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What's wrong with the way English is taught in Japan?

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It's American Engrish. Surely Japanese students deserve to spell, pronounce words and use vocabulary correctly.

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where's the friggin article?

Moderator: It is simply a topic which we are asking readers to comment on. And never mind the "friggin." Such expressions have no place in a discussion among mature adults.

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where's the friggin article?

JT is inviting you (readers) to write on article on subject matter, a battle field between native English speakers and native Japanese speakers.

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I'd like to turn that question around a bit: What percentage of Japanese truly and sincerly want to learn English?

I write this as a person who truly loves learning the Japanese language, and I haven't been put off by too many of the materials I have used to help in my studies over the years.

I have seen some of the questions on English tests used in Japan, and I've got to say that they are some of most odd questions on very arcane English usage and grammar. Most native English speakers would have a hard time with them. Why so much emphasis on stuff that nobody uses or cares much about? It doesn't seem to be paying off, as reading the English instructions in any hotel or train station would indicate.

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Well, countless books, newspaper stories and blogs have tried to answer this question for years. One thing I often wonder is why Japanese women are so much better at speaking English than men. I know so many young Japanese women who are bilingual. They studied the same way as guys do at school, yet they are fluent and the guys can hardly put two sentences together.

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I think that not only for English, but also for any language, it is wrong to write the pronounciation of the words in katakana. My husband is learning Spanish and I read the katakana spelling of the Spanish sentences only to laugh.

Or to cry...

The pronounciation should be taught as in a good dictionary, with universal symbols that everybody can learn with help of a native teacher or a good CD.

This is my view about the bad pronounciation.

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The pronounciation should be taught as in a good dictionary, with universal symbols that everybody can learn with help of a native teacher or a good CD.

I learned Chinese this way in Taiwan, where they've developed a simple phonetic alphabet to enable children to read texts before they've mastered many characters. You sometimes see people, particularly kids, reading the symbols rather than the characters.

This won't help much with poor pronunciation, though, which reflects problems approximating sounds that may be endemic to native speakers of one language trying to learn another.

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This is a very simple question with an even simpler answer: There are two kinds of English. There is English for tests and English for communication. A cleverly planned balance of these two creates good English speakers, whereas, the Japanese style of consuming English textbooks only produces a nation of test answerers, not English speakers. The northern Europeans have a much greater comand of English (in general) simply because of the way it is learned.

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The don't teach English in Japan. They teach about English. School teachers with no more than a tenuous grasp of the language have their students learning about verb tenses and the very arcane English usage and grammar yabits mentions - because that's what they get tested on. There is very little effort to put together all the bits to demonstrate how English really works, and very little opportunity to use the language in 'real' situations.

There is also far too much dependence on the written word and not enough trust in the workings of the human brain. Teachers write everything up on the board 'for clarity', with the effect that students never really get into the habit of adsorbing the language and sorting it out internally.

Teachers who still insist on using katakana to show pronunciation need to be strung up by their big toes and forced to recite She Sells Sea Shells On The Sea Shore until they get it right.

Young females the world over, by the way, tend to pick up language easier than their male classmates. Something to do with the way the brain is wired, I'm told. Normally it balances out in the late teens/early twenties, by which time most people have convinced themselves or been convinced by the school system that English is Too Difficult.

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Learning a language in it's natural environment is key. The fact that everything is dubbed and/or edited with the use of that dreadful Katakana system makes it near impossible to learn. Given the choice, would you refer to your native language or a foreign one?? That coupled with the atrocious English signposting/labelling that is used to no effect here makes it all the more mind-boggling.

The English language is so rich in diversity that putting your head in the books for XX period of time is not sufficient to manage the complexity of innuendos, double-entendres and the like that makes up the core of the language. As a Brit. living here in Japan, our humour is somewhat wasted on this very lack of understanding.

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There is also far too much dependence on the written word and not enough trust in the workings of the human brain. Teachers write everything up on the board 'for clarity', with the effect that students never really get into the habit of adsorbing the language and sorting it out internally.

Hit the nail on the head there Cleo. My neighbour pointed out the same thing in conversation just the other day. He described how Japanese can be said to be a visually learned language, whereas other languages, in this case English are more audio-orientated.

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The northern Europeans have a much greater comand of English (in general) simply because of the way it is learned.

Taiwan has largely replicated the Japanese approach to learning English from an instructor with extremely limited speaking capability who presents students with the different tenses but can't offer examples of when one might use them. Needless to say, it's a very tedious approach. After two years there, I came to the (erroneous) conclusion native Chinese speakers can't learn to converse proficiently in English.

In fact it was the teaching methods that were the problem. I know this because later I met many mainland Chinese who had achieved a high degree of proficiency despite never setting foot outside their homeland. Most had supplemented classroom learning with a combination of listening to radio programs, VOA or the the BCC, along with reading whatever they could get their hands on.

There's no control group to test different hypotheses for poor English proficiency among native Japanese speakers.

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It's American Engrish

And also... proper English is not taught. Japanese English is taught. Like saying 'goomy bear' instead of 'gummy bear'.

This will never change. It is the way Japanese people are.

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I remember one time back in the day I was teaching a class of 5th graders. We had a MacDonald's menu (pictures only) and a boxful of little plastic hamburgers, fries and shakes, and the students were taking it in turns to come up and 'buy' their lunch. I wondered why the students were staring at a point behind my head when ordering instead of looking at the menu in front of them, and why their pronunciation (which had been pretty good in the pre-exercise prep part of the lesson, with good intonation, proper 'th's and 'l's and everything) had deteriorated to a flat wan hambargu anddo tsu furaizu preez; then I found the teacher had been 'helping' by writing the menu up on the board behind me - in katakana.

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What's a gummy bear? Like a jelly baby but bear-shaped?

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As posters like Cleo have noted, English is taught as a subject not a language, an object of theory, not of practical use. There are a number of reasons for this tendency including a reliance on traditional teaching practices; the vicious cycle of low expectations of teachers of English entering the system who do not have a firm grasp of English or communicative langauge teaching approaches; the pressure of the exam/testing systems which (although improving) still don't focus on communicative skills. The major problem is that Japan believes (rightly or wrongly - I'm not going to debate this issue here) that English is not important to learn for communicative purposes. If it were serious, Japanese people would become fluent in great numbers, very quickly. While the necessity is not there, 'English as a subject' will continue. If a time comes when proficiency in English becomes more important for maintaining a decent life in Japan, I'm sure we would see a rapid change. So, while English proficiency continues to be a nice accoutrement for some rather than the majority, it'll be taught about, and will be taught not for communication.

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I'm not convinced that there IS a problem with the way English is taught here. As a Canadian, I've found that the level of English ability in Japan is roughly similar to the level of French ability among native English speakers back home. Some people take the study of language seriously and make it a life-long endeavour, the rest are standing at the counter at St Huberts in Quebec City stammering out "Je suis un grande poutine".

Not every student that takes a calculus course is expected to become an Engineer. Not every student that takes history will make that discipline a life-long study. The same holds true for languages.

In my experience, English teachers in this country tend to have a fairly unrealistic expectation of their students where elementary and secondary education is concerned. If a student has their heart set on being a mechanic, for example, what possible drive would they have for taking their mandatory English classes seriously?

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Using little plastic McDonald's hamburgers, fries and shakes to get kids to practice ordering junk food! What in the world were you thinking, Cleo? Tee hee!

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Given the fact that, according to opinion polls, something like 70% of Japanese people want nothing to do with foreigners, is it surprising that their efforts to learn English are so pathetic in many cases? Most seem to learn English because they are forced to, and then it is in order to pass university entrance examinations, not for communication. The way English is taught in Japanese schools is atrocious. By the time the kids reach university, they hate the subject, and many have been brainwashed into believing that "Japanese people cant learn 'Ingurishu." The influence of katakana is another major problem. It destroys their ability to pronounce English - its like a kind of poison.

But one of the biggest problems is a social one. Japanese is an ambiguous language in iteself, and Japanese people in general are non-communicative people. Silence is the order of the day. In schools they are told to be silent, and just listen to nboring teachers all day. They are not taught to question anything - just obey. I think that is one of the main reasons why they are so poor at languages in general.

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To learn any foreign language well, motivation must extend beyond just passing a test or getting a better job. English is the international lingua franca and that alone creates incentives to learn it, at least to exhibit some minimal mastery when the circumstances require it.

That alone, however, provides no insight into a different culture's way of looking at the world which is often one of the motivations for those who learn the language well. It's one thing to get your point across; it's another to be able to do so idiomatically.

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You will also find that English is extensively taught not as an educational tool, but a vantage point to enter that all so prestigious school. Once there accepted, the knowledge taught quickly disappears.

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But one of the biggest problems is a social one. Japanese is an ambiguous language in iteself, and Japanese people in general are non-communicative people.

A more serious problem may be that standards in Japanese are slipping. Most kids (everywhere) spend far more time playing video games than reading, for example.

