By Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan (July 14, 2016) – Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) celebrated 20 apprentices and trainees’ graduation from its 11-month-long English language training program.
The event included English presentations by the students to the command’s leadership, English instructors and fellow apprentices and trainees, followed by the graduation ceremony. Distinguished guests included SRF-JRMC Commanding Officer Capt. Garrett Farman, Deputy Commander Capt. Edward Katz, Administrative Officer Miles Hicks and Language Training Division Head Paul Mason.
“[The graduates] approached the course positively and with a can-do attitude,” said Kelsey Aguirre, the master of ceremonies and an English instructor, in her introductory remarks. “Their spirit, [and] positivity has made this group truly special.”
Sixteen of the graduates were from the 33rd apprentice program class, and four were from the first Engineering and Planning Development Program (EPDP) class. Also in attendance were the 34th apprentice program students who began the course in August.
Since 1985, in a yearly effort to maintain its capability as a prominent naval ship repair facility, the command’s apprentice program has nurtured its trainees into skilled craftspeople. Similarly, the EPDP program, launched in 2015, recruits and develops engineers with the skills and knowledge of ship repair.
Both programs require trainees to take English training for four hours every day, a total of 580 hours during the 11-month program. In addition, the trainees are assigned homework to familiarize themselves with the language.
“In a culture where Japanese workers, U.S. Sailors and civilians work together,” Mason said “English skills are an important part of smoothly and efficiently accomplishing ship repair.”
Mason publicly expressed his appreciation to the instructors and the language training division’s administrative staff.
“One of the things that mark their day-to-day performance is the amount of focus they put on their students’ needs,” he said. “They are absolutely laser focused on helping our students understand what they need to do to help them improve their English.”
The students were organized into groups, or “trade development” classes, based on their English proficiency. This year there were four classes ranging from trade development four (lowest), up to trade development one (highest). As demonstration of completing their language learning objectives, the groups conducted team presentations of their learning experiences in English at the ceremony.
Presentation topics included: how the students’ language improvement helped them on the job, visiting the Navy Exchange with their American English instructors, hard times with homework, field trips to the gym, ship tours, seasonal events in which they honed their skills, presentation practice, their teachers, how they developed their English vocabulary by communicating via a phone application called Line, and how they gained the confidence to speak English without fear.
A presenter explained about the XReading system, a computer application which provides a wealth of reading and audio materials at students’ specific language levels. The application helps develop students’ reading and listening skills. It also permits them to access the materials on their smart phones, allowing them to learn anywhere at any time.
To further measure students’ English aptitude for jobs, training and class placement, the command administers the American Language Course Placement Test (ALCPT), developed by the Defense Language Institute English Language Center. Possible point scores range from 0 to 100.
“When I started the English class, I was the only one with [an] ALCPT [score] in the 20s,” said welder Tsubasa Kosuge, explaining how difficult English was when he was the lowest scorer in the language proficiency test. “But I was able to improve a lot, thanks to all of my teachers. They were very kind to me, and I learned many things [like] vocabulary and listening.” Kosuge was part of the fourth trade development class.
Another student described how his ALCPT score results increased, allowing him to move from the third trade development class to the second trade development class. “I made a goal to score 75 on the ALCPT,” said Nobuhide Wada, a marine internal combustion engine mechanic. “I studied English vocabulary and practiced listening before sleeping every night. My final score was 76.”
A first trade development class student, EPDP trainee and production control specialist, Katsuya Taichi remarked about guests who visited their classes: “A former shipyard rigger told us about repairing ships, a former Marine spoke to us about the military, and a pilot talked about aviation. We interviewed people from [the Environmental, Safety and Health, and Radiological Controls Department], where we studied environmental programs. These guest speakers helped us better understand each topic and practice English.”
“This is only the beginning,” Farman said to the graduates. “All that matters is that you are able to communicate your ideas, [and] your feelings about a problem or an issue. Communication is so critical in our organization.”
“I am very proud of them,” said Language Instructor Emily Rivas “because they have made so much growth over the past year. In the beginning, they were very shy. They were afraid to speak. Trying to get a one-word answer was difficult. These couple of weeks, [I was able to] walk in the classroom and have long, 40-minute discussions with them. Thinking about how they were at the beginning, it’s such a change!”
“During the course each student has their own goal, regardless of their skills,” said Training Technician Michiko Watabe. “Every member of our course has attained theirs and proved themselves. Some had difficulties in grammar; others were not used to giving presentations. All of them kept trying and made it. Each of them seems to have increased their motivation in learning English. I hope they keep up studying English every day. Endurance is power!”