The Daily Yomiuri features a weekly section called The Language Connection whose purpose is to promote language education and cultural awareness both for students of English and students of Japanese. Yoko Mizui, Editor of The Language Connection, shares with us her experiences in producing this educational feature. As well, she offers suggestions for the use of English-language newspapers in the language classroom and by individual learners. She is interviewed by Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz, who writes a twice-monthly column about the TOEIC test for The Daily Yomiuri.
LSY: Yoko, can you describe the contents and purpose of The Language Connection?
YM: The Language Connection appears on Tuesdays and Fridays and is two pages in length. It contains two general types of articles—those that focus on English language study and those that examine Japanese and Japanese culture.
LSY: Which columns for English language study are the most popular?
YM: The weekly "News Talk" column is popular for beginners. The column carries wire news from AP or Reuters. I usually choose feature articles that would be interesting for young people. For example, we recently ran pieces on a blind surfer in Australia, Italy's cruise ship industry, and the new screw-top aluminum cans.
LSY: What features make "News Talk" so popular among beginners?
YM: The articles in this column are relatively easy to read. They use simple vocabulary and sentence structures, and they are comparatively short. "News Talk" is accompanied by a vocabulary section with Japanese translations of the most advanced words.
"News Talk" usually carries three separate stories. Their titles are longer than titles of other articles. This gives readers more background and contextual information about the contents of the article. The font size of these articles is bigger than the paper's regular font—10 instead of 9 points. And the articles are usually accompanied by a photograph.
LSY: Who are the main readers of "News Talk"?
YM: This column is often used by high school teachers. I know, because I frequently get requests from teachers to use the column in their classrooms. Any beginning learner of English would enjoy these articles because of their interest and current, international topics. High school is a good time for most Japanese learners of English to begin reading an English-language newspaper. I imagine that there are few students in junior high or younger who could follow "News Talk."
LSY: In what ways do classroom teachers use Language Connection articles?
YM: I am sure that many teachers use our newspaper in their classes for reading practice. In addition, I think that many teachers use our articles as the basis for discussion of current events.
When people think of using newspaper articles in the classroom, they usually think of reading. However, there's a lot more that teachers can do. For example, vocabulary. Reading and vocabulary development go hand in hand.
Language Connection articles, or any Yomiuri articles, for that matter, can also be used for listening comprehension. In a classroom setting, for example, a teacher can read an article aloud, followed by listening comp questions, reading, or writing activities. In The Language Connection, our longest articles are about 1000 words. An article of this length can be read aloud, at a comfortable pace, in about 10 minutes. It's an ideal time to hold listeners' interest.
LSY: How do you see the role of English-language newspapers in classroom teaching?
YM: Studying English through current events has some unique advantages that textbooks do not. It goes without saying that current events articles cover timely, relevant issues. Students have a natural interest in these topics.
Another advantage of newspaper study is that many learners also learn news from other sources. For example, they may read a Japanese newspaper, or hear the news on TV or radio. So, when they read an article in English on a topic that they've recently heard about, they can easily activate their existing knowledge. This can help them in guessing the meaning of words in context, for example.
Additionally, the habit of reading an English-language newspaper is invaluable for one's lifelong study of the language. Textbooks last one year, maybe two. But as English language students finish school, many will stop their formalized study. Reading an English language paper is a good way to improve one's English on a daily basis, without "sitting down to the books."
LSY: What columns do you recommend for more advanced learners of English?
YM: Actually, any article in the whole Yomiuri can be used for advanced learners. In fact, the column "Letters to the Editor" is especially useful, because it carries opinions from our readers.
In the Language Connection section in particular, one very popular column for advanced learners is called "Any Questions." Like the title suggests, it deals with questions from our readers. The column is written by four lecturers at Rikkyo University, who take turns writing. Although the majority of questions concern English usage and grammar, the column sometimes features cultural differences.
Of course, your column ("TOEIC Booster") is also popular. I often receive e-mail comments about it. And my personal favorite is "In a Word," written by Masanori Toyota, professor at Kansai University of Foreign Studies. He picks up an English word from a recent news event and explains the background on the word. This article is often informative for me.
