance between the country side and the big city. The city is large enough to finds various kinds of entertainment without having the feeling of being too crowded. It also has great surfing, skiing and other outdoor sports that are accessible without the need of driving for hours to reach them.

Have you taken part in any volunteer relief work since the tsunami?

Sadly, no I have not. I opened my school four days after the earthquake and on the weekends I was quite busy cleaning my apartment and packing. By chance, I had already planned to move to another apartment a month before the earthquake struck so I was preparing for the move. Moreover, I was in the middle of writing a 4000 word paper on the Lexical Syllabus for my M.A.

Is the declining birth rate in Japan affecting your business? Do you expect it to do so in the future?

I have not had any trouble from this trend nor do I expect to have any in the future. I try to market my school as one where serious learning takes place and the parents are required to provide some learning support at home. It has been my experience that the children from families where the parents take an active role in their children’s education are the ones who achieve the best results. For this reason, I would rather cater to smaller families with highly motivated students than take on children from larger families where the parents are far too busy to review the lesson materials at home.

Is there anything else you would like to say about living and working in Japan/Sendai, or teaching very young learners of English?

I would like to say that working in Japan requires a certain amount of doggedness. On a day to day basis, there are always ups and downs however, on a long term basis there is a lot of subtle pressures and stress that can accumulate before one is aware of it. As for teaching children, this stress can be even more overwhelming so a positive attitude and a solid understanding of teaching methodology and child psychology are essential.

Thank you very much to Mario Passalacqua for the interview.

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About Paul Raine

Paul has taught English as a foreign language in Japan since 2006, and obtained a masters degree in Teaching English as a Foreign and Second Language in 2012. He has a wide range of experience in a variety of different teaching contexts, including conversation schools, junior and senior high schools, blue-chip companies, and colleges and universities. He is particularly interested in integrating technology with English language pedagogy. You can contact Paul on Twitter @paul_sensei or visit his homepage at paulsensei.com

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