“Excuse me, but doesn’t this club invite anyone from foreign countries?” One day, Mr. Hoshino raised a hand and asked me. I have a small English conversation club for senior citizens in my neighborhood as a volunteer activity. He is a newcomer to the club. I replied, “Good question. I wonder why I never thought of that before. Okay. Let’s invite someone!” Other members gave a cry for mixed feelings of anxiety and anticipation.
I don’t know exactly what their average age is, but it probably is over 70. The oldest is 82 years old and even the youngest is around 65. Some of them had never learned English before they came to the club. Studying English was banned as a hostile language during the World War II, when they were young. Nevertheless, they are now enjoying learning English. That’s wonderful.
Among those exciting members, one of them was looking at me with brooding eyes. So, I asked her, “What’s the matter, Saeko?” She started speaking in a slow staccato fashion. “I’m scared of foreigners…when I was young, I lived in Komaki…where the American occupation army was stationed…and I was often chased by tall and big soldiers…so, still now I’m afraid of making eye contact with foreigners…and…I can’t speak English…”
Saeko is a 77-year-old lady. She is very shy and timid. She started learning English with alphabet in the club several years ago. Her English may be halting, but I know she has improved her English skills very much. So, I encouraged her, “Don’t worry, Saeko. You’re now speaking English very well. And the foreigner I’m going to invite is a really nice person. You’ll like him.”
I suggested preparing for their self-introduction before the session to the members: name, living place, family, job, hobbies, and etc. And I also asked them to think about some questions to the guest. We rehearsed the meeting twice before the day. They look nervous but also excited during the rehearsals. And finally the guest came to the English club at the end of June.
The person I asked to come to the English club is Ricky from London. Before the session, I told him about the members’ features and Saeko’s background. He understood the historical context and accepted my request willingly. When I opened the door and entered with Ricky, the members of the English club stood up and greeted him with a clapping of hands. All of them were smiling and some were even greeting in English, “Welcome to our English club!” It was off to hopeful start!
After Ricky introduced himself, each member started talking about themselves. Ricky listened to them and gave some questions. They looked disconcerted by his questions, but tried to answer to them in English. They were (maybe too much) excited at the session like little children. They looked really happy to speak English with a native speaker. That was the first time for them to meet and talk to a foreigner! I was near to tears when I was seeing their sparkling eyes.
At the end of the session, Saeko came to me and whispered, “I like him. He is very nice. Could you say that to Ricky later instead of me, please? I’m too shy to talk to him…” The event was a great success. Thank you for coming to the English club and talking to the members kindly, Ricky. We really appreciate it. The members’ motivation for learning English must have become higher. One of them asked me after the meeting, “When is the next session with a foreigner?” Wow!