I don't think the USA, where too many students find French grammar terribly challenging, is unique in this regard. Bottom line: if you lack a solid command of your mother tongue, you are not going to acquire one in a foreign language.

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Sarge -

Using little plastic McDonald's hamburgers, fries and shakes to get kids to practice ordering junk food! What in the world were you thinking, Cleo? Tee hee!

I was thinking it was a good way to get the kids interested and practice numbers (Two hamburgers and three fries, that's seven hundred and fifty yen) - and it was going great until the teacher decided to 'help'!

realist -

Given the fact that, according to opinion polls, something like 70% of Japanese people want nothing to do with foreigners...

Spin spin, spin. Get real. There is no such opinion poll.

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Using little plastic McDonald's hamburgers, fries and shakes to get kids to practice ordering junk food! What in the world were you thinking, Cleo? Tee hee!

Sarge, maybe Cleo can apply her teaching expertise to you in ordering those chocolate milkshakes you mentioned you were addicted to so you pass yourself off as a native speaker!

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blvtzpk, realist,

Thanks for saving me time :)

With respect to what everyone has said, I think these points are the core of the problem. Not all teachers, but too many, present English as a subject, not a language.

Becuase the way it's taught is so painful, I don't blame students for disliking the language.

If Japan wants to get serious about English proficiency, teach it from as early on as possible. In the long run, this approach will not only lead to better speakers, but it will also shave off tons of stress for junior and senior high school students struggling to memorize thousands of words that should have been absorbed before puberty set in.

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so you pass yourself off as a native speaker!

I meant a native speaker of Japanese!

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To come at this question from another angle...

How about learning English, or any other secondary language, just for the sake of learning? The process of learning a language itself is very beneficial to brain development particularly from infancy to aholescence. Much like learning mathematics is.

Simply put...It is great exercise for cognitive development.

S

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I've got to give a nod to hokkaidoguy - English in Japan is treated by most like a 'foreign' language - teachers and students alike - it's just not approached by many as a serious mode of communication becuase it simply does not need to be - at least at this point in time.

The ongoing issue is, though, that it's an ersatz compulsory subject, and LOTS of money (e.g. the JET Programme) is thrown at it (OK, JET is for 'cultural exchange', but greater focus is placed on its English input role these days). Given the expenditure, the number of people involved in its teaching, there is this general sense of 'why aren't things improving with English proficiency in Japan?' Japan, as a leading industrial/economic/technologicl nation is somehow expected to be more English friendly, which is just isn't. And people regularly do chest-beating and soul-searching about it.

The main thing is that there's very little social or economic reason to become proficient here, and that's the reason it's not taken onboard by the popualtion. We might doubt realist's 'statistics', but xenophobia and cultural superiority undoubtedly plays a part as well, as it does in many English speaking countries. In short, unless English proficiency becomes necessary in this relatively comfortable country, it will be approached and taught in the same way, and the chest-beating will continue on a regular basis.

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The main thing is that there's very little social or economic reason to become proficient here, and that's the reason it's not taken onboard by the popualtion.

For most people, it takes a considerable investment of their time to master another language. You have to cut yourself off from other activities and friends to study. If there's no discernible pay-off, many will not be so inclined.

In my travels I've meant no shortage of long-term expats, many of whom are English teachers, who've developed strong listening proficiency and are able to speak enough to get through daily life transactions. But you tell 'em, "Get off at this bus stop" and they can't because they never learned to read. Why? Could get by without it.

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I think the English teaching system here isn't as good as the French teaching system. I watched "Wasabi" on Saturday. So many fluent French speakers in Japan! I was amazed.

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I think focusing on the positive is better than focusing on the negative. The question should be what is right with the way English is taught in Japan. Unfortunately there would probably be much fewer answers...

The basic answer to the question posted is that English in Japan is almost taught like it's a dead language, much like Latin is taught. It has been getting better in recent years though, but having teachers who can actually speak English fluently would be a big step in the right direction. Too many know English inside and out, but can only carry out the simplest of conversations.

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It is this guy from Liverpool called Charles. He just doesn't take the job seriously at all and the students just learn very poorly.

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Imagine you are a Japanese kid. Let's say the first "English" word you learn as a toddler is "MIRUKU"... years go by and an English teacher tells you it's not "MIRUKU", it's MILK... All the so-called "English" words learned or picked up over the years are actually NOT ENGLISH!!! It's gotta be very confusing for them. Close to impossible to learn English this way... Step 1: Eradicate KATAKANA!! English words should be learned in English, not katakana... the difficulty in getting rid of katakana is that it is everywhere in Japanese society. It would take many many many years to repair the damage.

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The main fault has to be katakana Engurishu.

People all over the world get to learn English through studying and through hearing it in films, songs, television etc. But when a Japanese child is taught Engrish such as reddo, hoito, buraku, lefuto, Misutaa Sumisu etc they can never enjoy the benefit of learning by listening. I'm wondering whether Japanese students ever question why they never hear Engurishu spoken in English films? (Films such as the 3-part Tolkein epic "The Road of the Ring" ...)

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Tahoochi said:

repair the damage

When you say "repair" and "damage", do you give them proper French pronunciation?

If not, why not? Don't you think you should, on the off chance that you decide to learn French someday?

Moderator: Readers, the topic is English, not French.

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This is a hard question and very difficult to answer as many different groups have had a hand in creating the problem.

School teachers teach have traditionally taught it as a subject, much like science and math which has ended up creating students that speak like text books.

English schools for the most part are just plain bad, they treat English as a cash cow. No real effort is made to actually help students learn the language. They're happy as long as the students enjoy their lessons and buy more.

I've seen a Berlitz commercial trying to shame people into learning. "Poor Mr. Suzuki can't speak English so he's holding the meeting up", which I find a disgusting way to adverstise a product.

The "native" English teacher is also a part of the problem. Many come here for the "overseas" experience, not knowing very much about it themselves. Classroom teaching techniques in many cases leave a lot to be desired. I've actually seen a teacher say that, "could've" is really, "could of" and the student looked completely bewildered at the end of the lesson. That particular teacher even though she was a very serious young lady, didn't really know many of the basics. Stories such as these can be heard from many, many places.

Finally, the students themselves. Many of them have no real reason to study. Many of them have become essentially brainwashed to think that Engish is a prerequisite for a successful life. So these people enter a school, not knowing how to study, not really wanting to study and becoming lazy learners when they realise that there is no easy way to study a language. They constantly fail to realise that they must study at home consistently and often.

And ... /bah humbug I'm tired and I don't want to write an essay ... /rant off.

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In a nutshel: One of my adult students told me his 8 y/o son came home from school and told him he had been learning English at school. To his father's surprise he asked his son to explain. This was his son's explanation: "あ is A, い is I, う is U," and so on.

They don't teach English in Japan. It is called Janglish!
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One of the biggest problems I've encountered is the phenomenal amount of "tourist teachers" in Japan. Or more to the point, schools and colleges who are happy to employ those taking the 'graduation holiday' and could not care less as to their professional qualification, training, or experience. This may explain why, in the majority of cases and with the exception of kindergarten teachers, the more dedicated and professional teachers are simply not required in Japanese schools and I'll even go as far as saying this is why the J-Gov will continue to bemoan the fact that Japanese students will always be glued to the bottom of international English language test scores.

In my case, do you think I could ever get a job teaching English for business, practical communication skills, or cross-cultural seminars in Japan? Even though Japanese is my second language, thats unheard of!!! No, I'm in China where my knowledge and skills are more highly valued and (to a certain extent) why students like mine are communicating at more of an international level than their Japanese counterparts. I am astounded that the average Chinese fifteen year old is able to talk for an hour-long about business, politics, and culture in a near-fluid conversational manner.

I have yet to meet a Japanese adult in more than 20 years who is able to achieve that kind of level. I also believe the Japanese education is too teacher orientated. The teacher 'outputs', they talk and the students watch and listen. It is the opposite in "western" education systems where the students 'output'; they talk, write and put their skills into action... and thats what education is all about.

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"あ is A, い is I, う is U,"

and ちis ti, つis tu, ふis fu, じ is zi, づis du......

Let's say the first "English" word you learn as a toddler is "MIRUKU"

But they don't learn it as an English word; they learn it as a Japanese word. Then later on they learn that it's the 'same', assume that all katakana words are the 'same' and can't understand why Ms Smith doesn't understand simple English words like pasokon, kohee and igirisu.

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Everything.

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Let's say the first "English" word you learn as a toddler is "MIRUKU"

Considering the Japanese language has a richness of words already in existence there is no need for mi-ru-ku to be milk (gyunyu)

As for such words as ra-i-o-n to be lion (shishi) , biiru for beer (bakushu), and o-re-n-ji for orange (daidaiiro). Why the hell these words and many more like them have been erased from standard Japanese is a mystery!!! And the fact that many more standard words are entering conversational Japanese makes it all the more baffling e.g. ka- for car (kuruma). Raising a child in this country to speak proper English is difficult when they are surrounded by such incompetence. I suppose it's even worse when the children, who absorb language like a sponge may I add, have parents and teachers alike communicating this rubbish to them on a daily basis.

