Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Enough to make you cry

One of my favourite students quit suddenly this week. She has been with my school for years, only to be yanked out without being given the chance to say goodbye by an angry dad. Her older brother & sister also study at Luna, and have been teachers' favourites since their very first classes.

At Luna we try ever so hard to make sure friends stay together whenever possible, and that we avoid mixed-level classes. We know only too well the lack of free-time children have, especially once they start junior high school; scheduling becomes a massive jigsaw puzzle every April and often there are a few pieces missing. We are extremely lucky to have all of Yuki's experience at times like this, because we have to keep everybody happy AND find schedules that suit everybody.

Except this time, a dad we've never met (despite all the events we organise - parties, open weeks for parents, Bon Bon etc) suddenly calls out of the blue, and abuses Yuki to tears. Of course, students move on and develop other interests - that's part of growing up. But when a student has been making great progress, has lots of fun and has barely missed a class in 5 or more years...we know exactly how much the family is commited, and how much hard work the child has been doing. In turn, we 'ring fence' classes like this to make sure they continue, even when we're doing so at a loss. Some classes are just too good to let go. This was one such class.

I know this student will be missing her pals and her English class badly. I really miss her, and I have a really bad taste in my mouth as a result of her being punished just because we couldn't satisfy a parent's ego. We bend over backwards at Luna to accommodate - as I think 99.9% of our mums & dads appreciate. I am also sure nobody will think much of a person who makes our Yuki burst into tears.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Luna Kids - naturally brighter!

It's absolutely true - our children are better suited to handle the real world. Clearly, children who do not learn English at Luna are a pale imitation - almost two dimensional - and dwell only in the shadows! Even under bright lights at harmony Hall, the Luna advantage is obvious.

The Suzuki Institute's annual 10 Piano Concert in Matsumoto is further proof. Sayaka wore a stunning gold dress and performed her piece with cool maturity and skill. Is this the girl I first taught when she was barely able to stand up, way back when?! Takao & Yoshiaki all grown up in suits and spiffy haircuts - didn't they used to punch each other in the nuts & draw naughty pictures in their books?! And what about Yuki-chan - an English Rose by any definition in her fabulous red dress. Fingers flying over the keys so gracefully.

Now, I'll be the first to admit Suzuki Method has its limitations, and that I'm not a real fan. However, the evidence on display today was of prodigious musical talent and no notes. Literally. Suzuki's idealogy is to learn by ear; learning English is not dissimilar, but if you can't read & write then I think you're going to be snookered sooner or later, aren't you?

Anyway, massive applause to all of our young learners past & present who tickled the ivory today. As a non-musician I stood (at the back) in awe. Very well done!!!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Local YLE examiners get Co-ordinated

Saturday saw old & experienced oral examiners join the recently trained, fresh-faced newbies for a morning of memory-jogging, mental refreshment and hands-on practice. The new training materials met with praise, as did having the chance to see more varied candidates and attempt to meet Cambridge's assessment criteria. We also had a look at examples of less than appropriate examiner behaviour & dress, which generated in an interesting debate.

Thank you Jeff & Theron for beating the traffic out of Nagano this morning (the Olympic Torch relay was in town on its much protested journey to Beijing - it actually led the news while we were waiting for Tana's toddlers class to arrive, and we had to laugh at all the local coppers running in their workclothes and shoes...sore feet tomorrow we were sure!), and to Rico & Shizue for making a grey rainy morning cheerful & fun.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

A holiday report in Canada

I have a friend who is staying to study English in Canada nowHer name is Michiko.I went to Canada to see her last November with my two friendsYuka and NaomiWe flew to Canada with Air Canada. 

We stayed for 6 days2 days of them in Vancouveranother 2 days in Banffand the other days in the planeWe stayed in two kinds of  hotels in Vancouverand BanffBoth hotels were on the main streetsThey were cheap and classicalbut very clean and nice. 

The first dayWe arrived at Vancouver in the afternoon. Then we walked around the downtown of VancouverWe took a lot of photos

At nightMichiko came to our hotel after working. She took us to  a very good restaurantWe had beer and wine with many kinds of fatty foodsThe second daywe walked around the cityand went shopping. We love shopping anytime anywayI bought some very beautiful pierced earrings made of silver and amber in a jewelry shopNaomi and Yuka bought very nice ringsWe often said “We sometime have to reward ourselves better don’t weWe had a good time

In the afternoonwe went for a walk to a small island called Granville IslandWe heard that it was near downtownbut it took over an hourWe got lost  in spite of having a map When we walked all over the same place,a man asked us “Can I help you The man taught us the way to Granville IslandAs he spoke slowly and kindly with our mapwe could understand him. When we arrived at Granville IslandIt was about 3o’clockThere were many kinds of shops such as clothesfoodsjewelrybeerAs each shop had a pretty exteriorthe whole of the island was like a toy town. 

