Wednesday, December 13, 2017

English Worksheet; Comparing USA, Japan and Australia


Activity Premise
Recently, a group of Australian students visited a high school in Japan where I speak English.
As a cross cultural activity before the visit I had the Japanese students fill out the worksheet below.
The sheet shows statistical data for three countries (representing the teacher, local students and visiting students).
The USA column is blank in the students' version but you can look below (at the teacher's version) for the answers. The purpose of this sheet is to facilitate a brief guessing game; rather than getting the numbers exactly right, you want to students to explore their image of country and guess if the USA is higher, lower, much high, much lower than or similar to the other two countries.
This version only has blanks for the USA column, you may want to change this and have students guess the relevant standings of their home country, or disperse the blank spaces across the different national columns.
The sheet ends with space on the page for students to write interview questions which they would like to prepare for the visitors.

*You will need to switch to the desktop version to see this clearly.

Students' version




Australia
Japan
USA
Population
23,800,000
127,000,000
Population/km2
3.1
348.3
Internet users
85%
91%
Life expectancy (years)
82
83
Average Income (US$)/year
56,000
33,000
Obese population (肥満) %
27%
5%
Children per woman
1.9
1.4
Largest city: Population
Sydney: 4,293,000
Tokyo: 13,620,000
Capital city: Population
Canberra: 356,000
Tokyo: 13,620,000
Homicides (殺人)per 100,000
1.07
0.29
Interview questions:





Teacher's Version


Australia
Japan
USA
Population
23,800,000
127,000,000
320,000,000
Population/km2
3.1
348.3
30
Internet users
85%
91%
80%
Life expectancy (years)
82
83
79
Average Income (US$)/year
56,000
33,000
55,000
Obese population (肥満) %
27%
5%
30%
Children per woman
1.9
1.4
2.3
Largest city: Population
Sydney: 4,293,000
Tokyo: 13,620,000
New York: 8,400,000
Capital City: Population
Canberra: 356,000
Tokyo: 13,620,000
Washington DC: 700,000
Homicides (殺人)per 100,000
1.07
0.29
3.90
Interview questions:






Worksheet Results
The population statistics were seemed like trivial abstractions that the students were not interested in; I tried to see if students could tell me the population of Japan but many did not seem to know or care.
The students seemed well aware of Japan's impressive life expectancy as this seems to be touted and marketed as the subject of national pride. They seemed very comfortable with topics where Japan compares favorably with foreign countries, as I expect that this is information that propagandized frequently.
The information that supported popular media portrayals of America were greeted with a lot if interest; statistics showing America's high obesity rate and homicide rate that was relatively high compared to Japan, which is safe and orderly. Again they followed along well with image typing data that they were familiar with, which also supports a positive Japan-centric view.
The students seemed particularly reactive to seeing how Japan's (post-bubble) income level is so far below the other two countries current levels. It was something that was interesting for them; that is to say it prompted a reaction but it was more of a confused or disappointed reaction as it does not fit in with an optimistic Japanese worldview.


The Cultural Exchange Visit

The visit from the Australians was arranged into three separate parts. First the Australian student group split up and Australian students sat in and observed usual classes around the school (alone, with another student or with an Australian chaperon teacher).

The second portion was a part where students were given free time to interact with the other culture; Japanese students had sheets with questions which they read from to start discussions using English. The Australian students did not have any Japanese language preparation; they improvised conversations and a few of them brought photo albums or used smartphone photos to do impromptu show-and-tell discussions. Girls, in general, demonstrated far superior social skills and a willingness to interact. Cross gender communications were fairly rare, as the Japanese boys lived up to their shy reputations; a few daring boys made boisterous shows of interacting exuberantly with high-fives and pop culture phrases while showboating and posturing in front of friend groups.

As expected from high school students, their social skills left something to be desired and were still under-developed. The seemed awkward at moments when prompted to start or carry conversations. For example, a Japanese boy who were prompted before hand to prepare questions for the Australians asked a boy "Do you know 'futon daiko'?" (futon daiko is a type of festival float which typical in local festivals and the boy in question helps carry such floats at local shrine festivals) -- The Australian boy simply replied "no." Neither one of them had follow up questions or seemed interested in pursuing a conversation; the Australian boy did not think to ask "what is a futon daiko" and the Japanese boy did not think to follow up with an explanation or show his photos of the futon daiko festivalー I tried to intervene with interpretation, explanation and socialization prompting and conversation suggestions to rally them with enthusiasm for Japanese festivals and the cultural exchange project but the two did not show enough interest to gain traction and the other boys in the group only had brought coerced and pedestrian questions, that were not very open-ended and/or displayed little interest; such as "do you like Japan?" or "how old are you?"
The girls were not without their own social barriers. I noticed a girl-to-girls group stalled immediately at the beginning of a group rotation; everyone waiting awkwardly for someone else to say something. Talking to the Australian girl and asking to see the photos she brought I found that she was from the country-side and interested in horseback-riding, the Osakan city girls did not seem to be able to think of any way to carry the conversation but simply nodded politely and avoided eye contact - again I intervened feeling I had the perfect way to get the conversation rolling again (I am from the countryside from a family of horse trainers) but the girls continued to avoid eye contact withhold enthusiasm and answer with minimal or one-word answered that thwarted conversation flow.
There were other examples of meaningful interactions and real communication but the students seemed to simply take the most joy out of simply posing for photos with each other then moving on and collecting more photos of with the others students.

The third phase of the visit was an outing to local tourist spots by English speaking staff from the host school; including an afternoon at shrines and  a trip to a nearby major amusement park.

After the event the visiting school had a surprisingly (disappointingly) small album of photo highlights from the Japan trip on the school website ; which is typical of administrative reporting for any country, I suppose.

No comments:

Post a Comment