In short, if you were to pick the most common items a child will interact with/use/need on a daily basis, a high percentage of them are katakana based words. Brainwashing starts before they get to school. It starts at birth when the parents ask for the be-bi ka-, instead of the ubasha!!!!

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Change should start first with the environment and after that with the education system. They should stop using all those Katakana English on television and introduce more English programs especially for kids... There should also be some encouragement from parents to help their kids learn English while they're still young...Adults are a little difficult to teach so they need to develop new approach for them...English schools, some are really helpful but sad to say that most are just after the cash!...

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Step 1: Eradicate KATAKANA!! English words should be learned in English, not katakana...

Kids don't learn KATAKANA words as English. KATAKANA words are Japanese words derived from non-Chinese languages. They are essential to the modern Japanese language and cannot be done away with.

The problem is that students try to spell in Romaji. This is natural for Japanese, because their brains aren't developed to pick out the differences in sounds, such as "work" and "walk."

The only way to get pass this is to teach pronunciation as early as possible.

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Well...from my JHS experience I find English isnt taken seriously and the delivery is often robotic and constantly focuses on grammar instead of creating communication. They usually have 3 or 4 English classes a week but only one is communicative. Kids have pretty good comprehension but cant use the language. In addition, all the rooms are also wall to wall in Japanese. Why not have rooms specifically designed for English and once inside there could be a rule that only English is allowed. Perhaps itll create a feeling of immersion. Another point is: Students dont have to do anything and can still pass school up to HS so maybe they don`t give two hoots.

In the end, who really knows? Case by case...

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Raising a child in this country to speak proper English is difficult when they are surrounded by such incompetence..... It starts at birth when the parents ask for the be-bi ka-, instead of the ubasha!!!!

You'd think it would be easier to learn Japanese here, wouldn't you? Maybe the use of kanji is incompetent as well. It's ubaguruma, not ubasha.

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.___.; I think it's a marketing problem.

English learning is seen as a pastime by most people, as shown by the advertising campaigns' focus. In order to attract more students, English schools have "dumbed down" the English language to make it easy and pleasant (tanoshii). I don't think katakana is to blame. Katakana was here way before Engrish appeared, it is simply a phonetic syllabary. English schools took katakana and made the Japanese believe it is a tool which can reproduce "all sounds for every language in the world" (a professor of Japanese language told me that in Saitama University, where I learned basic level Japanese years ago). They HONESTLY believe it. It's not Katakana's fault - it is a strange mix of nationalism (a byproduct of Nihonjinron, if you like) and insecurity. The nationalism element in it makes it nearly impossible to convince a Japanese that katakana is NOT correct to reproduce every phonetic sound. So the problem is two-fold: Katakana is being misused and must be removed from English learning; and Japanese must face the fact that foreign languages ARE difficult and need qualified teaching to be learned. It's no secret that English teacher positions to teach in Japan only require being a native speaker (and sometimes not even that) REGARDLESS OF UNIVERSITY LEVEL QUALIFICATION to teach English! That is plain absurd. These pseudo-teachers will do as the company tells them, which no doubt is, dumb it down to katakana, make it fun and pass the students because they pay - that is the real root of the problem. English education in Japan is not serious. It's a game.

Most of the Japanese people I've met that have ever brought up the topic of English to me (they marvel at my English level because I am not a native speaker of the English language) tell me things like, Japanese language is difficult and unique, with the corollary going that Japanese cannot learn English because they are built to speak their unique language and that makes it genetically difficult for the Japanese to learn English (I KID YOU NOT!). I've also heard the one that goes, Western way of thinking turns phrases backwards and weird (this work for other languages too, not only English, mind you). There's this whole lot of apologetic myths... it's incredible. I know a handful Japanese professionals that speak excellent English (they all without exception studied abroad though). However the whole marketing approach the English schools in Japan take to attract and keep students destroys the objective for the sake of the means.

Japanese examinations focus on passing people without a minimum reasoning (apparently), focusing on memorizing formulas and repeating "recipes" without question. I hear that because of that, dialog and essay are not a substantial part of tests because students would fail (would they?). That gives the other side of the coin of Engrish teachers: the native Japanese teacher of English language that cannot speak it fluently.

To summarize, several points must be addressed. First, remove katakana from English learning; English vowels have far more than just five sounds. Second, demand a degree or certification to teach English language from foreigners who wish to teach English in Japan. Third (being a little risky) give the Ministry of Education a share of the English schools in order to not only supervise them but to enforce a proper teaching standard. Fourth, remove from the public mind that nonsense about Japanese language being uniquely difficult and genetically special thus hindering the Japanese from learning foreign languages - that is the most pervasive and absurd myth I have heard from mouth of Japanese here in Japan.

They could start a campaign for that, with a mascot and everything. Maybe an idol or two, to make it more digestible for the public.

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nothing wrong with the way english is taught. the problem is that most people are too cowardly to use the english they've learned. by the time they get up enough courage to put what they've learned into practice, they've already forgotten most of it. one has to strike while the iron is hot. not heat it up; wait for it to cool off completely; then weakly strike it once in a while and expect to make something out of it. i studied french while i was in JHS & HS then, i went out and tried to talk the ears off every francophone i could corner/trap/ambush. it didn't matter to me that i was annoying them or delaying them from something more important. i wanted to hone and enhance my skills and i wasn't about to let something "the personal comfort of others" get in my way. it's time for english learners to kiai da!

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Nothing is wrong, we just don't use it! We study, but don't use.

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Sometimes it's possible to go too much the other way and acquire an "English is everything" mindset.

Specifically, I remember traveling in Vietnam where I stayed in a guest house run by a man who was trying to settle up a school for street urchins to learn English. His heart was in the right place but I couldn't get it through his head, these kids needed a set of skills. English would only enable them to hawk postcards to tourists or create more pitiful stories to tug at the heartstrings of visitors who would dig deeper into their pockets.

If you have a trade or vocation, English will enable you to utilize it in front of an international audience. That can increase your marketability. But English in itself doesn't offer much to a non-native speaker in the absence of other skills.

To improve the quality of teaching, one really needs to ask, "What are your objectives in learning a second language?"

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Moderator: It is simply a topic which we are asking readers to comment on. And never mind the "friggin." Such expressions have no place in a discussion among mature adults.

the place for such language is in Metropolis magazine, what we have here here is adult journalism/discussion for grown ups

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English is taught very well in many cases in Japan. It's just that there is no reason or incentive to use it, so they don't. Studying for entrance tests, company TOEIC for a pay rise, hobby equivalent of doing a crossword, travel (most likely to Hawaii or Guam) all valid reasons to study but not going to have any lasting impact on language ability. There is too much emphasis on the responsibility of the teacher in Japan, students expect to sit back and learn by osmosis, too passive.

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"What's wrong with the way English is taught in Japan?"

It must be the way in which is being learned as well.

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i studied french while i was in JHS and HS then, i went out and tried to talk the ears off every francophone i could corner/trap/ambush. it didn't matter to me that i was annoying them or delaying them from something more important. i wanted to hone and enhance my skills and i wasn't about to let something "the personal comfort of others" get in my way. it's time for english learners to kiai da!

There's an American teenage boy in Shanghai who's become somewhat of a celebrity owing to his fluent Chinese, learned in a SF school immersion program (for which waiting lists are a mile long). In addition, his father sought out opportunities for him to practice what he'd learned:

“We would go to tourist sites like Fisherman’s Wharf or Golden Gate Bridge and have a race to look for visiting Chinese delegations,” [the father] said, referring to group tours from China. “When we found them, I would walk up to them and say, ‘Hey, I found this kid on the street. He only speaks Chinese. Can you talk to him? Find out what he likes to eat? Can you take him back to China?’"

The reaction was usually the same: “What? How? Wow!” Then everybody would have a good laugh as the visitors marveled at the little redheaded American boy speaking their mother tongue.

The father is also teaching him deception is OK in pursuit of some higher objective. But in reading this I couldn't help but think of the number of kids I'd met in poor countries who were trying to get ahead in just this way.

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Having been impressed by the proficiency of students who've gone through immersion programs, I know it can't be completely credited to the teaching. Supportive parents who endure the hassles of getting their kids in such programs are also key to foreign language acquisition. And you don't have to be manipulative about it, like the above example.

By contrast, if the parents don't think it's important, the child won't likely either.

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One point that should be mentioned is the lack of review. The teacher presents a grammatical form, gives some examples, then moves on to the next structure, or vocabulary or whatever.

In my experience the teacher's words seem to float between the ears of the students without sticking to anything.

I've reviewed and reviewed and reviewed and lo and behold, after about 20 times, many students start to understand the vocabulary or sentence structure I'm trying to teach. This method, I've been told by my colleagues, takes too much time and means the students can't learn ALL the grammatical structures in the book. i.e. be exposed to but not learn.

