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Japan Notes / Conveying the joy of sports, reading newspapers

The Japan News

Members of the Sports English class discuss a newspaper article at the Kinshicho branch of the Yomiuri NTV Culture Center in Tokyo on May 15.

By Hiromu Namiki / Japan News Staff WriterTwo nights a month, about eight to 10 people gather at a building near JR Kinshicho Station in Tokyo. They open an English newspaper, stop at a sports page and begin talking. On May 15, they discussed an article reporting on an NBA playoff game, headlined, “Jazz find rhythm behind Ingles, even series.”

“I like this headline,” one participant said. “Do you think the editor chose the phrase ‘find rhythm’ because the name of the basketball team is Jazz?”

“Wait. Jazz? Is it a team name?” another person queried.

“It’s because the team was originally founded in New Orleans,” a third member replied.

This is a scene from the “Sports English” class that I teach at the Yomiuri NTV Culture Center’s Kinshicho branch. Although the center’s 19 locations in Tokyo and adjacent prefectures offer about 10,000 classes on a variety of cultural topics — with English being a common one — there’s no other English class that focuses on sports.

When I start teaching, I wondered whether there would be any demand for “Sports English” and how long the class would continue. I was told that the class would be terminated if the number of people attending dropped below five. To my surprise, this spring marked the fourth anniversary since the class started in April 2014.

The class uses articles carried in The Japan News, covering a variety of sports ranging from baseball and soccer to table tennis, sumo and snowboarding. We look at one or two stories, learn new words and phrases and have discussions about the articles.

Sometimes we learn about Japanese athletes such as baseball two-way star Shohei Ohtani and figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu, and at other times we talk about foreign celebrities such as the NBA’s LeBron James. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approach, we also use articles about the Olympics and Paralympics. In February, I was dispatched to South Korea to cover the Pyeongchang Games, so I shared my experience there in the following classes.

“Sports articles are more difficult to read, as I encounter phrases and idioms that aren’t used in other articles,” a class member in his 40s said. “However, as I continued reading, I realized I became able to read the whole newspaper more easily,” said the member, who has taken the class for about two years.

Members have various reasons for taking the class. One said she wants to learn more about sports because she wants to volunteer at the Tokyo Games. Another said she has to exchange mails and attend meetings with foreign clients at work, but could not alleviate her anxiety over long-passage comprehension at English conversation schools. “So I thought I might feel more familiar with long articles in this unique class,” she said.

The class is also a learning experience for me, as I learn more about sports as I prepare for the class, and deepen my understanding of English newspapers as I analyze and give explanations to the class.

I hope I can further convey the joy of sports and reading English newspapers through the class.

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