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What’s wrong with English education in Japan? Pull up a chair

190 Comments
By KK Miller

When you speak to foreign English educators in Japan, one thing becomes crystal clear: English education in Japan isn’t working. It’s just awful. While English classes are mandatory in Japanese schools, the percentage of students who emerge with actual English abilities are surprisingly low. Students in China, Korea and Japan are in an arms race to see who can produce students with the best English, and Japan seems to be trailing far behind in third place.

With the Olympic Games coming up in 2020, the Japanese government has proposed changes to increase the level of English ability in their students. Changes like starting introductory English classes in 3rd grade elementary school and making the subject compulsory from the 5th grade. Are these changes really going to help? We’ve gathered opinions from both foreign teachers and Japanese citizens about issues with the system and what might improve it.

Every foreigner who spends any amount of time in Japan will understand the fundamental need to change the way students study English. But a recent thread on the Japan subreddit, which seems to have been started by an English educator, tried to assemble as many opinions as possible about the matter in one place. Many of the complaints fell into three main categories:

1. Teaching to the tests

For those unfamiliar with the Japanese school system, most high schools and universities have a test that prospective students must take and pass. Especially in the case of high schools, there is a mandated set of content that appears. And so, Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) focus on the grammar and vocabulary that will be on the test. A broader understanding and the practical uses of English are largely ignored because they have to cover the specific material and don’t have time for anything else.

So, if Japanese students have to learn specific material for the tests, why should they learn anything else? There is no point in actually learning the language if all that is required is being able to pick the correct answer on a multiple choice test. Many Japanese netizens agree, “Why change anything unless the style of testing is changed?”

2. The quality of the textbooks is quite low

Many foreign language teachers criticized the textbooks used in the classrooms, complaining about all manner of things including content and grammatical errors. Even more specifically, many people found the choice of grammar included to be suspect, saying it wasn’t grammar used very often in native English. The JTEs have to teach these archaic forms through topics such as recycling plastic, people and animals dying in WWII and boring Japanese history, causing students to be apathetic. (Topics like these are required in government approved textbooks.)

3. A focus on translating into Japanese and JTEs speaking in only Japanese. Where is the English?

Perhaps one of the biggest complaints was the amount, or lack of English used in the classrooms. The JTEs often teach all the grammar in Japanese, and check that the students can follow the textbook by translating the English into Japanese. Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) are regulated to human tape recorders, and then set free to roam the class and “help” the students. Of all the hours of English education, how many of those hours were spent actually listening to and speaking English? (Repeating English is not the same as speaking it.)

Japanese people agree that the current teaching style often limits students to what little English they hear from the teachers and what words are put in front of them. Successful teaching should include as many senses as possible to surround students in English. One Japanese netizen suggests that TV dramas should be utilized to hear real English, while seeing the facial expressions and mouth movements all together in one package. How can a student not be excited to learn phrases like “OK, I’m on my way”, “What’s the problem?” or “Freeze! You’re under arrest!”

Which brings us to the main problem with the current system: Japanese students don’t understand the benefits of learning English. This is certainly not limited to Japanese learners, but how many time do you hear a student say, “I’m Japanese, so I will never use English in the future.” Studying English as a language is one of the least interesting things about it. But, what about all the different things that you can experience when you understand English? TV shows, movies, books, games, and it’s not even limited to entertainment, scientific journals, international business and the majority of the Internet is conducted in English.

When the exposure of English is limited to the classroom and the unfortunate textbooks, a majority of the students will disengage from it and end up not learning anything. When students are forced to study and learn about certain grammar points and vocabulary, with no knowledge about how you can apply it to all the amazing things in English, of course, the students are going to do poorly. Expose them to the idea that, yes, this is a subject you have to study, but look at what you can do with it outside the classroom. You can excite students with that and promote self-study, which is a much better approach than learning “This is a pen” for the sake of a test.

Sources: Source: Vipper na Ore, subreddit

Read more stories from RocketNews24 -- Are Japan’s efforts at internationalization succeeding or not? -- Things Japanese people believe about British vs. American English -- Learn English with Assassination Classroom

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190 Comments
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As one who presently teaches in Japan, and as one who has a long history of teaching English at a variety of levels (from absolute basic skills such as how to hold a pen properly, to rudimentary skills, to conversation and voice acting, and on up to working with Master's students),I find myself nodding in quiet agreement to many comments.

One of the additional things I would throw in is that it is highly ineffective to teach any meaningful active skills classes to a classroom of 30-40 students. Most especially in 10-25 minutes (with the maximum being 50 minutes). It is not impossible, but it gives students less than 30 seconds apiece to engage new skills.

ALTs are largely ill used in the classroom (I am lucky as my JTEs let me engage with my students and allow me get them engaged as often as possible outside the classroom). Classroom size and composition is a problem everywhere in developed and developing nations. Language classes should all have conversation components, where a maximum of six or seven students at a time directly engage with a teacher and/or ALT at the students' current level.

Pay is another touchy aspect. For Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in Japan, the pay is steadily decreasing, the Boards of Education run schools like a for profit business. Not to mention frequently breaking their own government's laws, and treating contracts like loose guidelines for themselves (the BoEs) but like iron-clad, pain-of-death documents for the ALTs. I, myself, started out as an ALT with nearly two-thousand teaching hours under my belt... but spent my initial couple years learning Japanese through silently watching English classes that were often taught in not less than 70% Japanese.

I fully agree that the system needs to be scrapped and rebuilt. But I strongly disagree with the remarks about Japanese arrogance... that stems from the lack of subtlety being used where we usually expect to find in English composition. Japanese English is quite often blunt, terse, and appears to be condescending, haughty, and occasionally downright rude. I can assure people that it is the way that English is taught that has created this odd little phenomena.

I could write a book on this, I probably should, but for now I will close with a couple last remarks... Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) are usually taught in university in the same fashion as they are in grade-school... that is to say that they are also taught by another JTE who quite often poorly uses ALTs and struggles with the clear and effective use of contemporary English. The cycle perpetuates itself from the top down... with a near complete lack of regulation or enforcement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and the Ministry of Education over the BoEs, through to people with only basic conversational skill and a poor command of active skills teaching teachers who then instruct the youth who grow up hating English because it is convoluted and difficult - when it really isn't.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The fact that spelling and grammar mistakes are not tolerable in schools is insane. Almost all English speakers don't even bother with correct spelling and grammar when writing (just look on the Internet and you'll see) so why should they be so criticized for mistakes? The English language is full of an amazing amount of slang and commonly incomplete sentences that any speaker would be able to comprehend (I can understand "that, get, me" as well as I understand "Get that for me"). I understand that in teaching someone a language you need to teach them the way it's properly said, but you're taking away the expierimental values that really teach you the language. It's not for no reason the phrase "learn from your mistakes" is widely used. Cut some slack on spelling and grammar mistakes, actually teach them based on their mistakes, and keep the mindset that even monolanguage English speakers are far from perfect. Don't even get me started on the amount of people that can't tell they're, their, and there or your and you're apart.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If Japan doesn't wake up

Wake up to what?

Korea will pass them as number 3..

Keep dreaming.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

THere is no problem using katakana if it was properly used but it is not. They can shorten the sound so you don't get GOODO but something closer to good. I know Japanese who learn English before and during WWII and can still speak English better than students today. But most Japanese today would not be able to pass a high school kanji test from the 1930's. Things got dumb down including the end of Saturday classes. I visited China and their tour guides, spoke almost perfect English unlike Japanese tour guides. Why is English important? It is the international language of business. It is also the language of aviation. In Korea, they have universities taught entirely in English so the graduates can work for their major companies. This is on way to get the brain power from other counties so the can stay ahead of technology. The U.S. has been doing this for years. This is another reason Japan is falling behind. Samsung has destroyed Sony, Panasonic, Sonyo, etc. In the U S, I mostly see Samsung and LG and less and less Japanese manufactured products. If Japan doesn't wake up, Korea will pass them as number 3..

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I find nothing new in the article. For a long, long time like 40 years at least, I've been hearing more or less the same argument about the poor quality of English education in this country. The reasons cited for this has not changed very much either. Isn't it time people stopped believing that you can learn (to speak) English at your school in Japan if only you could have the right method, more appropriate textbooks, and good and competent teachers. Well, could you really? My honest conclusion is that you couldn't and cannot, unless your school is an international school. There are, of course, exceptions such as if you are an extremely gifted and highly motivated student. Learning (to speak) English for the average Japanese student is so incredibly difficult that it would not be an exaggeration to say it is almost impossible if not impossible for linguistic and cultural reasons. I'm not able to elaborate exactly what those reasons are here. I may be accused of being elitist if I say, "Do we need everyone to speak English in this country?" But to be realistic, we probably just need several percentage of the population who can truly speak English. So then why force English on so many people who have no interest or desire or indeed the aptitude to learn it? English should be made an optional subject after the first few years of everyone learning English. To have everyone believe they can learn to speak English is a sort of deception.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Japanese in general focus way too much on grammar, and they leave out vocabulary and pronunciation. Most of them can't tell the difference between Brit and Ame English.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great story! Thanks for sharing this.

My Japanese friend (father) also spoke to his children in English since they were born and both kids speak English (and Japanese) fluently by the time they were in kindergarten. One day we were in the park and one of the kids yell out rather loudly in fluent English to me. This confused the Japanese mothers around immensely because couldn't figure out why this kid could speak English and Japanese -- he was not a "half" looking kid. It never occurred to them he could be adopted or the father spoke English.

My friends child entered public school in Grade 1 in Vancouver and the father works remotely from Canada. Interesting times. Japan lost another great family to Canada but they want their children to have a balanced education.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

These are things that I have experienced that might be a factor at least in classes I was a part of or outside classes.

Too many students in an English conversation class. Usually 40 experienced in junior/senior high classes. Recently was told up to 50 could register for three of my classes at a private university.

Once a week classes for 45 or 50 minutes classes (junior/senior high school classes).

Short term study - I think I will study English (begin in April) and end by summer vacation.

Little reinforcement at home - Toddlers are sent to study English once a week and go home to an all Japanese speaking environment.

Why learn English? I will never use it.

Should be able to come up with more examples, but my brain is fried from waking early to watch collegiate football.

But I must tell you a short story that really made me smile!

While doing volunteer work of sweeping leaves and cleaning up in an area near my home, I said hello to a father and son who were walking by. The 9 year-old boy said hi back. I felt it came out of his mouth so naturally that I followed it up with a How are you?, and he replied, GREAT! I immediately thought the boy may have lived in a country like America for a period of time. Most children can not respond like he did.

I found out that his mother (Japanese mother) began speaking English to him from the age of 3 and still speaks to him in English and of course Japanese. His father was very humble about the situation as I praised the boy's mother and boy and hoped that they would stop by to greet me some other day.

They were smiling as I waved goodbye. This small encounter really made my day. Once again I learned something new!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In a nutshell...Japanese, LOL

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Don't really see how we can expect students to become fluent in a language without immersion.

Not as usually taught in schools. A fraction of the class and study time each day is given to shared study (shared: native vs. foreign language, back and forth). It fits the public/private school business model of chopping subjects into hour-long classes through the day. Is that for the students or for the administration and teachers? Would it be better to give whole days or weeks over to English instruction? In that little bit of time per day, the student is using both native and foreign language. In all the other class/study times of the day, the student is back to reinforcing their native language.

Maybe a summer immersed in and given up to the foreign language would be much better for the individual than little bits of class time distributed through the normal school year.

South Korea, Spain, and Italy have "English villages", village-like programs where students are immersed in English. The google search "English villages in Japan" indicates Taiwan also has English villages not mentioned in the wikipedia article so maybe Japan does, too. Japan does have a couple of schools named English Village.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_village

https://www.google.com/#q=english+villages+in+japan

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

No blame to japan for poor foreign langage ability, this is the case of ALL big countries (USA, France, UK, ...) that cannot understand they are part of the world.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

One hint to all contributors - make it a habit to RE-READ what you write, before posting anything connected with your name. It is one of most simple, yet overlooked, aspects of proper writing - no matter what language you are using.

Lawrence Klepinger

I'm not sure how to use the quote function...is there a tutorial anywhere?

As for you, Mr. Klepinger... Tee Hee!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

gaijin6000, Which countries are the 3rd world contries? They're probably French speaking people? English originates from European languages. The same family languages. But English and Japanese are no relation whatsoever.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This argument flares up every few years, and nothing ever changes. I've met expats who've lived here for several decades who tell me that the standard of English has not improved at all. I've given up expecting any real change, and looking on the bright side: I'll never be out of a job in this country!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Tokiyo and Kyushubill,

The main principle is still this: 3rd world countries, where English can be taught for free, learn English within a few years.

Why is Japan 'The Exception' to being able to learn English? My main point is that Japan is more complex in it's view towards anything foreign. If it doesn't look, act, or sound Japanese they are in a state of confusion, or disbelief.

You can say anything you want, but why do they still have difficulty learning English? If they are so smart, they could speak it with no problem. I've had to learn their language, and it's been no problem for me.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

"Why do other countries excel in English as a second language? Japan's culture is one of complexity, and difficulty. Everything is combined with these elements, and English is no exception."

Not according the vast majority of Japanese. Gaikoku is the most complex and difficult culture.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

looks like author of the article KK Miller is sponsored by American english teachers who don't find jobs.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gaijin6000: Aren't all cultures complex and difficult for an outsider? I do not believe Japan is any more or less complex.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Why do other countries excel in English as a second language? Japan's culture is one of complexity, and difficulty. Everything is combined with these elements, and English is no exception.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

"If you look at the modern Japanese people, they are well aware that they are constantly being criticized all thier lives since childhood by other nationalities. That's maybe affecting their English learnings yes."

No, this is the typical victim response. This is also the typical arrogance blabbed by the choir of Nihonjiron dolts on these islands. It has no bearing on learning a language, and very few Japanese people actually care what other nations think of them as proven by their crummy relationship with other Asian nations.

Stop playing the victim and make changes that are needed or get left behind further by your Asian neighbors able to learn the most common language in business, science, and finance. Instead of making victimized excuses as "Why we can't learn English" why aren't the bureaucrats and pols in Tokyo making changes? Because they are too busy making excuses and playing victim about how they have made a mess of this country.

Either learn the language as the rest of Asia is able to or keep the victimization and watch your relevancy plummet even more. Korea owns the electronics market that Japan once dominated. China displaced Japan as the #2 economy, and all the vast majority here do is whine their excuses and not look for and implement real solutions. Typical reaction I have noticed in my 15 years here.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japanese because they have an islander culture that resist change

I'm thinking the opposite. British, Japan seem to embrace foreign influence and change. Curry in Britain, etc.

Wouldn't expect Japan to turn into any other country's clone, but the number of Japonified English words you hear on Japanese TV is much more than the other direction, Japanese words heard on American TV. Unless I'm unconsciously filtering, somehow.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Very interesting article .. and after spending too much time reading through only the first half of the epic discussion I feel quite confused. Nevertheless just my 2 cent: In the German speaking part of Switzerland we are right now discussing whether to continue to teach both English and French in primary school ... or if it might make more sense to start with just one foreign language. Some people say we should start with English because the kids are more motivated to learn a language you can use all around the world (enabling you to understand internet posts frrom all around the world, too ...). Others say, kids will learn English anyway, so better focus on French, because motivating kids for French is the bigger challenge for the teachers. No-one says that German is enough. Nevertheless this does in no way affect our pride of speaking our very own variant of German nobody else in the world will understand. ;-) Having travelled to different countries in Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, Northern and Southern America I can say: the ability to communicate in English is quite helpful. So English is not only a key to the USA and the UK, but to many other countries as well, while any other European language is less universal today.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Hawkeye

What you said is far often too true (although there are many exceptions). I would often like to give them a "boot to the b*tt".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You can blame the Japanese because they have an islander culture that resist change but I would also have to lay a lot of blame on the educators both Japanese and foreign English language teachers. I am not an english teacher and am a business man and In all my years travelling to Japan as well as living for years in Japan I found the vast majority of foreigners teaching english in Japan are on a holiday in Japan. They come to Japan to party and date Japanese women for the most part and are not serious educators in the slightest degree. If any of you can honestly disagree go ahead but think carefully about your true motives for coming to Japan before telling me off.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@gaijin desi

Your logic escapes me.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Grammer is the biggest hurdle. See example :

what is your name ? あなたの名前は何ですか Anata no namae wa nandesuka

While Japanese is straight forward. English is IDIOTIC language.

