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English Tea Parties in August


Our work in August has been a lot less stressful compared to last month’s sister-city exchange programme. Looking back over my diary now, there have been various things keeping me occupied:

- a few translation jobs - a couple of ‘guest teacher’ appointments (one at a private nursery school, one at a residential association) - an afternoon interpreting at the city’s health-check for 3-and-a-half-year-old children (serendipitously one week prior to my own son’s; ideal study for me!) - preparation of the exchange programme essay collection (including some fairly simple Japanese-English translation, and some horrifically difficult English-Japanese translation…), - a couple of meetings reflecting on last month’s exchange programme - some meetings preparing for the autumn’s guest teacher appointments - a meeting in preparation of October’s big event, the Halloween Party.

- joining/ preparing for the YIFA BBQ at the annual Dragon Canoe Race event in Yasu.

As well as the aforementioned BBQ, the main YIFA events of the month were three English Tea Parties. It was my first time to put them on, so I’d like to write a little bit about my experiences with them here.

Every August YIFA puts on these events in Yasu. The principle aim is to let Japanese people practice their English in a comfortable environment, and for Japanese and foreign residents to meet and interact with each other. The events also act as something of a replacement for the usual English Salon classes (which are often reduced in number during the summer holidays), and as an avenue into the English Salon classes for anyone who is interested in English, but not confident in going straight into a class.

Our Tea Parties this year took place at the Kitano Community Centre on August 2nd, 9th and 23rd. It was my responsibility to organise the content of the parties, to recruit native English-speaking volunteers to help with the event, and to make sure that everyone was happy during the event. If I have to self-reflect on my job (I do!), I would give myself the following marks:

Content: 4/5

Recruiting volunteers: 5/5

Making sure everyone was happy: 3/5 (This last mark will probably become clear as I write further!)

As an experienced teacher, I wasn’t too nervous about the content of the event. The only real issue being the difference in levels between participants, though of course that is true of pretty much any classroom! Though the Tea Party is distinct from a lesson, and more of a relaxed environment, I did want to have a quick warm-up activity to get people walking around and meeting each other. On that basis I prepared a ‘Find Someone Who…’ game whereby people walk around trying to find people who fit certain criteria (e.g. ‘Find someone who can play the piano’, ‘Find someone who has been to Australia’). It’s an activity which works with any age of student as long as they have rudimentary grammar knowledge, so was an ideal warm-up for the party. I think everyone really enjoyed the chance to talk with a lot of different people, and some people attempted to fill their sheets with surprising gusto!

After that initial activity, I introduced our volunteers. For the first week, I had invited some of my buddies: Dan, who I’ve known for almost a decade in Japan and played cricket with for Shiga Cricket Club, Jon, who I worked with for several years, and Monika, an Indian Yasu resident who has been a very kind and enthusiastic YIFA volunteer since (and before) I started working in Yasu. Funnily enough, Dan and Jon are both British, like me, which raised a few laughs as we introduced ourselves one after another! I think when Japanese people see a white face, they immediately assume ‘American’, but the participants of Tea Party 1 might think twice from now on!

The volunteers were going to lead their respective groups in discussion of various topics. I prepared some cards in advance with those topics which were quite simple in nature: hometown, sleep, hobbies, children, sport and exercise. I think everybody enjoyed chatting in their respective groups; my table did certainly. The feedback would attest to the fact that it was a well-received event, though, while compiling the participants’ responses, it was clear that there were some things that needed reflection:

1. “It would be good if the native speakers changed tables in twenty-minute intervals. It would be good to have the chance to speak with different native speakers”.

2. “It was very noisy. It would be very helpful to have partitions between the groups”.

The first point was a very good idea. It was something that had actually struck me, but I decided at the time that it would be a bit unnatural to cut off people’s conversation to switch people around. In the end though, on the basis of this participant’s comment, I did decide to adopt the idea for the second Tea Party, and—although it did feel a little bit odd telling people to move mid-chat—it was overall a positive change.

The second point (mentioned by more than one person) I took on board, but decided not to follow through with. The first Tea Party was popular beyond what we imagined. Far beyond previous years, 25 participants took part on the day, many of whom brought their children along as well. It all made for quite a lively atmosphere in a rather compact room! Looking back over the data from last year, there was a huge drop off in participation for Tea Party 2, so, expecting the same decline in numbers, I decided that there wasn’t any real reason to adopt ‘noise-control’ measures…How wrong I was!

