Shodo Island (小豆島)

ShodoshimaEvery year during the national Obon holiday, Smith’s Katsura (スミス英会話 桂)  has a short break too. And every time I spend these few extra days off outside Kyoto city with my family. In the past, we have stayed in local mountains or travelled north to the beaches of The Japan Sea. This year, we have decided to go further away.

Shodo Island (小豆島) lies between Shikoku Island and Awaji Island. Small place with beautiful nature and tasty seafood. It’s famous for olive plantations. And really, some parts of the island reminded me of Greece. On my way to the beach, I passed large green areas with olive trees, surrounded by white sand and stone.

Beaches are beautiful with warm and clean water. We were surprised by the small number of people on the beach and in the sea. Plenty of space for everybody. That’s how we like it, so we stayed by the sea all day. For the evening, our hotel prepared some seafood grilling. Fresh local fish, prawns and muscles. Delicious!

Next day we went to the mountains and visited a natural park where monkeys and deer can freely roam around. Monkeys in this park don’t like to come near people. Of course, all food must stay in the bag. Deer in the area also like to keep their distance. This gives the mountain park more natural and wild feeling.

From the mountains we could see bright beaches, olive plantations and boats sailing around the island. Amazing view. The island has many hiking trails going through beautiful gorges.

Shodo Island is a great place and I’m glad I could spend here some great family time. One day, I’d like to come back.

Building Relationships

20140903_113948One of my long-term students recently went on vacation and brought me this t-shirt as a souvenir.  I was very surprised and delighted by the thoughtful gift.

I enjoy the relationships I have built with my students as an English Communication Coach at Smith’s Eikaiwa Kyobashi’s location.  We often discuss many things that we are interested in and it gives me as a coach the chance to see the level of improvement my students are making.  As well, it gives my students the chance to practice speaking English outside of the lesson topic and as a result to gain confidence in their language ability.

It makes me happy when my students use the new language they have learned in our conversations.  I’m looking forward to our continuing relationships and helping each of them to accomplish their English language goals.

Healthful Eating is Easy in Japan

IMG_3424[1]Hello everyone, it’s Martin Werner Zander from the Smith’s School of English in Kotoen スミス英会話 甲東園 checking in.  マーティン・ワーナー・ザンダー  Check it out below:

I’m writing to remind how important it is to eat properly.  Don’t take in too much trans fat, sugar and salt and avoid preservatives whenever possible.  Dairy cholesterol may well be one of the biggest health food debates in history and for those who oppose dairy, a variety of good options exist.  For me personally, having grown up in a strong dairy environment in Germany, milk, cheese and butter are necessary staples, but for vegans or someone with lactose intolerance, I can understand why some might disagree.

The Thai curry vegetable stew my wife Yoko made is set apart from the usual by its list of ingredients.  Other than the white chicken meat, the rest of the dish in 100% vegan.  The spice mix was created at home from scratch using tumeric, cumin, dried chilantro, a pinch of garlic and one or two other little exotic herbs, and the bullion was made at home.  Just enough pure salt was added for taste and not a grain more.

Yoko usually makes a 5.0L pot full of this sort of stew, and while taking several days to eat up with boiled potates and bread or poured over rice like a Thai donburi, the flavor matures and gets better and better.  I actually prefer the left-overs!

Martin Werner Zandernice Smith's logo


Smith’s School of English in Kotoen 月謝制 Real Monthly Tuition English Conversation School

スミス英会話 甲東園 甲東園校 仁川

Trial Lessons at Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi and Smith’s School of English Kawanishi

photo-5I am always happy when people considering studying English conversation in Amagasaki (Tsukaguchi) or Kawanishi come to my English schools there for a trial lesson. I know there are other English schools out there and that choosing one can be difficult.  I appreciate them considering studying English at Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi or Smith’s School of English Kawanishi.

For me, one of the greatest pleasures of giving a trial lesson is having the chance to give a person the confidence he/she needs to make the decision to study English conversation. Trial lesson students are often nervous initially. I know I have done my job well when I see them relax a bit and gain more confidence by the end of the trial lesson. Hopefully, this leads them to joining my English school in Amagasaki or Kawanishi and I can have the pleasure of helping them achieve their goals.


