Interview with Japanese teacher, Ayae Kobayashi Santos

22nd August 2021

Interview with Japanese teacher, Ayae Kobayashi Santos

we interviewed Ayae Sensei, the Japanese teacher who has been offering group lessons with JETAA North east. All of our readers have expereince teaching English in Japan, but what is it like when the languages are reveresed? 

An introduction to Ayae sensei

I am from Hokkaido prefecture in the far north of Japan. My hometown is Mashike which is located in the north west of the island. I worked as a primary school teacher nearby and attended a JET party in Sapporo with the ALTs from my town, I met my future husband at that party. We dated for 5 years before getting married and then decided to move to the UK together.


What age and level of students do you normally teach?


I teach any and all students, but in general students are either adults or teenagers. The oldest student I have taught was in his late 60s in advance of going to Japan for the rugby world cup!


Why do your students typically learn Japanese with you? Is it for business, pleasure or some other reason?


A mix of all of them really! 5 of my current students are young adults studying for the GCSE Japanese qualification and some of the adults are studying for the JLPT test. I have some advanced students who are pushing their Japanese to the next level. Students end goals vary wildly from moving to Japan to live, to being able to communicate effectively on a short vacation. I also have some students who were born in Japan and their parents want they to retain their Japanese ability.



What is the best part of teaching Japanese in the UK?


Working one on one with students is great, when running a class of 30 students you cannot give everyone the attention they need when learning a new language. In my lessons now we have the freedom to slow down, speed up or anything that might be needed! It’s rewarding for me to see the progress in real time from lesson to lesson. My students have all made such huge steps since they started studying with me and I couldn’t be prouder of them. One UK specific thing I learned is that British people are obsessed with quizzes, I was quite surprised at first but I realised this could be used to my advantage in lessons and now I often use a quiz to consolidate student’s abilities or even to get them guessing at the start of a lesson.


What is the biggest challenge of teaching Japanese in the UK?


Students have to master 4 skills, speaking, listing, writing and reading. This is a real challenge when students only have one chance a week to practice using the language. In urban areas of Japan students may have more real world chances to practice their English, but in the UK there are very few opportunities to use Japanese day to day. Working with students to hone all four skills in a real challenge but together we all get there in the end! Another challenge is all students are different, and different things will resonate with each student! This is a challenge but an enjoyable one.


How have you found your time teaching classes with JETAA?


I really enjoy the JETAA classes! We choose one theme for the class as a jumping off point, but as all the JETAA members have previously lived in Japan it raises lots of nostalgic memories and really interesting and unique experiences in Japan. I’m a bit more like a conductor than a teacher in these lessons, yes I do teach of course but it’s my job to help the class flow and for everyone to get a chance to speak freely and improve their Japanese.


Have you gotten involved with the community of Japanese people living in the UK? If so, what was that experience like?


It’s hard to get involved to be honest; we are blessed to have Chinatown here in Newcastle filled with amazing shops and delicious food. As the name suggests though the majority of the events are aimed at the Chinese community. Japanese people are far less numerous in the UK and as a result the community is far more disparate. By coincidence in my small town there are several other Japanese people, and we keep in touch and support each other. It’s my hope that post-pandemic we will be able to see each other more! In honesty, while having Japanese people for support is essential, I don’t really care about nationality. As long as you’re a nice person we can get along!


What do you think of the British perception of Japan? Is there are part of Japanese culture you wish British people knew more about?


Generally British people think that Japanese people are kind and helpful, especially as this was showcased recently with the Olympics. I think many younger people these days are into Japanese subcultures such as manga, anime, games, idols and so on. I think this is great as a gateway into Japan! One area that I wish more British people knew about is kimono, traditional Japanese clothes. I love to wear kimono but it’s rare that I get a chance to do so. Recently I wore a kimono to a friend’s christening and many people commented on my clothes. It made me happy that people were so interested in kimono, but also a little sad that they had never had the chance to see one in person before!


Why is it important to continue cultural exchange with Japan in the UK?


Many people know the famous or popular aspects of Japan, but this just scratches the surface of Japanese culture. There are so many aspects to culture, from the traditional to the modern and, perhaps more than any other country, Japan does such a great job of keeping the traditional relevant in the modern day. Through cultural exchanges in the UK, people can learn about deeper elements of Japan culture than just the tip of the iceberg, this promotes an understanding between our two countries united in culture. I also hope that in Japan the same can happen with British culture


You can find Ayae sensei on her website: and book a classes or request translation services with her. She also has a facebook page and may be doing more lessons in partnership with JETAA in the future.

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