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Welcome to the Intercultural Collaborative Learning Community!

Chock-full of useful information just for you!

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced learner in ICL,
we guarantee that this page will be useful to you!

Set Up Your Goal

If you are confused, thinking “there are just too many ICL classes to choose from,” don’t worry. You have come to the right place! All you need to do is stop for a second and think about what you wish to learn and achieve by joining our community. Students in our community have all sorts of ideas when they come to us. Some of them say that they want to make friends with international students. Others wish to communicate in English better. There are also those who wish to study abroad and maintain the English ability they have acquired overseas whilst living in Japan. It is very important that you know what you wish to achieve with the experience and skills you earn with us.

Make Plans Based on Your Goal

When you have a solid goal, it becomes easier to choose classes that are best suited to help you with your aim. Note the theme of the course, language used in class, and the amount of interaction between home and international students in each session, then make plans tailored to achieve your goal in the most effective way. In order to choose the right course, we recommend that you read the syllabuses carefully. Check out our list of unique Intercultural Collaborative Learning classes available for you on this website!

Prepare to be Open about Yourself

When you talk to your classmates for the first time or your group is still in the ice-breaking phase, it is extremely important that you are not only open about yourself but also willing to learn about others. This sincere approach will help you establish trust with your classmates.
There are occasions when you stumble across questions about your own country that you do not have the answer for, or, even if you do, you do not know how to phrase it in Japanese (English). It is crucial that you are prepared to talk about yourself and ready to ask questions before the class. For your reference, we have drawn up some tips below to help you enjoy conversations in class.

Conversation Topics for the Beginning of the Term

  • What made you decide to take this course?
  • What is your major?
  • Which country or region are you from?
  • What food is your country/region famous for?
  • What do you usually do on weekends?
  • Here are some fun facts about my country….

Conversation Topics for Everyday

  • How are you?/ What’s up?
  • How’s everything with you?
  • What did you do last weekend?
  • Have you learned any new Japanese/ English phrases lately?

Make Sure that Everyone Understands You

Are you aware that there are some students for whom Japanese or English is not their first language? Make sure that the way you talk, the speed of your speech, and your diction are all accessible to everyone and try not to use too many difficult words. Just because no one asks you questions does not mean that they have understood you perfectly. You need to ensure that you are all on the same page by pausing the discussion from time to time and asking your team if they are following. It is especially important; that you be the guide for non-native speakers if the language used in the discussions is your first language.

Establish a Safe Conversational Environment for Everyone

When you are in a conversation group, it is vital that you ensure the atmosphere of the group is safe and fair for everyone. Be mindful of the fact that you are all from various backgrounds and learn to welcome the diversity. You should be able to take advantage of these differences, but you also need to make sure that you are treating each other equally. Pay special attention to those who have never lived abroad or studied in an intercultural collaborative setting and guide them in the conversations. You need to be always aware of your surroundings and encourage interaction in the group if necessary. 

Have Some Ground Rules

Ground rules are the principles upon which you and your group members have agreed, to ensure the fairness and safety of the workspace. It is vital that every member of your group is respected and their opinions matter, for them to be truly creative. Successful collaboration does not happen in an environment where you must worry about being criticized all the time. In order to prevent this from happening, you will need to agree on your shared goal and set up some rules, which gives you a solid foundation on which you develop a meaningful relationship with your peers. Depending on the class, your teacher might set up some ground rules for you beforehand. In this case, you will still need to get together as a group and talk it over, or you may even add some rules of your own. This one tiny step could make a huge difference in the end. 

Learn to Work together as a Team

When you are working together as a team, it is important that you recognize other students’ capabilities and assign them roles that match their skills; so they can contribute successfully to the team. Imagine that you are organizing a presentation. Patching your homework together on a sheet of paper is not what we call “working together.” Only when your ideas merge, can you appreciate the value of diversity.

Failure is the mother of Success

The world of Intercultural Collaborative Learning can be full of surprises. There may be times when you feel uneasy about stepping out of your comfort zone. You may even wish to give up on it altogether. However, it can also be said that you won’t be able to learn anything if you are only scratching the surface for fear of immersing yourself entirely in a multicultural environment. It is normal to have difficulty making yourself understood. Try not to get frustrated if some students do not know about something that you take for granted. If you are having a hard time comprehending one another, recognizing the situation is your first step. Try to confront your confusion and adopt a different approach to communicate even if it only leads to another error. Although we cannot assure you that it is all sunshine and rainbows in the world of Intercultural Collaborative Learning, these errors and confusion will be the sustenance that make you blossom in the end.

