Ritsumeikan Uji junior & High School

 33-1 HakkenYadani, Hirono cho, Uji city, Kyoto 611-0031

Phone:  0774-41-3000  FAX 0774-41-3555

The school offers a Super English Language (SEL) course which is also called the Immersion Program, a program that literally immerses students in English.

The following info on the school was excerpted from “School evaluates its immersion experience” Yomiuri Shimbun, Thurs Oct 19, 2006 article:

“All classes except for Japanese are conducted in English and taught mainly by native English speakers.

The high school has 11 classes in a grade, with about 40 studnets in each class. One class for each grade takes the SEL course, while the other 10 classes take the normal course. SEL course classes for most subjects and normal-course English classes are divided intwo for small-group instruction.

The high school was first designated as a SELHi in fiscal 2002, and after the completion of the three-year pilot project, it received its second designation in a row in fiscal 2005.

“What is highly regarded is the Immersion Program, although our English classes of the normal course are also credited,” said teacher Kunihide Okamoto, director of SEL courses at the school. Several ears before the launch of the program, the high school staff began discussing a change in their education policies, eyeing the 2000 opening of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific Unviersity (APU) in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. That insitution is run by the same school corporation, nad has become known for its large number of  foreign students and the international atmostphere of its education.

The discussion concluded that more emphasis should be put on language learning and information technology, with the high school setting itself the goal of fostering students who can hold their own while studying with international students at a university like APU, or even go to unviersities abroad if they wish to.

The Immersion program has two major pillars: classes conducted in English and studying for a year in an English-speaking country. A year aborad is optional, but most students choose to do it.

The effect is visible. Students who score around 350 to 400 in the Test of Egnlish as a Foreign Languge (TOEFL) when starting high school can exceed 600 by the time they graduate, according to the school. “Of course, TOEFL is not hte only way to evaluate their ability, but it’s one assessment,” said Okamoto. And we can say for sure that there are almost no mental barriers to speaking English for SEL studetns–they can have discussions and give presentations at a satisfactory level.

However, one problem that teachers have noticed SEL students do have is that they can speak fluent English, but lack accuracy. They have no problem communicating in English, but their weakness is evident in their writing, as they often select the wrong words or use incorrect grammar.

“This is a dilemma for us”, Okamoto said. “We basically follow the Japanese standard high school curriculum, so even though the classes are given in English, they are content-focused. We can’t spend time correcting the students’ grammatical mistakes every time, as we have to move on in content.”

Immersion is a widely known way of learning a language. But it usually starts when learners are at a younger age, around the early primary school years. At such an age, content is not as important, and the method can be easily adopted.

Despite being immersed in Englsih every day, Okamoto said, there is little sign that the students’ Japanese ability deteriorates. Children who go through immersion language learning often have problems in their mother language, but for high school students it does not become a threat, as they had already built up their native language skills.

“Actually it could be a benefit for them to take another look at Japanese, because, after being immersed in a foreign language , their overall language ability is improved,” he said.  ….

Coordination between teachers

Although the Immersion Program often gets most of the attention, the English  classes of the high school’s normal course are also well regarded. They are part of the SELHi project as well.

Among about 50 normal-course English teachers, half of them are native English teachers, and the other half are Japanese.

For first- and second-year students, classes are mostly done in English even when the teachers are Japanese. The purpose is to get studetns feeling comfortable communicating in English.

One class The Daily Yomiuri visited was of first year studetns, and teacher Kazunori Takeuchi spoke English throughout the class period except for several occasions when he gave translations of certain words that might be a little difficult for the students, such as “counterfeit” or “greed”.

For third year students, grammar and translation are emphasized, and Japanese is frequently used in classes, according to the school.

Just like SEL students, normal-course students get very good scores in listening and reading but do not do very well in grammar–an unusual state of affairs for Japanese students.

Teacher Yumino Nakahara, who is in charge of English education for both courses, said, “It’s very difficult to coordinate classes between Japanese and native English-speaking teachers.”

Currently, Japanese teachers are responsible for “inputs” reading and grammar–while native English-speaking teachers take care of “outputs” –writing and speaking. “But it’s tough. Writing classes by native English speakers are sometimes too difficult for students, while Japanese teachers don’t get the feedback on what they taught,” Nakahara said.

Although Nakahara feels communicative English has been overly emphasized, she believes native English speakers are very important in language teaching. “We Japanese teachers may be as fluent in English as native English speakers, but the impression we make on students is totally different from what native English speakers can give to them. When students find themselves communicating with foreigners, it makes a great impact,” she said. “We only have to find a way to leverage them in a more effective way.”

Prof. Kenji Yamaoka of Ritsumeikan University, who acts as a language education adviser to the high school, said: “Ritsumeikan Uji High School students are very privileged in terms of the language learning environment. The largest challenge the school has is how to take advantage of the great environment and motivate the students.”

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Immersion Language Education: A Model for English Education in Japan The Ritsumeikan Uji High School example illustrate that immersion programs can be successful in Japan

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