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

One of the things that strikes me about the Japanese educational system is the tyranny in it's obsession with 'Native Speaker English' as the absolute benchmark for what should, and does constitute English. The problem is twofold with this.

Firstly, what is 'Native Speaker English'? Is it from Aberdeen? Or Manchester? Or Cape Town? Or Kalgoorlie? Or Boston? Or Victoria BC? The answer is....yes. It's all of these, which is to say, it's varied and different all over the world. There is no definitive English any more - it's a world language that is living, evolving and entirely different in different places.

Secondly, Japan needs to worry less about imitating North American English and thinking more about speaking or developing their own English - like for example, Standard Singapore English. This would become Japan's version of English that develops it's own flavour and grammatical patterns. The emphasis for this should be on successful communication without the fear of being incorrect.

Then you need to overhaul how it's taught, as many have alluded to here. Japanese language lessons in high school are as boring as bat sh*# - both for the students and the teacher delivering them. Rote learning, listen and repeat type stuff is archaic. You need group work, collaboration, information gap activities, problem solving, concept based exercises - things that challenge kids. But this of course, goes right to the heart of the structure and methodology of the Japanese educational style - and there is no way I can see that changing anytime soon.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

So I'm curious to know your opinions ...

Just opinion, but encourage them to take home something interest to watch on DVD, with English soundtrack, Japanese soundtrack if possible, and Japanese and English captions. If it is interesting and enjoyable to them they may go back and forth between languages. May have class sessions like that, too. My cousin watched a 10-year sitcom DVD series four times over and his spoken English is very good now compared to others.

People are shy, so maybe sit them in pairs, with identical books, each student reads alternating sentences from the book to each other, to get them warmed up at start of class, and used to talking. Better if pairs are matched in skill. Maybe halfway through the alloted time have them alternate paragraphs instead of sentences. Maybe include English newspaper articles (that you select, if students are minors).

If students want to learn reading and writing they are ready for it. Dover Press is an inexpensive publishing house that has hardcopies of lots of public domain texts, and a series of "Dual-Language books (English on the right page, matching original language of the text on the left page). The Spanish-English short story dual-language book was good. I don't see that they have any Japanese-English texts but maybe some other publishers do. They have a "Games and Puzzles for English as a Second Language" book that looks interesting but I haven't seen it in person. Penguin Books does have such a dual-language book, "Short Stories in Japanese: New Penguin Parallel Text".

According to this thread dual-language Japanese/English books of haiku are available, by R. H. Blythe and by Robin D. Gill (writing separately).

http://www.librarything.com/topic/8859

favorite individual dual language poetry books (thread)

... The only books most people have seen written in English with plenty of Japanese in both the original script and Romanization, other than text-books or readers, are R.H. Blyth’s series on haiku, senryu and zen. ...

... i have published many books including 5 with a total of 7000 haiku and 1000+senryu in the original w/ romanization, literal gloss & an average of two translations each. If you put in my name (robin d. gill) at Amazon all will pop up for you ...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'm a JTE at an elementary school. So I'm curious to know your opinions. At elementary schools, we don't prioritize grammar but we teach speaking and listening only no writing and reading. I think we should teach all 4 skills together. Some students want to learn reading and writing but under curriculum, we are not supposed to teach those. I think it's the right time when they want to learn something. I want to know the effective way to teach English as a foreign language.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

She can move her hands pretty quickly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttvQrMu1bEk

I think that she is pretty useless in the main but then there may be plenty of people employed doing no more.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think we have to ask what we can do to help. I started helping my students by creating my YouTube channel, Go Natural English -- http://youtube.com/gonaturalenglish -- to answer their common questions and give them cultural knowledge and confidence. It is a small step and I know it needs improvement, but I think it is at least a step in the right direction.*

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is all true, but let's show a little appreciation for the fact that almost all Japanese leave school with at least the ability to attempt the pronunciation of English words and have some kind of a basic understanding at worst, others of course do learn enough to allow them to become proper speakers with a bit more experience or tuition. Unless you've tried to teach English to people who have never had any English education you'll take this for granted.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Jeff HuffmanOct. 08, 2014 - 05:42AM JST

the Japanese would have been teaching English differently,

How exactly should they teach? Keep in mind leaning a second language is a different job from learning mother language, and I do not expect an answer that this method works for native speakers, so should it for Japanese.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@Timtak Sorry..are you just referring Asia is just Japan~

@ to all Yeah.. It's great and enjoyable reads... English's education..a sad affair.................

3 ( +3 / -0 )

What’s wrong with English education in Japan? Pull up a chair...

...and a few beers would help too.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

hitomin- "Most of textbooks have good instruction for just grammar."

I would believe this if I didn't encounter, each and every day, blatant errors of grammar, word choice, and composition on sites such as Japan Today and Facebook where well meaning people attempt to write in English, and end up posting non-sensical paragraphs of English words that form no coherent meaning at all without first passing it through five levels of "Just what the hell is this person trying to say, if I were to say this in Japanese?"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

ukguyjpOCT. 08, 2014 - 07:20AM JST In short, the reason English language acquisition is failing in Japan is becasue the culture doesn't want it.

I think there is some truth to this. The more you are of something else, the other, the less you are of us. It's not only Japanese that are guilty of this. I think it's common to a greater or lesser extent in rural areas and small towns throughout the world and was taken to extremes in Nazi Germany, Maoist China, under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Rwanda and off and on now for about three millennia in the Middle East. But I digress.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@ everyone who has taken the time to write experiences and observations. As usual, the comment section is the place to start my morning! Thanks for the article to get the conversation going. I have learned a lot. I would like to think that members of the BOE and many JTEs would be reading this, as well. Wouldn't it be great to print this out and take it to a meeting of mind where JTEs, ALTs, and JETs could discuss the strengths and weaknesses ad nauseum? That is not likely to happen. Which is one of the problems outside the classroom I see. People show up to work and have to get a job done without a plan. I cannot imagine a lot of sailors, trained or not, showing up to drive a nuclear submarine around the ocean without a map of the final destination. One is in charge of mopping, another in charge of the periscope, another in charge of the barely existent budget. Every year the role changes. "I'm not in charge of the periscope this year." "Who is?" "I'm not sure." I find the schools like this. "Here, teach this today." "Okay." Some classes have students with level pre-one in the class with barely passable 4 levels. Some high schools have reading libraries and presentations and school trips abroad and school exchanges. Other high schools don't even have the budget to buy dictionaries for students and trips are to historical Japanese places like Hiroshima and Kyoto (where junior high schools go). Some JTEs have access to computers, printers, paper for making props,etc. Other schools don't make anything or do anything but turn the page of a really tedious text with Japanese written everywhere. Some JTEs try to speak English as much as possible and are really into the "team teaching" . Other JTEs will translate "Good morning" into "o-hayou gozaimasu" and no classroom English is encouraged. Outside the classroom, I have noticed a huge discrepency between the amount of money given to schools in the same school disctrict. The better the budget, the better the curriculum and staff and the more attractive the school is to the better students. Some schools are a joy to be in. Other schools are pure torture and a philosophical experience. That may be very true in every country.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Again, I'm surprised by the comments by (well-meaning but misguided) English teachers here who are talking about pronunciation, translation, immersion and so forth. Yes, all these things can make language learning easier, but they aren't the reason why Japan is lagging behind in English language acquisition.

Yakimo has a point when s/he talks about the deep enculturation of Japanese people which prevents them - generally speaking, there are exceptions - from meaningfully interacting with the world. In Japan cultural identity is imposed as ideology and one acquiring English is largely seen as losing 'Japaneseness'.

If Japan really wanted to be bilingual it could do so in one or two generations, much as other Asian nations like Taiwan, Philippines and Malaysia have done.

For instance, Japan could have two official languages (Singapore has five) - Japanese and English. 50% of kids' TV shows should be in English with English subtitles.

In short, the reason English language acquisition is failing in Japan is becasue the culture doesn't want it.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Two thing perhaps touched upon above.

1) Relatively few Japanese have learned to speak English over the last 50 years (since Japan first hosted an Olympics) because the Ministry of Education never really cared whether anyone ever learned to speak English. If this wasn't true, the Japanese would have been teaching English differently, at least at the secondary school level and would have been willing to listen to suggestions from native speakers about how to better teach the language.

2) Forty years ago, the Swedish, German, French and Spanish teachers at my HS were all fluent in the languages they taught. This is true today as well for all the language teachers at my children's MS and HS. Until Japan expects it's English Language universities grads to be fluent and fully literate, English language instruction at the secondary and university levels in Japan will never be any good. This will never happen unless part of the curriculum involves students spending at least one year abroad studying in an English speaking country. I understand that this has been proposed and that some schools plan to initiate this, but I have no confirmation that this is happening.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If there’s any one reason why some of these English teachers seem to lack any guilt about their lax teaching standards, it’s because they realise it’s the schools themselves, and to some degree the parents as well, who don’t really care. So it doesn’t really matter what happens in class. For Japanese parents who are serious about their child speaking English, they require years of participation to take effect, not months. I would get someone who already speaks very good English to go to the demo class with you, and if you have any questions about the teacher ask the teacher themselves not the school. Also, if you don’t believe someone’s qualification, ask for proof. If they say that they have a certificate, ask to see a copy.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

i think katakana is just too inaccurate to be used in some scenarios, and it does effect the ability to understand the real foreign pronunciation of words. as a crude example, take two english words that have different pronunciations, but same pronunciations in japanese.

plastic = purasuchikku / plus = purasu

i do not live in japan, however when i read japanese texts and come across katakana, i often struggle to understand what english word they're trying to represent. i can't help but feel it'd be less confusing for all parties if they instead just used the roman letters and the native spelling. we live in the perfect age for this change. if it's a word too difficult to pronounce, they can look it up on the internet. google and wikipedia will even read it to you. no memorization of confusing pronunciation tables required.

the other thing is there can never be enough english-speakers to help students practice speaking. when it comes to learning a second language, you need to speak it to remember it, and you need to practice it a lot to get better. i feel that for some students they may learn better, retain memory, and feel more comfortable if they get to speak to the same person all the time (for instance, a teacher, volunteer, personal instructor, or pen pal). once again, it may be worth tapping into the resources of the internet and have students communicating with foreigners who may not live in japan, but are interested in japanese and teaching english.

as a final note, i believe learning a second language is a solo journey. it's unfortunate but, yes, secondary language study needs to be required in schools, however most kids will do the bear minimum just to pass and will just forget everything they learned because they feel like they don't need it. if a student really wants to conquer the second language, they may be held back by the relaxed lessons that don't push the students too hard. the best thing a teacher can do in these scenarios is offer supplementary lessons or encourage self-study and recommend the right materials/methods for doing so.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I got my first indication of the system of teaching English in Japanese universities in 1971 when living in a boarding house with a Japanese university student. He asked me to help him with his homework. I said OK. He gave me an isolated section of some pedantic English language essay on managing a museum. (It took even me quite a bit of effort to even ascertain what it was.) Even as a native speaker of English, I had a very difficult time in understanding what it was all about. Yasuo's "homework" was to translate that section of a pedantic essay into Japanese. Apparently, his university professor had gotten a job translating the entire article. So, in the guise if assigning it as "homework," he arbitrarily cut it up into sections and assigned the students in his class the task of translating it by sections. Just one of the problems for each student (and, as it turned out, me) was that without knowing even the title of the essay, to say nothing of having not been privy to the introductory paragraphs, it was difficult to know "just what the hell is this?" Japanese academics have the tendency to assume that if the English is difficult to read, it must be English of a high level. The truth is that, more often than not, if the English is difficult to read, it is simply poorly written.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The problem: teachers who can't speak english, and speakers of english who can't teach.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

****JTE try this: Give students a virtual tour of English speaking countries, or with English speakers via Skype.

Connect with American, or other English speaking students (Australia, England, India, etc) then ask for a video conference during a walking tour. Anything from a day at work, to walkabouts tourists normally take.

Americans learning Japanese have been using the YouTube service using a similar technique, with videos captured on walking tours of daily life in Japan, with descriptions and conversations in both languages. Skype is just slightly better, requiring participants on both sides of the Pacific Ocean to immerse in the environment.

By immersion, and participation it will give ESL students memories, names, objects and actions to hook the words and grammar to. Mistakes will be made, but fun AND LEARNING will be had by all involved.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

That's partly true. The main reason is that we don't practice in english. We just know how to use English for reading. The kids don't feel needs of English because their friends are all Japanese. Most of textbooks have good instruction for just grammar.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Loved this article! Teaching from scripts was always one of my pet peeves as a teacher, and really stifled creativity in teachers (especially those who had no experience teaching and needed a creative stimulus rather than constricting micro-management and rote memorization). Culture is a critical part of learning a language; how can ALTs, especially private/for-profit ones, bring their culture to the classroom and help students gain some context if they are just "human tape machines" and exist only as "encouragement" and are teaching to the test and not to the students' individual needs. I'd love to see a strong push to overhaul English education from a unified group of English teachers who really want to see Japan succeed in the global community.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whilst English tuition will always have room for improvement, what I read in the article could equally be applied to the French I received at school.

Yes! And apropos my post about the fear of meaningless above....

Yes. I was really bad at French. Meme maintenant mais, je ne suis plus peur. Le francais n'est pas encore affreux pour moi, parce que j'ai apprenu le japonais. Ca veux dire, apres de je me suis trouve' que je peux parler japonais, je sais que, je sais, je peux parle' en mal francais, je peux parler en francais affreux!

Or well it has been two decades but when I became able to speak Japanese, I suddenly became able to speak in appallingly bad French. It was weird. While my written French is as bad as the above, I know I can speak really bad French, communicatively, because then I went and lived there and got by.

So what happened? Why was it that I was suddenly able to wax lyrical in appalling French? I suddenly realised that I could speak appalling French, and did, and was communicative.

After a lot of thought, I realised (it seems to me) the problem with foreign languages is not the grammar, not the vocabulary, but the fear and inability of leaving my own language and leaping into the meaninglessness of the other language. Once you get over that fear, then you can say what you are trying to say it ten different ways, and one of them will be correct enough to get your meaning across.

Most of the time that my students pause (sometimes for a long time) in their first classes is because the know two or more ways of saying something. E.g. When asked, "What did you do last night?" They have "I saw a movie", "I watched a movie", "I looked (at) a movie". and they say nothing because saying the "wrong" one is so scary.

This is perhaps emphasised in shame cultures, where one is responsible for ones mistakes as well as that which one does deliberately wrong. But it is universal. We all find it difficult to say that which may not be right. But once you know that it does not matter, that you can try all three, that meaningless feels bad but carries no penalty, then it is plain sailing. This is a very difficult thing to learn.