Don’t be afraid to speak up!

Be mindful not to leave any comments unanswered in discussions. Anyone would feel vulnerable if there was no response to their statement. This could lower their motivation and lead to inactive interactions. Think of it as a game of catch. Keep up a flow of affirmation and opposition, question and confirmation, to form a smooth stream of conversation. When you are having a discussion in a foreign language, it is very useful if you have memorised some phrases by heart, ready for use. When your classmates text you outside of class, it is important to reply to them as soon as you can, to keep the conversation alive.

Do not Be Ashamed of Your Japanese/English

We know that feeling when you have something to say but do not know how to say it. This happens especially often when you are conversing in a foreign language. It is truly frustrating when people mistake your silence as indifference, even though you would talk if you could. We appreciate how difficult it can be, but try to speak up even if your wording may sound a bit confusing. There is no need for perfection in grammar or pronunciation; you will be understood. If you do not know how to articulate your idea, be honest about it. Your classmates will probably ask you a couple of questions to figure out what you are trying to say. 

You Cannot Say Anything Wrong

In an intercultural environment, you could get paranoid about saying things in the wrong way or saying something incorrect. The fear of criticism and confrontation could make it hard for you to express yourself. However, we advise you to be brave and speak your mind anyway. In Intercultural Collaborative Learning, we believe that all ideas are equal in value and the difference of opinions is a positive stimulant that makes Eureka moments possible. There are no right or wrong answers in our class. Moreover, we urge you to be original and different, because we trust that diversity is the key to an active interaction. 

Talk “Face to Face”

When your teacher asks you to work with teammates outside of class, do not waste this wonderful opportunity by only texting them. Try and have some online meetings even if it is only half an hour long per week. Face-to-face conversations will help you establish trusting relationships.

Make Realistic & Achievable Goals

Some students are quite ambitious when they join our community, thinking that they can achieve anything by the end of the term. However, most of them feel discouraged once the term begins, because they realize that there is a long list of things to be done and feel quite hopeless when faced with this challenging reality. This despair, however, is common for most learners, and we believe that you can turn it into something positive. If you feel inadequate, instead of giving up, think of it as an opportunity to figure out your next move. Make small, achievable goals as well as monthly and annual ones. Try to come up with an achievable goal such as “I am going to speak up at least twice in the next class” or “I am going to ask international students questions in our next group activity.” If you need help to make your plans, we recommend that you ask your supervisor for some guidance. (If there are TAs or Study Supporters assigned to you, you could ask them too.)

Be Responsible for Your Actions

In any group activity, you should always be conscious of the fact that your actions have consequences. Imagine a situation where one of your group members is so arrogant that s/he dismisses any comments from others. This type of negative behaviour could only lead to inactivity in the group. On the other hand, if one of the students presents a positive attitude in the group, making remarks such as “I like your idea! Can you tell us more about it?”, this positivity will spread to the others quickly. In order to build a respectful relationship with your peers, it is crucial that you have a shared understanding as to what is and what is not acceptable. If your projects require extra hours of work outside of school, you need to make sure that everyone is doing an equal amount of work. Of course, because of the nature of our classes, the time difference and the variance of school term times could affect the efficacy of your work. It helps to maintain motivation if everyone in your team knows their assignment as well as their shared goal and does their share responsibly.

Keep Everyone in the Loop

Whenever you have a discussion in your group, make sure to keep the record available and accessible for your team on a shared drive. This record enables them to work on their coursework more efficiently, and also has the advantage of making the process of your team’s contribution visible. It may also be useful to keep a shared note of ideas, which will stimulate conversations and make you even more productive as a team.

Master the Apps to Be a Master of Online Group Work

Because of Covid, more and more people use Apps for Intercultural Collaborative Learning. Why don’t you try some of the apps below to give your group work a boost?