LSY: You mention that "In a Word" helps you. Your English is very impressive. What is your language-study background?
YM: I liked English as a subject from the start—my first year of junior high school. Come to think of it, my first English teacher in junior high was very influential for me. He praised students and supported our efforts.
I decided to major in English at a university, so I joined the English club. I never had a chance to study abroad.
LSY: What about your boss or other staff at The Daily Yomiuri? Do they all speak English?
YM: My boss—yes, he speaks English very well. In fact, all of the writers and editors for our English-language paper need to speak English.
My real boss, however, doesn't work at the Yomiuri at all. My real boss is my dog, Alice. She's a four-year-old Labrador Retriever.
LSY: (laughs) She sounds like a strict master . . .
YM: She is. She takes me for a walk every morning, teaches me discipline, and constantly refuses to give me a promotion . . . . However, she's very tolerant of any grammar mistakes I might make. She lets me speak English to her any time, so I try out my new vocabulary on her from "In a Word."
LSY: (more laughter) How did you start working at The Daily Yomiuri?
YM: Even though I wasn't particularly interested in journalism at the time, I entered The Daily Yomiuri so I could use English in my job. After I joined the company, the many native speakers in our office provided me on-the-job training.
My job at the Yomiuri started as a TV column editor. Over time, I worked as editor for several different features--the entertainment page, lifestyle page, and travel page. I have been the editor of the Language Connection pages for five or six years now.
LSY: Are there any special challenges in editing a bilingual section of the newspaper?
YM: The biggest challenge in working on The Language Connection is that we have a lot of outside contributors. Many of them are proud lecturers or professors at university, so I have to be a middleman between them and our rewriters. Our rewriters are native speakers who check our articles—like copy editors. Some contributors are not very open to our rewriters' input, sticking instead to their originals.
Another remarkable feature about The Language Connection is that readers take this section very seriously. Our audience includes many English language teachers and learners. So, we receive a lot of feedback from readers about articles in this section.
LSY: Are most of The Daily Yomiuri's writers and editors native or non-native speakers of English?
YM: Many years ago, our non-Japanese staff was made up mostly of inexperienced journalists. They make up about 30 percent of our editorial staff.
In the past several years, native speakers have started coming here directly from the United States and other English-speaking countries. Many majored in journalism in their own countries or worked at a local newspaper. They are looking for broader journalism experience. Others are interested in living and working in Japan.
LSY: Some Daily Yomiuri writers and editors must be able to use The Language Connection for improvement of their Japanese language skills.
YM: (laughter) Actually, they probably do. The Language Connection has one page for Japanese language learners. There's a kanji column that is carried every week. Another teaches daily Japanese usage, onomatopoetic expressions with a cartoon, or, for example, haiku in English. We also run a popular essay entitled "Cultural Conundrums." The essay column is written by Kate Elwood. Kate, who is married to a Japanese man, has lived in Japan for nearly 20 years. She writes interesting anecdotes about her experiences in Japan.
LSY: Who are the other major readers of The Language Connection?
YM: Our readers are about half-and-half, Japanese and non-Japanese. Most of our subscribers are in Japan. They are schools and individual households.
LSY: In your current position, you have an important role in language education through mass media. Have you ever thought of becoming a classroom teacher . . . of English or Japanese?
YM: I toy with the idea. If I were to teach, I would be a strict teacher, but I would also try to be open-minded. Still, I'm very happy in my current job, and I plan to stay.
LSY: English-language papers like The Daily Yomiuri serve an invaluable role for ex-pats in Japan. We appreciate the work that you do. Thank you for your time today, and good luck to you.
YM: Thank you. I believe that some of our readers are members of JALT, so I especially hope that this information is useful for readers of The Language Teacher.
Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz teaches TOEIC prep classes to international college students in the United States. She is a former TOEIC test question writer and the author of several textbooks, including Cross the TOEIC Bridge (McGraw-Hill, 2004). Stafford-Yilmaz frequently presents on language testing, materials development, and textbook use. This month, she will lead several presentations at TESOL in Long Beach, California. Stafford-Yilmaz has been teaching English for 14 years. She has taught in Japan, Turkey, and the U.S.A. She holds her M.A. in TESOL from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.