New ¥900 million Tokyo study facility gives students hands-on taste of English

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

On Sept. 6 a spacious English education facility where children can immerse themselves in the language through simulated travel experiences will open in Tokyo as part of efforts to beef up Japan’s communication abilities ahead of the Olympics.

The Tokyo Global Gateway in Koto Ward, a ¥900 million project involving the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, will let children practice English in a variety of settings, such as inside planes, restaurants or drug stores. It will also allow them to take part in computer programming, news production and other classes.

“I want kids to experience the feeling of success that comes from correctly delivering their messages in English,” TGG official Kotaro Yonekura said Monday. “This is a place where kids do not have to be afraid of making mistakes and can learn from them, as well as a good practice place for those who find it difficult to understand English spoken at a native speaker’s normal speed.”

TGG has two activity areas suitable for students from elementary to high school, with one English-speaking guide to attend to groups of eight.

One is the Attraction Area, which includes travel, hotel and airport zones designed with a foreign environment.

In the “Airport Zone,” visitors enter a mock airplane cabin where they can practice English-speaking scenarios with flight attendants to convey, for example, that they have a headache or want medicine and water.

In the “Travel Zone,” which includes a pharmacy, children will be tasked with buying pills by explaining their conditions to store staff.

English-speaking actors working at TGG will either use simple or advanced English to respond based on how well the children react to their questions. Tour guides will ensure students refrain from speaking in Japanese and offer help when they seem to be struggling. Each session takes 60 minutes.

The other section, called the Active Immersion Area, comprises a media recording studio, laboratory, cooking space and gymnasium. In the media lab space, kids can simulate being TV news anchors and read scripts written in English that are overseen by English-speaking directors.

Around 46,000 students, most of whom live in Tokyo, have already booked places at the facility. A half-day session of activities divided into two 60-minute sessions costs ¥2,400 for each student if they attend Tokyo schools. A full-day program comprising four sessions will cost ¥4,800. For students outside the capital, the price will be higher.

TGG will also be open to individual customers from Sept. 16, but spots are limited and the facility is fully booked until December. It should also be noted that TGG is working on different programs targeting individual customers and that those are expected to be ready by April.

Japan has been struggling for decades to improve its English proficiency. It ranked 27th out of 30 Asian countries in 2014 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) program.