Apps to Boost Your Group Work

【For meetings】

Zoom, Teams, Google Meet: Apps for online meetings. It is good to know how to host a meeting, how to turn on and off your camera/microphone, how to share your screen, and how to send chat messages beforehand. 

【For taking notes】

Google Docs, Google Slides, Padlet: The biggest advantage of these apps is that they allow multiple people to edit and write in one document simultaneously. Be sure to know how to share your documents and how to give a presentation using these apps.

【For chat】

LINE, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Stacks: Apps widely used everywhere in the world. You may not be aware of it, but LINE is probably the most popular messaging app in Japan. If you have it installed, exchanging contact information with Japanese students will be so much easier. 

Spread the Positivity!

Language proficiency is not the only key to a successful group discussion. Make sure to smile and nod, signalling to the speaker that you are interested. We appreciate how difficult it can be to communicate through a screen. Try using phrases such as “We are such a good team!”, “We have done so much today!”, “Our meeting is always so much fun!”, “I am listening!”, or “Thank you for doing ~ for me!”. Be mindful of the fact that you are trying to achieve something wonderful together as a team. Do not be shy. Tell each other how you feel. This is the key to building a good team.

Keep a Record of Your Work Together

Having classes online could make you feel like you have little connection with your schoolmates. You could, however, keep a record of your shared moments together by taking screenshots in meetings. It is also fun to come up with a name for your group or post your activities on Facebook.

How to Keep the Conversation Going Outside of the Classroom

Many of our students have confessed that it is not easy to make friends online, that there is no time for a casual chat because they are always busy talking about the assignments, and that they wish they could stay friends after the end of the term. Compared to the conventional face-to-face classes, online seminars give students few opportunities to socialize. Hence we encourage you to sit down and have some chit chat whenever you can. We know for a fact that you’d more likely be able to talk openly in informal settings. Below is a to-do list for having meaningful interaction with your classmates.

  1. Watch a film together.
  2. Teach your classmates your first language. (and vice versa)
  3. Cook together.
  4. Dine together.
  5. Plan an event that does not require any special equipment. (e.g.. origami)
  6. Play video games together.

Translation: Mio Kobayashi, Walt Wyman

Language Barriers

I have decent grades on the listening exam,but when it comes to having conversations in class, I’m lost!

Try not to be intimidated by slang.

Oftentimes learners have trouble catching up with day-to-day conversations or discussions in meetings even though they perform very well in exams. When you find yourself in this situation, the best thing you can do is not to panic. It may only mean that you are not used to casual expressions in the language. Like any other language, Japanese is changing every day. Even if you are a native Japanese speaker, you might struggle with the way younger or older generations of people speak. Grammatically speaking, people always omit the subject in a sentence, or they avoid using respectful forms in a casual conversation. This may be the reason why you have difficulty comprehending what is being said. The best way to overcome this situation is to ask questions. Do not be afraid of stopping the flow of the conversation. Your Japanese friends will be more than happy to help you. We have made a list of Conversation Tips you can use to ask questions. Please check it out and try out new phrases as often as you can!

Recommended Websites for Learning Japanese

If you wish to get accustomed to casual Japanese, we recommend that you use YouTube or other streaming services. There are lots of websites that provide you with English subtitles as well. You can basically kill two birds with one stone by watching something you enjoy and studying Japanese at the same time.

  • YouTube
  • NETFLIX (If you do not know much about Japanese TV series or anime, ask your classmates for recommendations)
  • TED (Check out TED x Tohoku University!)
  • NHK daily (Podcasts)

I have so many ideas to share but I am not confident enough to talk about them!

Feel the fear but do it anyway! Every learner feels that their Japanese is not good enough at first. No one is perfect from the get-go. By having small, successful experiences, you will feel more confident in your ability.

You do not need to know exactly what you are about to say.

We understand that you probably think that you need to know what you are going to say and how to say it before you open your mouth. We want to point out, though, that it takes time to structure a sentence in your head. Of course, it is a desirable technique in discussion to premeditate your ideas. If this means that you go totally silent for a while, however, you should probably change your strategy. In Intercultural Collaborative Learning, students from all walks of life gather, which means that they will struggle to understand who you are or how motivated you are if you are quiet. Your Japanese does not need to be 100% perfect. Even if you are only 60% sure, it is always worth saying it out loud.