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Azrael,

Third (being a little risky) give the Ministry of Education a share of the English schools in order to not only supervise them but to enforce a proper teaching standard.

Why do you think English education is so bad in the first place?

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If you look at english as a product, with the students being the customers, and the teacher being the salesman, you will see the problem. The students only know that they have some vague idea of what they want to use the product for, and the teachers only have a vague grasp of the features and benefits of the product. Put them together, and you have a teacher unsure what they are teaching, the students are unsure what they are learning, and nobody really has clear idea of how they will know when they are done, becasue nobody knows what they are trying to accomplish.

This explains the tendency to teach for specific things like tests, becasue at least that gives both teacher and student a common identifiable goal to strive towards. Nothing wrong with that.

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Japanese teachers of english do not care whether thier students become able to use Engslih or not. They themselves only studied English so that they could get a job teaching it. Borscht is correct about reviewing. Anything that takes time or effort is overlooked. Noone cares that a language is a living thing capable of expressing so much more than the text books show. It takes personal dedication to learn a language to any kind of fluency. We can't only blame the teachers, but it should be thier job to be fluent, and to tell the truth of how they became fluent. most kids would probably give up right then unfortunately. Because unlike other subjects, you will never understand it beyond choosing the correct multiple choice answerin a test unless you are committed to putting in the time neccessary. The JHS curriculum has actually lowered the amount of required vocabulary, thinking that its just too hard for the students. No, they are just too lazy, as are the teachers, and there is not enough time dedicated to it. Please don't make it compulsory anymore, you can't force someone to learn a language. It requires interest and effort. Have it as an optional subject after a preliminary compulsory period, so then you will have just the kids who want to learn it. I can speak pretty good Japanese, but I'm still far from fluent. I know that just going to classes or studying form a text book will never make any difference. Its what I do in my spare time, reviewing, searching for and inputing new material,and finally using what I have learned, to make itreal not just an abstract concept. Any successful language learner has been self motivated and took the task seriously. NOt to mention they have the guts to take the risk of making a mistake, and the chance of meeting new and different people.

So I want to make that one point clear. You can't learn a language from a book or classes, or teachers. Those are only tools to aid in YOUR learning. Its a long road to fluency in a second language, and it can't be just a subject in school, a hobby, or a line on a resume if you are going to take it seriously. Make contact with media in the target language and see how much great stuff there is for you. MAke a personal connection with it and get some passion. Language learning is not done in a classroom, it takes place in the individual. You will never meet a single person who can attribute thier second language proficiency to thier teacher/classes/ or text books. It is always best attributed to the level of effort and interest they had in thier learning. The BOE, theteachers, and the studenst alike, all only show a token interest and effort. It's not enough. Show enough interest, and the katakansa problems etc etc will disappear, you only have to care about the language, to know that correct pronunciation is important.

So Japanese don't really care about English. Some do, most couldn't give a Rats. The BOE should just lay off and let it die. Admit defeat in the public sector, and let those who can speak English well, and who enjoy it, demonstrate the benefits and show how they really did it. English education here is like whipping a dead horse. We need to show students how to learn for themselves. Actually, that is a problem within the rote learning style of Japanese education. No thinking out side of the box, repeat after me. Does anyone have the feeling that perhaps the problem is not ionly in English education, but the education system in general?

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Back to the katakana English: How do you spell, umbrella? In katakana the first symbol is, あ=A. There is the main problem right from the start. The differences between English and Japanese make it a very confusing exercise to justify sound with characters. Japanese developed from a written language of symbols, whereas, English developed from a spoken language and the symbols (letters) came later. These are two completely different forms of language, so which genius decided you could use one to teach the other. It is possible to learn Japanese with English letters (romaji), but it is impossible to learn English through katakana. It's just too different.

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It is possible to learn Japanese with English letters (romaji), but it is impossible to learn English through katakana. It's just too different.

Then why do so many gaijins butcher the pronouciation of many Japanese words? As bad as Engrish sounds to us, it's equally if not worse for "gaikokujin nihonngo".

Just as katakana/hiragana cannot accurately convey the pronounciation of English words, the same goes for alphabet characters in regards to Japanese words as well.

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Japanese developed from a written language of symbols, whereas, English developed from a spoken language

All languages develop from a spoken language. Or do you imagine prehistoric Japanese went around scribbling kanji and kana in the dust until someone came along and taught them how to use their vocal chords? What a revelation that must have been! :-)

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Before coming up with such a question as this for discussion, the staff of JT should provide some reasoning for their bias in assuming something is "wrong" with English teaching methodology. Also, the question should be more specific, such as "at the high school level".

How about these:

Please express your views on how effectively English is taught at public high schools in Japan.

Or

What limits more effective language acquisition by public high school students in Japan?

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All languages develop from a spoken language. Or do you imagine prehistoric Japanese went around scribbling kanji and kana in the dust until someone came along and taught them how to use their vocal chords? What a revelation that must have been! :-)

The Japanese spoken language developed from Chinese written language. There are still many similarities in pronunciation. I guess you have never seen a Chinese person and a Japanese person communicating by kanji.

The simplified English alphabet developed from the conglomeration of Greek and Latin and was written to support the sounds of modern English. NOt to be confused with uninformaed spoutings of some poster's. That is not modern English.

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Japanese developed from a written language of symbols, whereas, English developed from a spoken language

Which symbols are those then? No written Japanese in known to exist before the Chinese introduced kanji around the 4thC AD. So I think you're barking up the wrong tree there.

re: MIRUKU. I've too often wondered why Japanese words are so often replaced by bastardised versions of foreign words.

re: pronunciation: Even Britons, whose foreign language ability is famously poor, are taught to at least make an effort to pronounce French/German etc correctly. And French accent marks/Germans letters etc are used from day one. It seems in Japanese schools, correct pronunciation is completely unimportant and not even attempted. Therefore children can't improve by listening to 'real' English being spoken, since they are in fact learning a different language (Engurishu.)

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nigelboy there is nothing wrong with having some saki at carryoki. Nothing is wrong with the way English is taught. All my students passed the subject in JHS and HS. It's mandatory they pass.

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And by the way I've seen some 'highly qualified' teachers that couldn't teach a dog to eat. And some non qualified ones that through years of experience did quite well at teaching. But it's usually these 'highly qualified' ones that set the policies on how it should be done.

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Taiko666,

Very true. I think that's the truest thing I've read on this thread so far. Japanese don't study English here, by and large. They study "Een-gu-lishuu," which bears all the grammatical hallmarks of the English written language, but not the pronunciation. Which makes communication all that more difficult, especially on the student's end.

It's often said that Japanese is a phonetically impoverished language. That's neither good nor bad in and of itself, but English education might become more effective if more educators accepted this and then worked to address it, rather than surrendering to it and assuming it's pointless trying to mimic proper English sounds. It's this defeatist attitude that gives rise to Katakana English. To address this, it would realy help if far more Japanese English teachers were genuinely fluent in the language. Japanese English teachers are for all intents and purposes English grammar teachers who can speak the language only incidentally.

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Dillusioned,

I mean no disrespect, but I have to disagree with most of your points in this discussion.

"The Japanese spoken language developed from Chinese written language. There are still many similarities in pronunciation. I guess you have never seen a Chinese person and a Japanese person communicating by kanji."

Well.. that's like saying that spoken Japanese developed from English.

Many natives are unaware, but Japanese comes Korean which comes from Turkish. They are all part of the same language family.

Chinese is foriegn to Japanese. However, do to cultural relationships, written chinese along with their idioms 熟語 flooded into Japanese. Just in the same way that KATAKANA words from non-Chinese languages have been adopted into Japanese. Japanese is like a melting pot of languages. There are original Japanese words and thousands and thousands of words derived from other languages.

Now to tie this into the discussion, as a poster noted above, for us to speak Japanese from romaji is the same for us when Japanese speak English from Katakana. In learning a language, we have to step outside our box of comfort and into an alien world. This is one of the many challenges to Japanese students of English, is that their comfort box is not fully removed from beneath their feet.

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The Japanese spoken language developed from Chinese written language.

So before they found China, the Japanese had no way of communicating with each other at all? Do you realise how silly that sounds? Of course there was a spoken Japanese language before the Chinese writing system was introduced. It was the spoken language that formed the written language, that's why the Japanese writing system has kana (developed from manyogana) to accommodate the pronunciation and grammatical inflections in the Japanese language that cannot be covered by the ideograms of the Chinese language.

The simplified English alphabet developed from the conglomeration of Greek and Latin and was written to support the sounds of modern English.

I think if I had so little understanding of language I would crawl into a corner and be quiet. The 26 letters of the modern English alphabet are notoriously inadequate for representing all the sounds we actually use. Modern English developed after the alphabet was in place, which is why our spelling rules are so diabolical; identical sounds are written in different ways, and the same letter or group of letters can be pronounced differently depending on the word it is used in. Our writing system is a hodgepodge of rules, customs and mistakes dating back to before the 14th century when the language underwent the Great Vowel Shift, and mostly solidified in the 18th century warts and all.

