Marines break through language barriers

by Cpl. Rebecca Elmy, III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office
U.S. Marine Corps

KIN TOWN, OKINAWA, Japan -- “My favorite part was seeing how the kids were shy at first but then ended up playing and jumping all over us like they had known us forever,” said Sgt. Thomas Baldacci from Chicago, IllinoisThat’s Baldacci’s take on the “Play in English Program” on March 18 at Suginoko Preschool in Kin Town, Okinawa. The Marines of 3rd Intelligence Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, volunteered to teach English to and play with the students.

Taka Kayo, the community relations specialist with the battalion, began the event by singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” accompanied by his guitar. The students and Marines joined in the song and dance.

Sgt. Andrew D. Kremmel, from St. Louis, Missouri, said the volunteers share the same dedication and generosity of wanting to give back to the local community. They did this by teaching the students to say their names and feelings in English.

“The amount of knowledge and the desire they put forth into wanting to learn is astounding,” said Kremmel, an imagery analysis specialist with the battalion. “… They accomplished at a young age dueling languages of Japanese and English.”

Kayo served as the interpreter to break down the initial language barrier. Despite having an interpreter, the Marines also fell back on universal hand gestures and images to explain words.

“The best way to communicate was using hand motions and then breaking down the word slowly so the kids could understand,” said Baldacci, an intelligence specialist with the battalion.

The monthly program gives some Marines fringe benefits.

“I mostly volunteer for the preschool because one day I hope to be a kindergarten teacher,” said Sgt. Desiree Guerrero from San Antonio, Texas. “I love getting the opportunity to be around the kids as an active duty Marine.”

Guerrero, an intelligence specialist with the battalion, said the program has strengthened their relationship with the Okinawa people. The Marines presented certificates to the students so they would have something to remember them by.

“It went very well and we are really grateful to have Marine volunteers teach the children,” said Sueko Tamanaha, a care giver at the Suginoko Preschool. “Of course they are kind of shy with the volunteers, but I can see they got used to them and really enjoy interacting/playing with the Marines from Camp Hansen.”

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