2018: A Round Up - Change, New Things, and Building a Community

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Last year went super quickly. And we did a lot of new things at Step Up Japanese! Here’s what my students and I got up to in 2018.

We started the year off in class by playing 福笑い fukuwarai, or “Lucky Laugh”. Blindfolded students have to listen to instructions given by their classmates (in Japanese, of course). The funnier the face is, the more laughter you’ll have throughout the year:

I liked this game so much we did it again at the start of 2019 too.

I liked this game so much we did it again at the start of 2019 too.

At the start of 2018, I also finished a long-standing project on instagram, sharing Japanese onomatopoeia words! Here’s one of my favourites, わくわく wakuwaku, the onomatopoeic sound for excitement:

Find them on instagram with the hashtag  #25incredible

Find them on instagram with the hashtag #25incredible

Something big that changed just before 2018 was an increase in the amount of time and energy I had available to put into Step Up Japanese.

Up until the end of 2017, I was working full time and running Step Up Japanese on the side. In October 2017, I reduced my hours at my other job, giving me more time and energy to focus on making Step Up Japanese into the school I want it to be.

Looking back at 2018, I feel like I was able to focus on improving classes, offering more to students, and that I had more “headspace” to be creative and to improve the business.

Reducing my hours at my other job freed me up to say yes to more things this year. In March, I was invited to speak at Women in Language, an online conference run by and for women who work with and love languages. I was a bit terrified, but I said yes!

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My presentation was about running a classroom-based language school in an increasingly online world. Giving a talk online was a new experience for me, and I learned a lot in the process.

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In March, my students and I went to the fantastic annual Open Day run by Brighton & Hove Japanese Club, where we practiced calligraphy and ate delicious Japanese food and snacks before sneaking off to the pub.

My Beginner students also had a special treat in March, with a calligraphy workshop in class by calligraphy artist Takako Higgs:

In March, I travelled to Shikoku, Japan, where I began to walk the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage trail, a long-distance walking route around the island. I walked from Temple 1 to Temple 21 on the trail. To say I had a good time would be an understatement! It was a fascinating and unexpectedly spiritual experience and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity.

Back in the UK, in April we celebrated the end of term with a sushi night!

Spending time with my students outside of class is always a lot of fun.

Spending time with my students outside of class is always a lot of fun.

We did something else new, and had our first Japanese Afternoon Tea at Cafe an-an in Portslade, where we enjoyed small dishes and sweets themed around 子供の日 kodomo no hi, the Japanese ”Children’s Day” festival:

Thank you so much  Noriko-san  for hosting us!

Thank you so much Noriko-san for hosting us!

In May, this blog had its first guest post - a great write-up all about Gachapon machines by Step Up Japanese student David Sharp.

I’d love for you to hear more from my students on this blog in 2019! If you’d like to write a guest post, please get in touch.

In Spring, STEP 1 and STEP 3 classes also practiced typing in Japanese, with many students trying it out for the first time. Beginners learned the basics, while the Pre-Intermediate class (STEP 3) put their typing skills to a test with a google treasure hunt.

This was so much fun I’m doing it again this year with all classes

This was so much fun I’m doing it again this year with all classes

In June, we celebrated the end of the academic year with a mini classroom party (which meant I got to eat Japanese party food three days in a row!)

お疲れ様です! おつかれさまです! Thanks for all your hard work!

お疲れ様です! おつかれさまです! Thanks for all your hard work!

In July I went with some of my students to karaoke! Lucky Voice doesn’t have Japanese songs unfortunately, but they do have Japanese-style private karaoke boxes and a button that you press to order food and drinks.

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In previous years, I’ve taken the whole summer off from group classes, but in 2018 I ran six-week summer courses for the first time. The three courses were all new: Survival Japanese for Beginners, Tadoku - Let’s Read, and Mokuyoubi no Kaiwa - Japanese Conversations.

We were even in the Argus (Brighton’s local newspaper), with an article about my Tadoku reading course:

Summer courses are a bit different to my regular Japanese courses - there’s no textbook and no homework, for a start. I think my students got a lot out of the summer courses, and the chance to focus on one or more skill intensively.

