In a little bright room I clasped hands with a 4-year old and a 60-year old man. We were part of a big circle dancing to Asian music. It was a Friday-night Hippo family meeting. The Hippo foundation is an organization that began in Japan as a method to teach young Japanese to speak English. In a few years it incorporated Spanish and Korean. Decades later, as I stood in the Kobe meeting room with my home-stay mom Hiromi, the members spoke over ten languages.
The point of the Hippo family is not to have teachers and tests but to have an interactive multilingual environment. Some members start young and others join later but everyone participates in the same activities, from dancing and singing to mimicking audiotapes. The games were beyond goofy. But even though I couldn’t keep a straight face the 15 or so members were actually learning. They all could fluently speak at least three languages and could introduce and explain themselves in the eight others.
When they want to use their language in a real-life situation they apply to live with a host family abroad… or let a foreigner, like me, stay in their home. At “sharing time,” Hiromi read from her journal what she had learned during our time together- that you can “sprinkle” salt on something and you “hit the road” when it's time to go.
This sure isn’t Jersey because… Hiromi uses whitening lotion and thinks the concept of tanning beds is hilarious.