Written Japanese language can be daunting, because there are three separate sets of characters to learn. Spoken Japanese, however, is relatively easy. Learning to speak any language requires that a student listen, observe and interact in that language on a regular basis. Japanese animation has become more popular all over the world as time has gone on, and many DVDs are now available with tracks in both Japanese and English. These can be useful teaching tools to keep kids engaged while helping them learn to speak Japanese.
Begin with common greetings, such as “Konnichiwa,” which means “hello.” “Kombanwa” is “Good evening.” “Hajimemashite” is “Pleased to meet you.” Have students practice saying these aloud, and acting out greeting situations in pairs with each other.
Explain about the three writing systems, called kanji, hiragana and katakana. While you are primarily concentrating on the spoken language, informing kids about how the writing system works will help them if they want to take their Japanese lessons further in the future.
Create simple conversation dialogues for students to act out. If your name is Bruce Campbell and you want to introduce yourself, you would say, “Watashi wa Bruce Campbell desu.” When someone asks your name, they say, “Namae wa nan desu ka?” Ending a sentence with “ka” always indicates a question. Have students practice asking and answering about their names.
Consult a beginner-level Japanese textbook for other ideas for dialogues. Acting out conversations is a great way to learn and retain spoken language information. Libraries and bookstores will have many books for you to choose from.
Immerse students in hearing Japanese spoken by native speakers. This will help greatly with both retention and pronunciation. Watch age-appropriate Japanese animation DVDs. Set the language track to Japanese, and turn on the English subtitles. As your classes advance, turn the English subtitles off, allowing students to test their knowledge and ability to acquire missing pieces of information through context.
Ask students to summarize what they have just watched, either in English or in Japanese. Give extra credit if they answer in Japanese. Give additional points if the Japanese is grammatically correct, but some points should be awarded just for trying.
Make sure to choose Japanese animation DVDs that are truly age-appropriate. While in the U.S., most animation is marketed toward children, that is not the case all over the world. In Japan, animation is popular for everyone to watch, from babies to grandparents. Review the materials you are choosing, and read information about them before purchasing them. If you can, watch the videos beforehand to make sure there is nothing you or the parents of the children you are teaching might find objectionable.
- Kids Web Japan: Language
- Raising Multilingual Children: Foreign Language Acquisition and Children; Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa; 2000
Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker and writer who has written for several online publications, including Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication CarEnvy.ca. Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.