Sanae Kawamoto


In this edition of Showcase, Sanae Kawamoto shares her journey from a beginner adult learner of conversational English to a successful teacher, school owner, and ELT author.


Sanae Kawamoto

I think almost all Japanese people are interested in English but just say to themselves, “Oh, I want to speak English someday,” or negatively think, “It’s too late for me to start now.” But it’s not true. It is never too late to enrich your life and improve yourself. I like to tell this to people, and encourage Japanese learners of English to never give up.

As for myself, well, I couldn’t speak English at all–not even a word. As you know, most Japanese people study English in school, but when it comes to speaking it, few can express themselves well. Of course, I was no different. So, at the age of 32, I decided to try to learn English again, which was quite a late start. 

Once I had decided to learn English I wanted to enroll in an English conversation school, but I was a homemaker and full-time mother and couldn’t afford the time or the tuition. So I learned through an NHK radio English conversation program and went to an English study group at a community hall once a week. 

I listened to the NHK radio program and studied every day. Slowly I became accustomed to hearing myself speak English. Slowly but surely my vocabulary and comprehension improved and my confidence rose. Within several years I felt I had advanced to the point where I was able to teach English to children, and started with a few classes a week at my home. Over the next few years I started to teach adults as well.

I successfully learned English by listening and repeating what I heard over and over again. I also used dictation. My study method was very simple: listening, shadowing, and dictation. Now I use these learning patterns with almost all my adult students. They have to listen to English every day and practice it before they come to class at my school. 

I tell them: “Studying every day is the key. If you really would like to improve your English, you have to practice every day even if it’s five or ten minutes. There is no magician at any English conversation school who can wave a magic wand over you and give you the ability to speak English. You have to count on yourself. YOU are the only person who can improve your English.”

For me, learning is a collaborative experience between the student and teacher. The goal of the lesson is to facilitate learning in a way that is fun, positive, and free from stress. I don’t expect perfection from my students. I encourage them to feel comfortable in making their best effort and when they make mistakes, to learn from them. 

The result will be the ability to converse in everyday English in an easy and natural manner. But above all, the fundamental principle in my lessons and classrooms is that the only way you can learn to speak a language is to actually speak it.

After eight years of teaching in my home, working with instructional material published in English, and participating in conversation groups, I decided to take a giant step and open my own school. This was not an easy decision, but I felt it was a natural progression of my goal to expand my personal and professional horizons. 

I had always valued workbooks and study guides as integral parts of a holistic approach to learning. As I grew as a teacher, I felt I had gained enough insight and experience to add to the literature in the field. I began by writing articles and essays and expanded to books, six of which have been published so far. I have been very fortunate in my career to have been noticed and recognized in a variety of publications for my teaching and writing efforts. 

For me, the old adage that “by teaching I’ll be taught” is most certainly true. Every student, every lesson, and every opportunity I have to share my learning philosophy is another building block in my desire to keep learning and developing my English ability. I have learned that even modest beginnings can lead to rewarding and fulfilling outcomes, and it is a lesson applicable to every facet of life. 


Sanae Kawamoto is the owner of two English conversation schools called English Time <>. She also works as an English language teacher at Waseda University’s open college and as a corporate language trainer. She is the author of numerous books on learning conversational English. She can be contacted at <>.

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