As I said above, I get students to attempt to speak gobbledegook (pretend Korean/Chinese/Italian) at the beginning of each class. I am finding it helps. I also get them to lie - "just say the negative to all the questions you are about to be asked". Lies are next to unmeaning. Once you get used to lying, then "I looked at a movie" does not hurt so much. And if asked, What did you do last night? "I looked at a movie" is going to get your meaning across.

@Sharon Arai

Timtak - katakana pronunciation is not used in Asia...it 's purely Japanese. Your lack of knowledge is an insult to yourself.... Please do your homework and check it out lol...

I don't know what you mean. Do you mean that no Japanese attempt to speak in Katakana-esque English? A lot of Japanese can only speak katakana English. Or that they are not understood if they do? I have seen/heard them to do and be understood, eventually.

@pointofview & David Varnes

If you are an ESL teacher, you can pick up on the katakana pronunc. If you are a tourist good luck. Start mispronouncing Japanese and see how well it goes over...

I am not sure what you mean either.

It is a lot more difficult to mispronounce Japanese, since (contra David Varnes) Japanese sounds are a lot easier than the fricatives (is that the right word for "v", "th", "f",?), and gutturals (is that the right word for the mid- or end-word, English "l" like er "gull"?) in English. Pronunciation difficulty is not only about the number of sounds, but what muscles you need to use to make them. Fricatives (?) such as "v" "f" "th" and gutterals (? who cares about English terminology) "l/r" and consonant clusters like the end of "clothes" ("ths") are I believe, simply more difficult to pronounce, objectively, for humans, that Japanese phonemes, like a, i, u, e, o, ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, sa, shi, su, se, so, ta, chi, tsu (difficult?), te, to etc.

It seems to me that most human language phonemes (in the vast majority of languages at least) are made within the mouth. When you start to use your lips or throat then it becomes more difficult. Attempting to buy Marlboro ("Marborrghro?") cigarettes in 'guttural r' France made me want to vomit. English likewise is more "animal" (less in the mouth, more requiring of throat and lip muscles) than Japanese.

I am not saying that Japanese pronunciation is like falling off a log. I still have difficulty with remembering and saying long/short Japanese vowels, which are about the only difficult to the point of non-communicative Japanese sounds. For example shokai (first time) shoukai (introduction). But if one says both, then one will be understood.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

yakimoOct. 06, 2014 - 12:26PM JST

the real reasons are the three big M's !!!

Japan is

Mono-racial Mono-culture Mono- language

and they are proud of it.

my post got 8 dislikes .... do you guys actually understand japanese inside out? i guess they never said the truth to you. all i can say are the 3 big M's....

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

"Every foreigner who spends any amount of time in Japan will understand the fundamental need to change the way students study English"

what rubbish

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

"I found out u need to be in foreign language speaking evironment day and night. "

Yeah, but we all know people who have lived in Japan for 20 years and can't say or understand anything.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

David VarnesOct. 07, 2014 - 06:15PM JST

Have you ever learned Chinese? Just one week of lessons of Chinese will give you the perspective of foreign pronunciation.

Chinese has aspirated and unaspirated consonants, which sound identical to English speakers. Most will never be able to distinguish them even after years of hard training. Since they cannot distinguish the sounds they cannot pronounce them correctly. When the student pronounces the sound, the teacher will praise him half of the time, while correct him half of the time, making the student totally puzzled. Does this give you some sense?

For Japanese students, distinguishing b and v, or si and shi, or stopping adding u at the end of every consonant may be somewhat easily attained. Distinguishing s and th, or oa in boat and ou in bought will take longer. Distinguishing r and l or n and ng is almost never possible, though a student may mimic the sounds without realizing the difference.

A teacher needs to know the difficulties Japanese students are likely to face in pronouncing. It has nothing to do with culture.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Can you tell the difference between こんにゃく and こんやく by listening? Most English speakers cannot, and there is almost no chance that they will develop the ability if they are older than 10.

Almost no foreigners will develop this ability because they will never study Japanese, but it's incorrect to say that foreigners cannot develop this ability. I can tell the difference between the root, and the engagement, and I'd be surprised if my other friends who have been here for more than a decade couldn't. Same as my wife now has the ability to distinguish between R and L when listening, even if she cannot effectively speak either sound with great accuracy.

It's a myth that people cannot learn a second language as they get older. Anyone can learn a second language at any age. The way we learn is all that changes between young children and older humans.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japanese is indeed one of the official languages of Palau (along with English, Palauan and Sonsorol). Some people don't believe me, so I say confirm it. This is true.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

CH3CHO, what I was pointing out was the totally erroneous lie that "Japanese is easier" than English. As for accent, since there is no "standard" English accent, that is hardly the issue. So a first generational immigrant can keep their accents, as long as the English spoken is correct. The problem is, for most Japanese students, not only is their English incorrect, they aren't willing to even try and correct their errors.

As for l and r, again you are incorrect. Yes, it is difficult at first. But I have met plenty of people of Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese descent who all are able to differentiate the L and R when speaking, and do it almost flawlessly. No, they are not immigrants, nor did they live in a native English country for a long time as children.

What they did do was work on their errors. They recognized that they were incorrect, and they worked at it. They didn't hide behind cultural lies that it was too difficult, or that they were different, or whatever other lies they could have used. They busted their butts and they learned it. They didn't hide behind katakana-like pronunciations, they worked at it. Perhaps certain errors were fixed faster than others. For East Asians, this tends to be "L/R, N/NG, and of course TH," but that doesn't mean that it is impossible for them to learn. Just as I learned exactly what you pointed out, as well as learning Spanish and Portuguese.

So again, it comes down to a cultural lie. A convenient security blanket, a crippling pile of bull that on one hand comforts their inability, while at the same time hobbles and cripples the future potential.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Brian WhewayOct. 07, 2014 - 04:05PM JST

I tried to explain there is a difference in the R and L IE London road, and red is a loverly colour, they repeated (in frustration) to pronounce them, as they told me they never practice English this way before and were amazed ...all good fun

Sorry to say this but any ALT here would testify that every Japanese student receives the same kind of pronunciation training as you gave. They said so, just to flatter you in appreciation. Pronunciation training or lack of it is not the cause of ineffective English education in Japan.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I had great fun when I went to Japan I stayed in the youth hostels and I helped the Japanese staff to speak , sorry improve there English, I tried to explain there is a difference in the R and L IE London road, and red is a loverly colour, they repeated (in frustration) to pronounce them, as they told me they never practice English this way before and were amazed ...all good fun, just learning English from a text book is ok but it does not inter react with the language, I also have a friend in Tokyo and she is a translator, her emails are superb in fact better than some of the local kids near me who can't string a full sentence together without grammatical errors, as she addmits she can't speak a word of English, how odd!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Timtak - katakana pronunciation is not used in Asia...it 's purely Japanese. Your lack of knowledge is an insult to yourself.... Please do your homework and check it out lol...

2 ( +4 / -2 )

David VarnesOct. 07, 2014 - 01:12PM JST

Our jaws are built the same, we have the same muscles in the tongue, the mouth, and the throat. The larnyx is constructed the same. There is no physiological or mental reason Japanese cannot learn the "more difficult" languages.... except one. Cultural

You do not understand the difficulties of learning a second language. Why do you think first generation immigrants have to live with their accents, even though they have the same anatomical structure as native English speakers? Cultural?

Can you tell the difference between こんにゃく and こんやく by listening? Most English speakers cannot, and there is almost no chance that they will develop the ability if they are older than 10. Most of the Japanese speakers cannot tell the difference between r and l, or n and ng, and there is almost no chance that they will develop the ability if they are older than 10. It is like the absolute pitch. If you do not develop the ability by a certain age, you will never get the ability.

What I want to stress here is that "culture" is not the cause of the ineffective English education in Japan.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

”One hint to all contributors - make it a habit to RE-READ what you write, before posting anything connected with your name. ”

Point taken. But lots of us are busy and just want to make a point and get away. Others of us fall victim to the funny antics of our spell checkers.

And finally, I don't really mind what is connected with the name Peacetrain. We'd probably all be more careful if we used our real names.

And no, my real name is not Cat Stevens....

@Cleo, I agree totally about making things interesting.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I went to the States when I was 18 years old right after I graduated from high school. This goes back to 1963, one year before Tokyo Olympics. Before my visit to the States, I studied for total of 6 years including conversation. But Alas, I could understand only 20 % of local American in college. I even did not come up with the expression, "Pass me the salt" in college cafeteria. There seems to be no magic wand to learn any foreign languages. If u really want to have a good command of English conversation, I found out u need to be in foreign language speaking evironment day and night. There should be a way to do this even in Japan. If I were to learn, I would find English speaking friends and live together.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"Maybe you can because Japanese is easier...."

Total and completely incorrect. English and Japanese have very similar sounds. English has 46 individual phonetic sounds. Japanese has 44 or 45, depending on the source you use. Of those, 42 of them are exactly the same.

However, this lie is often used as a defense mechanism by Japanese. "Oh, I can't do that because....." Utter and complete tripe. Japanese and foreigners have the same number of teeth. Our jaws are built the same, we have the same muscles in the tongue, the mouth, and the throat. The larnyx is constructed the same. There is no physiological or mental reason Japanese cannot learn the "more difficult" languages.... except one. Cultural.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Tests, textbooks, translation...these elements may be symptoms but they aren't the disease. The problem isn't, at its root, anything to do with language. It's a deep-seated cultural problem. And that's why it will never be fixed.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Never-ending debate on this one, but I thought I'd mention that in my opinion the situation seems to be getting worse as far as Japanese university students are concerned. I have been doing level checks this week for uni students starting their first year eikaiwa courses, and the level of English incompetence still amazes me after seven and a half years in the job. The complete inability to form basic questions, use correct tenses, lack of basic vocab and terrible pronunciation blows me away every time. What the hell were they learning in their compulsory English classes at school? For example I had one student call 'older brother' 'senior brother'! Have they never been taught these absolute basics? Mind boggling. I guess we have to wait a few more years to see if the kids who started learning from 5th grade are any better, but I'm not holding my breath. WHEN they start learning English is not the problem, it's HOW they learn it and WHO they learn it from.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@klepinger - you're too funny!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@klepinger - Writing comments on the internet is not the same as work or school. Please read the dozens of comments that say Japanese are fearful of making small mistakes, so hesitate to speak anything at all. I make typos all the time, but my bad typing skills and lack of thinking it matters if I proofread something that may never be read is no reflection on my intelligence or ability to speak or teach English. Having a more flexible view of language as a tool and a skill is the important difference between a professional writer and a language teacher.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I'm not an English teacher so I can't comment about specific curriculum issues, but it would seem that a focus on phonics would be helpful. It must be discouraging for someone who has gotten good grades in English to try to speak to an English speaker and draw blank stares because they don't understand a word that has been said to them. I used to see this back in New York all the time. Japanese tourists at Starbucks saying "hooto Koohi pureezu" while the barista just gives them this "what the heck are you asking?" look. I can say from my own experience with nihongo that such things made me just want to crawl under a rock and stop speaking all together. I mean, one of those girls was sitting at her table reading "Gone with the Wind" in English. She was not incompetent in the language, but her spoken English was all but unintelligible. Seems a lot of these problems could be solved with a focus on phonics. And for gods sake, after phonics is taught, there should be no katakana in any English textbooks. Nothing quite like teaching your students how to say nearly everything wrong.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I realize that a lot of these comments are written by non-native English speakers, so this observation is not directed toward them. However, the so-called "native" speakers, who took part in this conversation, should be ashamed of themselves. Their writing, spelling, many grammatical mistakes make me wonder who "really" is to blame. If any of these contributors are actively teaching English in Japan, they should learn the basics of writing, and of speaking, as well.

One hint to all contributors - make it a habit to RE-READ what you write, before posting anything connected with your name. It is one of most simple, yet overlooked, aspects of proper writing - no matter what language you are using.

Lawrence Klepinger

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Peacetrain - here's your rebuttal, which I hope will be very nice. :-)

Actually it's not really a rebuttal - for the most part I agree with you. The point with my Latin story is that if you can find something in the subject that sparks something deep inside the student - for me and Latin, it was the buzz of touching genuine Old Stuff - that will provide the impetus to get over the hard/boring/offputting stuff. Obviously for most people that 'something' will not be there for Latin, and as you say, for every student who gets their jollies from studying a dead language and splashing around in the Classics, there are dozens - probably scores (hundreds?) - with no interest in the past who can't get out of Latin class fast enough. Because it gives them nothing, and means nothing to them.

But when it comes to English, the virtual lingua franca of the modern world - ? How can there not be something there to appeal to anyone with a pulse and a heartbeat? As others have mentioned, it literally opens up a whole world. The world. The teacher's job, apart from teaching the basics of grammar, vocab, etc., is to find out what 'dessert' will motivate the student to eat his greens so that he can get on to the good stuff. Yes, there will be some students, maybe as many as two thirds of the class, who won't get it. I really think they would spend their time better in some other pursuit that does appeal to them. After an initial year to allow students to test the waters as it were, English should not be compulsory.

As for starting English earlier on a casual level (no testing!), teaching real English instead of all those difficult constructions that are great for tests but that no one ever uses in real life, and sending the English teachers overseas to learn real English, I agree with you 100%.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

@mikeylikeit - you've basically explained why your idea in paragraph one (more experienced native teachers) will never happen in paragraph two (junior teachers must follow senior teachers). I do not think there is any desire for foreigners (guests) to come in and make 'employees' look bad. I personally majored in Applied Linguistics, and I found that any time I've tried to apply what I learned, I am fought and told basically that 'Japanese people don't do things that way' Thankfully I do not work in public schools, or for a 'chain' for profit school, but getting students to change bad habits is very difficult and I find most do not want me to explain how English works, but to tell them 'the correct answer' and to fix every little pronunciation flaw so they can 'sound' like a native. The biggest problem with conversation school is people who want a quick fix to their English woes, and think they can 'buy' English as if it were a hat you put on your head and makes you talk.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The fundamental issue is not English education per se,

I disagree, I teach occasionally and one student was actually a qualified English teacher.... she couldn't have a conversation with a 5 year old native English speaker. And from what I hear from other students, she is not alone.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Let's face it - speaking in a foreign language is difficult. Some of you commenting here see things through your own perspective but forget to realise that you are highly motivated and basically smarter and more gifted linguistically than most people.

There very people who will disagree with me with probably write a very nice rebuttal - but it will be something that most native English speakers would struggle to write.

Cleo, I agree with your initial comments about making mistakes. I'd put that at more than half the problem. And that persists later. How many times have you watched TV when it's all about people laughing at English mistakes. A Japanese politician giving a speech or interview will always be criticised for mistakes. So a lot of this is cultural. Japanese have to learn to "give it a go" and realise that speaking a language is less like studying history as it is like riding a bike or playing a guitar. You will make a lot of mistakes, and you have to be prepared to make mistakes even after 20 years.

But as for your Latin remarks.

"but that led on to actually reading in the original stuff like the love poems of Catullus and the very words that folk like Julius Caesar had written 2000 - two thousand!! - years ago, and for me that was very, very exciting and made all the slog worth it."

For every student like you there are probably dozens who never got that far and rejoiced the day they could not have to think about Latin again. Reading your posts over the years I'd put you in the top 3% of the population in terms of linguistic expression.

So, it may be difficult for you to relate to the average Joe learning things. Basically, half the foreigners teaching English here wouldn't know the grammatical terms you used in some of your posts.

Back to the solution. I think three simple things would go a long way. First, start English education earlier even if its just encouraging all elementary teachers to use English words and expressions naturally in the classroom.

