Ten Years Strong

IMG_2839It is amazing how quickly time passes.  Ten years ago I made the decision to open this school in Hashimoto, with no regrets. It has been wonderful. Students of all kinds have come through. The youngest to date started at fourteen years old, and unbelievably so, she is still here, a strong student at twenty-three years old. Why? She likes it! High school students, single/married working women and men, young, middle aged, older, housewives, and even some retirees are all part of the mix. They all have a purpose for studying English, whether it be for their jobs, travel, preparing for an interview, understanding movies without subtitles, test preparation for TOEIC/TOEFL, or just for fun as a weekly activity. Meeting all these people and helping these people achieve their goals has been a pleasure. I enjoy what I do, and consider myself a very lucky person to be able to live in Japan, provide this service to the community, and help people improve their English skills, whether they be a complete beginner or highly advanced. Indeed, I am very happy to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Smith’s School of English, Hashimoto!



Mooo or Mo—? Animal Sounds in Different Languages

スミス英会話大津校 英語でムー、日本語でモー!!How are languages different? How can we “compare” 2 languages? Every language is unique and although there are many shared characteristics, the differences are what make learning a new language both difficult and interesting. Phonetic range, written forms, historical context and cultural background all affect the development of any given language. For this reason, the same sound can be completely different in 2 different languages. Onomatopoeia is a great way to compare languages. Onomatopoeic lexicon shows how speakers of a language “hear” a sound. After being interpreted by the ear, the sound must be written. The written form of a language will determine the final form of the sound.

Animal sounds are popular in children songs and also in English conversation classrooms. Comparing animal sounds is a fun game to lay and always lightens the mood. Although it may seem like a simple little activity, it is actually a very insightful way to compare languages. For example, in English a cow says “mooo” (rhymes with “who”) while in Japanese a cow says “mo” (rhymes with “show”). Why is this? Both start with the letter m, but the way that we hear the cow sound is shaped by cultural and linguistic background. Another example: in English a cat Read More »

Cherry Blossom Picnic in Kyoto

英会話桂 花見Recently, students and friends of SSE Katsura met up at the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park to enjoy a Cherrry Blossom Viewing Party together.

Our meeting point was at Marutamachi station and from there it took us only 5 minutes to get to our favourite spot for the picnic. Actually, we could sit under the same tree as last year. And like last year we had the whole area just for us. It’s great to be able to hold a big picnic with many people and keep our privacy at the same time.

Like at every school event, there was a big variety of food and drinks for all. Everyone brought some delicious picnic food to share. I love these type of events when we can try foods prepared at home. They were all delicious.

With good food comes a good atmosphere and we shared many funny stories and had big laughs all day. I’ve enjoyed this event a lot and I think it’s safe to say that we all did.

Just a nice time together in a beautiful park on a warm Sunday.

Thank you all for coming and see you at the next school event.


Why is the 10th month called October?

スミス英会話大津校 Inquisitive Students Always Ask Why?Students are so full of curiosity. This curiosity leads to questions. Some questions are easy, some more difficult. As a teacher, i love a challenge, and students present me daily with difficult questions. Some are grammar related, others might be colloquial questions, still others might be cultural in nature. Recently I was asked by a student the following question: Why is the 10th month called October? Doesn’t “octo” mean 8? I was stumped by this question as i had never thought about this before. We discussed this and eventually the naming of all the months for the rest of the lesson. The students used a recent one point (see C21 I believe…) to discuss their theories. For example: I believe that December means “month 10″ but I’m not sure so let’s check later. Another student said: I believe that the calendar must have started in March in the past, so October was the 8th month, but I’m not sure so let’s use Google to check after class. As it turns out, both of these students’ theories were correct. After class we checked online, and this is what we found:
January is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings
February is named after the Italian god Februus, the Roman month of purification
March is named after the Roman god Mars and was the 1st month of the old Roman calendar
April comes from an old Latin word, apirere, which means “to open” (sounds like Spring to me!)
May was the 3rd month of the Read More »

Why I Love Kyoto by Chi-Yow

スミス英会話 京都市が大好き!Why do I love Kyoto?
For me, because I have a background in architecture with a focus on older buildings and how to continue using them in the future, I like having the chance to see part of Japan’s history in Kyoto. I lived in Tokyo before moving to Kyoto. Tokyo can be a fun city, but I prefer Kyoto because the atmosphere is calmer, and the people seem friendlier in the Kansai region. Although I have to admit that there are still times I do not understand the dialect at all, I am really enjoying my time in Kyoto.  I can’t say I enjoy the ‘traveller seasons’ though. I do appreciate the lovely scenery the spring cherry blossoms and autumn maple leaves give to the old city, however I am not a fan of the jostling for the best photo spot that can happen. That’s only a small drawback to living in Kyoto though. Finding the small pockets of nice places here and there away from the crowds can be rare, but fun when it happens.  The weather in Kyoto also reminds me a bit of my hometown, Taiwan, with the blazing hot summers and freezing winters. Kyoto is also incredibly humid, much like Taiwan. The mountains are also an appreciated part of the landscape that I missed during my time in Tokyo, as well as the starry night sky. I could sometimes see stars in Tokyo, but they’re much clearer in Kyoto.

