Tokyo Tech News

First Tokyo Tech-MIT Japan Language Exchange Program held online


Published: September 7, 2020

The Tokyo Tech-MIT Japan Language Exchange Program was organized for the first time from June to July 2020, with 17 students from MIT Japan and 18 students from Tokyo Tech participating. For some time, Tokyo Tech and MIT Japan have been conducting exchange programs such as the Tatara Steel Making Workshop in Japan since fiscal year 2017.

This summer, due to the travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, many exchange events have been either canceled or postponed. Thus, in order to supplement face-to-face interaction between the two universities, new online activities were planned and organized.

In this virtual language exchange program, students from Tokyo Tech and MIT Japan were randomly matched, and 17 groups were created. The objectives were to 1) develop communication skills in a second language (English or Japanese), and 2) understand different cultures and ideas, and broaden perspectives through language exchange.

Cut from video: Discussing various differences between Japan and US
Cut from video: Discussing various differences between Japan and US

After the plenary introductory session in early June, each group held online language exchange sessions at least three times after adjusting to the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and Boston. Each exchange session lasted approximately one hour, with 30 minutes in one language and 30 minutes in another language. Many groups met more than three times, which was the minimum requirement for the language exchange program.

After language exchange sessions, each group created a short movie about what they had learned about their partners' countries. Each group selected various topics such as differences in school life, university systems, cooking, folktales, sports, movies, music, linguistics, TV shows, and differences in translating movie titles.

As the student movies were created freely without any instruction, each group produced unique and interesting output using diverse techniques in recording and movie editing.

Cut from video: Self-introductions
Cut from video: Self-introductions

Cut from video: Participant explaining what she learned about MIT
Cut from video: Participant explaining what she learned about MIT

In early July, one month after the individual language exchange sessions, participants again gathered online for the final session. A movie digest compiling all of the movies by the 17 groups were shown, and each participant made a short comment in their second language. After voting, three prize-winning groups were selected. The winning themes were 1) sharing of traditional cooking recipes, 2) comparison of two folktales, and 3) differences in language structure.

Comments from voters included the following:

  • "This group's video was the easiest to watch because the content was helpful for all of us and their explanation was concise."
  • "The comparisons were interesting, and the video was easy to understand."
  • "The movie took a very creative spin, making cooking tutorials and having a great music selection without overbearing the main audio. The exchange of menus was so interesting. I want to eat!"

At the end of the session, a certificate of completion was provided to each participant, along with the generous gifts from MIT Japan.

Shots from final on-line session

Shots from final on-line session

Shots from final online session

According to the feedback from participants, all students would recommend this activity to their friends. It was a good opportunity for them to learn from each other through an equal balance of "teach and learn." Even after the completion of the program, students from MIT and Tokyo Tech may meet online regularly and conduct language exchange. Many students commented that they enjoyed meeting new friends from other countries and exchanging ideas about the same topics in Japan and the US while practicing communication skills in a second language.

Organizers hope that this activity will continue between MIT and Tokyo Tech, and wish for a lasting friendship among participants in the first MIT-Tokyo Tech Language Exchange Program. Based on this first trial, it is hoped that this sort of activity will be further developed between MIT and Tokyo Tech.

Comments from participants

  • "We made lots of efforts to make movies together and it helped to understand and help my partner. It was a good opportunity to practice speaking skills in a second language. Also, it was a good opportunity to learn about US culture."
  • "I had a wonderful time with my partner! I had a lot of things to teach my partner when we talked about our topic, and vice versa."
  • "It was a lot of fun! Once a week is a good timeline since there was usually enough to talk about."
  • "This activity was helpful as it was in between formal courses and private activity, so it was a very relaxing event."
  • "Through this program, my purpose to improve English, understand American culture, and make friends who can contact each other were all fulfilled. So it was a very good experience."
  • "Although we needed to figure out issues about time differences, we managed to adjust the meeting times in the morning and evening."
  • "We could decide the discussion topic on our own, and as we proceeded with the conversation, we were able to select a topic of mutual interest and develop a movie."
  • "It was interesting to watch other groups' movies."
  • "I may hesitate to join face-to-face international exchange events, but since this was held online, it was easy for me to join the activity. It was a very good, rare opportunity to meet students from MIT."
  • "I really enjoyed this program. I made a new friend and talked about various things together. I learned not only English vocabulary and grammar but also different cultures and lifestyles. I became more interested in the US and MIT! Thank you for organizing this fantastic program."

Comments from instructors

Takako Aikawa, Senior Lecturer in Japanese, Global Languages, MIT

"When watching our students' final project videos, I was so moved and touched by their creativity and passion to learn each other's culture and language. I taught many of the MIT participants in person in the past, and it was such a rewarding experience for me to see their happy and energetic faces while using the Japanese language at this difficult time. I also want to point out that this program was well designed pedagogically, and we language teachers have learned a lot from this experience. I truly appreciate our collaboration with the teaching staff members from Tokyo Tech, and we hope to be able to continue and further expand this type of program in the future."

Christine Pilcavage, Managing Director, MISTI / MIT Japan Program, MIT

"I was heartbroken when we (MIT) had to cancel our summer internship program this year due to COVID-19/the novel coronavirus. I was elated when we were able to create and implement the Tokyo Tech-MIT Language Exchange Program this summer, and my students, who couldn't experience Japan this summer, could feel a little closer to the country by connecting with the students at Tokyo Tech. The MIT and Tokyo Tech students were able to practice their focus language, but I believe the friendships that were created were the ‘prize’ all students received. I am grateful for Ota-sensei for the collaborations we have engaged in over the years. I hope we will be able to continue creating an interesting program to benefit our students and make them want to improve their language skills and learn about Japanese culture. I do hope we will all be able to travel to Japan soon to meet our new lifelong friends at Tokyo Tech."

Eri Ota, Professor, Center for International Education, Tokyo Institute of Technology

"Although it was the first time for students from MIT and Tokyo Tech to meet online, I was very happy to see the friendly atmosphere from the movies jointly created by each group. This event made me feel that time and place do not matter when making friends. Meanwhile, as one of the organizers for the Tokyo Tech Tatara Steel Making Workshop, I truly wished that students from both universities could meet in person in Japan. We hope to continue this activity, and next time, if possible, we can combine online exchange and face-to-face workshops. Lastly, on behalf of the Promotion Office for Global Scientists and Engineers, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to participants from MIT Japan and Tokyo Tech for joining this program, and to Prof. Takako Aikawa and Ms. Christine Pilcavage for jointly planning and organizing the program."


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This article has been updated on September 9.