Having started learning Japanese in Year 6, Ben Raven went on to teach English in Japan for 15 years. He believes that learning a second language is an important skill for everyone.
Now a Cohort 2016 Associate, Ben is sharing his love of languages by teaching Japanese at Namadgi School in Canberra.
Ben’s language skills have sent him on an extraordinary journey and he hopes this trip inspires his students to continue learning Japanese.
Ben was first introduced to Japanese at his primary school in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales. Because of Australia’s transitioning engagement with Asia while he was at school, Lake Macquarie formed a sister city relationship with Hakodate in Japan, resulting in the compulsory adoption of Japanese language lessons at Ben’s school.
Ben loved studying a second language. He continued studying Japanese until the end of high school, and later at university.
He began in a small village in Nagano Prefecture, teaching Grade 1-6 students for a few hours a week in pre-school. Later he focused on elementary and junior high school students from Grades 7-9 at Koshoku Nishi Junior High School.
“I loved Nagano!” said Ben. “It’s surrounded by mountains and snow and is full of great people. It’s such a wonderful place.”
Ben also loved teaching the children English. “Though they were very reserved and quiet, they were great to work with,” he said. “They were all very responsive to my teaching, activities and interactions.”
Working as a teaching assistant, Ben was able to develop a close relationship with his Japanese students.
“I was in a space that was in-between regular teachers and the students – a space that they could talk freely and openly and this resulted in various conversations and interactions, including playing soccer at lunchtime,” he said.
Fortunately, on his first day as a Teach For Australia Associate at Namadgi School in Canberra, he was told that he’d be returning to Japan as part of a trip the school runs every two years.
“I was grateful that my experience living and working in Japan was valued by the school and that I’d have the chance to do this,” Ben said.
“As a language teacher, it was wonderful to have my current students in Australia meet my former students in Japan. The breadth of opportunities and experiences that could result out of the visit are endless,” he said.
The trip allowed students to learn and experience Japanese culture. “We were able to explore the future and past in Tokyo, samurai and feudal periods of Japan at Himeji Castle, reflect upon the catastrophe of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, find our inner selves at temples and shrines – and even visit a monkey park in Kyoto.” said Ben.
“They were amazed with the school and its students. They were able to place my previous experience in context and see the relationships and teaching that I was doing before joining Teach For Australia,” Ben said.
After returning to Australia, Ben said that his students had already “started planning for a trip to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics 2020! Some want to see more of the sights and even visit the school again”.
The trip has opened the students’ eyes to the power of language in enabling overseas opportunities, grounding their language studies for them: “They now have a reference point as to why certain interactions take place or why words are used in this way not that,” said Ben.
“I know that several of the Year 10 students will continue Japanese in Year 11 and 12. The Year 9 students are eager to study more next year. A large group of incoming Year 9s are even looking forward to the Japan Trip in 2018!” said Ben.
Ben believes that learning a second language is essential to developing intercultural communication skills.
He’s looking forward to helping his students further develop their language skills at school and hopes to return to Japan again soon.