Toyama Fire Department – Hokuriku Routes 156 and 158

110813_1220~0001Hello readers, it’s Martin Werner Zander from the Smith’s School of English in Kotoen スミス英会話 甲東園 reporting on a another road trip you absolutely must take.

Again this summer we took a trip into the Hokuriku district, probably our fifth trip into a vast moutainous area filled with tradition and history.  From Nishinomiya or Takarazuka the best way up is along Route 173 through Kawanishi over Rurikei and at last onward to Ayabe.  From there Route 27 runs through Maizuru and along the very happy Fukui Prefecture seaside where many people stop for beach activities.  From Kyoto or Takatsuki the nicest drive up is all the way over Route 162 originating in Kyoto city from Route 9 or Gojo as locals call it.  This road passes through several interesting old villages on the way to Obama where it meets up with Route 27 at the beach.  I’m always amazed by why the vast majority insist on paying money to drive on crowded expressways and experience nothing on the way up.

Into Gifu Prefecture, the all-important junction of Routes 156 and 158 stands at Shiratori.  From here you just absolutely have to drive up north through Shirakawago (UNESCO Cultural Heritage) and right into Toyama Prefecture.  The regions in Toyama within an hour or so north of Shirakawago are mostly overlooked by the throngs of tours buses, and this is exactly where the charming experiences are to be had.

Drive slowly and take your time because the roads are not always in the best condition, and on weekends the curvy stretches are populated by motorcyclists eager to demonstrate their Daytona prowess and skill.  Another reason to go slow is not to miss the ancient villages dotted throughout the region, each of which sporting a unique sub-culture.  Enjoy!

Martin Werner Zandernice Smith's logo


Smith’s School of English in Kotoen 月謝制 Real Monthly Tuition English Conversation School

スミス英会話 甲東園 甲東園校 仁川


2014 Biwako Cup Hockey Tournament

Ed Hockey SmileLast weekend I attended the annual Biwako Cup Hockey tournament in Otsu, Shiga. My team, the Hikone Lakestars, has entered the tournament every year. This year we were in B-pool, with 3 other teams: Fukui Club, Torspor from Osaka and the Bam Bam Bigelows from Kagawa! We played 3 games, losing the first 2 and winning the 3rd. The 1st game we lost 2-1 versus Fukui Club. It was a close game with neither team giving the other any chances. It was a real nail-biter, right to the bitter end. It was also a wake-up call for us, having beaten the same team a week earlier by a score of 6-0, we realized that we needed to play better. The next game was versus Torspor, who beat us in last year’s tournament as well. Knowing they would be a tough team to beat, we came out flying but unfortunately we just couldn’t beat their goalie. One of the members of Torspor is a retired professional who played Read More »

The Pleasure of Living in Japan and Teaching English

NishikoriI’ve lived in Japan for a total of 16 years including eight years from 1978 to 1986 and eight more years from 2006 until now. I’ve worked for 3 major Japanese companies, 6 years in Japan and 20 years in the U.S. during which I traveled back and forth several times a year. But this time, I have really enjoyed my life here, working as a teacher in Kobe. I’ve had the pleasure to teach over 320 terrific people at the Smith’s School of English in Okamoto since 2006. Smith’s has provided a very good setting in which I’ve been able to meet many Japanese people of all ages and have many fun experiences.

This week I joined all of my students in the euphoria of Kei Nishikori’s run up to the final match of the U.S. Open Tennis Championship. The semifinal match was especially exciting for everyone. Besides his outstanding and powerful backhand stroke what I was most impressed with was Nishikori’s relaxed and confident use of English in the interview following his match with Novak Djokivic. Here is the interview Link: Kei Nishikori’s Interview after Beating Novak Djokivic in the Semifinal match

As you can see, using no interpretor he answers the interviewer’s questions very calmly and confidently. He is truly one of the best examples of what Japanese young people should strive to become when they learn English from now because the real purpose of English or any language is communication. So I hope that more Japanese young people will see Kei Nishikori as a kind of role model for their generation and strive to become like him: skilled, calm and confident to speak English as a second language in the world. It is a great time to be in Japan, a great time to be an English teacher and I think, the best time to learn English for Japanese students.

Enjoy learning! Enjoy teaching! Enjoy life!

