• Kyodo

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With elementary school curricula increasingly including English classes, a municipal elementary school in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, has just completed the first year of a language program that makes English education fun.

The curriculum at Kokura Chuo Elementary School has included a conversation-oriented English class since April, with the goal of teaching students basic English expressions, animal names and numbers through puppet shows and games such as bingo and “sugoroku,” a dice game.

Unlike a conventional class, students study English away from their desks, chairs, textbooks and notebooks. Instead, they are introduced to the language once a week through a special activity called “Global Time.”

The class is taught by Matthew Jenkins, the school’s assistant language teacher. With a Japanese teacher on hand to help students understand meanings, Jenkins pronounces English expressions aloud, which the students then mimic.

Using puppets as teaching aids, Jenkins, a 23-year-old Australian, teaches the students expressions such as “What do you like to eat?” and makes the language more accessible to them by turning learning into a game.

Students have to listen carefully and be talkative to win the game, Jenkins said, adding that it helps them learn to speak English naturally.

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the number of elementary schools that included English classes in their curricula stood at 3,159 at the end of 2000.

Masahiko Nobuyoshi, the school’s principal, said that by learning about foreign cultures through studying English, the students also gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture. He said the school plans to continue the English classes in its curriculum for the next school year, which starts in April.

Tatsuya Nakata, a 7-year-old student at the school, said, “I find the class a bit hard but I like learning English because it’s fun.”

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