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Thanks for that, Moonbeams. I'm always amazed to hear Japanese say that Japanese comes from Chinese. As you point out, the languages are related only in vocabulary and writing systems. They're different syntactically, in entirely different families -- Altaic for Japanese and Sino-Tibetan for Chinese.

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Japanese is an indirect language, and meanings are understood or implied. English is a direct language, where meanings are routinely spelled out. Because of this, I think it is hard for Japanese understand the meaning they are trying to/need to express within the context of the English language, because culturally, meanings convey different feelings. Language cannot be divorced from cultural context.

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Japanese is an indirect language, and meanings are understood or implied. English is a direct language, where meanings are routinely spelled out.

The same thing is true for Chinese, but it doesn't impede learning. "Long time, no see" might have been translated directly from Chinese. Yet native Mandarin speakers are able to master the English equivalent, "I haven't seen you for a long time," without undue difficulty.

As you point out, the languages are related only in vocabulary and writing systems.

That's quite a lot, it enables mutual comprehension of signs, for example. Obviously it wouldn't allow for much conversation (but I've never been sure the Chinese and Japanese have much to say to each other anyway).

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meh, I learned a mediocre level of German in a month. I haven't had a need to learn Korean but after Japanese I know I could.

The English taught in Japan has zero purpose, only to replace Japanese while as the same time being completely useless as English. Congradulations to all, mission accomplished.

I declare that Japan no longer learn English, but Spanish. Let Spanish speakers deal with this. Spain-go would be an ideal replacement, because of a unified grammer, same vowels as Japanese, and cool music to fill up all their TV channels. I've noted this trend in anime over the years and Japan might as well go for it.

I am boringly bored of explaining boring and bored.

Now, if Japanese truly wish to learn English, or any other language, they would have to WANT to LEARN it ---not be taught it. With a Spanish background it would be a lot easier.

Function does not exist without purpose.

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(note: spain-go, not same vowels but similar sounds compared to Eigo)

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Japanese is an indirect language, and meanings are understood or implied. English is a direct language, where meanings are routinely spelled out.

A gross exaggeration and oversimplification.

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Cleo, do you think words like denwa existed in Japanese before kanji was introduced?

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do you think words like denwa existed in Japanese before kanji was introduced?

No, but then neither did words like beddo or toire. So before the Chinese brought kanji, and some kind soul developed kana out of them, the Japanese were wondering around unable to sleep, living in hideously insanitary conditions, and unable to phone anyone to complain about it.

Moderator: Back on topic please.

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It should be obvious to anyone that a major part of (spoken) Japanese did come from Chinese.

Moderator: Readers, the subject is how English is taught in Japan, not whether Japanese came from Chinese.

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no hard data as to what is actually happening in classrooms and results of current curriculum, only Lots of opinions as to what is happening with Japanese English education and classrooms. opinion and ideology as opposed to fact wins out -- students lose.

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i would love to contribute on this topic but there are so many things i could say and i don't have time to write an essay

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yea..me too. so let me make it simple. Any Language has to be taught by trained and qualified teachers from some Teacher's College or equivalent, not just because the teacher speaks the language.

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As others have pointed out, if someone want to learn a language, then they will. For those Japanese that want to learn english, the biggest impediment is the belief that katakan equals romaji. With perhaps the exception of mainstream america, most countries realize that other languages require different pronunciation and therefore make an effort to pronounce foreign names in the news for example correctly. The Japanese arrogantly refuse to deal with any other pronunciation other than theirs.

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"English" is a composite language, bits and pieces of many others - words, phrases, spelling and grammar - thrown together over the centuries with little respect for any linquistic "rules". This makes it very powerful and extensible - capable of meeting any need - but also makes it incredibly difficult to learn.

Indeed one NEVER truely learns "english" because there are too many dialects, none more "correct" than any other. Americans born in New York or Florida often find great difficulty understanding people living just a few hundred miles away in central Kentucky, for example - and we're talking about people living in the same half of the same country.

Given this truth, Japanese should not be so quick to believe they are receiving inferior english-language education. "Book English" is not how anyone, anywhere, ACTUALLY speaks "english". Neither "British English" or "Australian English" or "central-southwestern-rural USA english" constitute "correct english" for pronunciation or vocabulary purposes.

If you travel to an english-speaking country, so long as we can understand you (more or less) we will not think badly of you. In a short time you will pick-up how english is spoken in that area and fit in nicely.

People who study Japanese in American schools often learn a very strict, formal, 'academic' version of the language that undoubtably pains the ear of the average Japanese citizen. This version of Japanese does make them comprehensible however, which is good enough for many purposes.

Learning "book english" in school cannot yeild perfection because 'perfection' does not exist in this case. However, it will give you a usable foundation to build upon, just as the abovementioned 'formal' Japanese is a foundation upon which to learn 'conversational' Japanese.

If you anticipate traveling to, or doing business with, some particular english-speaking nation, I would suggest taking the initiative yourself by acquiring radio and television news programming from that area so you can learn how english is spoken THERE - the cadence, the accent, the slang and the common phrases. For the USA, "midwestern english" seems comprehensible to all (most American TV news people use, sometimes actually have to study, "midwestern english").

Oh ... and in a crisis ... WRITE what you may be incapable of saying. Written english is much more 'portable' than the spoken language.

Best of luck.

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Any Language has to be taught by trained and qualified teachers from some Teacher's College or equivalent, not just because the teacher speaks the language.

Doesn`t mean they are good teachers or actually care.

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A gross exaggeration and oversimplification.

This is a standard criticism of Asian languages, they are indirect and therefore meanings can be difficult to catch. This only happened to me once. It occurred when my suitcase got separated in transit. I went on to my next destination only to receive a phone call in which the person said, "arrived." Oh great, that's my suitcase I thought. In fact what he meant was "you've arrived," a standard opening line.

The misunderstanding, which was cleared up immediately, resulted from my desperation to get my suitcase not problems with the language itself being unable to convey that.

If you go the Philippines, where English is the language of education, people nonetheless utilize it in the same "indirect" way. American bluntness, which reflects a "cut to the chase" mindset is quite alien and offensive to them.

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Anyone who has sat through an average Japanese junior high English class already knows the answer to this question. Anyone who has had any dealings with education boards here knows that nothing is gonna change anytime soon. IMO.

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What's wrong with the way English is taught in Japan?

I think that the bigger problem is not the way English is taught but who is teaching English in Japan. Japanese english teachers have low level English abilities because if they had better English abilities they could get a better paying job with an international company. As for foriegn English teachers due to an apparent complete lack of solid hiring policies, as well as minimal pay attracts bottom of the barrel foriegn teachers. With the level of English teachers available it is inevitable that things like corriculum and program development will suffer in Japan.

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Frankly, the only language I'm aware of that can be represented by katakana perfectly is Hawaiian. You can write Japanese in romaji phonetically. Look at the Hepburn system - providing you understand how each letter is pronounced in Japanese, then you can read any word.

With katakana English, the problem is that you see so many mistakes around you. For example, the word bomb is written as ボンブ, so people assume that you pronounce the second 'b'. And then other words are written according to American and British pronunications. And what really irritates me are the expressions 'Grand Open' and 'Best 10'. People then assume that these are correct English expressions. The list goes on.

I find that the Japanese people who speak very good English are those who enjoy learning it and are outgoing people who enjoy speaking with other people. And they're not necessarily people who have spent much time abroad.

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What's wrong with the way English is taught in Japan?

The people who teach it.

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Math.

To paraphrase Cleo et al, the biggest problem is that English is taught in the same way as math.

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I don't think the way English is taught in other countries is so much superior to the Japanese system. It's just that to the average kid in Japan, English has no relevance to their lives outside of school what-so-ever.

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Most Japanese students learning "ENGLISH" in the UK and New Zealand or countries that stay closer to English Englis, tend to learn the language a lot faster, American English is like American Football and most of their spot difficult to understand!! for example once you have got somthing how can you get more than you have already got like gotten,Grammer is important to a certain point but Have you ever seen a three or four year old with a pen, paper and dictionary asking mummy what gotten means!! The other thing that gets to students is pronunciation so if all you teachers just said to you beloved students that their pronunciation lesson for the next two years is "just take A E I O U of the end of all the english words you learn, "cup, cupu, cup" then get on with teaching the language.

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The people who teach it.

no. off the mark on that one.

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no. off the mark on that one

You're right. I should clarify: The foreigners who "teach" it.

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since you specialise in uninformed blanket statments I'll give it a go "you obviously don't know what you are talking about"

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Much as I agree that the majority of foreigners who "teach" English are a sorry lot, they can't be all to blame. Katakana pronunciation all the way...

