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Volunteers teach English, gain cultural respect

Date Posted: 2004-06-10

NAGO CITY, Okinawa, Japan — Marines and Sailors from Camp Schwab taught English to Okinawan children at Omiya Elementary School here May 25.

Twice a month Camp Services offers service members a unique opportunity to bond with Okinawan elementary students, promoting international understanding and English language instruction.

“Some day I want to be a teacher,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan A. Silk, dental technician, 3rd Dental Battalion, 3rd Force Service Support Group. “Volunteering is a good experience to see how other cultures educate their children.”

The volunteers arrived at the school before the afternoon classes began, and spent time playing with the children during their midday break.

“The children wouldn’t let me play soccer with them at first, but after they warmed up to me I was in the game,” Silk said.

The Okinawan students walked the volunteers to their designated classrooms to meet their translators, who eased the way for each service member to communicate and instruct the class.

The volunteers began the class by writing their names on the board. Next they addressed the class with the greeting, "Hi, my name is…” and the class returned the greeting with, "Hi, nice to meet you."

According to third grade teacher Mikuni Uehara, for many of the children, this is their first experience learning English.

“There are not many chances these children have to learn English from individuals from the United States,” Uehara said. “Having the volunteers come to the school helps the students familiarize themselves with American culture.”

During the English lesson, the service members sang songs like “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” and played “Simon says” with the students, helping them retain newly learned English words.

Private First Class John A. McLaughlin, field radio operator, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, and his fellow Marines said they noticed improvements in the children’s vocabulary after only a couple of hours.

“I believe the children began to understand us, just as we started to understand them,” McLaughlin said.
By spending the day with the Okinawan students, the service members had a chance to learn a little about Okinawan culture as well.

“I learned that Okinawans have a completely different way of teaching than Americans do,” McLaughlin said.

The thought of being in front of a group of third and fourth graders who understand very little English may seem horrifying to some people, but the volunteers said the children loved to see Americans and were eager to learn.

Service members interested in volunteering should request permission from their staff non-commissioned officer in charge and contact Camp Schwab Camp Services at 625-2215.

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