Al Bartle (Head Teacher and Owner, Smith’s School of English Okamoto)

Enjoying Japanese Donbori at NAKAU (なか卯) in Tsukaguchi, Amagasaki

Japan offers a wide variety of tasty dishes to enjoy. I am a fond lover of Japanese donbori. Dondori dishes are simple yet so yummy! When I eat out for dinner during a day of teaching English conversation at Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi in Amagasaki, I often go to NAKAU (なか卯). It’s located just a few minutes from my English school by bicycle along a road called Gogo Bashi. At NAKAU, I enjoy tasty dombori dishes like katsudon and gyudon with miso soup and salad at very reasonable prices. You can see an example of a meal there in the photo. The medium gyudon cost me 350 yen and the miso soup and salad set cost 150 yen, so I got all that food for just 500 yen.  Great value and delicious! I love Japanese dombori! (^.^)


Practicing your Listening Skill with Movies

ディズニー壁紙_アナと雪の女王(エルサ)Everybody knows that watching movies in their original English language is a very good and fun way to practice your listening skill.  You can get used to the natural speed and pronunciation of native speakers talking to native speakers. If you do not understand so much, watching the pictures is still very interesting. You can also easily watch the movie many times over and over, or just a scene. You can watch it once in Japanese so you know what is going on, and then watch the same movie in English as often as you want. Even better, you can look for the original movie script in the internet, and if you are lucky, you can read everything that is said first and then watch it, and understand much much more. As I found out last week, the chances to find the movie script for the movie you like to watch are  actually really really good.

Last week, I was looking for the lyrics of “Let it go“, the theme song of the popular Disney movie “Frozen”. On of my students bought the DVD to practice her listening skill. She loves the song, as many of our girl students, and wanted to know the lyrics. While looking for the lyrics I was very much amazed to find the whole script of the movie on an official Disney site, also. It is a pdf, ready to download. Great service! With the script, she can actually read what is said ahead. It will make it much easier for her to understand, and she will also learn much faster to understand English because of this “discovery”! And anybody who likes the movie “Frozen” and wants to study his or her English listening skill with it can just follow her lead.

For me as an English teacher, this was just a start. Happy that I found the script of the movie “Frozen” thanks to the great service of Disney, I kept searching for all kinds of movies. “Frozen” is very popular in Japan, but my students like all kinds of movies. Next, I looked for the movie script of the classic love story “When Harry meet Sally” with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. Bingo! How about an action movie, like the now classic first movie of the X-men series? Here is the script. Found in less than five seconds. Just put the movie name and the word “script” into any major search engine and there it is. Soup? How about ER or the popular sitcom iCarly?

Not all scripts are as nice as the Frozen script from Disney. Some can be downloaded as pdf, but many cannot. Some include a description of the scenes, some do not even include the name of the speaker. However it is a great service for any learner of English. Do not only watch and listen to your favorite movies in English, read them as well! There is no better way to practice your listening skill. I for my part got busy telling all my students about this great opportunity.

A Day in the Life… of a Volunteer Fire Corps Member!

スミス英会話大津校消防団のエドワード先生On Sunday August 10th a large and slow moving typhoon hit mainland Japan. It made landfall and crept north across the Kansai district, which is where we live. Our city, Otsu, is located in Shiga prefecture, dead centre between the Pacific ocean and the Japan Sea. Because the typhoon was slow moving, it rained heavily and for a long time, causing waterways to fill up and the potential for disaster to increase.

At 10am I received an email stating that all Shiga prefecture fire corps members were on “home standby”, which basically means that we must stay within 30 minutes of our fire hall and be prepared to go to the fire hall should we be called. At 11:00 I received an email followed by a phone call, informing me that we were being activated. Our hall works with a phone tree system, so after calling the next person below me on the tree, I suited up and headed to the hall. About 15 members were available that day and once everyone had arrived we discussed strategy and then headed out. I rode in the fire engine with 4 other members, and 3 other vehicles were used. 2 were personal cars, used for patrolling the area and checking certain high risk spots. The other vehicle was a flat bed truck piled with sandbags. Everyone communicates through cell phone and we are in constant contact with the full-time fire fighters at Otsu City Fire & Rescue South Hall and also local community centre volunteers, who send us reports from their areas.

We patrolled for about 1 hour, stopping at each of the community centres within our area to meet face-to-face with local leaders. We stopped and checked areas that had been flooded during last year’s large typhoon. At this time all was well so we returned to the fire hall and Read More »

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