Secondly, they should spend 6 years learning what they now learn in 3 years. If Japanese would speak and understand the content of their Junior High textbooks, they'd be fluent. Most kids are lost by the time they're in high school. Have many of you looked at the high school text books? It's just not necessary. Take a look at most conversation of native English speakers and you'll realise most of us speak on a very simple level. Even the President when answering questions isn't using difficult words or sentence constructions, and also includes lots of ehs etc.

Lastly, while I'll offend the guys on the JET program, maybe it would be better the other way around. Get the Japanese English teachers going overseas or somewhere in Japan where they use real English with native speakers. Young Japanese need to see more models of older Japanese using English.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I went to a high school where English was taught in a grammar class, composition class and conversation class. We were, of course, tested for different skills in each of these classes. Japanese people in general know so much more English than American people know Spanish. What is lacking is their listening comprehension and speaking ability. What works best for Japanese people who try to master English is to expose themselves to living English on daily bases. If you live in area where this is not possible, you can listen to daily English conversation program on radio or TV. Get used to listening to spoken English and expressing your feeling and thoughts in English.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The nature of these three areas into which comments typically fall reveals a big part of what is wrong with English education in Japan. Japan hires a bunch of inexperienced, untrained foreigners to teach English. Japan, for the most part, isn't hiring experienced, credentialed instructors. The government hires a lot of fresh college grads, many of whom never studied education, let alone language education, let alone teaching English as a foreign language. Japan hires a lot of people who don't know what they are doing, and it's no surprise that the results are poor.

Meanwhile, the teacher training system for Japanese teachers is conservative to the extreme. Prospective teachers spend very little time studying pedagogy or training as teachers in college. Instead, they are quickly dispatched to schools, where most of their training occurs. Senior teachers model teaching practices for the new teachers, and new teachers are heavily pressured to fall in line with what their seniors advise. As a result, Japan still uses a pedagogical model that is largely rooted in the 19th century, with a bit of window dressing from the 20th century.

If Japan really were interested in English language taking root in the country, the government would invest some of that JET money in hiring foreign teachers with meaningful credentials and in sending Japanese English teachers abroad to study EFL teaching methods. These teachers would have the training and sense to drop the grammar-translation mindset and to teach English as a communicative tool. They would give students meaningful choices in the classroom. Students would have to accomplish real tasks using language, and those tasks would form the context in which students discover the language. Students in junior high and high school would regularly be sent abroad to boost their English language skills, and schools and the government would create more opportunities in which students could encounter English within Japan.

Beyond this, the problem is simply the self-defeating mindset of Japanese people. People who think they will never master English invariably don't.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It is a long time since I taught Engiish, 10 years in fact. Heaven knows how much money is wasted on English language education.

I worked for one Japanese lady in Ehime who still runs 2-3 schools. To her credit she had spent literally thousands of hours studying, and had learned English to a high level without spending any time overseas. When she spoke though, it was like she was speaking Matsuyama Japanese using English words. Thought patterns were still exclusively Japanese and she was cross-culturally illiterate. As she had studied so long, any of her teachers who used English she didn't know were using 'wrong English'.

At the end of the day she was making money with her school and good luck to her, but to me she encapsulated everything that was wrong with English language education in Japan.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Todd: ... learning Japanese. With only my teacher and a few friends far away to speak japanese too, my written skills are better than speaking for lack of practice. There is simply no way to learn a language without practicing speaking and hearing it.

Yes. Many years after high school Spanish, I can read most of a Spanish newspaper but cannot hear/speak much at all. Sometimes I can make out what Spanish-language TV shows are saying, if there's captions to read. Otherwise the words go by to fast, also I don't really have them correlated in my mind with the written Spanish I can understand.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gee Cleo, don't you think that's just a tad idealistic?

Nah, just my own, admittedly somewhat anecdotal, experience.

Ah, the old "Japanese kids can't learn English because it's not fun" argument. Do we really need a world full of teenagers who don't take things serious unless they're "fun"?

No, not the old "Japanese kids can't learn English because it's not fun" argument at all. Read again what I wrote, I expressly said things should not be reduced to 'let's enjoy Engrish'. 'Fun' and 'exciting' are not necessarily the same.

Another anecdote; When I started my secondary education Latin was a compulsory subject. It involved lots of memorisation of verb conjugations and noun declensions, which was hard work and frankly not much fun - but that led on to actually reading in the original stuff like the love poems of Catullus and the very words that folk like Julius Caesar had written 2000 - two thousand!! - years ago, and for me that was very, very exciting and made all the slog worth it. The key is not fun but reward, satisfaction, inspiration.

no matter how "exciting" you make your English class, 99% of the 15-year olds would still rather be doing something else

Then you're not doing it right, are you?

Sorry, that's a bit harsh. Probably a good half of the class would actually benefit from spending their time elsewhere. But '99%' is woefully defeatist. if that's your attitude then you're never going to inspire your class.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

My guess here is lack of conversational speaking and writing, such as email or chat. I am coming from the other side, learning Japanese. With only my teacher and a few friends far away to speak japanese too, my written skills are better than speaking for lack of practice. There is simply no way to learn a language without practicing speaking and hearing it.

Also, the way people think is quite different between cultures. Though I will guess over the years this will change as more and more interaction between cultures occurs. Still, I construct perfect sentences but even then to my teacher they make no sense. She always says, japanese people just would not say that.

No question the effort to learn a language requires more than a multiple choice test and vocabulary.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

When is ISN'T about the tests. When it ISN'T about getting money into the publishing houses' pockets. When it ISN'T about using texts that are poorly themed, written and used. When it ISN'T every student forced to study but the talented... THEN, English as an effective medium for communication will become effective in Japan and NOT before.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

there is a blatant disregard to pronounce the words and expressions in the way that would be intelligable to a native speaker who resides neither in Japan nor is familiar with the country

Mr. Noidall, Can you pronounce a simple Japanese word the way Japanese do? Maybe you can because Japanese is easier. But when I was in USA, I had difficulty pronouncing "Water" or "Exit" to waiters, they never understood me. I always had to find out the way out by myself. It's not a blatant disregard to English.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

I'm seeing some of the common "excuses" being raised on here, so I thought I might contribute on those:

Yes, it's unfortunate that English "belongs" to the Anglo-American western dominant hegemony. It would be better if we could push a button and get everyone learning something like Esperanto, but that's already been tried and failed. It is at least fortunate that there is one language that is so widely spoken that it makes sense for a lot of people to use for international communication.

Japan isn't the only culture to make noise about this, but from what I know it may be the worst. Others may grumble, but considering the benefits can at least see it as a necessary evil.

The article mentions China and Korea, and this is relevant. Japan has been in an economic malaise for a generation, whilst its neighbours steam ahead. Japan is basically ever becoming more and more marginalised. Another problem is that domestic conservatives and foreign fanaticists like it this way. That would be fine, but there some to be clear reasons to suggest this isn't sustainable. The aging population being the elephant in the room here.

As an aside, I taught in japan for most of the 00s. Whilst it was personally a wonderful time, professionally it was frustrating. Whilst I got started on the eikaiwa train, I was around long enough to develop my skills and want to do a good job. Frequently, however conditions made this challenging if not impossible. Eikaiwas are motivated by profit, but education. Public schools are mired in bureacracy and cultural restrictions. The best experiences I had were at private jnr and sort highs that were serious about something close to decent language education as a real selling point

As another aside, i'm currently having a month off and travelling around sw Europe. At my current hostel there are people from all over, but when mingling it is taken for granted that English will be used. As a result I've met some very interesting people, which is really the main appeal of such a trip. In these circumstances I usually see Asians (not just japanese) as the marginalised groups, not even able to mingle amongst themselves. This makes me sad, since I feel they miss out on so much. Instead their trips are just trotting around eating and taking photos of buildings. So much opportunity to grow as a person is lost and I think this is a real tragedy

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Language is for communication and learning one other than mother tongue could be a challenge to many. This is common not only in Japan but in many other countries too! English language today is perhaps the only one which helps bind people from around the world! So, efforts in mastering it will not be a waste of time! The Japanese youngsters are pretty hardworking and if they will they can too achieve proficiency in English language!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

English is the current de facto language for people that speak different languages to communicate with. England, Australia and the USA didn't go out an promote the language... it came about due to timing. Who knows... 100 years from now Americans might be going crazy trying to learn Kanji... but with an alphabet of just 26 letters... English makes a lot of sense. Plus English is a very precise language... good for Legal and Technical use. Until auto-translators for all languages are perfected English will probably continue to be the language of international business. Japan... a country that prides itself on coming up with a gadget in place of a human should put forth a "bold" (bold... a word more often used by Japanese politicians when translating into English... but not often actually used in the USA) effort in programing a translator. Then they can just get rid of all the Engrish studies.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

'Whilst English tuition will always have room for improvement, what I read in the article could equally be applied to the French I received at school. Even today, in schools across England, you'll hear horrible pronunciation that would have a Monsieur or Madame covering their ears in pain, then there's archaic language like saying bicyclette for velo. How many schoolchildren leave school being able to hold a free-ranging conversation in French? How many are taught to pass their tests?'

Some very good points. I got an A in GCSE Spanish by being able to conjugate 'to be', giving directions and complaining that the shower in my hotel room wasn't working. Then again, I don't think Japan should be comparing its language education to/with ( pedants please advise ) that of England whose people are arguably the least competent second language speakers in the world. That said, I truly believe that the English are far more forgiving of poor pronunciation than the French who tend to be a little less tolerant of this. I've often told Japanese people that their pronunciation isn't as bad as they think and I don't think it's just my ear tuned to it. My brother ( who'd never visited Asia ) and I travelled to China and Thailand from Japan and he found Japanese people speaking English the easiest to understand. Lack of confidence is a major reason why many Japanese people are afraid to use English and they often have a very defeatist attitude.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The English is pretty bad here. Depends on who you happen to talk to I guess, but in Thailand, China, Korea, and Taiwan, I was able to communicate more easily.

One time I went up to a Japanese guy wearing a Chelsea jersey after just watching some footy at a pub. He had a cigarette in his mouth and I said "you like Chelsea? He gave me the deer-in-the-headlights look for a whole 3 seconds, threw his cigarette onto the ground, and quickly put it out with his foot. He then bowed to me and said "sumimasen" (I'm sorry) .

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Cleo

Why would any kid spend their time studying something that they are not tested on?

Because it's fun/interesting? When I was a kid I spent lots of time learning stuff that I wasn't only not going to be tested on, but that wasn't even in the school curriculum - because I found it interesting. Lookit all the kids today who will happily spend hours reading a comic book or playing a video game just to get to the end; that's not stuff they're going to be tested on. They do it because it appeals to them.

Gee Cleo, don't you think that's just a tad idealistic? I was a kid once too, and I memorized lots of fun stuff as did all the other kids. And when we were at school, we learned/memorized multiplication tables, periodic tables, historic facts etc because we needed it to pass tests and get grades, NOT because we thought it would benefit us 20 years later.

Make English (or maths, or history, or chemistry, or literature) as exciting to a kid as a Monopoly board or a video game, and kids will study without being nagged or tested.

Ah, the old "Japanese kids can't learn English because it's not fun" argument. Do we really need a world full of teenagers who don't take things serious unless they're "fun"? I'm all for kids enjoying school/learning, but no matter how "exciting" you make your English class, 99% of the 15-year olds would still rather be doing something else. The biggest motivation to study for teenagers all of the world is still the short-term goal i.e. passing tests (or the consequences of failing). That is why speaking should be included in tests.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Nenad Jovanović:

And for Internet , well, I really dont see nothing worthy on it for someone to learn English , I see only trash sites and thats it , , because internet is actually big place for trolls and haters, so, its not so happy place to be .

The irony of your comment was just... priceless. XD

@Jennifer Richardson

I don't see why they must all be forced to learn English in the first place.

They have to designate SOME language, I guess. In the U.S., my stepson from Russia was entered into the school division's International Baccalaureate program. The program requires study in a foreign language. You'd think it would be a breeze as he was already fluent in Russian, right? Wrong. The program only recognized Spanish and French as acceptable "foreign languages". This was because the only foreign language teachers they had for the program taught Spanish and French. No one would be able to evaluate his progress in Russian. Japan is in the same situation. They need to pick one language besides Japanese that can be taught early on because trying to teach a bunch of languages would mean hiring a bunch of additional language teachers. I suppose they looked at the choices (the language of our allies or the language of the Communist dogs who threaten our very way of life every day) and chose language used by their allies. OK. Maybe they didn't put it QUITE that way when they were making their choice. ;-) The point is, once they decided that everyone would get foreign language instruction at a young age, they had to pick SOME language. English is as good as any other.

Each language presents a unique sound set that children - as infants - learn to differentiate. The next few years of their lives are spent perfecting making those sounds with their mouths. If you want to see an example of how different Japanese phonetics is to English phonetics, you only need to look as far as the popular Vocaloid voice libraries used to give voice to characters such as Hatsune Miku. When Yamaha decided to start including English diphones in the libraries, the singers providing the library source recordings had to go from providing 500 diphones per pitch for the Japanese-only language packages to 2,500 diphones for the Japanese/English language packages. Looking at it from the Japanese students' point of view, that's 2,000 individual sounds that they've never heard before in their lives and never had to make with their mouths. When I look at my native language from "the outside" and see just how illogically the whole thing is put together, I'm amazed we're able to communicate at all! I have a great respect for those who can master English as a second language.

Just realised I used "disinterested" instead of "uninterested". My god, sincere apologies! Unacceptable lol

Don't they mean the same thing?

Yes. "Disinterested" and "Uninterested" are synonyms.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

First of all, there is very little English education here. There is a LOT of Eigo education, but little English. I mean classes taught by Japanese to Japanese in Japanese using Japanese textbooks to pass a Japanese test to enter a Japanese university. Not much room for English there...

Big Problems;

a/ False mythology about the utility of English. Many Japanese equate learning English just with communicating with native speakers, or doing business in the US or UK. Reality is that most English speakers in the world are NOT native speakers. Learning English means that Japanese can communicate with Koreans, Germans, Malaysians, Vietnamese, etc.

b/ False notions of nationalism. The idea that learning a foreign language too well by necessity means that you are somehow less Japanese. How many times have we heard, "I'm Japanese, so..." as an excuse for something?

c/ lack of drive. English needs to be taught as a skill, like a sport, rather than as an academic endeavour. Sitting passively in class with an open book and closed mind won't do anything. Language learning requires active participation, gambling, and expecting temporary failure. These are not things most Japanese like to do.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Just realised I used "disinterested" instead of "uninterested". My god, sincere apologies! Unacceptable lol

Don't they mean the same thing?

Is there any other country that teaches "Romanji" english?

"Romaji"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whilst English tuition will always have room for improvement, what I read in the article could equally be applied to the French I received at school. Even today, in schools across England, you'll hear horrible pronunciation that would have a Monsieur or Madame covering their ears in pain, then there's archaic language like saying bicyclette for velo. How many schoolchildren leave school being able to hold a free-ranging conversation in French? How many are taught to pass their tests?

Yes, let's improve English in Japan but let's not imagine Japan is the only country that struggles to teach its children modern foreign languages.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Is there any other country that teaches "Romanji" english?

Like I said before, the problem in regards to romaji is the mixing it up to English. Romaji itself is a valid thing, it is to make Japanese words (most importantly names) legible to non-Japanese, and provides a way to type Japanese on any computer.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japanese people should watch episodes of "24" with Jack Bauer to learn English.

