NEWS: BU Japanese Professor Presents on the Benefits of Language Exchange

Mariko Henstock on the Benefits of Language Exchange“If a friend accidentally spilled coffee on your computer, how do you react?” Dr. Mariko Henstock asked her third year Japanese II class on a Friday afternoon to act out the scenario in a role play. The majority of the American students in the class demanded that their friend pay for the damage. The Japanese students, who were visiting the class that day, were in shock by this. In contrast to their American counterparts, they had no expectation that the other person should pay for it, and responded “it’s okay” when it was their turn to role play. “They experienced the huge difference in culture,” Henstock explained about the activity after class. “Both sides learned a lot, and both sides were so excited.”

Dr. Henstock, as the Director of Outreach and Co-Curricular Activities for Japanese at the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, regularly organizes language exchange activities with CELOP, and recently presented on this topic at the Boston University (BU) Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching (CEIT) 2013 Instructional Innovation Conference. Titled “Examining the Bi-Directional Benefits of Language Exchanges”, the presentation discussed the benefits of Lunch Exchanges and Exchange Classes. According to a survey of CELOP students who took part in Fall 2012, 97% of CELOP students agreed that the exchanges have motivated them to study more English, increased their confidence to speak English, and that now they want to come back to BU even more because of the exchanges. Henstock highlighted some CELOP students’ comments in her presentation: “it is a lot easier to talk during class visits,” “not just learning Japanese and English language, but also learning partners’ thinking and character, etc. will help me in my life,” and “what is surprising is that my common sense isn’t common sense in the US.”

You can get the sense from talking to Professor Henstock that the benefits go deeper than practice with listening and speaking. “Ever since I came to [the US], I always was thinking I want to help the friendships between the two countries,” she explains. For Henstock, friendships can translate to real world change. She cites an example about a BU student giving a speech at MIT about challenging stereotypes. “What he is saying is he had this stereotype of Japanese people just wanting to be alone and isolated. He didn’t really have any contact with Japanese people, and so through lunch exchanges and class visits he met Japanese students and then thought, oh they are so fun, and nice. So the theme of his paper is about challenging stereotypes.”  If friendship has the power to break down stereotypes, and promote understanding between groups of people, then the exchanges are doing a very good job of that – 97% of CELOP students that took part agreed that they made BU student friends through the exchanges.  ”We can potentially change people’s lives, and I think we have succeeded in that regard for a number of students. There are so many problems internationally; if we can make a difference, one person at a time, and help form friendships, then that’s just a wonderful gift.”

Dr. Henstock’s presentation abstract and slides can be found and downloaded on the CEIT Fifth Annual Instructional Innovation Conference website.