Okinawa teens practice English with Marines
Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan -- The sound is unmistakable. Giggling, laughter and words being over-emphasized and articulated, followed by attempts to mimic, all with varying degrees of success. It’s a classroom.
“This camp showed me that Marines are nice and kind people,” said Rinna Ishikawa, a Maehara High School student and third year attendee of the annual Camp Courtney English Camp.
Ishikawa and 21 other students attended the camp Aug. 11-16 to learn English, with the help of Marine volunteers, as well as get to know their neighbors.
The camp was started by Ichiro Umehara, the community relations specialist for Camp Courtney, 13 years ago in response to requests from parents in the surrounding community.
“I started the camp because parents in Okinawa were asking how their kids could learn English,” said Umehara. “It is so expensive to send children to America, and I thought that since we had Americans here, they would probably be willing to help teach English.”
The Marine volunteers serve in various units, but all share the common goal of wanting to give back to the local community.
“We have a standing policy to help strengthen and enhance the relationship between Japan and the U.S. military here on Okinawa,” said Gunnery Sgt. Lawrence W. Watters, a team chief with G-3, Civil Affairs, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “It’s all about fostering and developing what we already have in place. We need to enhance that relationship every chance we get.”
The camp served as a two-way cultural exchange. In addition to teaching English, both parties learned more about their neighbors, and it gave the Marines a chance to learn some Japanese.
“I wanted to learn Japanese, and this was a great chance to do that,” said Pfc. Tracey V. Rodriguez, a civil affairs specialist with G-3. “I got a chance to teach a group of students English and also learn Japanese from them at the same time.”
Students and teachers relied on the creativity and dedication of each other rather than using an interpreter.
The Marines employed visual aids as well as translation software as two of the main tools to help bridge the language gap and help the students learn, according to Rodriguez.
The students received tours of Camp Courtney, Foster and Schwab and also learned some Marine terminology for common English words, such as referring to floors as decks, according to Ishikawa.
Umehara also coordinates a weekly English class hosted by Marine volunteers in addition to the yearly camp.
The time the Marines gave back to the community by teaching English has helped strengthen their relationship with the Okinawa people and demonstrated the Marines’ desire to positively contribute, according Umehara.
The camp concluded with a ceremony in Uruma City where each student received a certificate of completion from Toshio Shimabukuro, the Uruma City mayor, and Col. Michael W. Taylor, Camp Courtney’s commanding officer.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Ishikawa. “I’m excited to come back next year and learn more.”