American View: You have worked in Japan in many capacities. What was your most recent position here, and what do you consider to be your area of expertise?
Dr. Warren: I was a Visiting Researcher in the Faculty of Culture and Information Science at Doshisha University until July 31.
I had tutored English when I was in Japan as a college student, but I started teaching formally in an Intensive English Program in Indiana when I was living there. It was as a result of that experience that I decided to get my Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language and then continue on for my Ph.D.
I am very interested in using online tools for language teaching, especially teaching culture, and at Doshisha I had the opportunity to work with faculty on an online portfolio project to develop oral English skills for university students.
American View: English language education seems to be a hot topic in Japan. What are the key components to teaching English effectively, and do you have any advice to give to instructors teaching English for the first time?
Dr. Warren: Of course enthusiasm and excitement are essential, but it is also important to make sure lessons and activities meet the needs of the students in the class. I would encourage teachers to make sure they understand the goals and objectives for the class before designing any lesson. Then make sure that all of the lessons and activities build toward those goals and objectives. But most of all, make sure that you are having fun, because students will follow your lead and enjoy the class too.
When teaching English to children, creativity is essential. Students will quickly become bored if the activities follow the same pattern during each class, so it is important to devise ways to have students practice the same vocabulary and grammar again and again so that they can learn them, but using different activities. Children enjoy any activity that allows them to move around and use the language they are learning. They especially enjoy games and role-playing.
American View: What are the benefits of learning a foreign language at a younger age compared to an older age?
Dr. Warren: Children who learn a second language at a very young age generally have native-like pronunciation. In addition, children are often less self-conscious so are willing to speak even if they make a mistake, and this allows them to test their knowledge and improve their skills. However, those who are older have the advantage of having learned other material, so they know how to study and learn new things. In addition, older students have the advantage of extensive knowledge of their first language, so they are better able to make connections when learning a second language.
American View: Is there a difference in approaches for teaching English to adults versus children?
Dr. Warren: Yes. Until children are about junior high school age, there is no need to have explicit grammatical instruction. Rather, lessons should be fun and designed to get the children speaking in English as much as possible. When they are older, they will have opportunity and reason to learn grammatical patterns and structures, but at a young age, they only need to practice. Adults generally respond better with some explicit grammatical instruction along with lots of opportunities for practice.
American View: What role does culture play in studying English?
Dr. Warren: Culture is another essential part of language learning. It is not possible to learn a foreign language without learning some of the culture. English is interesting because there are so many different cultures that use English as their primary language, so it is really fun to find different cultural aspects to discuss in English classes.
American View: What types of activities do you use to teach American culture?
Dr. Warren: I like to use photos that depict certain aspects of U.S. culture, such as photos of 4th of July celebrations. You can learn a lot about U.S. culture from looking at pictures of how we celebrate. For example, showing pictures of parades, barbecues, fireworks and decorations of red, white and blue demonstrate the values of family and patriotism. Students enjoy looking at the pictures and discussing what they have learned about the celebrations. This activity works really well even for lower level students.
American View: Are there any particular difficulties that Japanese students have when learning the English language? If so, how can they overcome such difficulties? Do you have any specific tips?
Dr. Warren: I believe that many Japanese students lack self-confidence in speaking, and wait until they are sure of how to say something before trying it. But, research has shown that students who are willing to speak, even if they are not sure what they want to say is correct, are better language learners. Therefore, it is essential that Japanese students try to communicate even if they feel they might make a mistake. Teachers can encourage students to speak and can make them feel comfortable by not correcting every mistake.
My advice to Japanese students is to practice as much as possible. Speak even if you are not sure how to say what you want to say. Ask lots of questions. Take time to learn about English-speaking cultures – read about them in English for more practice!
American View: What outside of class activities should students do to learn English?
Dr. Warren: With the Internet, there are all sorts of possibilities for students to learn English outside of class. They can listen to music, watch TV shows, watch movies, and read all sorts of material that interests them. It would be great if they would then discuss what they read with others to practice the English that they have learned!
American View: How can parents get involved in helping their children learn English?
Dr. Warren: The most important thing parents can do is model language-learning behavior. For example, they can take classes along with their children and practice saying English sentences together. They could share a meal and only speak in English. They can play games together, read books together, and do almost anything else in English. As long as children are encouraged to speak in English and given the opportunity, then they will learn to be comfortable and will become better language learners as a result. They will be encouraged by their parents’ model of language learning.
American View: In general what are the added educational benefits to students learning a foreign language?
Dr. Warren: There are numerous benefits to learning a foreign language, including ability to communicate with others, expanded world view, improved native language skills through greater awareness of languages, and improved vocabulary, to name a few.
American View: How do you foster a lifelong interest in language learning?
Dr. Warren: I think by teaching about culture, students become interested in learning more about the culture and the language. So it is really important to include culture in all language-learning lessons.
“American View” interviewed Dr. Warren while she was working in Kyoto, Japan, as a visiting researcher at Doshisha University from 2008 to 2009. Dr. Warren presented a number of workshops at American Centers throughout Japan on English teaching methods and activities based on her extensive background in teaching second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, curriculum development, and Japanese history and culture. Since 1991, she has taught English for a wide range of students from graduate students to preschoolers. She has also coordinated an ESL program for international students at Kalamazoo College, Michigan, and worked as a volunteer English teacher at elementary and secondary schools in Guatemala.