We had lunchand enjoyed shoppingI bought a postcard for Jim.   

I gave myself a reward again. I bought a pair of pretty gloves. On our way from there to downtown, we got a public busWe were anxious to get the bus because maybe we couldn’t understand the information in English and arrive in an unknown placeBut we tried. As a result, we could arrive without problemsIt was a very good experience for us. That night , we saw Michiko againand went to a good Korean restaurant

The third daywe went to Vancouver airport to arrive at BanffAs we had checked in foreign domestic airlines for the first timewe were very tense

About an hour and a half laterwe landed at Calgary airport without incidentThen we went to Banff by busIt took us two hours from Calgary to BanffWe arrived at the hotel in Banff at noonthen went around the town of BanffIt was a beautiful  small townWe enjoyed taking photos and shoppingI bought some pretty pins for my family and friendsand another postcard for Jim

That nightwe went to a restaurant and had steaks, which were famous Alberta beefThey were very goodbut expensiveThen we got to the hotelWe enjoyed talking over a few  beersThe fourth daywe went to Lake Louise by busIt was the coldest day of the trip in Canadamaybe –15 or lower

We saw the Canadian Rocky Mountains from the busWe wanted to climbbut couldn’t climb because of too much snowWe saw some riverslakes and wild animals tooThey were very beautifulWe returned to the townthen we got a Gondola.We saw the mountains and whole town of Banff from the topAt nightwe went to a Thai restaurant for dinnerOn the last daywe got up early in the morningand prepared to return to our countryWe transferred at Vancouver airport, and went home

We had a great timeCanada had a very good view. Many people were very kindWe had a good time for studying EnglishWhen they understood my broken EnglishI was so gladWe had some problems we couldn’t see Michiko easily in Vancouver, because we were having a hard time getting through on the phoneWe lost the way in VancouverIt was so cold that we caught colds after getting home. 

Posted for Kaori

Sunday, 20 April 2008

SuperTots author - Aleda Krause

Yes, another Sunday when the Luna team
is busy learning and working!

The occasion today was a co-hosted event featuring one of Japan's best known authors & teacher-trainers, Aleda Krause. The focus of Aleda's three-hour workshop today was on teaching young learners and even younger learners.

As the author of the "SuperTots" and "SuperKids" series of children's books, Aleda has the materials to back up the theory - both of which she generously shared with an appreciative audience of teachers from far & near. She presented her ideas about developing children's learning from listening to speaking, and on the problems & possibilities of teaching pre-teens. All very useful for us then, with the age group of students we see everyday in Luna!

You can look forward to Tana, Jon & Jim adding some new classroom activities to their armoury as a result! Everyone is invited to attend our next event, on May 25th, by the way, when we host Potato Pals author Patrick Jackson and master reader Kevin Churchley...details to be announced soon. Thank you Aleda, for coming to our school today!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Cherry Blossom Party

Mercifully the weather behaved itself and we could enjoy ourselves by the Susuki River once again. The drizzle did come later as forecast, but by then the lightweights had already gone home!

We had a really good turn out, as you can see from the photos, and were joined by the Yokoso Matsumoto group who got their BBQ going next to ours. A good deal of mingling meant that new friendships were made and old ones rekindled. Darryl, for example, met Mine again, whom he used to teach with many moons ago. Mark came along with his wife & son - we`d not met for the best part of a decade!

There was a definite feeling of "the next generation" to the BBQ/picnic - a positive baby-rash actually, showing that we, the expat community are doing our bit to reverse the demographic trend. It was great to see some of our friends' children for the first time, and for them to interact with each other. Others have shot up since we last saw them.

Highlights of the day included Phil's son trying to get a noise out of a didgeridoo; the Vietnamese lads mine-sweeping remorselessly; Tana chatting up all the single Shindai boys; Milton bringing a carpet; Jim & Rupert explaining the hardships of fatherhood to a rather deaf audience. And I must mention 'little' Yuki, who I've not seen for about 8 years - she lives in Nagano now after a couple of years in Singapore. Now a mature, charming & very-well spoken HS girl - another reminder, if I needed one this weekend, of the aging process!

