Bringing ‘nihongo’ to Silverdale — Japanese language school for children to open

Miyuki Henderson, Etsuko Evans and Mayumi Mikelsen will teach at the soon-to-open Sakura Language Center, a Japanese language school in Silverdale for children ages 2 to 5. - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Miyuki Henderson, Etsuko Evans and Mayumi Mikelsen will teach at the soon-to-open Sakura Language Center, a Japanese language school in Silverdale for children ages 2 to 5.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Mayumi Mikelsen is not satisfied with just teaching her own two children Japanese. She wants other children to be able to learn as well — so she’s opening a Japanese language school in Silverdale.

“This is my passion,” Mikelsen said of teaching.

Sakura Language Center will be located on Bucklin Hill Road with classes beginning Sept. 1. The school is for children ages 2 to 5 with each age group split into its own class. Classes are each blocked in one-hour-and-a-quarter increments Monday through Friday and run for 10-week sessions.

Mikelsen, who was born in Japan and moved to Kitsap 11 years ago, said that class openings are available and that the school’s mission is to teach the Japanese language and culture to children of all interested families.

Being available to all Kitsap families means the school is not just for Japanese-speaking families.

“We’re not just targeting the Japanese,” said Etsuko Evans, one of the teachers at the school. “We want to become the bridge between two cultures.”

Class instruction will be in Japanese but each child can go at his or her own pace, said Mikelsen. Aside from learning the language through flash cards — the school has 1,500 cards with corresponding images —  and out-loud story telling, other activities will include arts and crafts, rhythmic dancing, singing, and writing.

Each class will have a five to one student to teacher ratio with a maximum number of 10 students per class. Parents can enroll their child for one class a week up to daily classes with the price ranging from $120 to $600 for a 10-week session. In a time of economic hardships for most people, Mikelsen hasn’t been discouraged to start a school because she said it was just “the right time” for her since she met the right people to work with her.

In addition to Evans, there will be two other teachers, Miyuki Henderson, who has a certificate in early childhood education, and Megumi Saito, who has a masters in teaching and currently works at Seattle Japanese School.

The teachers are all about promoting a “Japanese preschool” atmosphere, which they said slightly differs from that of an American preschool. Preschools in Japan focus on teaching children how to support one another and learn to negotiate whereas preschools in the United States focus more on teaching children to be independent, Evans and Mikelsen said.

“It’s totally different. When children come here, it will feel like another home,” Mikelsen said on how group activities will facilitate working together.

Although the classes are for younger children, Mikelsen said she hopes to add classes for those ages 6 to 12 next year. She decided to begin with a younger age group because she enjoys teaching and seeing them grow and develop not only in their language abilities but also in social and motor skills as well.

The younger age group is also a prime time to teach children a new language.

“I’m glad that it’s happening in Silverdale because language acquisition — the sooner it can happen, the better,” said Eunha Jung, an English and Korean instructor at Olympic College who has a doctorate in second language acquisition.

Jung said that children have the ability to learn essentially any language that they are immersed in at a young age because a child’s brain is more flexible. The opportunity for language acquisition tapers off after puberty, she said adding that it is more difficult for adults to learn a new language than it is for a child.

Knowing more than one language also has its advantages.

“Being able to speak multiple languages and being exposed to multiple cultures can only help children develop a globalized perspective. In today’s society, it’s a huge leg up,” Jung said.

Although offered in the Central Kitsap School District, Evans, who has volunteered in Japanese classes at the junior high and high schools said not many students register for it. For the upcoming school year, preliminary numbers in the district for enrollment in world language classes include 1,105 students in Spanish, 379 students in French and 323 students in Japanese, said David Beil, district spokesman. The classes are offered in all secondary schools in the district in addition to American Sign Language, he added.

The teachers at Sakura Language School hope that introducing Japanese to children at a young age will encourage them to continue learning when they are older.

“This school will plant the seed,” Evans said.


Sakura Language Center:

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