Building a Successful Japanese Program in Marysville
Ohio Association of Teachers of Japanese, Vice President
Japanese Teacher, Marysville High School
In order to build a successful language program, it is essential to advocate and lead with proficiency-based teaching practices to build a comprehensive language curriculum. The Japanese program in Marysville is in its third year, offering Japanese 1, 2, and 3 at both Marysville High School and Early College High School, as well as Japanese 1 and 7th grade exploratory Japanese at Bunsold Middle School. Our program is currently the largest Japanese program in the state of Ohio with over 200 students enrolled in all three schools. We have built this program from the ground up, adding one level of Japanese at a time. I have had the pleasure to choose a relevant curriculum which is always growing and updating itself with the students’ interests and passions in mind. We don’t use a particular textbook or written curriculum. Instead, we teach high-frequency vocabulary and sentence patterns in order to get our students to be able to communicate and have useful language skills right away. Everything is contextualized and builds on itself, so students are repeatedly exposed to material until it becomes second nature.
Students want to learn to be able to communicate in a second language. I believe that world language programs should reflect students’ goals and teach towards language proficiency. Japanese classes here are taught in 90-100% target language from the first day of Japanese 1. The goal of our Japanese program is to have our students be able to communicate in Japanese. So often students take many years of a language without being able to hold simple conversations and exchange ideas on things that matter. We teach our students to make mistakes, grow from them, and not be afraid to speak. Students are exposed to authentic sources from the very beginning, as they are taught to take risks, guess at meaning, as well as use context clues to grasp ideas from any format of text. Japanese 1 students can analyze menus, children’s books, shopping guides, and advertisements from the first month of school. Japanese 2 students take these interpretive skills and build on them by analyzing ideas, points of view, as well as arguments in short articles, blogs, cooking videos, as well as advice columns.
What makes our program stand out is the rate at which we teach written characters, as well as how we incorporate grammar into our instruction. We teach the entire hiragana alphabet in the first couple weeks of school, 5 characters at a time. We then move on and introduce the katakana alphabet at the same speed, after which we teach about 100 kanji characters. All of this is done in Japanese 1. What I found with my high school experience is that the written language was introduced very slowly, and I was never taught much kanji, which hindered me in the long run. The rate at which we introduce characters allows our students to be able to read, write, and communicate much faster, as Romaji disappears from their lives 2-3 weeks into Japanese 1. Students are continuously exposed to Katakana and Kanji through almost daily authentic source analysis, making their recognition and production skills almost automatic. I am passionate about the fact that our program teaches students to communicate and produces students which can compete in speech contests after 1.5 years of Japanese language instruction. I couldn’t be more proud of the students in our program who score in the 90-99% nationally on the AATJ National Japanese Exam, as well as the student I had last year who scored 1st place nationally.
Students acquire grammatical patterns, particles, and tense changes through natural exposure to the language spoken in class, and application of the language with peers. I never discuss the meanings of particles, the names of the grammatical terms, or the conjugation of verbs. Instead, students pick up on patterns with gestures, pictures, as well as comparisons of situations and various questioning techniques. We read and act out stories, find patterns, and apply those patterns to the language that is being taught.
In Marysville we work together to make sure that not only are our Japanese classes fun, engaging, and relevant at every level, but also to set the proficiency expectation bar high from the beginning. Our students learn about proficiency from the first day, whether in Schubert Sensei’s middle school classes, or in my high school ones. We show examples of the ACTFL proficiency OPI’s with learners of English, and use the SUSHI TALK I created based on Sarah Cottrell’s TACO TALK. Our students know our expectations at the middle and high school level, and most importantly, the middle school classes serve as an introduction and connection to the overall program. It is so important to build interest at the lower grades so that students can anticipate taking the language for a longer period of time, and look forward to all the things they will be able to say in the future!
The city of Marysville has recently signed a friendship city agreement with Yorii Machi is Saitama Prefecture, which has allowed us to create a student exchange program. We work alongside the city to foster that relationship as well as get a lot of support from local Japanese companies, as Japan is the number one foreign investor in the state of Ohio. We advocate for our Japanese program by putting on various events, such as our annual Evening of Japanese Culture, which is sponsored by local companies and showcases many examples of traditional Japanese culture and food.