By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Findlay City Schools launched a Japanese language program this school year, and welcomed two Japanese exchange students at the same time.
In addition to teaching almost 70 high school students, part of Tanya Schubert’s job is “trying to advocate the language” to younger students and the broader community.
Not everyone realizes it, but “it’s a relevant language” due to the area’s Japanese population and business ties to the country, Schubert said.
“There’s a fear to take Japanese,” Schubert said. She acknowledged it “can be challenging” to write and read the characters, but the best way to learn is to dive right in.
She doesn’t speak much English with her students, because research says “you should teach in the target language 90 to 100 percent of the time,” Schubert said.
“I think if you’re never forced to read and write it, it’s hard,” she said. “But because of the way I teach, where constantly they’re being forced to read, write, recall — it’s amazing what they can do after a year, honestly.”
Schubert, who studied abroad twice and also taught English in Japan, uses “authentic materials” like real Japanese menus, maps and social media clips.
That way, if students visit Japan, they will “have confidence to read and interact with real Japanese things, not just something from a textbook, which would be sort of watered down,” she said.
Another key element of her teaching style: No desks. The class stands in a circle, or practices Japanese in small groups.
“I just want the kids moving and engaging in the language,” Schubert said.
Ayano Shimozono and Mari Ito are spending the full school year in Findlay, living with the Bodnarik and Grubinski families.
They aren’t fully confident using English out in the world yet, Schubert said, acting as a translator, but that’s part of why they wanted to study here.
Shimozono wanted to grow as a person, and do something mentally challenging. Ito wanted more practice applying what she had learned about conversing in English.
Shimozono said she has thoughts she can’t convey in English, so they all flow out when she talks to her mom.
“Learning English, and speaking English, you have so many thoughts in your head, but at the level they’re at, they can’t always convey that, and so that’s really overwhelming,” Schubert said.
Sometimes they’re uncertain about how to open a conversation with a potential new friend, Schubert said, but they have joined clubs and sports.
Both have been surprised by the “difference in diet,” Schubert said. In Japan, a cookie or donut at breakfast isn’t normal, and the portion sizes aren’t so big.
Still, Shimozono found she likes Chick-fil-A and sugar cookies. And the sushi here isn’t authentic, but it’s still good.
Ito likes that here, “you can be yourself. You can be an individual, and you can just be you,” Schubert said.
Shimozono “thought coming here she would be more alone, but what she’s noticed is that even if she doesn’t know the English or she feels lost, people just jump in and support her and help her in her classes and day-to-day,” Schubert said.