Indian Trace Elementary Second Graders Learn Japanese Language and Culture

Students in Madelen Sanchez’s second grade gifted and talented class at Indian Trace Elementary School are learning to speak Japanese. They are participating in Broward County School’s Tomodachi program, which is open to all students in grades one through five.

“Tomodachi, which means friends in Japanese, is a weekly distance learning class taught by Sensei (teacher) Satoko Fisher,” explains Mrs. Sanchez. “We use a program similar to Skype in which Sensei Fisher teaches conversational Japanese as well as Japanese culture and traditions.”

Mrs. Sanchez says her students really enjoy the class and are already learning to converse in Japanese. “They can carry a simple conversation that includes greetings, what they like or not like, what they eat, etc. They also learn numbers, colors, names of family members, names of animals, and many survival phrases.”

In addition to teaching the Japanese language, Sensei Fisher teaches children about Japanese culture. “In the culture part, we learn about the life of the common Japanese person, what they eat, how they dress, how schools operate. We also learn about celebrations such as Children’s Day,” explains Mrs. Sanchez, noting that her students really enjoy the fun facts Sensei Fisher shares. For example, in Japan you should slurp your noodles, not doing so is considered impolite. And students in Japan are expected to serve lunch and clean the classroom.

As part of the Tomodachi program, Sensei Fisher also visits the schools to engage students in hands-on activities. She recently conducted a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at Indian Trace Elementary. She has also taught calligraphy lessons, showing students how to write a simple sentence in Japanese characters using traditional Japanese writing instruments.

Mrs. Sanchez says one of the most exciting lessons is when Sensei Fisher brings her suitcase. “In this activity, she opens the suitcase and the students pick out an item that intrigues them. She then explains the purpose of the item. Let me tell you, these items are unique!”

Indian Trace students also participate in the annual Japan Day, joining Tomodachi students from other schools. The children enjoy performances by Japanese Taiko drummers, traditional Japanese instruments, skits and more.

“My students also participate in the annual Haiku contest that is judged by the Japanese Consulate,” notes Mrs. Sanchez. “There have been many winners from Indian Trace over the six years we’ve been participating in Tomodachi.”