The Most Peaceful Place in Otsu 天孫神社

滋賀県大津校の天孫神社Otsu city (大津市) is the capital of Shiga prefecture (滋賀県), with a population of over 340,000 people. The heart of the city is the area between Otsu station and Ishiyama station. The area in front of Otsu station is the business and governmental centre, home to municipal, prefectural and national government offices. This is a busy urban centre. This is also where our English conversation school (スミス英会話大津校) is located, right in front of Otsu station, between Shiga Building (滋賀ビル) and Lake Biwa National Government Building (琵琶湖大津合同庁舎). In this concrete jungle, in this bureaucratic hub, where can a person go for a little peace and quiet?

Tenson Shrine (天孫神社) is located less than 200 meters from Otsu station. Though small, it is a little oasis in the middle of the city. Built over 1200 years ago, the shrine has 2 gates, a central stage, and dozens of trees packed into the tiny grounds. In April, the trees show their true colours, i.e. pink, as the cherry blossoms are on display. Many business people enjoy a stroll through Read More »

It’s Great to Have Young Students Who Enjoy Speaking English!

photo-36A new school year is starting and most students in Japan are concentrating on preparing for entrance examinations for high school and university. As we all know, they do not need to be able to speak English to enter university in most cases. That’s why it’s so great to have a young student who really enjoys learning and speaking English. YUTO has been my student since she was in elementary school. That is about 7 years.  She’s starting her last year of high school this week. It’s amazing how fast time flies but I am really proud of YUTO!

Along the way she was also fortunate to be taught by my part-time assistant YUKO, who herself, having studied at international schools overseas for 8 years, really got YUTO interested in speaking English. YUTO was also chosen as one of 10 high school students in Kobe last year to spend a week at a school in Seattle, where she was gracious enough to buy and bring me back a bag of fresh coffee beans from the first Starbucks Coffee shop. Thanks YUTO!

Here she is writing the English words on the whiteboard for the Japanese vocabulary I recite to her. I’m happy too that I can read the KANJI for those words. It’s certainly good practice for me too! This time she correctly remembered and spelled 93 of 100 words. Great job YUTO !

Al Bartle, Smith’s School of English, Okamoto, Kobe

Rainy Days are the Best!

膳所城跡公園 雨のお花見 スミス英会話大津校 1Last weekend was supposed to be our English conversation school’s 8th annual Hanami Party. Sadly we had to cancel due to rain. The silver lining was that we had a free day. Unfortunately we couldn’t contact a few students to inform them of the cancellation. so my son and I decided to go to the park, just in case. We donned our rain gear and headed out to Zeze Castle Park, where our party was supposed to have been held. It had been raining quite heavily and there were some huge puddles in the park. My son and I enjoyed splashing in the puddles and running around the park. Because of the rain, there were very few people in the park and we could basically have free fun of the place. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and the rain made everything shiny. It was a very beautiful site to see and I was so happy we had decided to go play in the park. My son and I enjoyed playing in the park, then lunch at an udon shop before heading home, This was truly a silver lining on a gray rain cloud.

Spring cherry blossoms near Azamino (あざみ野)

よみうりラドンWell this year the cherry blossoms have come, but instead of going to one of the famous parks like Chidorigafuchi we decided to see them in our local area.  Since I have been riding my road bike all over Kanagawa (神奈川) these past few years I have discovered some great spots.  I was even able to show my students some new places and they have lived here all their lives.  This year, the best place for us to see them was near a small temple just behind Yomiuri land which is not that far from Azamino あざみ野.  Even though it was Sunday, there were very few people so we got to enjoy them all to ourselves.  These areas may be a lot smaller than say, Shinjuku Park, but not having so many people made it a much more pleasant experience.  Sometimes staying close to home and enjoying Read More »

People of All Ages Welcome at Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi

Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a trial English lesson to a nice lady at Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi. She asked me if she was too old to study English and if there were other people her age studying at my English school. I told her she wasn’t too old and that we have people of all ages from children to retirees. This concern about age is something I have encountered quite a few times over the years teaching English in Tsukaguchi. My belief is that it’s never too late to study English or anything else for that matter. If you really want to learn something, it’s never too late to do it. Our founder Mark Smith believes it is never too late to start and he himself is today studying a postgraduate degree which he started at the age of 57.  Some of my students in Tsukaguchi are in their sixties. If you really want to study English and improve your English conversation skills, don’t let concerns about your age hold you back. Just do it!

Happy studying! (^.^)


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