Tea Party 1 (August 2nd)

For the second Tea Party the content was to stay basically the same, save changing the group discussion topics and making a new version of the ‘find someone who…’ worksheet. I had also managed to gather some great volunteers to help with the event again; American ex-colleagues this time (veteran of YIFA office Tori and English teacher Jason), as well as Monika who kindly agreed to come and help again, this time with fellow Indian Sunita. They certainly helped to lend the event a more worldly flavour!

I felt very confident with the event as we were preparing the room—this time trying to push the tables as far apart as possible, to try and help people hear the others in their group. The first people came into the room at about 9.50, and I started wondering if there would be a decent enough number for the event. The next thing I knew there was a line waiting outside, as people crowded into the small room. Tea Party 2 saw an unprecedented 34 participants join the event. And, including children and a nice lady there to cover the event for a local newspaper, there were upwards of 50 people in the room. I felt that I probably should have considered the partition idea, but, then again, there wasn’t really any room to put them…

It was a very lively (= noisy) atmosphere again! I think—and the reflection sheets corroborated this—that most of the people really enjoyed the event; they had a good chance to practice speaking English (though the groups were too big for sure), and enjoyed meeting lots of new people. We switched the group leaders a couple of times too, so that helped to freshen things up a bit during the 90 minutes. From my personal experience though, there was quite a difference in noise levels between the outer tables and the ones on the inside of the room. Listening to a person speaking on the far side of your group’s table was nigh on impossible in the middle of the room, due to the ambient noise levels and kids messing around.

The participants’ comments reflected my own view, discussing good points such as the topics, the kindness of the native group leaders, the chance to meet and talk to lots of different people, and other points. Negative aspects of the event generally related to the numbers of people there. It is difficult to please all of the people all of the time… For example, there were those who wanted to talk about more in-depth issues, while there were some who wanted more beginner-friendly content. On that basis, for the final Tea Party I decided to put a mixture of the conversation topics and debate topics on each table (rather than have one debate table as I did at this event), and let the group leaders read the air as far as what to use. That was a compromise easy to make, though there were some conflicting criticisms made that were borderline impossible to reconcile:

1. “The number of people was very big so it was at times difficult to pick up what people were saying. The children were especially noisy…”

2. “It was great to be able to bring my children to an event like this”.

Perhaps in future we can deal with these issues by holding separate events, but for the third and final Tea Party, there wasn’t much we could do; I was hoping that the numbers might decrease a little bit again for the 23rd, and praying that they wouldn’t increase…

Tea Party 2 (August 9th)

There was no need to worry, the final event saw (a pretty-much perfect) 22 participants join us, along with a few children as before. It was lively without being too noisy, the groups were just about perfect in size (four groups of about 5-6 people), and we finally got the right amount of food and drink (too little first time, too much second time!). Thanks to Tori (again), Australian YIFA member Carlie, and Monika (again!) for leading their groups so well, the comments of the participants were very positive and everybody involved had a fun time meeting new people.

Tea Party 3 (August 23rd)

I’ve used this blog post as a means of reflection, so perhaps it has come across like I took the events a bit too seriously. It wasn’t really the case in fact. I thoroughly enjoyed them, but in the spirit of professional development, I'm always looking at ways to improve! Free for members, and only 200 yen for non-members, nobody was too negative about any of the issues that arose, though of course their comments are very valid and well received no matter the price of the event. The nicest comments that I read—and they came up many times—were people who asked us to hold the events more often, and not just in the summertime. I have to say that I agree it would be a good idea to have them more frequently, and, ideally, during other times of year as well. That’s something we’ll be discussing in the office together in terms of its feasibility.

The aim of the Tea Parties is to let residents practice speaking English and to support interaction between Japanese and foreign people. In terms of fulfilling this objective, I would give the events a clear 5/5. Hopefully we can hold similar events again sometime soon.

If you’ve made it this far down the page, thank you for reading my boring thoughts! I promise I’ll try and be more interesting in future… Our next event here at YIFA is our annual culture class on September 1st. This time members of the Yasu-based collective Kirakuza will be performing and teaching about the traditional Japanese street art of Nankin Tamasudare (I’d never heard of it before either!). My work for that is already done (I have prepared a PowerPoint slide show to go with their Lake Biwa-related performance), but I am looking forward to joining the event, probably with one or two of my boys. After that, there are a HUGE number of school visits scheduled (twenty-four in September and October alone!), as well as one of YIFA’s biggest events, the Halloween Party in October.

I’ll probably waste some internet space with my meditations on all of that at some point. Thanks for reading 😊



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