"A good teacher can get you to JLPT N2-level in a couple of years,” one friend told me, whilst also cautioning, “but if you get a teacher who isn’t serious, it could take a great many years more, if indeed it ever happens at all.”
What I’ve learned over my years of teaching in Japan is that public school students here can also face a similar lottery when it comes to learning English.
In the same way as I have worked with some brilliant ALTs – and conversely a number of freeloaders who shouldn’t be going anywhere near a classroom – I’ve noticed a similarly huge variation in the English communicative abilities of my Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) colleagues.
But why is this the case? Surely there must be a uniform minimum standard across the board for those who wish to teach English in public schools in Japan.
Well, as is so often the case with Japan, things aren’t that simple.
One of the main issues lies in the prevailing methodology for teaching English as an academic subject in Japan. Despite overwhelming evidence that the method is far less effective than competing strategies, official guidelines on the teaching of English in Japanese public schools still lean towards a Confucian, teacher-centered approach, with an emphasis on rote memorization at the expense of communication practice.
However, it would be unfair to my colleagues to simply condemn their methods as out of date and lacking innovation. It’s not that simple. So what are some other factors that might be behind this problem?
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