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linro -

As a Brit I'd prefer it if everyone spoke proper British English like wot she is spoke at home, but in the real world that's never going to happen. We have to learn to get on with our friends who nearly share our language. They aren't wrong, just different. (Except when it comes to spelling things like centre and theatre, of course :-))

As for the usage of got/gotten, my dictionary says -

As past participles of get, the words got and gotten both date back to Middle English. In North American English, got and gotten are not identical in use. Gotten usually implies the process of obtaining something (: he has gotten two tickets for the show, while got implies the state of possession or ownership ( | he hasn’t got any money).

-which is one instance of American English being more complex than British English, and rather surprised me since I'm quite happy using gotten and assumed it was British English all along. It's my impression that on the whole things tend to be less complex in American English; for example, the use of the simple past where BE would demand the present perfect, or the use of the verb to have alone to indicate possession - He doesn't have any money instead of He hasn't got any money. Or am I oversimplifying things? Japanese English teachers definitely prefer things simple; they teach He has and not He's got, and have a lot of trouble with the present perfect after first teaching the use of the simple past where it isn't really appropriate, because it's 'easier'. Unteaching badly-taught grammar is a lot more hard work than teaching the correct grammar in the first place..

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Cleo - As an American I'd prefer if everyone spoke proper American "English" heh heh, but in the real world that's never going to happen either.

As Calvin, of Calvin & Hobbes said, "I'm not learning any foreign languages. If English is good enough for me, by golly it's good enough for the rest of the world!" Ha ha ha!

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As past participles of get, the words got and gotten both date back to Middle English. In North American English, got and gotten are not identical in use. Gotten usually implies the process of obtaining something (: he has gotten two tickets for the show, while got implies the state of possession or ownership ( | he hasn’t got any money).

There's the one which used to drive my grandmother nuts, hearing someone say, "Then he goes, 'I haven't got any money.'" "Goes" is substituted for "says." "Going" indicates physical movement of a person or object but in this usage has been reduced to merely flapping the jaws.

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In my view, there are some basic problems listed bellows:

They are only interested to learn English from the native speakers, which are as like as "Driving a big car through a narrow road". I have no doubt that the native speakers are superior to the others, but they are teaching communicating/conversation English without emphasizing the basic level. That’s why, Japanese can speak English to a small extent like a shuttle train that has a limit.

Japanese should learn more Basic English in junior and high school levels, rather than some limited words/sentences that are now usual. If their foundation is strong, then they can speak as much as they need with full confidence.

Regarding conversation, Japanese people lack confidence regarding speaking and think more whether it is 100% correct or not. In my opinion, they should start speaking first forgetting the correctness, and then they could understand their own problems and can make corrections.

Japanese should learn English from other non-native speakers as they know some short-cut techniques that are really helpful for other non-native speakers like Japanese.

Thanks.

Dr. Das University of Fukui, Japan

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Betzee, I feel your pain, but that use is right there in the dictionary:

go (informal) used to emphasize the speaker's annoyance at a specified action or event : then he goes and spoils it all.

Maybe your grandmother just doesn't like informal speech. Japanese teachers of English tend not to either, except for the word kid which they seem to think is an acceptable and 'cool' substitute for child in any and every situation. It really gets my goat when someone I don't know from Adam goes, 'Do you have any kids?'

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Japanese people lack confidence regarding speaking and think more whether it is 100% correct or not.

One major reason why this is so is the way the tests are organised. Mistakes are penalised, so unless you're 100% sure it's better to say/write nothing. I remember seeing a free-composition exercise in a test where the aim was to write an answer to a question. Can't remember the exact question, but it was on the lines of, 'Are you going on vacation this summer?' Those who wrote, 'Yes' or 'Yes I am' got full marks; those who wrote 'Yes, I'm going to Ejypt to see the piramids' lost marks for the spelling mistakes. And the same attitude permeates the classrooms.

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The Common Framework on Languages from Europe splits up the levels into 6 areas. Basic: A1/A2, Independent: B1/B2, and Proficient: C1/C2. Each level has specific demands and results. If students and teachers knew what results were expected then there would be also a sense of how to manage that expectation with further training of capable teachers AT EACH LEVEL. Also report cards to the Ministry would be more obvious. There is no reason why Japan should not adopt this.

What is the expectation of Japanese/Foreign teachers in Japan in teaching English? Is finding luggage the only point? Because it's not culture, not literature, and not history.

Teachers engage and can make all the difference.

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go (informal) used to emphasize the speaker's annoyance at a specified action or event : then he goes and spoils it all.

Cleo,

That's a different "go" implying everything was going swell until he engaged in some physical action to express displeasure (stomping feet, rolling eyes, etc) which had the effect of ruining it (the mood whatever).

It's common to hear Americans say something along the lines of, "We were talking but hadn't decided anything and then he goes 'I have to go now.'" The first meaning "says" and the second "leave."

Upon occasion I have suffered the humiliation of being made fun of by my compatriots for my more grammatically correct English. But if you want to write for a living, and that's what I do, you've gotta be able to operate at a more formal level than conversational English requires.

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Betzee -

"We were talking but hadn't decided anything and then he goes 'I have to go now.'" The first meaning "says" and the second "leave."

I see what you're saying, but my interpretation of that sentence would be that the goes indicates the speaker's annoyance at his running out before a decision has been made, and the 'and says' is to be understood. The omission makes it possible to express disapproval not only of his words, but of the fact that he proceeded to stand up, put on his hat, made to leave, etc.

A famous example of this usage that comes to mind is Ronald Reagan's 'There you go again'.

you've gotta be able to operate at a more formal level than conversational English requires.

Or rather, you've gotta be able to recognise different levels of formality and informality, and use the language accordingly. Informal language is inappropriate in a formal setting, and vice versa.

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Who hell teaches someone to read and write before the person can speak? How does the language learner understand the instructions when he/she can't understand the instructor (sic)? English in Japan is taught the way French is taught in England. Guess what? The English suck at French.

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I find it ironic that a lot of people criticizing how the Japanese learn English probably can't speak Japanese too well either.

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I find it ironic that a lot of people criticizing how the Japanese learn English probably can't speak Japanese too well either.

QFT.

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I find it ironic that a lot of people criticizing how the Japanese learn English probably can't speak Japanese too well either

QFT.

How do you gather from reading what people write in English, how good their Japanese is?

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How do you gather from reading what people write in English, how good their Japanese is?

Anecdotal inference; Those who complain about how poor Japanese are at speaking English are most often (foriegn) English teachers. (Foriegn) English teachers are some of the worst Japanese speakers in Japan (either because of inability to learn, lack of necessity to learn, or just pure laziness); ergo, the same can inferred about the posters here.

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Those who complain about how poor Japanese are at speaking English...

But no one is complaining about how poor Japanese are at speaking English (as in, I don't understand them when they speak Japanese so they should speak better English for my sake). People are complaining about how poorly English is taught. Not the same thing at all.

What anecdotal inference can be made about posters who make inferences about other people on the basis of their own misreading of a thread - and spell foreign wrong twice in the same post?

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English are English not Japlish, teach it as such and learning will improve, you idiots.

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But no one is complaining about how poor Japanese are at speaking English (as in, I don't understand them when they speak Japanese so they should speak better English for my sake). People are complaining about how poorly English is taught. Not the same thing at all.

I perceive "some"(I didn't say everyone) to be complaining about about how poor Japanese are at speaking English, you preceive it another way. At any rate I still stand by my inference and I will take it a step futher by saying that some of the people here complaining about how poorly English is taught, are the one's who are doing a less then tip-top job teaching English (perhaps my own poor English included, if there are Japanese who read JT to learn).

Their own misreading

The same could be said of you.

spell foreign wrong twice in the same post?

They could rightly infere that I am dyslexic.

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I don't think the problem is necessarily the way English is taught but rather its the Japanese attitude towards learning foreign language.

First you must study, you can't learn grammar and vocabulary by osmosis. Second you must speak the language in order to learn it. Sitting in a classroom not talking about what your plans are next week doesn't help much. Third accept that you sound weird when speaking another language. karroto sounds normal but carrot sounds strange and although you may be quiet in Japanese you can try and reinvent your persona to be an outgoing English speaker. Why else would you learn a language other than communicate with others.

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Why else would you learn a language other than communicate with others.

Because you need to pass the tests to get into senior high/university.

some of the people here complaining about how poorly English is taught, are the one's who are doing a less then tip-top job teaching English

That might be true IF all the posters are English teachers (which they're not). In any case it says nothing about their Japanese language ability.

if there are Japanese who read JT to learn

Oh dear, I hope not.

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Cleo,

I used to date a mathematician, way back when, who always rolled his eyes in disgust when he would hear someone say, "Then he went off on a tangent..." For those with an academic pedigree in math, or maths in British English, this is a vernacular corruption of a specific geometric function. (I'm not sure that's the technical way to express it but you get my drift.)

