For about two years, 17-year-old Mitsuyo Machida has been teaching Japanese to Burmese refugee children at a centre in Kuala Lumpur. In the course of her job, however, the teenager realised she had a problem: There were few teaching aids suitable for her class. Many of the books on the market didn’t seem like they were aimed at children.
Well, the spirited Mitsuyo stepped up – she decided to create her own Japanese textbook for her class. And so, despite her youth and lack of experience in the publishing industry, Mitsuyo managed to write and publish Nihongo No Hon Beginner (A Book Of Japanese Language For Beginners), which she now uses in her sessions with her students.
“I created this book based on my own experiences of teaching and what my students were struggling with in their classes. I originally published it only for my classes, but my student’s reactions were surprisingly good, so I decided to self-publish it for a wider audience,” Mitsuyo says at an interview at her class at the Zo Learning Centre.
Her 50+ page book is now available for about RM70 on Amazon.com, and according to her, response to it has been encouraging, with over 20 books sold so far since she put them on sale in August (link here). All proceeds from the sale of the books will be donated to the Zo Learning Centre.
Adapting to a new language is perhaps second nature to Mitsuyo. Born in Tokyo, Mitsuyo moved to Malaysia when she was 11 years old, following her parents who now work here. Enrolling at Garden International School, Mitsuyo’s English was originally weak. Luckily, her teachers gave her extra work to help her, which encouraged her in turn to later set up a programme to help younger students with English.
“I wanted to help other students who might have been in the same situation as I was,” Mitsuyo says. “This is why I wanted to also help younger students be open-minded, and discover the excitement of communicating with people from different backgrounds.”
Mitsuyo was also introduced to community service and street feeding programmes. Bitten by the charity bug, she began volunteering early in 2017 at the Zo Learning Centre, which caters to Burmese children. Mitsuyo teaches Japanese once a week to a class of eight students aged between 10 and 14 years old.
“I wanted to make use of my unique knowledge and skills. There are many people who can teach English and Maths, but not many who can teach Japanese in English,” Mitsuyo points out.
“Knowing something is always an advantage. Learning another language is always useful, and maybe it will be useful for them in the future.”
A lot of the textbooks she found, however, were rather monochrome, without many pictures or colours that would attract and hold the attention of children, so Mitsuyo decided to work on that in her book.
“Every time after lessons, I would write notes on what went well in class, and what didn’t go well. I noted the areas they were struggling to grasp. So when I was creating the book, I tried to explain things as much as possible in easy language,” Mitsuyo explains.
“When teaching children, I’ve learnt that one thing to keep in mind is to entertain them and get them to have as much fun as possible. It’s not good to just let them sit and listen to you all the time. What I do is create games for fun classes, or even watch anime to pick up Japanese. Always keep them engaged,” says this teen, who seems wiser than her years.
Mitsuyo then started experimenting with design applications, trying to create the best look for her pages. She made the decisions on everything, from the formatting to the design and illustrations. The teenager endeavoured to make sure the book’s language was easy, its pages had colour, and that there were cute illustrations.
Aesthetics were just as important to her as content, which is why she decided to make the book green, which she perceives to be a “friendly” colour for children.
Once she had completed a first draft, it was then time for proofreading – again, something the precocious teenager did herself. All in all, it took about a year for Mitsuyo to finish her book.
“It was really difficult at times, I didn’t have a professional editor or designer. So it was challenging, but I enjoyed it,” Mitsuyo says with a smile.
“On the self-publishing website I used, they had very strict requirements for everything. I had to resize all my pages to the nearest millimetre. I had to really work on that, and that took me so long!”
It helped that she had the support of her parents and other adults around her. “This is purely originally her idea, and she planned the whole process by herself, including writing, editing and publishing. I think she learnt a lot and this experience should lead to self confidence.
“I also appreciate those who were involved and supported her in each phase of producing the book,” says Mitsuyo’s mother (who declined to be named).
So what’s next for Mitsuyo? She is, after all, only a teenager and has her whole life in front of her. She replies that though she is interested in science and maths, she foresees herself continuing to teach as a form of community service in the future. She also plans to write a second Japanese textbook, after getting feedback from her students.
“It’s important to start small. Small things can make big differences in other people’s lives. You don’t need to get involved in teaching or creating textbooks like I did, but what’s most important is to be aware of people out there who need your help.
“Be involved in something, and hopefully you’ll discover the joys of helping others,” Mitsuyo says.
See what we mean about being wiser than her years?
What Mitsuyo Likes
Favourite Japanese food Medium fatty tuna sushi.
Favourite Malaysian food Roti canai and fishhead noodles.
Favourite musical performerVirtual character Hatsune Miku.
Favourite book Currently reading and enjoying 1984 by George Orwell.
Favourite movie Summer Wars, animated science fiction film directed by Mamoru Hosoda and released in 2009.