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25/04/03 . From Leo Lewis in Tokyo . The Times . UK  
Big Mac, large fries and an English lesson for Tokyo kids  
ONE of Japan’s leading English language schools has struck a deal with McDonald's the fast-food chain, to provide classroom space for a new generation of students.  

Shogakukan, which runs language schools throughout Japan, has signed a deal to fill empty restaurants with classes aimed at two- to four-year-olds and their mothers.

The basic weekly lesson plan has already been drawn up and will follow a simple pattern. The children — about 15 to a class — will go to the counter and use the English they have learnt to place their orders. Their mothers and the teachers will then do the same.

After 45 minutes of teaching and singing, the class will be served with the food they ordered earlier. Tuition fees are set at a competitive 1,000 yen (£5.25) for mother and child, but do not include dining expenses.

The pupils are expected to improve their English significantly over the 12-week course, and will be encouraged to place orders of increasing complexity, including different sizes of drink and various dipping sauces. Trials are being carried out in 12 Tokyo branches of McDonald’s, but Shogakukan aims to set up a further 100 across the country by the end of the year.

Nahoko Yasuda, a mother of two living close to one of the new school-equipped McDonald’s branches, said: “I’m not sure whether the restaurants themselves are the best places for a lesson. On the other hand, it’s the first time Eiji (aged three) has ever looked forward to a lesson.”

McDonald’s Japan, reeling from its first year-end loss in 30 years, is delighted at the prospect of converting armies of pre-schoolers with its style of cuisine.

The restaurants, which once thrived on brisk business throughout the day, have now become lonely places during large parts of the morning and afternoon.

It is a problem that has prompted McDonald’s to adopt increasingly desperate measures to pull in the customers. From August last year, the chain initiated a price war but the main casualty appeared to be the company itself, since rivals did not respond with deep cuts of their own. After a series of price cuts, the chain’s basic hamburger eventually fell to just 59 yen (35p).

The plan behind that was to draw customers in and get them spending, but as McDonald’s executives have admitted privately, it simply produced a lot of customers buying one hamburger to go.

The desperation has not stopped there. Other recently unveiled plans include a new healthy menu involving salads and a McTofu Burger, and an attempt to take the brand upmarket by serving the usual food on china plates.  
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