Nonetheless, while specific phrases and words may be offensive to some, imagine how boring it would be if language didn't evolve. For me, one of the joys of learning a second language has been to speak the vernacular, which usually doesn't appear in textbooks. Based on the voluminous posts on this thread, it appears the Japanese take a very tedious approach and it's hardly surprising that the results are so poor.

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used to date a mathematician, way back when, who always rolled his eyes in disgust when he would hear someone say, "Then he went off on a tangent..." For those with an academic pedigree in math, or maths in British English, this is a vernacular corruption of a specific geometric function

It's not a corruption. A tangent line touches a circle at one point. It's a metaphor for a digressive line of conversation -- and a very good metaphor, at that. Sounds like he didn't have much of a background in maths or English if he bristled at a standard and defensible usage.

Maybe he should be teaching English in Japan.

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It's a metaphor for a digressive line of conversation -- and a very good metaphor, at that.

If it were used that way, the objection would have to be muted. But often the person then abruptly initiates a whole new line of discussion, more like a haiku poem! I'll never hear the phrase again and not listen to where it's leading, usually it some totally unforeseen and completely unrelated direction.

Sometimes when people have a great deal of education, they really can't deal with mere mortals who are mixing metaphors and misusing sacred concepts. When "impact" became a verb, someone else I know took similar offense. If you live that way, however, it seems like such a joyless existence to me. And that's how I perceive the study of English in Japan.

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They just adopt the methods of the USA and the UK. Everyone knows that Americans and British people are multi-lingual and can master a foreign language without much effort. I've never met an American or Brit who couldn't speak at least 3-4 languages. Unlike those lazy Europeans who don't even try to learn a foreign language.

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English is where it is because people don't care. And why should they, where's the bottom line and which side of the language divide gets to draw it?

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Bobo ... Gangsta isn't a language bro.

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I have been told that English is a difficult language to learn. There is also the problem of British English, American English and Australian English plus are the dialects of each rendering. I am from Appalachia and when we moved north I had a difficult time making myself understood because of the dialect.

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There is nothing wrong with the way Japan teaches English. It helps students get into top universities. Most Japanese high school students have a higher command of English grammar and writing than their American counterparts, according to the OECD. Japan is doing everything right.

The problem is with foreigners coming to Japan and not learning Japanese. This is a nation of GODS, and its language and way of thinking is to be revered. Don't come here without language skills, son, or else you will be wishing you stayed home.

We Japanese are proud of our language, which is the oldest and first language in the world. It is also the most difficult and can only be properly be spoken by Japanese. It is by us, for us and part of us. Foreigners speaking Japanese are a fish on a bicycle - you communicate with us in English, your Japanese make little to no sense.

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OhioDonna:

I have been told that English is a difficult language to learn.

English is easy. I learned it in a few months in junior high school. Why? Because Japanese teachers are the best.

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English may not be the most difficult but it words like rough, slough, though, enough that make it difficult for some to learn. On the other hand there are people who have a uncanny abiltiy to learn languages.

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it (is) words like rough, slough, though, enough that make it difficult for some to learn.

Nah, that's just spelling. It's words like a, the, have, be, verb tenses, question tags, intonation, register and idiom that are difficult.

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Because you need to pass the tests to get into senior high/university.

What a wonderful reason to learn a language

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Who says there is anything wrong? There may be something wrong with the expectations, but the fact that they are doing anything related to English is beneficial in my mind.

I would say the schools try hard and so do the students given the circumstances. Some students act up in class, but that is completely reasonable as they know they are in the wrong level, have no interest and the lessons, for them, are torture.

It is often said that they study for six years and can say nothing. Six years is 52,560 hours! There's no way that they studied that much.

It is also believed by some that it takes 1,000 hours to become competent in any skill including language arts. Do they study even 1,000 hours during their junior high and high school years? I estimate that figure at around 150 hours over six years. Feel free to correct me. Fluency comes after 3,000 to 7,000 hours of language practice depending on lesson regularity. Some also quote the figure "10,000" sentences to fluency. Students and teachers need to keep these figures in mind as a way of goal setting.

So, basically the problem is exposure to the language. They need input before output. They should not be expected to speak until they've had at least 800 hours of input. I am getting some of this from the SRS (spaced repetition system) webpage.

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They should employ the same methods that make every American fluent in the Spanish, German and French they learn in junior high and high school! Evidently they work!

Cleo, Nessie, great comments.

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I suggest that the title be changed into "What's the problem with Japanese perception of English language?"

The problems with English language education at JP public schools lie in the over-reliance on traditional pedagogy deeply rooted in Japanese classroom instruction. Many JP public schools introduce English as an academic subject, and resort to the cookie-cutter, rote-memorization of knowledge that is exactly the same strategies teachers employ in teaching most academic subjects such as Japanese literature and social and natural science. This banking-style instruction that renders students as media-sponge is problematic, because it is affecting their development of creativity and critical/analytical thinking skills in their first language. Obviously, there is a dubious assumption held among school teachers that getting good scores in English will lead to its good communication skills. How many JP public schools have English teachers(whether Japanese, non-Japanese including native speaker of English) who have enough communicative competency to make the class more productive in driving students' enthusiasm? We're not gonna see this critical communicative/communicational approach in most public schools, because they still believe that such teaching/style only works with students who can get a high score in tests by consuming a bunch of grammar and theoretical knowledge.

I'm also critical of Japanese misperception on English as a foreign language. Many Japanese people still believe that they can at least 'write' English, while they are poor in oral skills. If I have some JP folks who follow such notion, I'll probably urge them to write 1-2 page of essay in English and see how their perception will be reflected on their writings.

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Teaching Katakana as the way to pronounce anything non Japanese. Try learning the language as its used.

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'Yes, I'm going to Ejypt to see the piramids' lost marks for the spelling mistakes.

I don't mark off for spelling mistakes. Because I teach "Oral" I imagine their written words on the paper as being spoken to me. If I can understand what they are trying to say, they get it marked "correct".

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Learning should have to be fun. Graphical display is more effective than using texts or lectures. English should be learn with Karaoke with the rock band. If the student can sing and memorise three songs a day, he or she is making the good progress.

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helloklitty -

I don't mark off for spelling mistakes. Because I teach "Oral" I imagine their written words on the paper as being spoken to me. If I can understand what they are trying to say, they get it marked "correct".

That's fine and probably helps your students be less afraid of making mistakes in class, and that of course is a very good thing. But when they sit an 'official' exam, such as a university entrance exam, all those uncorrected spellings are going to drag their marks way down.

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@ the sicilian: you are absolutely right. An additional problem is that in elementary school Katakana transliteration from Japanese is taught according to the KunRei system. KunRei, required by the Monbusho, originated before WW2 to allow telegraph transmission of phonetic Japanese (in romaji, as there was no morse code for kana or kanji in international use). It is not designed for accurate representation of foreign sounds, or even for convenient and accurate representation of Japanese pronunciation for (Non-Japanese speaking-)foreigners.

Kunrei for example uses the following transcription for さ-し-す-せ-そ sa-si-su-se-so. Nice and consistent, easy to remember and obvious for Japanese speakers, who don't have the sound represented in English by the SI in sip, and it saves Yen at the telegraph office by skipping the h. Hepburn (mod)of course indicates the difference between shi and (the in Japanese non-existent phoneme)si: sa-shi-su-se-so As a result, a student (unfortunately) called "Shitsuko" will write her name in romaji as Sitsuko, and will pronounce the english word "Sit" as Sh.. well you get the picture. Elementary school teachers don't seem interested in making any waves over this... The key point is that learning any foreign language for a Japanese(Japanese being a language with fewer phonemes than most other languages), simply means one has to learn to make sounds that don't exist in the native language. This is essentially a type of combined cognitive and neuro-motor-skills type learning, and is best/easiest acquired at an early age. Which is why it would be much better to start teaching some proper pronunciation, rather than Japlish/WaseiEigo, at an early age.

Perhaps another reader would like to address the problems of most native Japanese English teachers being essentially incompetent to reproduce native English, while agitating politically against any initiative to hire English-speaking foreigners for a decent living wage and with proper insurance, job security or pension rights for any length of time (especially over three years). Hope I did not reveal any resentments there... M

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But when they sit an 'official' exam, such as a university entrance exam, all those uncorrected spellings are going to drag their marks way down.

I'm confident that none of my students will ever "take" an entrance exam.

I give them plenty of opportunities to learn spelling through crosswords, word searches and Hang 'em High hangman.

It's because I'm teaching "Oral" that I don't correct spelling mistakes.

I suppose I could use multiple choice and avoid the issue, but multiple choice is for retards.

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Teaching Katakana as the way to pronounce anything non Japanese. Try learning the language as its used.

What about using katakana to learn the pronunciation of foreign cities? It is often easier than looking at the English word.

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Graphical display is more effective than using texts or lectures.

This sounds interesting.

I saw a "Mighty Maze" on the website English Avenue. It was similar to a word web, but instead of endless brainstorming, it was more of a word choice drill resulting in a sentence.