I’m looking forward to opening them again in Summer 2019!

Me with some of my Tadoku learners

Me with some of my Tadoku learners

We also had another special guest in August, as Japanese volunteer Aria came to help out with classes. Aria-san, arigatou gozaimasu!

I forgot to take a photo in August, so here’s a photo from the following february when Aria came again to volunteer (hence the winter coats!)

I forgot to take a photo in August, so here’s a photo from the following february when Aria came again to volunteer (hence the winter coats!)

We were also invited to a brilliant Japan-themed pub quiz organised by Ronnie Chapple who subsequently cycled across Japan to raise money for Sussex-based charity Survivors’ Network.

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Like all good pub quizzes, this one had a Japanese kit-kat round, which we scored 100% in…

Like all good pub quizzes, this one had a Japanese kit-kat round, which we scored 100% in…

August also means our Summer Party! We had a sunny barbecue on the beach again on the bank holiday weekend. This year, my students brought not only homemade burgers, but home-brewed beer! I was very impressed.

Thank you all for coming!

Thank you all for coming!

One of my aims for 2018 was to go to more teacher training and professional development events. I didn’t really achieve this - other things got in the way - with the notable exception of The Language Show (more on that later!)

But in September I did also make it to The Language Masters, a panel discussion on different ways to learn foreign languages. This was an interesting and thought-provoking event tackling big questions: What is fluency? How can we inspire the next generation of language learners? Plus, the rooftop venue was very cool, and I got to meet some really interesting people.

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In October, lessons started again for the new academic year - my courses run October to June - and I opened a new class too, STEP 4, which takes students from the pre-intermediate to the intermediate level in Japanese.

Before I knew it half-term had rolled around and my students and we went to karaoke again!

Group shot with about half the group - sorry to those who had to leave before we took this photo!

Group shot with about half the group - sorry to those who had to leave before we took this photo!

In November I went to The Language Show, where I spent two full days attending interesting and varied talks on language teaching.

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I learned so much from the weekend and have already put into practice a lot of practical teaching ideas I picked up at this show. Highlights for me included Dr M Florencia Nelli’s talk Playing languages: how to create and effectively use games in language lessons:

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and Jennifer Wozniak’s talk Engagement in Language Learning, which was packed full of ideas for motivating students of all ages. I really liked Ms. Wozniak’s ideas for language learning outside the classroom (why not do a cooking class in the target language?)

And I loved her approach to teaching time with this homework, giving students free rein to be creative with time-telling practice:

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After The Language Show, I also got to meet up with two of Women in Language’s founders, the talented Lindsay Williams (of Lindsay Does Languages) and Kerstin Cable of Fluent Language.

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In December, we were invited to the 忘年会 (bounenkai) end-of-year party of the Brighton & Hove Japanese Club.

This was a lot of fun - and a chance to meet more local Japanese people too.

忘年会 ( bounenkai ) can also be translated as “forget-the-year party” - not that I want to forget this year!

忘年会 (bounenkai) can also be translated as “forget-the-year party” - not that I want to forget this year!

My student Sheen even won a prize in the cosplay competition!

My student Sheen even won a prize in the cosplay competition!

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And of course we had an end-of-year party of our own - finishing up 2018 with a trip to Moshimo, Brighton’s ethical and sustainable sushi restaurant.

Thanks
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We were a big group, and the staff really looked after us -  arigatou gozaimashita!

We were a big group, and the staff really looked after us - arigatou gozaimashita!

I run Step Up Japanese by myself, but I’m not really alone. I’m helped along by local business owners who host our events and look after us; members of other local groups who kindly invite us to events; and by Japanese volunteers who come to class and help out.

And most of all I am helped enormously by my students, who offer their support, good ideas, home-brewed beer, and endless souvenir Japanese kit-kats. いつもありがとうございます! Itsumo arigatou gozaimasu! Thank you, as ever.

Let’s make the rest of 2019 awesome too :-)

Fran x