That's how I learned Japanese, watching 24 dubbed in Japanese:

Bauer: Jikan ga nai, hayaku shirou!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Just realised I used "disinterested" instead of "uninterested". My god, sincere apologies! Unacceptable lol

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Granted, Japanese teachers of English are a mixed bag, but by the same token, native teachers are too. The JTEs may have the qualifications to teach, but not a sufficient English level, while the native teacher has (obviously) native-level English, but may not be qualified as teachers - many come on the JET programme, fresh from receiving their degrees in fields completely unrelated to education (TESOL or otherwise). Of course, this is why they are placed in the ALT position - merely a teacher's assistant (though this depends largely on the school and colleagues) - because many lack the experience and, in most cases, the qualifications to lead a class in a constructive and goal-oriented way.

The answer to this particular problem would be to get qualified English teachers and make them lead classes, with a Japanese assistant teacher to put students' minds at ease, if necessary.

Some people ask why Japan should be forced to learn English. Well, no one should be forced, but they should be made aware of the benefits of it. Considering Japanese society is (was?) all about tight-knit communities, it's rather tragic that they shun their place in the global community. This country used to be adored by many, but it's gradually losing grace in the public (western) eye, and doesn't think that it should have to do anything about it. Well, guess what? Japan will never ever be self-sufficient, so unless anyone has a better idea, people had better pull their heads out and start conversing with their friendly neighbourhood gaijin.

And hello -- Olympics anyone? Yeah, won't need any English then...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The problem is about 95% of the so called native English teachers in Japan have absolutely no idea how to teach English. Their main purpose is to get the phone numbers of their female students. The male teachers that is! LOL!

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

Dear, CH3CHO,

You're looking at it very elementarily, I think. I'm not referring to a simple case of accent. What I'm suggesting is that there is a blatant disregard to pronounce the words and expressions in the way that would be intelligable to a native speaker who resides neither in Japan nor is familiar with the country. Japanese has become saturated with English words and phrases that have been shuffled into the language perversely and that sound outright strange and outlandish to native speakers of English. This is quite evident with the cases of NHK and the slippings in of unnatural uses of English into pop songs and advertising because it's believed to lend an exotic touch to the latters. I think that this is a case of English being looked at as an abstraction, a novelty, a gimmick. And all is forgiven because English after all is the language of "them", those strange people who do and think differently from "us". And if "we" can't pronounce anything intelligibly, then that's perfectly ok; "we're" not supposed to anyway; English is as difficult and strange as the people that speak it naturally. There's a comment from an above poster who says that her child's English teacher insists on teaching katakana pronunciation. He gets upset otherwise. Moreover, have you ever been to a sandwich shop and ordered a ham sandwich? "Hamu" and the worker looks at you sardonically because of your mispronunciation of a word that they originally mispronounce but which has been legitimized, because those foreigners speak strange in the first place? I was even astonished once by an ad for English lessons that promised "gaikokujin" pronunciation of English. Instead of using the word native, it never occurred to whoever that in the case of English, they were the foreigners. But you can't blame the youth. They've been shaped and molded with this pseudo-social science.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Is there any other country that teaches "Romanji" english? If not, here's the answer. Stop teaching two forms of english. The rest of the world is learning "standard" english hence romaji english needs to go.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Many of my japanese colleagues write well in English yet have hard time to strike meaningful conversation. They are also less likely to misspell English compared to other non native speakers. They would be better off have they loosen up and chat with anyone who comes their way. Long story short, japanese tend to develop great grammar skill but have poor command of verbal language. Ciao

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Excellent article; I hear complaints regularly from adults who supposedly learned English in school but can't put a sentence together; they're not too happy with that. The fact is that English is a universal language and, anyone who can't speak it fluently is cutting him or herself off from many future opportunities. The Olympics are only a few years away; starting to teach English effectively now is a bit late for the majority.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The quality of the textbooks are quite low.

The quality of the textbooks is quite low.

Cleo has a good point. They are taught mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. If they do nothing and do not try to advance by doing something difficult, they will not make mistakes, so they do not try.

Basically, high school English teaches that English is difficult by teaching difficult English, that English is boring by teaching what they cannot understand and is not useful and it is not worth trying as the teacher gets angry when they do because they make mistakes.

Students need to be taught that English is useful. They should learn that they may need it in the future. I grew up in Britain when there were large British companies making TVs and cars. Japanese made cheaper and more reliable cars than the British companies did. Now Korean and Chinese are producing cheaper products and they are getting better and better. The future for Japan is not so rosy. Just look at companies like Sony and Panasonic. They need to be taught that English opens doors, gives them more opportunities. They need to be taught that with English ability, they can work in foreign countries, without they cannot.

To go back to Cleo's point about being taught mistakes are to be avoided at all costs, this is the biggest problem Japan faces. It is not only in English Japanese are afraid of taking chances. Japan will not recover economically until companies and salarymen learn to take chances, too.

To learn anything, you must try and make mistakes. Apple has made many mistakes, but their successes would never have come if they had been afraid to make another mistake.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

This means that their approach is to make English adapt to their style of communication instead of adopting themselves to English.

CH3CHO - I think part of this above statement is that grammar patterns are often directly translated from Japanese phrases to English ones, making the style of English very unnatural. I think people shouldn't worry too much about pronunciation in the early stages, but there are many cases where I have noticed students do not understand the difference between 'romaji' and 'English' which I think a lot could be solved if people stopped thinking of Katakana as English words, but Japanese words that were borrowed from English. Katakana words are Japanese.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Cleo,

Good post (about natural English).

@Tina, "but spoken words were not. It's Japanese from the beginning. "

Not entirely true. Many of the words were also imported from China as well. There are "on" readings (derived from Chinese) and "kun" readings (derived from native Japanese). Then you have a word like "市場" which can be read on-on (しじょう) or kun-kun (いちば).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Mr. NoidallOct. 06, 2014 - 06:06PM JST

Why is English a flop in Japan? Japanese social science. Japanese fail to recognize and/ or honor other cultures and forms of communication as valid. This means that their approach is to make English adapt to their style of communication instead of adopting themselves to English. Hence, wasei eigo and katakana pronunciation viewed as valid forms of English.

Well, sir. So, you say that Japanese students do not speak like a native, because they do not honor the way English speakers speak and that that comes from Japanese social science. Did not it occur to you that it is because they are still learning?

Anyone who learns English as a second language is influenced by the pronunciation system of the mother language. A French may have some difficulty in pronouncing h or th, and French accent is likely to stay with him for life. For Japanese, katakana pronunciation may improve but will not disappear completely. But I do not think Japanese accent is the "proof" of their disrespect to English.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

David, I misunderstood you, sorry. I was talking about original Japanese before Kanji came along. Yes, lots of borrowed words from China after that, just like English now.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Why is English a flop in Japan? Japanese social science. Japanese fail to recognize and/ or honor other cultures and forms of communication as valid. This means that their approach is to make English adapt to their style of communication instead of adopting themselves to English. Hence, wasei eigo and katakana pronunciation viewed as valid forms of English. Just watch NHK, for any length of time. English has to be cooked into yoshoku before it can be digested. But it's much deeper than that. Japanese don't really want to learn English as much as they pretend to do. Salarymen dabble in it simply as a vehicle to arrive at a promotion; housewives and young people see it as a cool, exotic spectacle, and they just want to take a walk on the wild side for a little while. No one really wants to communicate wholesomely with the "others". As long as this species of social science remains the criminal at large, I doubt Japanese will be successful at English, or any other foreign language for that matter. Finally, the JTEs need to start giving classroom instructions in English. An virtual all English environment needs to be fostered. They also need to stop translating every single minute word. Teach kids to hunt for gist.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Apart from quality issues in the classroom, I think Japan urgently needs to have a national debate about the reasons for learning English. When students are forced to learn a subject without understanding the reasons why, they are bound to fail.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Strangerland,

Japanese is one of the official languages of Palau...just saying.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I agree with you all that say Eikawa's should have more strict requirements for the instructors, but the root problem of conversation schools is the false thinking of school OWNERS and students/parents. Especially for children's classes. They have misguided ideas that one class a week in English only is the same as immersion. They also are going with the main purpose of pronunciation, as many falsely think that Japanese don't speak English only because they didn't hear native pronunciation early enough. Most see home study as 'impossible' and expect to get all their English study in class. This makes for slow progress no matter how qualified the teacher.

As for school English, it really needs to be cut down to more basic levels with different types of questions then are currently used. Like Cleo said, students should understand how different basic verb tenses are USED, not just how to conjugate them. Why are they teaching relative clauses to kids who feel nervous trying to make an answer to what did you do on the weekend? (when what high school kids do is very limited) With a solid foundation, those who need English will have a great starting point. The problem now is making students feel they SHOULD be able to speak English, when in fact they haven't been given the skills to do so.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

tinawatanbe, you truly are ignorant of your own language if you think that Japanese did not "borrow" spoken words as well as kanji from China.

Try this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Japanese_vocabulary

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The quality of foreign teachers is very low in Japan. There's a handful of good ones but the vast majority appear to be lacking in relevant experience and qualifications. Pay peanuts get monkeys I guess

I agree, most of the english teachers say in these private language schools are not certified/qualified teachers in english language, the only qualification is that they are from an english speaking country, this only worsens the situation for those japanese who sincerely want to improve there english, the only option is to live/work abroad for sometime and learn the language natively, the once who do, there english in time becomes as good as anyone.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Teaching a foreign language as a compulsory subject in any country is a tough sell to most kids, not all, but definitely most.

And as for any subject, at least in my experience, it comes down to the teacher. Teachers make all the difference, which is why I never understood why they're treated so poorly, overworked, underpaid, and disrespected by govt officials and some parents. Give future teachers the motivation to study hard the subject they want to teach and then we'll have competent (English, math, etc) teachers in the classroom.

Pay a teacher well, let them rest for god's sake, and show them respect, just imagine how much better their lessons will be and how, ideally, it will motivate the kids.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I think anyone who has any old degree in anything does not have the teaching skills, should be a qualified teacher teaching not some mutt who studied arts or some other irrelevant subject.

With all the English teachers trying to be economists on here it maybe interfering with their classes.

Get a degree in anything and come teach English in japan sure sound s like a plan for success for the teacher and the students - NOT.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

It is also interesting to know just how many borrowed words there are in hiragana-Japanese. Of course, most of these were imported hundreds of years ago from China

No. Kanji were imported from China more than 1,000 years ago to write, but spoken words were not. It's Japanese from the beginning. Hiragana was created from Kanji by Japanese (probably female Japanese).

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

@lucabrasi

"Barbarians"? Well, winter is coming. I prefer this one: "A large number of educated speakers and writers, for whatever reason, object to disinterested in the sense 'uninterested, unconcerned'--a sense it previously had but lost for awhile--and want the word to have only the meaning 'impartial, unprejudiced.' The criticized use has nevertheless gained such ground that it has practically driven out the other one. That change causes no harm to language as communication. We have merely lost a synonym for impartial and gained one for indifferent." (John Algeo, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 6th ed. Wadsworth, 2010)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

How about hiring teachers who are qualified as teachers in their home countries, rather than any old Joe Bloggs?

Oh, and ultimately, if Japan wanted Japanese people to be good at English, it would put a proper system in place. Bottom line is, it doesn't want them to be good at English. It takes away their Japaneseness.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

@Pidestroika

What you say is only true because of years of repeated errors by language barbarians; they've erased subtle differences through continual misuse to the point that the dictionary-compilers sigh and surrender to the inevitable.

That's why we write "an apron", instead of the correct "a napron" (cf "napkin.")

That's why we write "an orange", instead of "a norange" (cf Spanish "naranja.")

Why do we say a "school" of fish? Because some idiot coudn't spell "shoal" and other idiots copied.

Ignorance rules okay.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I don't speak Japanese, so I'd be limited. What you really need to do is introduce British comedy classics like "only fools and hourses" and "faulty towers". To understand the British (not American English) you need to undertand our sense of humour (Americans seldom understand irony) - once you get us you can understand how somone can say they're their things there.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

lucabrasi-

Cool. It is also interesting to know just how many borrowed words there are in hiragana-Japanese. Of course, most of these were imported hundreds of years ago from China, but that's a whole other story. Best shared over a bowl of ramen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

On a positive note, "Pre-Kiso Eigo" on NHK seems to be about the best TV program for kids learning English that I've seen so far.

They should show it during JHS or HS lessons. I'm sure it would have a positive effect.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@strangerland

But they don't learn to embellish, and to ask questions. So often the conversation ends up as an interrogation from my end, without the verbal ping-pong that is necessary to make a conversation interesting. So I think the school system should be teaching not just communication, but communication strategies - that is if they aren't already.

I cannot agree more. It seems that such lack of communication skills (from our western point of view anyway) is actually deeply seated in the way Japanese people communicate with each other. Most of the time, it is more like taking the situation in and making your own conclusions rather than asking questions about how things are done or should be done. For the students, learning western style communication will also mean changing the fundamental way of how things are done in Japan. If teaching western style communication is implemented in English language classes (or any other foreign language classes for that matter) it may result in more people trying to proactively express their opinions to others. This, however, will be a very big change in the centuries-old customs (I cannot find a better word at the moment) establishing the way in which personal and social communication is done in the country. Such changes usually take time though.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yep. The constant use of "disinterested" when it should be "uninterested".

Why is that? (Honest question)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@David

Sure. I don't dispute what you're saying at all.

I literally couldn't understand darnname's comment; hence the question marks.

I now understand that:

Most katakana are based on English and almost 30% of spoken Japanese is comprised of katana.

Should have read: "Most katakana words are based on English and almost 30% of spoken Japanese is comprised of katakana words."

That I would have understood first time. And agreed with.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

lucabrasi,

There are a ton of everyday words that are katakanized- English borrowed words. To boot, forgive the erroneous romajii....

This morning, I used my TOIRE after waking. Then I used my ha-BRUSHI and cleaned my teeth. I had breakfast of eggs and SAUSEGI, with some ORANJI JUSU and KO-HI. I then changed my underPANTSU and put on a SUITSU before getting on the BASU to go to the station, and take the train to work.

At my desk, I used my BORU-PEN to sign documents, before turning on my PASOCON to check the INTANETTO, and reading this site. I then made some KO-PIes of papers, and other office work.

For lunch, I could choose between a RESUTAURAN, or since finances are tight, a CONBINIence store. I decided on FAMILY MART where I bought some CHIKIN and an ENERGI DRINKU. I could have had POTATO CHIPSU, but I passed, they tend to leave stains on my NEKUTAI.

While I was doing this, my son changed from his PAJAMAS into a T-SHATSU and JEENZU for school. At school, he has music class, where he practiced REKODA, while the teacher followed on the PIANO. They also practiced a DANSU for the upcoming school event. Lunch for them was a HAMBURG, POTATO SALADA, and MILKU (although referred to by the normal Japanese term of gyunyu). At recess, he played SAKKA, and in the afternoon he went to the POOLU.

Shall we continue? The fact is that every day people are surrounded by borrowed words. They are used in everyday conversation without the awareness that they come from foreign languages (many Japanese are unaware that "pan" is not a native word, but rather a borrowed Portuguese word), nor the knowledge of what some of the original meanings of said borrowed words are.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@ Fox Sora Winters

The fact that you would ask this on a Japanese news website that's written in English is quite frankly disturbing. As the author pointed out, much of the internet is presented in English. With people using the internet heavily for multiple purposes, it becomes increasingly important to speak English.

