National

Small town near Osaka turns to English to put itself on the map

Kyodo

A small town is hoping that teaching English to its young people will get it noticed, attracting a few of the many foreign tourists on their way to Osaka via the neighboring international airport.

Elementary and junior high school students in Tadaoka, Osaka Prefecture, were recently featured in a video to introduce Masaki Art Museum and other attractions in the town to an overseas audience. They spoke in English and sang a special English song.

For the taping, the students received English lessons from a native speaker dispatched by ECC, an Osaka-based operator of foreign language schools.

The town office has also been providing free English conversation classes for local children in cooperation with ECC, taking advantage of the central government’s subsidy program for regional revitalization.

“I worked very hard with a friend of mine to memorize the English lines,” said Rihoko Yamanaka, 11, who participated in the video.

Her mother, Rie, said, “The (filming event) was good because children had an opportunity to learn English conversation.”

A town official points to Kenta Maeda, a Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander who was born in Tadaoka, in explaining another of the town’s ambitions with its English program.

“We hope local children will play an active role in the world” like Maeda, the official said.

In addition to attracting foreign tourists passing through Kansai International Airport, Tadaoka hopes that by presenting itself as an “English town” it will also draw foreign students.

ECC, for its part, aims to tap new revenue sources by helping the municipality to develop into an internationally oriented town.

With the market for English language education shrinking in Japan in the face of an aging population and declining birthrate, ECC has launched English classes for children in other municipalities, including Wazuka, Kyoto Prefecture, Miyaki, Saga Prefecture, and Saza, Nagasaki Prefecture.

ECC is not alone. Encyclopedia publisher Britannica Japan Co. launched a similar service in Tomisato, Chiba Prefecture, in May, targeting local children aged 2 to 8. English lessons provided under the program feature singing and dancing and are intended to spark children’s interest in English in a natural way.

Britannica Japan also supports the education of English instructors as part of its efforts to improve the environment for English education, a company official said.

Tomisato is close to Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, and like Tadaoka it hopes to attract some of the foreign tourists flying in.

Another hope is that the program will help improve communication between the city’s Japanese residents and its large foreign population.