Do you have other examples?

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English as taught in Japan isn't English. Its a different hybrid language. The use of Katakana gurantees students will not be able to correctly pronounce the actual words. This practice needs to be abolished from ALL language teaching in Japan. Its just more tragic with English because of how much time the school systems put into it, then fail to actually teach the language they want to.

The other problem is that Japan is very reliant on old methods of language teaching. Teaching by translation instead of teaching by use. A language class should be 50% or more speaking and group work to practice. Many of the students I have actually posses excellent grammar knowledge, but are completely unable to use it. Those are likely the two biggest problems with Japanese language education.

Someone earlier mentioned the US and its language programs. However I'd say that in the time US students spend learning a language, often only two years, they are miles ahead of Japanese students who have been taught English for the better part of a decade. Japan invests a lot more time, but has far less success. Europe isn't a fair comparison because they have much more exposure to other languages and probably more opportunity to practice.

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helloklitty -

none of my students will ever "take" an entrance exam.

If you're not teaching to the senior high/university entrance curriculum, then both you and your students are very lucky. Most teachers and their students don't have that luxury.

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HelloKitty:

What about using katakana to learn the pronunciation of foreign cities? It is often easier than looking at the English word.

Well, the issue is getting the correct sounds. Now before you say that there are English sounds that are not native, let me tell you about learning a different language. German.

When I learned German, there were plenty of sounds that were not native. Like the city Munich. Phonetically, you say Meun-chen, with the eu sound getting emphasis, as it is spelled with an umlau (the two dots over the u vowel). In Japanese, they will use Katakana and say Mu-hen. That is not correct. It's a bastardized way of teaching.

You want to learn English, hire a Brit. American English? Hire an American. German? Deutch (not Doi-tsu, as the Japanese pronounce it). If my dumb@$$ can learn alittle German, then Japanese could at least learn how to pronounce things correctly.

Okitokidoki

Perhaps another reader would like to address the problems of most native Japanese English teachers being essentially incompetent to reproduce native English

Like the TV commercial I see here in Okinawa. There's a young woman, obviously the teacher. She is singing to her kids in "Engrish" for the class called ABC Junior, but what does she say?

A B Shi Ju-ni-ah.......

Ruv-ry.

Ciao

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a aw! there they go ( the japanese way in teaching english). When english terms are written in katakana, the pronunciation change ( a hundred percent), like when they say ra-bu (love),wotah- ( water ) mande-(monday),they sound funny ,as if they haven't gone to primary schools ( what a pity!)

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they are not hard enough?

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.

What about using katakana to learn the pronunciation of foreign cities? It is often easier than looking at the English word. Well, the issue is getting the correct sounds.

And Japanese is OFTEN more correct than English. Often doesn't mean every time.

Like the TV commercial I see here in Okinawa. There's a young woman, obviously the teacher. She is singing to her kids in "Engrish" for the class called ABC Junior, but what does she say? A B Shi Ju-ni-ah.......

You can find "Phonics" books with the word "phonics" written in katakana. フォニックス or something. I find it amusing that they can't even say/write the word "phonics" correctly.

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Nothing is wrong with the English education in Japan. The Japanese people just do not study. The few I have met speaking excellent English have studied really hard.

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japan should start hiring real english teachers with degree and experience and not just pick a touring gaijin that barely speaks japanese.

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japan should start hiring real english teachers with degree and experience and not just pick a touring gaijin that barely speaks japanese.

Actually, there are increasing numbers of native speakers of English who are hired as English teachers at public schools or language schools in Japan. Native speakers teaching at JP public schools as ALT are well-qualified folks; they hold the BAs in 4-year colleges and universities in western countries; some of them even hold advance degrees(MA/MS) in social sciences or humanities. Even so, many JP students in public schools still have a lot of difficulty in improving their English, because ALTs are hired by JP schools as a contract employee, not as a tenured or permanent teacher. With JET program, they can teach at JP public schools no longer than 3 years. They have to renew their teaching contract annually, if they want to continue teaching in Japan. Also, they don't have enough opportunities to spend time with students for social interactions outside the classroom. The schools need to think seriously about their role that seems to be limited to teaching English to students in the classroom.

Nothing is wrong with the English education in Japan.

You mean English language education in JP public schools? Well, I wouldn't say it 'wrong,' but I would contend that JP has a very serious problem with her education policy in public school, due to cookie-cutter approach(rote-memorization) and lack of understanding in fundamental linguistic difference between Japanese and English. Many JP teachers who are teaching English at JP public schools are not only ignorant of the linguistic difference, but they are less enthusiastic about honing their sense of awareness in the discourse power generated from English language. That's why the students cannot learn English with enthusiasm; they end up cramming words and phrases picked up from(JP-Eng./Eng.-JP dictionary, a very notoriously UNPRODUCTIVE method most JP people rely on!) that are never used for communication. Typically, Japanese people start learning 'real' English at the age of late-teen or early twenties- mostly at college age. But, most of them get worn out after studying several years, because of life constraints they will have in juggling work and study simultaneously.

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What a foolish opinion -> "Eradicate KATAKANA!" Do you think that we(Japanese) say 'English-speakers must Eradicate roman-alphabet to make engilsh easier'?

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The primary problem is that non native English speakers are teaching English to kids, who do not know how English is supposed to sound. So when a bad pronunciation is made no one "hears" it and so the lesson is "learned" incorrectly.

This would be no different if America kids, gasp, were required to learn Japanese or any other language, besides English, and no one was present to ensure that the correct pronunciation was made.

I for one am just happy that they are learning English as a second language from an early age. When is the draconian US education system going to require US children to learn a second or third language? No, that would be socialism.

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JHansen, do you have statistics to support your theory that non native speakers are not teaching English properly? This sounds a little bit biased opinion to me.

The biggest problem IMO, is that English is taught and learned in Japan, but it's not experienced daily - which makes it as easy as quantum theory. It would help a lot if Japan had an open TV channel exclusively in English, as in Holland.

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I have no stats to back up my statement.. I would however bet that most teachers in Japanese schools are Japanese and thus speak english as a second language. The english teaching jobs through JET etc were an attempt to correct this but something tells me that most english classes are not taught by native english speakers.

I do agree with you, lostinNagoya, that use is a big factor, if not the biggest in learning how to correctly speak another language.

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Ok, but then you should say that ¨Japanese teachers do not know how English is supposed to sound¨, because they will teach English phonetics using Japanese, and not that non-native speakers are not teaching children correctly. For I know tens of non native Japanese speakers that speak Japanese fluently and I can say that they can teach, explain and speak Japanese much better than most Japanese (take the culture factor into account). Surely this equation works the other way too: there are some non native speakers that speak English better than some US/UK citizens.

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I realize this will most likely never be read by the person it's intended for, but this one extremely insensitive that was said by Hello kitty urged me to create an account and make a post:

"I suppose I could use multiple choice and avoid the issue, but multiple choice is for retards."

Wow, those are some very harsh words coming from someone who claims to be a teacher. "Retards" are people too, and I don't take kindly to them being referred to as such. The internet is no exception.

How is it you can call yourself a professional when you openly use hate speech? Do you refer to your students as "Japs" (or something much worse)? No, I'm sure you don't. Although from what I've seen it would not surprise me.

I'm sick of having to educate disrespectful idiots like you on something your mother should have taught you. Wise up, wash your mouth out, and think about what you're gonna say/type before you go using that word.

And for your information I'm not a bleeding heart soccer mom internet crusader, I'm just a guy who loves his sister and can't take it every time he visits a site only to be blasted with that awful word that she can't defend herself against.

Wait a second, your screen name is "Hello KLITty?" And you teach children?

I've clearly wasted my time...

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What's wrong will become all too obvious to anyone stepping foot in an English classroom in Japan: English isn't even used. Many of my university teaching friends ask me why their students can't speak English, as if 6 years would be enough. They should step into a classroom and see for themselves.

Next thing is the way it is taught: it is still taught using the grammar-translation method. Kumiko Torikai, a Rikkyo University professor, seems to think that we are now teaching too much communication. Ms. Torikai, please step into an English classroom in high school or junior high and see for yourself. The same old paragraph is slowly taken apart until you want to rip your eyes out. My junior high students studied English every school day for 3 years. They learned it all in English, step by step. They get to high school and hate it! Not every student, and not every teacher of course. But when so many of my best students come to me saying they now hate English, that says something. They teach advanced grammar to these poor kids like it was a math problem. Cleo and others used the expression that it is taught as a subject not a language. Exactly.

Another writer got it right when she said it was about input. They receive some good reading material. But then are expected to go over one paragraph, ad nauseum rather than move on to another story. They go into grammar/vocabulary that will be on the college entrance exam. Way too high for them.

That's my opinion. 1. Use English. 2. Use a graduated approach, not grammar-translation. 3. Lots of input from a variety of sources. 4. As little katakana eigo as possible.

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