My students are 2-year-olds who barely speak Japanese, let alone English. They are active elementary students who have been studying English for one or two years already. They are junior high students dutifully learning English from their state-approved textbook. They are adults wanting to watch movies from Hollywood without subtitles and trying to become proficient speakers.
The point of an Eikaiwa (see above article) is to give people a place to speak a language they aren’t able to use in their everyday lives. Some adults want to retain language learned while living abroad, but have no chance to speak English once returning home. Others want to become fluent speakers for travel or business purposes.
Parents often want to give their children an early start at learning a language they will need once they get to junior high. They know the difficulties in learning language at that age, and how much easier it is to learn when they are young.
With the children, we "run" and "dance." We "jump" and "swim." We count and sing and identify fruits, vegetables, and animals. We learn grammar (an apple, grapes, a cat). With the adults, I also teach grammar, albeit slightly more advanced (i.e. What have you been doing?). We talk about current events - the eclipse was a fun topic. We practice sentence patterns in the form of a "Grammar Rap." Don't worry, it' is not near as bad as it sounds!
All of the students, but especially the children put me to shame. I am embarrassed by my lack of a second language. Sure, I studied a little German and Japanese and a smattering of Spanish, but I am not fluent in any of them. I have long been a proponent of teaching Spanish to children in the United States from a very early age and making it mandatory in schools. It not only easier to learn when they are young, but it paves the way for the elective foreign language they will choose of their own accord in junior high, as it becomes easier to learn a third language than a second. Being bilingual allows people more career opportunities than being monolingual. Not least of all, it opens up communication to more people and and enables the speaker to be a better global citizen.
For all of these same reasons, Japanese parents bring their children to me. 50 minutes, once a week. It isn’t much. It really isn’t even enough. But it’s a start. Therefore, I do my best to nurture the students in this global society.