Allow me to elaborate. I don't question the utility of learning English, nor the value of being multilingual; I think it's very valuable, and can be very rewarding. However, I know many Japanese who would prefer to learn another Asian language or a Romance language instead. I'm not saying that anyone should be forbidden to learn English, obviously. But it seems fairly obvious to me that if you've got a bunch of students who are apathetic and who get most of their exposure to English from terrible classroom experiences (rather than, you know, actually interacting with or in English on the internet, where it's so pervasive, or via media) that at least part of their lack of motivation and competence might stem from the fact that they don't actually want or need to learn English. Trust me, you can live and work perfectly well in Japan and consume all the media and internet you want without being able to speak English. Also, come on--do you really think Japanese people need to read Japan Today in English or they'll miss out? This site is obviously for native English speakers. Its existence is more or less completely irrelevant.

Anecdotally, I grew up in Texas, and we were forced to learn Spanish (my town was small, and we had no other options); Spanish was obviously the most practical choice, and there's a far better chance of interacting with a Spanish speaker in Texas than there is a fluent or native English speaker in Japan. I did the bare minimum to pass my classes, and can stumble through a painful bit of conversation in Spanish if I want to. This is despite studying abroad in Mexico and having multiple opportunities to practice Spanish everyday in normal life, if I wanted to. On the other hand, I never had the opportunity to formally study Japanese (a much, much more difficult language than Spanish, at least for the vast majority of native English speakers), but I chose it for myself, and I was extremely motivated, learned very quickly, and continue to derive great pleasure and value from Japanese.

Frankly, I find it a little disturbing that you seem to view English as the only possible foreign language of value to Japanese people, and assume that I am some sort of bizarre crusader against multiculturalism or multilingualism because I don't believe every single Japanese person should be forced to learn English whether or not they are interested or good at it, and despite the fact that other languages may be more fulfilling for them personally or professionally.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@ Fox Sora Winters

The fact that you would ask this on a Japanese news website that's written in English is quite frankly disturbing. As the author pointed out, much of the internet is presented in English. With people using the internet heavily for multiple purposes, it becomes increasingly important to speak English.

Allow me to elaborate. I don't question the utility of learning English, nor the value of being multilingual; I think it's very valuable, and can be very rewarding. However, I know many Japanese who would prefer to learn another Asian language or a Romance language instead. I'm not saying that anyone should be forbidden to learn English, obviously. But it seems fairly obvious to me that if you've got a bunch of students who are apathetic and who get most of their exposure to English from terrible classroom experiences (rather than, you know, actually interacting with or in English on the internet, where it's so pervasive, or via media) that at least part of their lack of motivation and competence might stem from the fact that they don't actually want or need to learn English. Trust me, you can live and work perfectly well in Japan and consume all the media and internet you want without being able to speak English. Also, come on--do you really think Japanese people need to read Japan Today in English or they'll miss out? This site is obviously for native English speakers. Its existence is more or less completely irrelevant.

Anecdotally, I grew up in Texas, and we were forced to learn Spanish (my town was small, and we had no other options); Spanish was obviously the most practical choice, and there's a far better chance of interacting with a Spanish speaker in Texas than there is a fluent or native English speaker in Japan. I did the bare minimum to pass my classes, and can stumble through a painful bit of conversation in Spanish if I want to. This is despite studying abroad in Mexico and having multiple opportunities to practice Spanish everyday in normal life, if I wanted to. On the other hand, I never had the opportunity to formally study Japanese (a much, much more difficult language than Spanish, at least for the vast majority of native English speakers), but I chose it for myself, and I was extremely motivated, learned very quickly, and continue to derive great pleasure and value from Japanese.

Frankly, I find it a little disturbing that you seem to view English as the only possible foreign language of value to Japanese people, and assume that I am some sort of bizarre crusader against multiculturalism or multilingualism because I don't believe every single Japanese person should be forced to learn English whether or not they are interested or good at it, and despite the fact that other languages may be more fulfilling for them personally or professionally.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

With several years teaching experience in Japan, I will attempt to break the problem down & you will see that all roads lead to the same issue - apathy.

Teachers - stick to an outdated curriculum & 'teach' using outdated methods - disinterested. ALTs - basically do what they're told & are given no room to move - disinterested. Students - After sitting through a gruelling 'wash-rinse-repeat' approach to English classes, students go home to Japanese TV, listen to Japanese music & their distaste for grows - disinterested. Parents - Grew up in a learning environment where English was not prioritised. Happy to let their kids grow up on myopic & largely-brainless Japanese TV. Also would much rather see the money spent on other areas of their children's education - disinterested. Eikaiwas - outdated material & only care about money. All are as bad as each other and are happy for the industry to just cruise on as is - definitely disinterested. Business leaders - Have slaved away for 20 years and most definitely don't see the need to put in the effort needed to make changes - disinterested. Salarymen - I think it goes without saying - disinterested. Lawmakers - Comprise of the older generation Japanese who don't see the need for English & globalisation - disintrested.

Seeing a pattern here?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The author of this article has commented quite well based on his/her experience, but there is one thing that has not been addressed. That is, the actual culture of the language and the culture of the education system in Japan. The japanese education system is based on a very rote style of learning, which is great for learning kanji cos it's the only way you can learn kanji. However, this style of learning has been adapted to teach English and it does not work. Memorising and performing conversations does not produce English speakers, simply because, no two conversations are ever the same in English, unlike Jaoanese where you can have the same basic conversation with four or five people in the same day. Learning English is a skill and should be taught as such. It is no different to learning to cook or to build a house. It is something you learn to do! It is not something you learn to memorise.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

So, you say that present perfect, the past perfect and the passive voice should be taught in the first year.

No, that is not what I am saying at all. What I'm saying is that in the early stages students are given passages/situations in which a native speaker would naturally use (e.g.) the present perfect, but because the present perfect is 'too difficult', the present perfect verbs are all changed to the simple past, producing a passage that is not natural English; and that is what the student study. This means that they learn that the simple past can be used in a whole load of situations where in fact it is not properly used, so that when the present perfect is finally introduced the explanation of when and where it should be used makes no sense to them, because they've already been using the simple past to do the exact same job. It's a lot harder to unlearn something that has been learned wrong than it is to learn it right in the first place. If a passage requires the use of the present perfect and the student is not yet ready to learn the present perfect, then the use of that passage should be delayed until it is appropriate, not doctored into 'easier' (but incorrect) Engrish.

Another gripe I have is how students are made to 'practice' the passive voice: they're taught the mechanics of how to turn the active voice into the passive voice, then given lists of contextless sentences that they're expected to convert from active to passive or vice versa, with no mention or explanation of when, why and for what purpose the passive should be used in preference to the active; it's just 'another way' of saying the same thing - which of course it isn't.

I do not think grammar is not much of a problem (sic) for Japanese as vocabulary is.

Vocabulary is another problem. Part of it is the rote learning of one-for-one vocab lists, another part is once again the inappropriate dumbing down of what the students are exposed to. I was recently asked to check the English of a passage that waxed lyrical about the UNESCO designation of traditional Japanese cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage; the passage was made partly incomprehensible, partly meaningless and partly laughable by the use of 'Japanese food' throughout. I explained that food and cuisine are not the same, and pointed out in the passage where cuisine was the appropriate choice: but cuisine, I was told, is 'too difficult' and they wanted to use food, 'because it's a word the students know'. In the end they decided to use the word washoku instead. Good luck to the student who cannot understand cuisine trying to explain to a monoglot English speaker the meaning of washoku.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Here is one reason which I feel contributes to the problem. Indians, especially in urban areas, are not just taught English, but taught all their subjects in English as well. The Japanese learn English like the Indians would learn Sanskrit or the Brits would learn Latin - just to clear an exam. No-one became fluent in Latin or Sanskrit just by cramming a few grammar rules and vocabulary for exams. While it may be difficult to change text books to English, at the very least, the government should explore incentives for Spoken English lessons.

To those who think it is not required, as someone who worked with a major Japanese investment bank in their Tokyo, New York and London offices, I can tell you the Japanese nervousness with English is costing them, especially in industries where speed of execution is key - just take a look the IT boat which Japan missed. Several other countries are making conscious efforts to improve their peoples' English, and the people themselves are flocking to specialist online trainers like iRikai (which, incidentally has Japanese roots), EnglishClub, Duolingo and so on. In Africa and LatAm, you have more cost effective versions like EduMe, but you get the drift.

With their spending power and access to networks, the Japanese have tremendous potential to pick and encourage some of these methods, but to me it just seems like they are content in a comfortable shell waving to the world as it whizzes by! I love Japan, and I hope they take steps to integrate before they become truly noncompetitive. English education is a step in that direction.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

At least Japan is trying, with ALTs. No success stories?

Foreign language students in US high schools don't tend to graduate fluent in their chosen foreign language, at least speaking/hearing. (2 years of foreign language in high school is mandatory per most/many college entrance requirements.)

Class for an hour a day (in a group lesson!) plus homework probably isn't enough. Need more immersion. But that doesn't fit in with the way classes are scheduled at K-12.

It would be better to try an immersion class or self-study in the summer, when there's no regular season workload to deal with.

And/or try buying an English-language sitcom series that you like, on DVD, and go through the full series a few times, reading the captions. My Chinese cousin did that and speaks English very well.

Captions can be ripped to text files from Youtube vids so I guess it is possible for DVDs as well. For hardcopy review.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I had a JTE who kept mistranslating everything I said. One student asked me in a jr. high, 2nd grade class, "Where do you live?" I answered, "I'm from New York but I live in [nantoka]Machi, not too far from here." The JTE translated that as (into English), "He says he's from a small town in New York, outside of the city." I let that one go at first, thinking that maybe the JTE is just an unqualified quack. Then, another student asked me, in English, "Are you married? Do you have a family?" I answered, "Yes - my wife and I live here in Japan." The teacher translated it as, "He says he has a girlfriend back home in America." I stopped immediately after that and asked him if he's having problems understanding my English. He shook his head and said, "not at all." I told him that I did not say half of the things he said to the kids. One kid asked me a question that warranted a yes-no answer, I believe it was simple as, "Do you speak Japanese?" I answered "Yes I do, but not here." The JTE translated, "全然喋れない!" ("Zen-zen shaberenai" - "I can't speak a single word of Japanese"). I know that we aren't supposed to use Japanese in class but that was the last straw in a long line of purposeful mistranslations.

Sound like the same old complaints I heard when I was teaching.

Some Japanese teachers/staff, like many I met, like to pretend the foreign teacher has just arrived in Japan and does not speak Japanese, blah, blah. I'm under the impression it's policy in a lot of places - the foreign teacher must be exactly that, regardless whether he/she has played pachinko for the past 50 years with a fag hanging out of their mouth.

That said, I also came across a lot of foreign teachers who seemed more interested in drawing attention to their Japanese speaking ability than their student's welfare. I suspect there is a connection.

Make English an optional subject, after a year or two as mandatory, so only kids who like it will attend classes. That will make things a whole lot better for the student's (remember them?) in a one fell swoop.

And teach the teachers, Japanese and foreign, about the actual art of teaching.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Make it an option at high school and stop trying to drum it into people who don't want to learn it and will never use it or could never use it. My local barber, dry cleaner, baker, izakaya owner, landlord ( I could go on ) and I'd estimate 70% of the people at the company I work for can't use English and seem to get along just fine without it. There are plenty of language schools around for those find they need English for work ( companies can and often do help with tuition ) or develop an interest in it. The majority of Japanese people don't need English and many would freeze like a deer in headlights if they had to use it ( the tour group an example of this ). Stop wasting valuable educational time and money by flogging this long dead horse.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Most katakana are based on English and almost 30% of spoken Japanese is comprised of katana.

????

2 ( +3 / -1 )

mostly better than my Japanese......

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Another factor I have observed that greatly hampers the ability of many Japanese people to use English is the strong educational/societal focus on mistakes — mistakes are not to be tolerated.

This not only involves English, I have witnessed many instances in Japan involving sports, music, and other pursuits where a teacher's/coach's fury toward mistakes demotivates students/athletes, and causes them to visibly stiffen up and stop taking risks knowing that extra effort will result in a greater likelihood of more mistakes (and thus @cleo's example where students are more highly rewarded for the answer "thank you" rather than the arguably somewhat more communicative and ambitious "thank you verry mach.")

Some cases in point, a certain Japanese mother I know would repeatedly scream "machigaeta" ("That's wrong!") when her child made a mistake playing the piano. That child went from having a mild interest in the piano to hating it. A coach I worked with would yell "baka ona" ("stupid girl") every time a jhs athlete would cost her team a point. The young athletes would then visibly avoid contact with the ball. Similarly, I have seen countless Japanese students so concerned about making mistakes in English that they say as little as possible (almost nothing beyond "yes" and "no") knowing that doing so increases the likelihood of mistakes.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

the real reasons are the three big M's !!!

Japan is

Mono-racial Mono-culture Mono- language

and they are proud of it.

-10 ( +3 / -13 )

English is a business in Japan, not a language, so no real change to improve the overall English level will happen unless the same people are making money from the change.

English proficiency would skyrocket with one simple change - eliminate katakana and use romaji instead. English = katakana today.

Most katakana are based on English and almost 30% of spoken Japanese is comprised of katana. The result would be instantaneous. Most Japanese don't know the root word from which the katakana derived from.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

That article and the proposed changes will conflict with the three big M's what the japanese society really drives one. If you have lived in Japan long enuff and made japanese male friends who are honest to you ,they will say.

Japan is

Mono-racial Mono-culture Mono- language

And they like to keep it that way.The rest is just bullocks. And by the way Iam in this country because i like the big M's too. Just look around the globe and see for yourself where multiculture is going....

Japan please stay M M M !!! Thats why this english teaching program will not work.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

With a 15y English teaching experience in Japan I can say that one of the main problems is the luck of a clear objective. What does the school education is aiming at? What is the English level the students are supposed to reach? Pre-intermediate? Intermediate? Conversation fluency? From my experience I see students who have never practiced reading and actual listening and therefore have absolutely no sense of rhythm and punctuation. Many never practiced composition, essay/letter writing and therefore have minimum skills at expressing themselves in writing. If English at school is just another lesson like all the others then it as useful as the rest of the material students usually forget after graduation. If it's supposed to actually help students to learn then I'm afraid you are asking too much. We are talking about a different form of education. Inspirational, interesting, creative...perfectly valid attributes that frankly speaking shouldn't be applied only to English but every other subject lesson. Another thing is that if English is not to be examined like all the other lessons, students lose their interest. If it is to be examined then it becomes another school subject that is to be tested in a similar way as all the other subjects. You cannot separate English teaching from the way other subjects are taught and examined in a Japanese school. And in my opinion that's where the problem is. As I see it, at the moment, the whole thing is a complete mess. Students are stuffed with lots of grammar and vocabulary, ALTs are doing their best to teach pronunciation and communication and all is done haphazardly regardless of level or clear objective. Not to mention messing with British vs American English. Personally I think English education in Japanese schools should bring the student to a pre-intermediate level, clearing all the basic grammar, with basic vocabulary and fair pronunciation and those interested in continuing their English studies to a higher level they could do so at a private school/lessons.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

“I’m Japanese, so I will never use English in the future.”

What a myopic statement to make. While the odds of someone possibly being assigned overseas to an English speaking country may be low, the chances that a worker in Japan may come in contact with English on a day-to-day basis is pretty high. Just think of all the people who work at Dentsu or Hakuhodo who work in some capacity on multi-national accounts. What's more, saying this basically implies that the person never wants to have the opportunity to work for a multi-national company, which is tragic.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I don't disagree with the article, but it strikes me as a bit superficial. The problems of ESL go much deeper, and are in my opinion is tied to the roles assigned in the distinction between Japanese and foreign (often ALT) teachers.

