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Teaching Young Learners Special Interest Group

Hi everyone, this is Nick from ALTTO.

You’re reading this because at some level you want to get better at what you do. Great teachers aren’t born; this profession (like most others) takes constant reflection and listening to others about what they’re doing. ALTTO delivers all of this as you know (improving skills and sharing with others), but today we’re stepping outside of ALTTO into the largest source of professional development and networking for language teachers in Japan. Read on. 

The ALTTO platform allows you to access knowledge that has been prepared for you by leading educators, and although we do our best to make it interactive (quizzes and such in the courses, multiple ways to connect etc.)  your professional development can feel passive. You sit at the computer, complete our courses, get your certificate and then try your newly acquired skills in the classroom. And that’s great. But what if I told you there is an entire community of people in Japan that, like you, discuss and think about how to make education for young learners more fun and meaningful?

The Teaching Younger Learners Special Interest Group (TYL SIG) exists as part of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT). There are many SIGs within JALT and they are a network of language teaching professionals who strive to raise the level of teaching in Japan. They all focus on different aspects of our profession, and the TYL SIG is the one that tackles education for young students. And it’s not just for eikaiwa, juku and kindergarten teachers but also for public school teachers. It’s where JTEs, ALTs, HRTs, school principals all meet on neutral ground to discuss their collective goal of raising educational standards and sharing information.

At their periodic events  all kinds of people give presentations or workshops on a host of topics, with informal networking opportunities before, during and after – and the community is building all the time. I am a member of this SIG, being an ALT it made a lot of sense. But here are some more of my thoughts why: Networking (as mentioned): from ALTs all around Japan (not just a single hiring company), JTEs etc. but also the textbook writers for the books we use in schools, MEXT representatives, innovative tech folk. Another reason is the continuous support they can give you. It’s about not being just one ALT, but becoming one of MANY professionals with a common goal (like talking to people working in universities and hearing that they’re teaching the be-verb still and ways we can better prepare students for higher level education).

We all get to certain levels in our lives and think, “Ok that’s it, I know everything about this one topic now” only to realise (after meeting someone new, or when we read a book about the topic) how little we know. We have all been through that stage where we don’t know what to do to get better too. We are not sure whether what we are doing is the right thing for our students, or not. And where we are lost and don’t know how to advance in our careers. One place to get more experience  and come closer to answering these reflective questions is inside the TYL SIG. You could just be a member, attend meetings, network and grow, but you can also become an officer and get some first hand experience managing a group, in a variety of different roles. It’s the best place to be if you feel that your ideas could make a difference.

I, for one, have joined and am currently serving as an officer (so I also speak from a personal point of view when I say that this place is great for ALTs). But that’s enough from me. This was my little introduction to the guest blog for ALTTO from the TYL SIG president Grant Osterman. Enjoy.

Hi all, 

I am Grant Osterman the Teaching Younger Learners (TYL) Special Interest Group (SIG) coordinator. This will be my second year of a 3- or 4-year term. I have learned so much and made so many new friends in this position. I would like to invite you to our SIG and get involved in our part organization the Japan Association for Language Teachers (JALT). I think the most important thing to know, if you are new, is to not be afraid that you are not qualified to help in this organization. We welcome all to our group and want to work with anyone who is excited to develop their teaching skills. We also have a mentorship program where you can shadow experienced teachers to learn what they do. If I may, let me give you a little background on our SIG. 

About 5 years ago in February 2015, the Teaching Younger Learners (TYL) Special Interest Group (SIG) was formed by combining the Teaching Children SIG and Junior Senior High SIG’s. This merger made the SIG one of the biggest in our parent organization, JALT. The goal of the SIG is to reach all teachers of students 0-18 and to work together towards professional development. We do so by offering conferences and information in our journal, published 3 times a year. Our main 2-day international conference (JALT Junior) is a great opportunity to connect with other professionals in the field and get help with any problem you face in the classroom. It’s also where we see a growing number of ALTs meet, catch up and share experiences from all over Japan. Our SIG also provides smaller and local opportunities to meet, share, and collaborate with like-minded professionals.

We are part of our parent NPO and offer many possible ways to get involved. Not only for professional development and resume building, but also to make lifelong friends with other professionals. In this largest teaching organization in Japan, there are 32 chapters and 28 SIGs. We are also working on a collaboration between the other 27 SIGs to expand our reach and further develop opportunities in professional development. This gives us reach and depth not like any other educational organization. If this is something you would like to explore, please feel free to contact me anytime via this email


Dr. Grant Osterman

Nicholas J. Wilson

Nicholas started his professional career in Italy in 2012 teaching adults after completing the Cambridge CELTA course in Edinburgh, Scotland. He began working with young learners in 2014 after receiving his MA in English Literature. Since 2016 he has been teaching at numerous elementary schools as an ALT in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Outside of his contributions towards the ALTTO platform, he also writes peer reviews for various journals. His command of five different languages has sparked his passion towards comparative literature research, with a keen interest on the influences westernization has had on Japanese Meiji/Taisho writers. You can find him inside old-fashioned cafés enjoying a good cup of coffee while playing around with his 1970’s Asahi Pentax film camera.