Tokyo Global Gateway (TGG), a completely new kind of English language learning facility operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education and a consortium of five selected companies, had its grand opening on Thursday September 6. Hakuhodo’s Themed Marketing Business Division is a member of the five-company consortium. We talked to the Division’s Yumiko Watanabe and TGG CEO Nobuo Oda about the background to the project, and how they see it developing in the future.
ODA: TGG came out of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education’s EIGO-MURA project. The project aims to boost Japanese children’s English abilities, which currently rank lowest of all OECD countries, by building a non-school learning facility through a public-private partnership. Recruitment of companies to take part in the partnership began in 2016, coinciding with the announcement of the program’s execution principles. A five-company consortium comprising Gakken Holdings Co., Ltd., Ichishin Holdings Co., Ltd., EDURE LCA Co., Ltd., the English Language Education Council, Inc. (ELEC), and Hakuhodo Inc. was selected as the best project applicant. The opening of the experience-based English learning facility TGG is the culmination of collaboration between the five companies over about two years.
TGG sees English as a communication tool and aims to provide users with the joy of communicating in, understanding and cooperating using English. It offers an overseas-like environment while remaining in Japan, with TGG’s English speakers encouraging communication in English, allowing students to feel the joy of using English and experience success with the language, stirring their desire to study it more. Rather than a place to study English, it is a place to do things in English. It is built on the idea that communicating is more important than English accuracy or ability.
WATANABE: Including a publisher and a tutoring school, the five-company consortium is mostly comprised of companies connected to education in some way, so seeing the Hakuhodo name lined up alongside them might seem a bit strange. I, myself, heard about the project when handling work for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in Hakuhodo’s Themed Marketing Business Division. I thought it was a terrific initiative and really wanted Hakuhodo to take part. Although I thought Hakuhodo could participate somehow, the hurdles to taking a leading role were high, including the program’s 10-year span and its large scale. It was at that point that a little birdie told me that Gakken was putting together a consortium [laughs]. I was able to get in contact with the person in charge right away, and asked if we could join.
We started preparations for the pitch after that, and now we work with the consortium not only on advertising and PR for TGG’s launch, but also as a kind of liaison for TGG’s partner companies and the five members of the consortium, which each have their own cultures.
ODA: TGG has an Attraction Area, where students use English, and an Active Immersion Area, where they learn in English. The Attraction Area contains sections that recreate a pharmacy, fast food restaurant, souvenir shop and other stores, a hotel, hospital and other everyday places where students can experience true-to-life English communication. In the Active Immersion Area, students work in groups to plan, discuss and make presentations on various topics, from video making and dance performance to international issues and business programs, allowing them to gain English language skills and knowledge together.
Experiences in each area are supported by around 100 English-speaking non-Japanese TGG staff. One TGG English speaker accompanies eight students and acts as instructor and partner in the programs. The English speakers are not necessarily native speakers of the language, and are hired on the basis of being international people able to speak English freely. They speak with different accents and their clothing and appearance also differ. In the real world, people from all kinds of backgrounds communicate in English, and students are able to come into contact with their worlds and cultures by talking to them.
WATANABE: TGG also has programs that are provided in collaboration with an international organization, a global company and a foreign ministry of education. With all of this, it can deliver outcomes beyond what schools can achieve, such as preparing students for study abroad, providing career education and the like, adding to its appeal. Mr. Oda said previously that he would have lived a very different life had such a facility been around when he was a student [laughs].
ODA: Absolutely [laughs]. TGG uses a completely different learning method from that used when we studied English at school. It is based on the PIC cycle, an effective English learning method advocated by Professor Shigeru Matsumoto of Rikkyo University that holds that a continuous cycle of practice (individual study), interaction (interactive study) and communication (implementation) is important. English language education in Japan does okay on the practice and interaction parts of the cycle, but in general tends to be a bit short on opportunities for communication. Professor Matsumoto says that this is the reason that Japanese struggle to improve their English language ability. It is true; there are few places in Japan to actually use English. You might say that most people have done the training, but have never competed in the ring.
WATANABE: While children that have come to TGG do start to want to talk to their friends in Japanese when waiting their turn, etc., our English speakers keep talking to them so that such gaps basically don’t happen. The children can be a bit shy and self-conscious to begin with, but they can’t go forward without some reaction, whether yes or no, and they start to respond properly and eventually break out of their shells. Even if they can’t produce a grammatically correct sentence, if they can just string three words together and the other person understands, they will genuinely feel motivated to speak some more. The English speakers are super enthusiastic and create an environment where even the shy don’t need to feel embarrassed.
ODA: We thought about how we could create a place for communication (implementation) based on the PIC cycle, and TGG was one answer we came up with. In courses for use by schools, we offer a half day course (3.5 hours) and a full day course (7 hours), and students can experience mock life abroad for the entire time. Naturally, however, they won’t become fully fluent just by coming once. What’s important are the discoveries from the experience, like renewed interest in studying English and the realization that their English can be understood.
WATANABE: Among the programs provided in the Active Immersion Area is one developed with the cooperation of Hakuhodo employees in which students learn about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hakuhodo has a mission to spread awareness of the SDGs, and we think it is meaningful that we can work with TGG in this way. I hope to contribute to the development of distinctive, socially meaningful programs and the like by actively calling on the company.
ODA: Going forward, we will also propose courses that include hotel accommodation and school trip courses to schools located outside the Tokyo Metropolitan area. Currently, users are mainly elementary to senior high school students, but we are considering broadening the target age groups. With really strong interest from the parents of children who visited privately on weekends that they would like to experience the program themselves, we are planning programs for preschoolers and adults as well.
Either way, Hakuhodo’s knowledge is very reassuring not just when it comes to actual program development, as Ms. Watanabe mentioned, but also in terms of making our collaborations with other companies work, and building broader general awareness of TGG. Communication skills enabling horizontal implementation across schools, local authorities and other parties are key to developing TGG, so we will continue to count on Hakuhodo for that.
WATANABE: That’s very kind of you. We’ll certainly do our best [laughs].