Thank you to everyone who came, who took a turn burning stuff on the barbie, contributed food & drink & charcoal. A lovely afternoon - so let's do it again soon?!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Feeling old

Today I was invited to a beautiful young woman's wedding. She's a nurse, and she has two super cute sisters as well. What could be better?!

The problem is I have known Anna more than half her life - I started teaching her in 1993, when she was twelve. She got married to a very lucky chap (Ryosuke) on her 26th birthday today. She arrived at the hotel for the reception in a breath-taking white kimono - and made me feel great as she bounced over to me to say 'hello' & let me give her a proud kiss on the cheek. Her mum & dad both came over too, and we did the bowing thing; I taught all three of their daughters and coached Anna through high school in their front room. They're really nice people.

Of course, I didn't recognise Rina (who used to be 7) nor Maria (who I used to throw around!), both wearing amazing kimonos themselves & in their early twenties too. I did recognise Anna's nursing friends Miho & Yoshimi however, who studied with me before they went to study in Samoa, and they managed to help me survive the feast with translations.

I guess I'm going to have to get used to seeing kids I used to teach getting married? Don't think I'll be able to stop feeling chuffed to bits though, when favourites like Anna blossom and become friends I can talk to. Oh yes, and she looked great in her blue dress too...once again I couldn't think of the right things to say in Japanese, and walked home thinking I should start to learn someday.

Thursday, 10 April 2008


I've been teaching this pair of clowns since New Year, and I have to admit we might not be learning at maximum speed...mostly because the girls invariably evaporate into gales of laughter. Doesn't seem to matter what we're trying to do (irregular past tenses, pronunciation of 'ed in past tense verbs, reading a reader) there will be something happen that is just too much to keep a straight face.

So I'm really enjoying the class, as you can see. School can be tiring & club activities overwhelmingly English needs to be a bit of fun as well as very useful. Miku & Maho brighten up my week every Thursday evening very nicely. Here you can see us trying to play whirl-a-vowel, matching long vowel sounds. Naturally, the 'hive' looked like something else: result = paralysing laughter! I can't remember who won the game, but my ribs hurt and an hour flew by. With a bit of luck, dipthongs 'went in' as well.

Thank you girls - look forward to seeing you every week!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Working on Sunday - again!

I am very grateful to our dedicated band of Young Learners (YLE) Oral Examiners who gave up their precious time on Sunday to make sure they can continue to examine for us in the coming year.

The quality control aspects of Cambridge ESOL's exams makes sure that all candidates worldwide get the same, fair chance as any other. Our part in this delivery of quality is to train, and then "co-ordinate", examiners. Just because you do the training does not mean you can examine; we all have to prove annually that we can give the speaking tests properly, as well as assess to Cambridge's standards.

It is also a vital opportunity for me to meet the people who are doing the hard work on our behalf. Three years ago we 'inherited' this responsibility but had no idea who we were dealing with. Now, gradually, I am getting to know our examiners and can feel a lot more confident about our boast that YLE is the best exam around...our examiners really are very good, and very nice people to boot.

Some examiners travelled miles and miles to attend Co-ordination at King's Road school (thank you again Trevor!). From Nikko & Matsumoto to the north, Toyota to the west, Kamakura to the south, and Saitama to the east(ish). No matter how for you came, thank you. Now let's find some new schools to examine at?!

Friday, 4 April 2008

Postcard from The Great Wall, China

Dear Jim,

I'm in Beijing now. I went to school.I met lots of my friends. I was worried if I could speak
English well, but I was happy I could speak English well.

See you soon.
from Toshiya

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Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Upcoming presentation

On April 20th we will be hosting the following event, in association with Shinshu JALT & Longman.

Teaching pre-teens: Problems and possibilities & From listening to speaking by Aleda Krause. First, even the most confident teachers can be challenged by 11- to 12-year olds. Do you experience difficulties generating energy, managing classes with mixed levels, or bringing out shy students? Author of SuperKids and SuperTots, Aleda Krause will share some secrets for success with this activity-based presentation. Second, she will present active, participatory listening tasks to explain and demonstrate the five steps from listening to speaking in an EFL session right from the first lesson. Come prepared with clean ears and lots of energy! Sun 20 April 14:00-16:45; Luna International; free for all.

Please email Jim if you want to reserve a seat.