Be Prepared to Do Better in the Next Class

If you could not find an opportunity to speak up in class, know that it is not just you. When you are not happy with how you did in a class, it is always good to prepare for the next class straightaway. Make small plans such as to speak up at least once, respond to your classmates, ask a question, raise your hand at least once, facilitate a discussion etc., etc.…. It is worth noting that you need to do this right after the class. Make it into your routine to plan while your memory is still clear and use it in the next class. If you are not sure how to plan, please do not hesitate to contact your supervisor (TAs or Supporters also, if you were assigned one).

People speak Japanese differently in discussions compared to the way I’ve learnt it at school.

Be aware of the difference between spoken and written Japanese, and practice using them!

As you may know, there are formal and informal forms of Japanese, and they are very different. In casual conversations or discussions, people tend to use informal Japanese. You might have seen Japanese students nod and say “Un-un” in conversations. There are some expressions that you do not learn at school such as this, which means that non-native Japanese speakers tend to get confused when they come to Japan. One solution to this problem is to watch Japanese films or videos so you can learn casual spoken Japanese and imitate this style of talking. Observe the way the characters respond to each other and try to build up your vocabulary. If you are not sure about some words or expressions, ask your classmates to clarify them for you.

 Languages are constantly changing day by day, which means that there are countless ways to express one idea. Just because you have never learnt a particular collocation does not mean that the phrasing is incorrect. You could think about how it differs from the one you already know and why they are different. We appreciate that it is not easy to try new expressions in conversations. We hope, however, that you overcome this fear and try it anyway. In Intercultural Collaborative Learning, we aim for learners to find diversity in themselves, accept it, and learn from it. Japanese as a language is merely a tool to achieve this bigger goal, and there is no need to judge whether you speak it fluently or not. If you get frustrated, consider it as a stepping-stone that takes you somewhere higher and makes you grow even more as a learner.

Barriers in Your Mind

I am confused by the way some of my classmates think.
Sometimes I feel like I am in the wrong and I end up refraining from speaking up.
How can I be more confident in my opinion?

That is exactly how you are supposed to feel!

Having discussions with people from different backgrounds can sometimes make you feel like you are saying something wrong, or it could even make you feel anxious that you may get criticized for the way you think. We believe, however, that this tension can be the key which opens a new way of thinking and gives you a chance to observe yourself from an objective point of view. We would even venture to say that you are very lucky to have felt this way! We are certain that you are stimulating your classmates in a similar way without knowing it. There is no right or wrong way of thinking in our class. We hope that you do not hesitate to speak up next time!

We feel like we are isolated as a group, because we cannot see how the other groups are doing.

It is probably a good idea to keep in touch with other groups in your class.
Why don’t you try having online meetings with them?

Especially because you are having classes online these days, you tend to focus only on your own group. This could make you feel as if your group is an isolated ship adrift in the ocean with nothing in sight. There is no fixed mark to measure yourselves by, and you may feel at a loss. If you ever feel this way, we strongly advise you to set up a virtual common room where you can exchange ideas with other groups in your class. There are apps such as LINE or Slack that could be useful for this. If there is no virtual common room that is already assigned to you, you can ask your supervisor (or TAs and Supporters) to set one up for you.

I got asked a question I did not wish to answer in a discussion.
How can I tell them how I feel without offending them?

You do not need to answer all the questions if you do not wish to.
You could avoid giving them personal answers by providing them instead with generalized answers.

Some of you may feel a little uncomfortable when someone asks you questions about your religion, sexuality, or ethnicity. You might wonder how to politely dismiss such questions without creating an awkward mood. First and foremost, you need to make it clear to them that you do not wish to answer their questions, and then gently move on to talk about something relevant to the question. You could phrase it like this: “I cannot tell you how it affects me personally, but people tend to talk about it in this way ~”, “Generally speaking, this issue is regarded as ~”, “According to the newspaper I read the other day ~.” By changing the phrasing slightly and digressing into discussing general topics, you could subtly avoid answering personal questions without offending your friends. 

Alternately, you might put yourself in your friends’ shoes and consider whether your questions might upset them. You could choose not to ask for fear of being disrespectful, but we advise you to pay attention to the way you phrase it and ask them anyway. “I am not sure if it is okay to ask you this, but…” and “I want you to be honest with me if you do not wish to answer this, but…” are both good ways to phrase a question so that the person who answers it can choose to what extent they respond to it. It is normal to think and feel in different ways. You just need to make sure that everyone feels comfortable with the way the question is asked.

