After providing students with an opportunity to practice their English-speaking skills through casual lunchtime discussions for several years, Tokyo Tech’s Institute for Liberal Arts (ILA) was forced to suspend these sessions temporarily due to the effects of COVID-19. English Café, a new online form of the event, was launched for the first time on May 20, bringing together four Japanese students, five international students, and a faculty member at ILA.
English Café, hosted by ILA’s Professor Hugh de Ferranti and Associate Professor Mariko Anno, now runs every other Wednesday and Thursday at lunchtime, and is supported by staff from the Student Success Support Section at the Student Support Center. Students who register in advance can freely join the sessions as they like. For the inaugural session, English Café received 26 registrations.
After a light-hearted greeting from host de Ferranti, the students split into groups of three and held two 20-minute group talks in Zoom breakout rooms. The new online format opened up the session to a more diverse group of students. Attendees included students from Suzukakedai Campus, for whom participation was difficult when sessions were held on Ookayama Campus. Registrants also included a broader range of students from different levels of study compared to past face-to-face sessions.
English Café looks to be another useful channel through which Tokyo Tech students can not only practice their English skills, but also exchange ideas and opinions in a safe, comfortable atmosphere.
Comments from participants
- At a time when opportunities to speak English are fairly rare, I feel the significance of the English Café. I have avoided practicing spoken English recently, but now I can enjoy learning in the presence of international professors. I highly recommend this to other students.
- I was able to practice my English in preparation for my TOEIC speaking and writing exams, so this was very useful.
- I am glad to participate in this activity and have a great talk with people from different countries. The time was limited, but I think it was still great. Unlike regular presentations or discussions about a report in English, we do not need to stress or take this too seriously. On the contrary, we just share our daily life or do simple chats in English. I feel comfortable and willing to do it again to improve my speaking skills in English. After all, practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does lead to improvements.
Comments from English Café faculty members
Hugh de Ferranti
Professor, Institute for Liberal Arts
After a year of hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it was good to be able to resume the English Café in a new medium. Clearly some students had been missing the conviviality of the lunchtime informal gatherings that had been taking place for years at the old Hub Space. We tried to maintain a relaxed non-classroom atmosphere so as to encourage interaction in English. (That was the only rule stated at the start – English only please!) The online format yielded unexpected benefits, such as the participation of several Suzukakedai Campus students. It was good to see students relaxed and showing their faces as they interacted, as in classes many seem to have acquired the habit of keeping cameras off.
Associate Professor, Institute for Liberal Arts
Please bring your lunch and join the fun! Meet new friends and practice your English!