Small town near Osaka hopes English will put it on map

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 November, 2016, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 1:32am

Japan’s smallest town hopes that getting its kids to learn English will help put it on the map and attract some of the foreign tourists passing through nearby Osaka’s international airport.

Elementary and junior high school students in Tadaoka, Osaka Prefecture recently featured in a video to introduce Masaki Art Museum and other attractions in the town to an overseas audience, speaking in English and singing a song written for them in the language.

For the event, the students received English lessons from a native speaker dispatched by ECC, an Osaka-based operator of foreign language schools.

The town office has been providing free English conversation classes for local children in cooperation with ECC, taking advantage of the central government’s subsidy programme for regional revitalization.

“I worked very hard with a friend of mine to memorise the English lines,” said Rihoko Yamanaka, 11, who participated in the video.

Her mother Rie said, “The event was good because children had an opportunity to learn English conversation.”

A town official points to Kenta Maeda, a Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander who was born in Tadaokoa, in explaining another of the town’s ambitions with its English programme.

“We hope local children will play an active role in the world” like Maeda, the official said.

In addition to attracting foreign tourists passing through New Kansai International Airport, Tadaoka hopes that by presenting itself as an “English town” it will also draw foreign students.

ECC, for its part, aims to tap new revenue sources by helping the municipality develop into an internationally oriented town.

With the market for English language education shrinking in Japan in the face of its ageing population and declining birthrate, ECC has launched English classes for children in other municipalities, including Wazuka, Kyoto Prefecture, Miyaki, Saga Prefecture and Saza, Nagasaki Prefecture.

ECC is not alone. Encyclopedia publisher Britannica Japan launched a similar service in Tomisato, Chiba Prefecture, in May, targeting local children aged two to eight. English lessons being provided under the programme features singing and dancing and is intended to spark children’s interest in English naturally.

Britannica Japan also supports the education of English instructors as part of its efforts to help improve environments for English education, a company official said.

Tomisato is close to Narita International Airport, which is located near Tokyo, and like Tadaoka it hopes to attract some of the foreign tourists flying in.

Another hope is that the program will help improve communication between the city’s Japanese residents and its large foreign population.