Japanese teachers are trained and expected to explicitly teach conscious knowledge of grammar through lecturing, demonstration, and testing.

Foreign teachers are (often untrained) and expected to implicitly teach fluent communication through bingo, fruit basket, and whatever other "fun" activities they can think of.

Neither role is an accurate representation of what is needed for language acquisition. Students need massive input, and they need a chance to meaningfully use that input to make choices and communicate meaningful responses. In all the years I've been here, I've never seen a language class that actually provides those things. And come to think of it, in all my years here, I have never recieved training from a Japanese person as to how to do those things. Not once. I've had lots of criticism from other foreigners, with the quality of that criticism ranging from uninformed criticism based on theories of language that were disproved in the 60s to uninformed criticism which is only provided in order to make my eikaiwa classes more profitable to some very useful criticism based on years of qualified experience - so quality was all over the map really. But any Japanese feedback as been very tentative, far more fawning and kind than is necessary, never based on scholarship in TESOL as a science, and generally focused on small details of procedure to optimize some aspect of my efficiency- never anything about how to help me tie in my lessons to big-picture ideas coming from state-of-the-art research in the field. And most times, Japanese superiors have been reluctant to criticize me or train me at all.

So every bit of training I've ever received in this field has come from my personally seeking out training from outside the structure of the place I'm working at. Certifications, grad school, JALT workshops, my participation with all of these has been outside of the structure of my work place, occasionally even discouraged by my workplace. Because in every EFL job I've ever worked here, the foreign teacher's job hasn't been a rung on a ladder leading to more responsibilities but a dead-end. We get slotted into "the foreign teacher job" at whatever level of the industry our credentials allow us to reach and it's very rare that there's any thought at all given to how this job fits into a career arc. Most places I've worked at even have limited-time contracts that the foreign teacher can only renew a certain number of times, which means at that level there is a built-in cut-off to how much expertise we can build before we are out the door looking for our next dead-end.

Japanese English teachers from what I've seen have the career arc (sometimes) but are stuck in the same dead-end. Year after year, school after school, I see Japanese teachers who genuinely want to teach in the best way that they can, but they're overwhelmed with club duties, homerooms, meetings, and holding the hand of an often fresh-off-the-boat ALT with no expertise in how to teach their own language and often no ambition to put any more than the minimum effort to not get fired. How are these teachers supposed to enhance their skillset and be part of the international TESOL community with so many demands placed on them?

In practice, both sides have high ideals to do the best that they can, but especially at a lot of public schools serviced by dispatch ALTs or JETs, neither side knows what they're doing. The "foreign English teacher job" has evolved into a supplement for the old (and perhaps outdated) notion that all Japanese teachers do is teach grammar. So the foreign teacher is expected to teach everything but grammar. Grammar was never the problem, however. Languages have grammar. Languages are learned through grammar. It's not the lack of or presence of or degree of grammar teaching that drives EFL off- course here, it's the teaching of grammar as explicit rules rather than tools for a purpose, the assumption that grammar has been acquired because the rule was taught, and the lack of presentation and practice in meaningful contexts. And like another person above menitoned, the assumption that an incorrect use of grammar results in complete failure to transmit meaningful information, which is what happens when you grade students' English almost explusively on their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary instead of on their ability to identify, comprehend, synthesize, and express meaningful information.

The problem is not that JTEs are bad or foreign teachers are bad or that the Japanese school system is bad. The way I see it, the problem is one of leadership. In general over the EFL field here there are too many people not working up to their potential, and the people who are in charge of them aren't leading them to be better teachers. The teachers have to figure out how to be better teachers entirely on their own (if they even have the drive and ambition to do that), because we don't have leaders, we have managers.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

2000 characters are not hard to learn, but the multitude of combinations even messes with college Japanese graduates.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

The quality of foreign teachers is very low in Japan. There's a handful of good ones but the vast majority appear to be lacking in relevant experience and qualifications. Pay peanuts get monkeys I guess.

-10 ( +6 / -16 )

I don't see why they must all be forced to learn English in the first place.

The fact that you would ask this on a Japanese news website that's written in English is quite frankly disturbing. As the author pointed out, much of the internet is presented in English. With people using the internet heavily for multiple purposes, it becomes increasingly important to speak English. Then factor in that English is one of the 5 most widely spoken languages in the world (1.5 billion English speakers and counting). The odds of meeting an English speaker is quite high. Learning English also allows for the possibility of finding work abroad, say in America, or for making business deals with corporations in other countries. Monoligualism limits the number of job opportunities a person has. In this day and age, when multiculturalism is on the rise and with the job climate being so uncertain, learning more than language is becoming crucial as opposed to simply beneficial.

As someone interested in teaching English in Japan, this article is quite troubling. It sounds as though I'd be facing challenges, especially if there isn't a serious change in the testing standards and in the available resources (archaic textbooks? Really?) I'll have to keep a close eye on this situation, and see how it progresses.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

@timtak,

If you are an ESL teacher, you can pick up on the katakana pronunc. If you are a tourist good luck. Start mispronouncing Japanese and see how well it goes over...

10 ( +10 / -0 )

The quality of the textbooks IS quite low. If one is going to write about English, it would be nice not to have a grammar error in a subhead.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Like stated before, the biggest problem I would say is the fact that the Japanese English teachers don't use English for English class... The little English that does come out of their mouths is pronounced wrong, using the katakana phonetics system. They are also always teaching wrong grammar to the students because they are too arrogant to check their own English. So this circle of people who can't speak a single word of correct English continues despite learning it for years in middle and high school.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

cleoOct. 06, 2014 - 11:16AM JST

The reason the present perfect (and the past perfect, and the passive voice, which Japanese does have) is difficult for Japanese is that they are not taught it correctly. They cruise through junior high using just the simple past for all their needs, and then the more 'difficult' bits of grammar are thrown at them in senior high or the last year of junior high,

So, you say that present perfect, the past perfect and the passive voice should be taught in the first year. I think that would make things worse, because students would be overwhelmed by the grammar. In addition, I do not think grammar is not much of a problem for Japanese as vocabulary is.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Sensato....

Well said. There are many points in your post above I'd consider quote worthy.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Last time I heard Japanese elder sue The Government by putting English phrases into Nihongo.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Japanese people see themselves as hapless victims and targets waiting to be preyed upon by people of other nationalities

If you look at the modern Japanese people, they are well aware that they are constantly being criticized all thier lives since childhood by other nationalities. That's maybe affecting their English learnings yes.

-18 ( +3 / -21 )

Thank you verry mach is incorrect so ya they lose the marks.

My point was that the ones who try that bit harder, but don't get it 100% right, get penalised, while the ones who do the minimum go to the top of the class. What does that teach kids? Don't try. The whole testing system is skewed towards finding fault and deducting marks, rather than rewarding effort and providing encouragement.

The reason the present perfect is difficult for Japanese is that modern Japanese do not have the present perfect.

No, it isn't. The reason the present perfect (and the past perfect, and the passive voice, which Japanese does have) is difficult for Japanese is that they are not taught it correctly. They cruise through junior high using just the simple past for all their needs, and then the more 'difficult' bits of grammar are thrown at them in senior high or the last year of junior high, and suddenly what was right before is now not right, and they don't understand why they're now getting X where they previously got ○.

Why would any kid spend their time studying something that they are not tested on?

Because it's fun/interesting? When I was a kid I spent lots of time learning stuff that I wasn't only not going to be tested on, but that wasn't even in the school curriculum - because I found it interesting. Lookit all the kids today who will happily spend hours reading a comic book or playing a video game just to get to the end; that's not stuff they're going to be tested on. They do it because it appeals to them. When he was in elementary school my son learned by heart the prices and the rents with and without houses/hotels of all the properties on the Monopoly board within a week of getting the game for Christmas - not because he was going to be tested on it but because he enjoyed the game so much, he just absorbed all the numbers like a sponge. Make English (or maths, or history, or chemistry, or literature) as exciting to a kid as a Monopoly board or a video game, and kids will study without being nagged or tested. That doesn't mean every lesson should be a vapid, content-free 'let's enjoy Engrish' singing and dancing extravaganza; just make it meaningful, interesting and rewarding.

they don't learn to embellish, and to ask questions. So often the conversation ends up as an interrogation from my end, without the verbal ping-pong that is necessary to make a conversation interesting

Exactly; they have learned not to produce more than the absolute minimum necessary, in case they make a mistake.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

I really wonder how will knowing English pronunciation would help Japan ?

I don't think it would and for the most part, in Asia, katakana pronunciation is sufficient. It sounds bad only to English native speakers. Rephrasing a couple of times, most Japanese katakana English will be understood, if derided.

@ Ishiwara Yes! People are always saying that English is becoming more useful but for the most part, it is not being used all that much. Google translate (etc) are getting better and better such that a University worker with TOEIC 500 level finds it more expedient to use Google translate than his own English skills, at least in the first instance. So it could be argued that at the level of reading comprehension at least, English is become less useful. Even Japanese speakers of English try to get jobs where they can speak English but in order to do so they may even have to take a pay cut -- for their skill! -- because there is so much demand to work in those sectors where English is used. But at the same time, Japanese will probably not use their trigonometry, historical dates, or knowledge of the periodic table. For the most part schooling teaches hidden curricula, and facts-to-pass exams. English is not alone in this but on the rare side in that sometimes it is very useful (some engineers use their knowledge of calculus everyday too.)

-10 ( +4 / -13 )

I really wonder how will knowing English prononciation would help Japan ? Will they achieve better sucess in the west ? Are xou going to buy more Japan product because of that ? Tell me , what use Japan will have with that ?

Our company does a LOT of business with companies in foreign lands that want to do business in Japan, but have no way to get started, because the Japanese do not in general speak English. And the same happens in the other direction, many Japanese companies want to expand out of Japan, but cannot because they do not have the ability to get overseas and drum up business, due to a lack of English.

Japan is known as a black hole when it comes to business within Asia. Companies in other parts of Asia don't even bother when trying to drum up inter-Asian business, because the means just aren't there for the most part.

If Japan had a better mastery of English, and the ability to communicate comfortably in English, it would open up a lot of business for them in other countries, not just in Asia, but around the word. And considering Japan is in a 20+ year recession, they could use the business.

So to answer your questions:

I really wonder how will knowing English prononciation would help Japan ?

It will give them more ability to communicate, and therefore the ability to do more business with the rest of the world, improving their economy.

Will they achieve better sucess in the west ?

Yes, most definitely. Right now their successes are limited, and only the largest of the large companies have the ability to do business in the west. Your average small and mid-sized business has no idea how to go about drumming up business in the west.

Are xou going to buy more Japan product because of that ?

Not me particularly - I live in Japan. But if Japan can communicate more effectively with the rest of the world, they can sell more Japanese products overseas.

Tell me , what use Japan will have with that ?

I just did.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Scrap the whole system and start over. It's just a joke. It takes at best two years of concentrated study to have language skills of a pre defined intermediate level or if you want to go real slow beginner level. After six years and Japanese are such colossal failures means the whole system is really a mess. You and I know this. You did your thing, I did tourist company English training, so I have some howlers but I can't post them here. My condolences to the eikaiwa marionettes, but you know you're a part of the problem. Perpetuation of failure for a paycheque is not success.

IMHO it's about respect for a language and its proclivities. That English becomes warped into Engrish ensures that this will never happen.

I once had a girl whose peer group had made up their own English, TPO, Time, Place, Opportunty to mean a kind of Valentine's romance. I had to let them know it meant in a court of law they were convicted and going to jail. It really is a kind of hopelessness to teach in Japan.

Learn any language as it is, not as you want it to be. It's at the point now in Japan that English is the new kanji; replacing the character with something in English, but unless you know what it means then on its own it means nothing. Japanese-English-Patois is not English

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Here's an idea I want to hear people's opinion about:

Sometimes I think that to a large degree studying English in Japan is similar to how people used to study classical Chinese in the old days. It wasn't for actual use, since there were hardly Chinese around, it was only seen part of education and becoming a cultured person.

That's why the system is set up with the examination as goal, not to actually use it. Example: I've seen people in companies study for the TOEIC test (which is interestingly a Japanese product) in order to make promotion in the company. When I asked them if their company did any business abroad or in any form with foreigners, the answer was "no."

I know this is a generalization, and there are plenty of educated Japanese (especially scientists, diplomats etc) who actually use it and speak English fine.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Why not just start with compulsory Kindergarden English lessons and teach the kids English phoncis. That way they will get use to the proper pronounciation from an early age which is sadly lacking in this country.

I really wonder how will knowing English prononciation would help Japan ? Will they achieve better sucess in the west ? Are xou going to buy more Japan product because of that ? Tell me , what use Japan will have with that ?

-21 ( +1 / -22 )

Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) are regulated to human tape recorders, and then set free to roam the class and help the students.

I'm pretty sure you meant to say relegated.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I figure that the problem is mainly the fear of meaninglessness. Luca who can speak good Japanese and Spanish, can also wax apparently lyrical in "foreign language double-talk," like Sid Caesar and Tamori. Sid Caesar, http://youtu.be/XBLM16fQ1es?t=1m13s, Tamori http://youtu.be/1P_5btTKHxY?t=13s myself (no where near Luca, Sid and Tamori's level) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2mI0X6p07o

I generally get my students to attempt to speak in pretend-Chinese, pretend-Korean and pretend-Italian. They are more silent during that part of the class, when they could make any noise at all, than they are in the part where they are asked to speak English, and this despite the fact that there is no grammar, no vocabulary, nothing, just that they make noises. This is because non-meaning is as scary as death (Proulx & Heine, 2006; Heine Proulx, & Vohls, 2006).

The fear of non-meaning is compounded due to the difference in the structure of the languages (English is almost precisely Japanese backwards) so that one has to jump into a pool of non-meaning for longer.

And such is the unpleasantness of jumping into the abyss which is an English sentence, many Japanese concentrate on learning more and more esoteric grammar and vocabulary (there is even a book which attempts to translate Japanese cultural artefacts into English - an English which of course no English speaker would understand http://tinyurl.com/mucfk8f. )

This tendency to attempt to learn (as opposed to acquire, Kraschen) English is compounded by the fact that it is so much more easy to learn Japanese through the mastery of a mere 2000 kanji. Learn a mere 2000 and you can read anything. Having in large part learnt their own language, the Japanese think that English might also be a language that can be learnt. Little do they know that most native speakers spend 40 years in English speaking countries learning the 30,000 words needed to read a broadsheet newspaper, because English vocabulary is almost completely unstructured!

Practising a foreign language with another learner is going to to put your partner on the spot and due to that fear of non-meaning, and panic, and sweat, be a difficult, though rewarding experience. Alas, causing other people stress and discomfort in social interaction through expressions of aggression or put downs and English conversation questions is less acceptable in Japan.

There is also the fact that many of their teachers (both Japanese and "native") can't speak the other language, impressing upon students that 'this is a gap that can not be bridged." It is quite easy really, especially Japanese with its regularity, structured lexicon, lack of gutturals, plosives and fricatives and ALTs should be capable and allowed to demonstrate their bilingualism.

@ Michael Brian Yamazaki-Fleisher

The number 1 problem I see in English "education" in Japan is just that - Japanese arrogance. This surprised me. For every "native speaker" that is not allowed to speak in Japanese due to Japanese arrogance, aren't there several who have not learnt Japanese for the obverse reason?