Barriers Between Students

One of the students does not want to contribute to our group work.
I don' know how to deal with someone like this.

Instead of expecting your classmate to change, you could come up with things you can change to assist them.

Many students have gone through similar issues regarding those who are reluctant to contribute to group activities. How can you make sure that everyone’s workload is equal and fair? In Intercultural Collaborative Learning, there are a couple of possible reasons for low participation, such as differences in language ability and anxiety towards engaging in a multicultural environment. Why don’t you ask the student what is stopping them from doing her/his work? If the student is from abroad, and having difficulty communicating in Japanese, you could ask your supervisor if you could use English supplementally in discussions, make a record of the conversation in both languages, or step back and assess the level of Japanese used in the group. It is not inclusive or fair to ask the student to catch up with you without any changes on your end. You need to be aware that your classmates have different skills and Japanese proficiency. Some students might have never talked to any foreigners in their life, some might have studied abroad, and others might have grown up overseas. This means that some of you are ready for Intercultural Collaborative Learning, but there are those who are not. If you find someone in your class who has little experience in an intercultural environment and shies away from speaking up, you could help them by coming up with an easy question for them to answer, encourage them to speak, and listen to them carefully to show them that you are interested. Make them feel that their ideas are valued and welcomed in discussions, so they can feel more confident in their views. If the student is feeling lost because of a lack of experience in collaborative learning, you could divide the workload in your group and make their role in the team clear. This will give them a sense of responsibility, which helps with the collaboration. By giving them the satisfaction of contributing to the team by doing something that they are good at, they should be able to have more confidence in themselves.

If you ever have any trouble with relationships among your classmates, you can always ask your supervisor for advice. It is admirable to try to find solutions on your own, but doing so might only bring more challenges into your group. It is important, therefore, that you do not hesitate to ask for help if necessary. Introducing another pair of eyes to the problem could bring in new ideas to your group and stimulate it in a positive way.

No one says anything in the group except for me! How can I encourage others to talk?

You are doing great to be so independent!
Now try something even more challenging (but fulfilling) and be the inspiration for your peers.

①Assign Different Roles

When you have a meeting or group discussion in a class, there are always various roles to play to conduct it successfully. For example, you will need a facilitator, someone who takes minutes, a timekeeper, someone to report back your achievements to the class, and someone who shares the slides on the screen. It might be fun to change your role for every meeting. Ask them which role they want to play each time. If no one volunteers, you could use an online roulette to assign their posts.

②Ask Questions and Rephrase Statements

It sometimes happens that only a couple of people in the group talk in a discussion, or even none at all. The best thing you can do to overcome this situation is to ask questions. “Do you know what we are supposed to do right now?”, “What shall we do next?”, “What do you think, ~?” These are all good questions to ask when silence dominates the floor. For more advanced learners, you could even summarise a statement by saying “Do you mean to say ~ by that?”. By rephrasing a statement in this way, you can ensure that the whole group agrees on what is being discussed as well as stimulate the flow of conversation.

I am barely keeping up in Japanese discussions.
What more can I do to take a step further and speak up or even facilitate a meeting?

Ask a short, easy question!

You might be able to contribute in a more meaningful way, by trying to sustain continuous dialogue. The easiest way to achieve this is to ask questions. “I would like to know more about it. Did you mean ~ by saying so?” and “What made you think that?” are very easy ways to animate a conversation. Incidentally, when you agree or disagree with someone, in addition to stating your opinion on the matter, you could add the reason why you agree/disagree, and even ask for a comment from the opposing party in this way: “I agree/ disagree with ~ because ~. Is there anyone who can add a different perspective?” Ask questions as if you are playing catch or relaying a baton, which helps to maintain the flow of dialogues. Of course, this is not an easy task. You can start with one question first to build up your confidence.

Most of the home students want to hear more about what the international students think. Even though many of our classes are conducted in Japanese, you can try to be the leader or facilitator in a discussion. Go for it! We’ve got your back!

Translation: Mio Kobayashi, Walt Wyman