Konnichiwa! Learn Japanese at Charlton House

It’s one of the better-kept secrets, and probably the best educational bargain, in Charlton. The International Institute of Education in London (IIEL) has been training teachers of Japanese as a foreign language in Charlton House since 2001.

Charlton House, by Neil ClasperThe bonus for the rest of us? Free courses in Japanese at all levels, from absolute beginners who don’t know their kanji from their konnichiwa to students with more fluency in the language.

I discovered IIEL by chance more than five years ago, picking up a leaflet from the counter of a local fish-and-chip shop. Although I had been to Japan and loved its culture, I was an absolute beginner. Now classed as a post-beginner, I mainly realise how much more there is to learn.

Students come from all over London and represent all ages and backgrounds. Some have a Japanese partner or spouse; some are keen to get more out of their interest in manga or anime or, like me, want to enhance the experience of visiting Japan. Others simply seek the mental discipline of learning a new language.

Since the students are the guinea pigs for the trainee teachers, it’s not the competitive classroom atmosphere you might remember from school. The students want the teachers, who are being filmed for later feedback by their trainers and peers, to do well, just as much as they want to do well – and learn – themselves.

IIEL trains 70 to 80 teachers each year at Charlton House. Many of the Japanese trainees come to London expecting to study in a concrete block and surprised to find themselves in a Jacobean mansion more than 400 years old.

Junko Fuse, teacher trainer and course co-ordinator, says: “They’re really impressed when we tell them about the history of Charlton House.”

IIEL’s approach differs from some other Japanese teacher-training programmes. “We try not to depend on English”,  she says. The teachers it trains might go anywhere. Its graduates work in eastern Europe and Russia and elsewhere in Asia, as well as at home in Japan. Another of its programmes trains teachers of English to very young children who have Japanese as their mother tongue.

IIEL has been in London for 25 years. It moved to Charlton House to become more involved in a local community. That instinct proved well-founded three years ago.

Junko san recalls the “kindness shown by people around us in March 2011, when the Great Eastern Earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast of Japan. A flood of emails and cards came to our office concerning victims and their families in Japan.”

“Some people simply turned up and said how sad they felt watching TV,” she adds. “It cheered us up and really moved us. We held a charity event in April that year. Many people from Charlton and elsewhere kindly joined us that day, and we were able to donate more than £2,000 to the Red Cross in Japan. I realised then that this is why we had moved from central London and that this job is what I really want to do.“

Community involvement is a continuing theme. A few times a year, trainee teachers give short presentations in English about aspects of Japanese culture. The free sessions at Charlton House are open to the public with advance notice.

The next Japanese language classes are due to start in March. After a one-time registration fee of £20, all classes – however many years you study – are free.

Details about registration and course dates: http://www.iiel.org.uk/english/eventsandother/freejapanese.html

General information: enquiries@iiel.org.uk

2 thoughts on “Konnichiwa! Learn Japanese at Charlton House

  1. Chris February 14, 2014 / 12:18

    Absolutely fascinating post, thanks. I knew nothing of this.

    I know about 20 words of Japanese having worked there for a bit, but I’m an old dog and Japanese is a trick too far!

    • Clay Harris February 14, 2014 / 14:11

      You can do it! There are plenty of us old dogs around, along with the frisky pups.

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