And then there are the university entrance exams, which, unless one is going to employ armies of English speakers to hold interviews, are necessarily going to be on paper, and thus largely "learning" based. It is the fault of the universities that they do not, in the main, give Japanese students the sweaty, harsh, but rewarding training required to put all their learning into practice.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I don't know if this is a problem with the education system or not, as I've never taught in the school system here, but I find one issue in communicating in English with Japanese people is that they don't learn conversation strategies. For example, I'll say:

"What do you do for work?"

Which is followed up with:

"I sell apparel" (or whatever)

But they don't learn to embellish, and to ask questions. So often the conversation ends up as an interrogation from my end, without the verbal ping-pong that is necessary to make a conversation interesting.

So I think the school system should be teaching not just communication, but communication strategies - that is if they aren't already.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

@ratpack. That is the problem exactly, teaching English using the Japanese syllabary means that the pronunciation is almost always wrong. It's so common to see Japanese tourists in London asking for ko hi- and the baffled shop worker having no idea what they are talking about. I had to learn how to pronounce ryu, ryo, tsu and other sounds that aren't in my native language when learning Japanese, so why not teach English using the correct sounds?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Why would any kid spend their time studying something that they are not tested on?

Change the tests (i.e. include speaking) and all will be solved.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

JTEs have to teach these archaic forms through topics such as... people and animals dying in WWII... and [words] like "Freeze!"

Obviously, topics like "[Japanese] people and animals dying in WWII [at the hands of foreigners]" and the seemingly high likelihood that a non-Japanese person may command that you "Freeze!" considerably demotivate young Japanese people from wanting to communicate with foreigners — and thus hamper fluency.

Very much along those lines, the inability of most Japanese people to connect/communicate with other nationalities on a person-to-person level goes well beyond methods used in the ESL classroom. One of the main culprits, in my experience, is that the Japanese peace education curriculum fosters a "they are out to get us and take advantage of us" mentality. It causes Japanese people to be extremely wary of other nationalities, which stifles the potential for any form of meaningful dialog with non-Japanese people.

Intentions of educators teaching the peace education curriculum may be noble, but Japanese students are taught that during the war Japanese people suffered immensely at the hands of foreigners, and therefore Japan should seek peace so that Japanese people won't suffer again. In this narrative, they are taught little about the role of the Kempeitai and how Japanese people suffered at the hands of other Japanese people, or about Japan's role in causing others to suffer — and by extension that Japan's role as victim and perpetrator should underpin the nation's desire for peace.

This mindset very often extends into business/political/social interactions with other nationalities, where many Japanese people see themselves as hapless victims and targets waiting to be preyed upon by people of other nationalities in a world fraught with danger and ill-will toward Japan. Needless to say, this firmly instilled mentality is far from conducive to productive/meaningful dialog with non-Japanese people.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Sometimes we need to communicate in writing.

Fair enough. I've been referring to verbal communication, but I didn't expressly state that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Strangerland,

Sometimes we need to communicate in writing.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

After twenty-five years teaching English here, I'm convinced that ninety-nine per cent of students have enough knowledge of English and all the skills necessary to communicate perfectly well.

The trick is persuading them to do so.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Japanese people and society does not want to learn English well because that is a capitulation to foreigners, and the US in particular. There is always a sort of angst and loathing that burns deep about having to learn or speak English.

How have you come to this conclusion?

2 ( +7 / -5 )

The fundamental issue is not English education per se, but Japanese people and society does not want to learn English well because that is a capitulation to foreigners, and the US in particular. There is always a sort of angst and loathing that burns deep about having to learn or speak English.

5 ( +12 / -7 )

They need to focus on both writing and communicating because when a student writes "boru" instead of ball thats what theyll say and when they say "boru" thats what theyll write.

I'm not disagreeing with this. It's when they get hung up on this (spelling) and only this, at the sacrifice of communication, that it gets in the way of learning to communicate. And communication should be the primary focus of using a language.

Unfortunately they have to learn both as its part of the cirriculum.

As I understand it (and to be fair, I'm not in the education industry), communication isn't part of the curriculum, which is the issue that is being brought up in this article and by Cleo and others.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

when the present perfect is later introduced, the students have no clear idea when or how to use it or what it means, because up to now they thought they were doing quite OK with the simple past.

The reason the present perfect is difficult for Japanese is that modern Japanese do not have the present perfect. The classic Japanese until early Meiji era used the present perfect (Keri) in writings such as Higuchi Ichiyou, Izumi kyouka, etc.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@Strangerland,

They need to focus on both writing and communicating because when a student writes "boru" instead of ball thats what theyll say and when they say "boru" thats what theyll write. Unfortunately they have to learn both as its part of the cirriculum. Swap shoes and imagine it was Japanese, it wouldnt be acceptable.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

how many time do you hear a student say, "I'm Japanese, so I will never use English in the future."

I have never heard such a comment.

The true cause of the ineffectiveness of English education in Japan is lack of vocabulary.

Students learn 1000 words at junior high school and another 1000 words at senior high school. These numbers include such words like a, the, I, you, in, to, and so on. One needs to know about 3000 words to communicate in limited circumstances, and 10000 words to communicate freely.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

* "How many people speak English in this World ? Ummm....a whole lot more than speak Japanese.

"American think Japanese people should learn English just to facilitate them." Sure, don't study it then...but just don,t whine as your country keeps sliding into obscurity as a consequence.

"Why not American learn Japanese in their school ?" Some do, but for some strange, unknown reason the rest of the world prefers to communicate in English. Yeah, I know it's just so unfair, poor Japan..sigh...

*

15 ( +17 / -2 )

The answer is simple - reduce the numbered of grammatical structures that need to be taught by the end of jr high (by saving the more difficult ones for high school, and dropping entirely the ones that are so infrequent as to baffle even the teachers charged with teaching them) and the teachers won't have to rush through them all leaving the students bewildered and completely disinterested.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Well, what are the J-government's goals for their schoolchildren? If it's to leave school with a good grasp of English grammar and lists of vocabulary, then they are doing a fine job. However as the article points out, English is taught as a school subject, not as a living tool for communication. It is overwhelmingly taught by those who have not mastered the language themselves yet--not mastered it as a whole including pronunciation and how to hold conversations--who got qualified to teach by...wait for it...passing exams.

If the government wants citizens to be conversant in English, they have to work to increase opportunities for kids to hear and speak English from a fluent speaker, they have to English out of the classroom and make it more a part of daily life.

...but, is it really necessary? Like geometry or advanced algebra, most folks study it in school but don't use it at all in their daily lives as adults. There are businessmen who need it and end up going to eikaiwa after work. But many business people need it for communication with other non-native speakers in Asia and around the world, as English has become the lingua franca for many countries. In those cases, pristine pronunciation and smooth use of American or British or Aussie colloquialisms are not really necessary, but strong grammar and vocabulary knowledge--what they study in their school years!--are paramount.

We might see the growth of a new independent brand of English "Japanglish" like Singlish in Singapore. I can imagine it will be marked by the use of somewhat stilted/archaic vocabulary "I feel sentimental when I see roses" and strict conversational "sets" that mimic the Japanese pattern for greetings (e.g. the only acceptable answer to "How are you?" is "I'm fine, and you?" ...however it will have to be intelligible outside Japan to be viable.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Thank you verry mach is incorrect so ya they lose the marks. They should be spelling the words correctly. Try making a mistake when writing Japanese and it`ll also be considered incorrect. Spelling is important.

It depends on what your overall goal is. If it's to communicate, then spelling is pretty much irrelevant, as we don't spell things out when speaking. If it's to pass a written test, then yeah, spelling is important. I think that Cleo's point, as well as a point brought up in the article, is that Japan focuses too much on writing, and not enough on communication.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The main problem is that they actually dont have to do anything in school to pass. No consequences equals "I dont give a rats ass."

@cleo,

Thank you verry mach is incorrect so ya they lose the marks. They should be spelling the words correctly. Try making a mistake when writing Japanese and it`ll also be considered incorrect. Spelling is important.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

@ClippetyClop, 100% spot-on!

The number 1 problem I see in English "education" in Japan is just that - Japanese arrogance. When a teacher asks their ALT for further information about something they're teaching (sometimes they do, often times you're a statue), they really don't care about what you have to tell them. You can't speak Japanese in class so you speak in English - they mistranslate what you say to conform to the test they're taking, 100% of the time - making you look like a bumbling idiot who can't speak Japanese and shouldn't be teaching.

I had a JTE who kept mistranslating everything I said. One student asked me in a jr. high, 2nd grade class, "Where do you live?" I answered, "I'm from New York but I live in [nantoka]Machi, not too far from here." The JTE translated that as (into English), "He says he's from a small town in New York, outside of the city." I let that one go at first, thinking that maybe the JTE is just an unqualified quack. Then, another student asked me, in English, "Are you married? Do you have a family?" I answered, "Yes - my wife and I live here in Japan." The teacher translated it as, "He says he has a girlfriend back home in America."

I stopped immediately after that and asked him if he's having problems understanding my English. He shook his head and said, "not at all." I told him that I did not say half of the things he said to the kids. One kid asked me a question that warranted a yes-no answer, I believe it was simple as, "Do you speak Japanese?" I answered "Yes I do, but not here." The JTE translated, "全然喋れない!" ("Zen-zen shaberenai" - "I can't speak a single word of Japanese"). I know that we aren't supposed to use Japanese in class but that was the last straw in a long line of purposeful mistranslations.

It's about stubbornness and pride - the Japanese have an overabundance of both. This article was spot on and many of your comments are as well - but this article is talking to us, those of us who are in the trenches and see this every single day. I have a student at my juku eikaiwa who was making forward progress in my English class only to have that progress snarled to a crawl after continuing with his English education in Jr High School.

The system is more than broken and as long as stubbornly prideful Japanese continue to insist on moving forward with this same system, when put in a room with a Chinese and Korean person, the Japanese will look like someone who suffered brain damage when someone asks them, "How are you?"

Pathetic.

27 ( +28 / -1 )

How many people speak English in this World ?

It's the second most spoken language in the world after Mandarin.

American think Japanese people should learn English just to facilitate them.

I think most American's couldn't care less whether Japanese people can speak English or not.

Why not American learn Japanese in their school ?

Because it's a language only spoken in one country, by the people in that country, so it makes more sense for them to study other languages that are more widely used.

31 ( +33 / -2 )

@ ipone

Japanese people are very smart, so they will become good globalized people soon by utilizing their good knowledge."*

Ipone, don't you realise that herein lies the problem? The insularity of such a comment is typical of the disconnectedness between classroom English and proper English !

16 ( +20 / -4 )

How many people speak English in this World ? American think Japanese people should learn English just to facilitate them. Why not American learn Japanese in their school ?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My daughters Japanese 'English' teacher teaches their class how to pronounce the English words by using the Katakana phonetics. It drives me nuts. Why not just start with compulsory Kindergarden English lessons and teach the kids English phoncis. That way they will get use to the proper pronounciation from an early age which is sadly lacking in this country. The idiotic teacher I refer to above also scolded my daughter when she taught the girl next to her how to say 'thank you' instead of 'sank you'.....gotta love the japanese 'I have no friggin idea how to speak english but I'm teaching it to the kids' teachers in this country.

37 ( +39 / -2 )

@ipone

Japanese English education certainly has been not effective to real English conversation, but it started to change into better ones.

I heard that kind of observation from Japanese people 20 years ago.

But there has been no change. In fact, IMHO, Japanese young people's English seems to be generally getting worse.

I want you not to misunderstand this.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

This is a good article as far as it goes. There are other problems.

Students stat too late. Yes, elementary schools were all supposed to be teaching English by 2002 but there is a shortage of elementary school teachers who can do it. Also it has been official government policy that students only listen to English and speaking but not read it. I think there has been or will be a policy change.

Teaching to the exam is a big problem. The problem is that students cram for the exam and then forget what they "learned" once it is over. This also creates students with still minds. Intellectual curiosity will only get in way of cramming.

Then there are the legions of Japanese English teachers who do not know English and teach only in Japanese. A lot of this number become "anti-English teachers," as someone wrote a while back.

Then there is Eikawa, English Conversation. It is a great relief from learning English for the examination. But English conversation classes tend to be facile.

It is all frustrating. Try teaching literature in English in English to English majors. They are lost. It is easier to do this for Japanese majors, who are at least interesting in literature. The Poor English all around leads to teaching to the examination in university, like it or not. Result: Students soon forget what they have learned--Melville wrote Moby Dick, that Shakespeare write Romeo and Juliet.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I don't see why they must all be forced to learn English in the first place.

-6 ( +17 / -23 )

Japanese people are very smart, so they will become good globalized people soon by utilizing their good knowledge.

Let's get this point right first; Japanese people are no smarter than people from any other country. The arrogance that Japanese people are of a higher intelligence than other Asian nations will be nothing but a hindrance in trying to progress in learning a foreign language. In my opinion, the lack of individualism and competition within the classroom puts Japanese students at a distinct disadvantage. I recall my spirit-crushing days spent in a Japanese junior high school classroom, desparate stuff.

31 ( +40 / -9 )

The author is spot on. I would add that students are taught (not only in English, to be fair) that Mistakes Are To Be Avoided At All Costs. So if, in a free composition test, in response to a cue like, 'Let me give you a hand' the student writes, 'Thank you', he gets full marks; if he writes 'Thank you verry mach' he loses two marks for his mistakes.

Another problem is that English is taught as if it were History or Geography: this week we're doing the Tudors/the present perfect so put all thoughts of the Romans/the present continuous out of your head. In other words grammar is taught as individual segments with little to no relation to each other, rather than as an integrated whole that has meaning.

There is also a tendency to 'fluff over' the 'hard' grammar in the early stages. For example, students are given made-up passages to read and study that use (e.g.) the simple past where a native speaker would use the present perfect. Of course when the present perfect is later introduced, the students have no clear idea when or how to use it or what it means, because up to now they thought they were doing quite OK with the simple past.

One of the biggest problems is the fact that so many English teachers cannot hold a simple conversation in English with a native speaker. That lack of ability/confidence is picked up by the students and dampens any desire to learn: if Sensei cannot speak English after years of study and even getting a degree in it, what7s the point in even trying?

27 ( +29 / -2 )

One Japanese netizen suggests that TV dramas should be utilized to hear real English, while seeing the facial expressions and mouth movements all together in one package.

O really? Or better to say, the excitement of learning all posible way of cursing , swearing and itd ?

TV shows, movies, books, games, and it's not even limited to entertainment, scientific journals, international business and the majority of the Internet is conducted in English.

What kind of nonsence is this ?All those TV shows and movies exist in Japan, but translated in Japan language, and for games, majority of western games are not so popular in Japan, specially FPS games , but those that are , are translated in Japan language, so, no need for English ,, and for international business , again , its only small portion of Japan people who will, in their life time, to be in position to get into contact with those international firms . And for Internet , well, I really dont see nothing worthy on it for someone to learn English , I see only trash sites and thats it , , because internet is actually big place for trolls and haters, so, its not so happy place to be .

I am sorry, but I am someone who actually dont like this western pressure on Japan to accept English language as must have .

-33 ( +4 / -37 )

I agree with author's idea.

However, I want foreign people not to misunderstand Japanese English situation.

A lot of Japanese English teachers now try to tackle with the problem and received qualified education to speak English during the class, which is sometime called "classroom English"

Japanese English education certainly has been not effective to real English conversation, but it started to change into better ones. Japanese people are very smart, so they will become good globalized people soon by utilizing their good knowledge.

-30 ( +10 / -40 )

“Freeze! You’re under arrest!”

To be fair, that one came up after a Japanese kid was shot because he didn't understand the expression, "Freeze."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Yoshihiro_Hattori

1 ( +7 / -6 )

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