April 2018

Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.

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- Offering kids the joy of cross-cultural exchanges through sports camps in English -

This month, Close Up introduces SPORTS CAMP OF AMERICA (SCOA). SCOA organizes English sports camps for kids and was founded by a couple---an American man who loves sports and a Japanese woman, who though born and raised only in Japan, learned to speak fluent English. The aspirations of both were combined in the sports camps of SCOA, “Though small, we want to act as a bridge between Japan and the US and hope that Japanese children can experience the fun of English as a communication tool.” Close up had the chance to speak with Ms. Keiko Best, Co-Director of SCOA and a Japanese-English interpreter.

Ms. Keiko Best, Co-Director of SCOA

Please tell us the background of how SCOA was established.

Ms. Keiko Best

Even though not living or studying abroad, with determination you can learn to speak English. With my experience, I wanted to convey that message to parents and children in Japan for a long time. Fifteen years ago, my dream became a reality in the form of sports camps. It all started when my American husband, a football player when he was a student, was asked to be the training camp coach of the flag football team that my nephew was a member of at the time as a student in elementary school. When my husband instructed the children to “plant your foot firmly to turn a corner”, he showed them the movement and repeated the word “plant” several times. The children began to shout “Plant! Plant!” and imitated the motion of planting their feet. Initially a tad nervous with the new coach from overseas, the children began to happily chant in English---“Oh, sorry!”, “Thank you!”, and so on. Seeing this gave me the idea of a camp where kids can learn English while enjoying sports.

Flag football game between teams
with a sprinter from UCLA.

Natural communication evolves
while doing activities together.

What effect does playing sports have on learning English?

Ms. Keiko Best

When English is used as a tool to learn something you truly like, the children will want to understand and speak English without being aware of learning it. The method of English instruction used in the SCOA camps is based on the Total Physical Response (TPR) method of language acquisition. It is an application of the natural way young children learn their mother tongue by directly experiencing, reacting and understanding English by connecting words with actions. SCOA camps, where participants communicate in English while enjoying various sports and activities, are without a doubt a place to witness TPR in action.

Can you elaborate on summer camps, the main activity of SCOA?

Ms. Keiko Best

Our summer camps are held in two locations, Izu and Kiyosato. The children can learn everyday English through sports such as soccer, cheer dance, flag football, frisbee and other fun activities that children enjoy at summer camps in the US. The camp instructors, known as camp counselors, are athletes from US universities who are on summer vacations. The communication between counselors and children participating in the camps (campers) is basically in English, but we don’t force campers to use “English only”, as it is more important for them to enjoy the cross-cultural exchanges. It is permitted that communication occurs using gestures or some Japanese words. Campers can ask the bilingual staff, “How do you say it in English?” What we hope to pass on to the children in the SCOA camps is that they realize that communication is possible through various strategies and even more fun if they know English.

The moment of triumph at a potato sack race.
Everyone is happy!

Sports is the universal language.
Just like the campers, even the
counselors are absorbed in the game.

What is the most outstanding feature of SCOA summer camps?

Ms. Keiko Best

I believe it is the high quality of the camp counselors. The counselors are mainly recruited from athletes from Division 1 universities, the top category of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). You must have “guts” to be a success as an athlete at a leading university. The small children can sense they are among highly motivated senior students. In order to select counselors who the children will think “I want to be friends with that person” and “I want to be like that person”, in addition to screening documents, a skype interview, and a personal interview in the US, we also question their coaches and, if they have a part time job, their employers. We feel proud that only SCOA invests so much time in the selection of counselors, and then invite them to come from the United States specifically to participate in our camps.

How do the children feel after having participated in the camp?

Ms. Keiko Best

Although shy at the start of camp by the powerful presence of the American camp counselors, by the last day they are throwing themselves at and hugging the counselors. Having come to retrieve their children at the end of camp the parents ask, “Did you understand instructions in English?” To which they reply, “Really? Now that I think about it, no problem!” It gives me great pleasure to see that the children enjoyed themselves without being aware that the camps were in English. Many of the older children, such as students in junior high school, seem to think “If I would have known a bit more English I could have conversed more.” Though a few days of camp with native speakers did not improve their English much, I believe it a success if participation in the camp imparts to the children a willingness to study English in order to improve their abilities.

American counselors going full blast.
Leading children with a smile.

A party for “Survivors”, a program for
junior high students and above.

What kind of children do you look for to participate in the camps?

Ms. Keiko Best

The appeal of SCOA camps is to experience United States summer camps, home of the summer camp phenomena, though actually in Japan. I want children who don’t have the opportunity to travel overseas with their family, or to study abroad, to experience SCOA camps. We also welcome non-Japanese children living in Japan. Though a few have participated in previous years, we would like to increase the number of non-Japanese campers. The ideal is that summer camps become a melting pot of nationalities. By increasing foreign campers, we expect the atmosphere of the camps to be more global because this will augment the use of gestures and English to communicate.

Which program would you like to develop now and into the future?

Ms. Keiko Best

The “Global Leadership Program (GLP)” for high school and university students. When I went to the United States for the first time, I became keenly aware that we Japanese are not adept at holding conversations while looking a person in the eye, firmly shaking hands, speaking of oneself with confidence, among others. We began GLP to share with the Japanese youth who will leave Japan to travel abroad in the future, my personal experience of having made various efforts to improve my communication abilities in order to overcome the situation of not being able to communicate well with others, even though I could speak English.
This program has a session in which the American camp counselors talk about themselves. I want the campers to know that these counselors, athletes who are successful in highly ranked US universities and who may appear as super stars to them, have worked hard to achieve their success. There were cases in which reserved Japanese students, unable to talk about themselves, tearfully said, “As a matter of fact, me too…” upon hearing counselors recounting the trials of having been raised in dysfunctional families and deciding that their only option was to dedicate themselves to sports. This program has forged strong bonds between campers and counselors as they discussed important topics, and they also had fun at the evening gatherings with the music blaring. We would like to broaden this program which delivers very positive outcomes.