Voices
in
Japan

quote of the day

We need to establish new qualifications for Japanese language teachers, ensure Japanese language classes are available in all parts of the country, and that there is cooperation between universities and companies to create and utilize educational programs for foreign students.

16 Comments

A spokesperson for the education ministry which has announced a comprehensive plan to improve Japanese language education for foreign children, following the launch of a new system for accepting foreign workers in April.

© Yomiuri Shimbun

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
Login to comment

Two people mention famed linguist Krashen, but both get his name wrong, and one of them writes a whole article about the teaching of English in Japan despite the statement being about the teaching of Japanese to foreign children living in Japan who will, presumably, be going through the Japanese school system (though he gets back on topic at the end).

Anyway, I guess what is needed is more teachers who can teach Nihongo rather than Kokugo, that is, teachers with experience teaching Japanese as a second language, particularly in areas that have, or will have, higher than average foreigner populations.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Lengthy explanation by jpn_guy - but so much off-topic!

This article is about teaching Japanese to foreign children, more or less as a second language.

One thing I agree with is, that if it's taught the way English is taught ..... I see serious problems coming up.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Some well thought input jpn_guy...

I will add 2 cents from personal experience -

I have been "studying" Japanese now (in Japan) at a "respected" Japanese language school for close to 9 months. I have an extensive background in the language ( I majored in it in college), however that was over 35 years ago, and while I remember a great deal of grammar, can read and write hiragana/katakana and have a working knowledge of all the Joyo Kanji (mostly meanings only, much like the Chinese students).

My previous study of Japanese has been of little use in understanding conversational Japanese.

It would seem that practically every school in Japan approaches teaching with the "total immersion" method, which experts all claim is the "best" way to learn.

I beg to differ...

After 9 months, my Japanese comprehension is absolutely ABYSMAL, and it is not due to a lack of effort on my part. Cold listening is USELESS! Yet every week were are subjected to listening to conversations, where not only is the vocabulary unfamiliar, but the conversation topic is typically something utterly inane.

The only thing that keeps me from flunking out completely is that I have a significant knowledge of kanji, so I use my reading scores to make up for all the 0's I get on listening comprehension. And I mean 0's. Cold conversations are followed by multiple choice questions of which I refuse to "guess" at. If I don't understand the conversation, no amount of guessing is going to improve my comprehension.

Complete waste of time...

What is somewhat surprising to me is that most of my classmates, have much better comprehension than I do, and they all started from scratch with little experience in the language. I think this proves a point that despite having a huge head start in "learned" grammar, it's of little use, other than passing tests...

(Note I did manage to pass the N5 test a couple of years ago before I came out here, mainly by guessing all the answers for the listening comprehension. The only reason I passed was I nailed the other three sections of the test. Comprehension score - less than 20% correct answers - even GUESSING I should have done better than that... )

It is incredibly frustrating to NOT be able to understand basic conversations after this long a period, and I blame total immersion and cold listening for my lack of progress.

(Note however, I can SPEAK Japanese relatively fluently, because I DO know vast amounts of grammar, vocabulary and expressions. A lot of good it will do me in a disaster scenario if I'm supposed to understand directions...)

In any case, I would welcome ANY attempt by Japanese language instructors to quit following the same tired system and look to some of the methods of this Dr. Krashen. I am now going to have to research him...

Thank you for the information!

And if anyone can recommend a good Japanese school in Tokyo for ADULTS (I am 56, and do not need the same stimuli directed at all of the 20 something's in my class... ), I'm looking for a change, although I assume my Student Visa will be totally screwed...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Byte Carp

If you can read a lot of Japanese already, but struggle with listening, you want transcripts with audio, lots of them. Go through the transcript to make sure you understand it all. Then listen while reading. Then remove the text. You can do this with multiple texts over months. There is no rush as the ability to comprehend the audio without the text takes a long time to take root. This method, as you can see, harnesses the principle of comprehensible listening, so you are never listening to what you don't understand. It works for all ages accept the under 12-13 age bracket, since of course kids of that age cannot learn to read faster than they can learn to interpret audio. However, anyone of any age (right into retirement age ) who can learn to read and interpret new vocabulary faster than they would be able learn and remember it purely by ear can benefit from the above "bootstrapping method".

The website lingq (which has a lot of extraneous features, like coins and avatars to appeal to kids - you can safely ignore these features) has reams of transcripts with accompanying audio for just the above kind of controlled "listen to what you can already read" listening immersion. It is based on principle of comprehensive input, so in that sense is a direct child of Dr. Krashen. There are texts (with parallel audio) for all levels of learner.

I've not used it for Japanese, but Japanese is one of the options. You need to pay for it though ( I won' write anymore in case this gets removed on suspicion of being an ad. I am not connected with the site).

Good luck then.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Thank you jpn_guy...

Good advice, I've looked a little bit at lingq..

Actually I am a retired programmer, so in my spare time that's exactly what I've been doing, albeit with the content provided by the school, which I run through various processes to create transcripts, add furigana (which I can remove programatically while reading), and also control the speed of the audio playback, highlight sections to repeat, etc.

I've only recently started to actually USE this method, but I am optimistic it will be invaluable.

(had an N3 practice listening comprehension test today AFTER I wrote my JT post...infuriating cold listen, followed by multiple choice questions...utter waste of an hour...)

Thank you again for the response. I will take your advice...we'll see where I am in another 9 months... :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

He wanted to build a theory of SLA based upon first language acquisition, which language researchers now realize is both inappropriate and simply wrong.

Yet we do not learn a new language unconsciously—the basis of Krashen’s personal theory.

This is too simplistic a rejection. Clearly an adult looking up a word in a dictionary is performing a conscious act. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Simple observation tells us that language usage is underpinned by unconscious processes.

If you summarize an hour long speech in your native language, do you remember the original speech word for word. Of course not! But can you summarize it? Of course you can. Do you have completely conscious awareness of how your brain has distilled the stream of speech you can not longer remember into ideas you can summarize? Is that process really conscious?

Why can an expert in a field learn a new word related to that field after hearing it once? Why does a native speaker with no conceptual network in the same field fail to "hold on" to the same word and repeatedly forget it? What is governing this association between semantic networks and phonological memory? Is that relationship conscious?

When you are in full flow at a dinner party in your native language, are you consciously recalling grammar points and usage rules as you speak? Is the control of your delivery conscious?

Since any truly proficient second language speaker can do all of the above iIt follows then that they must also be employing unconscious processes in their L2 usage.

The question (which I am sure you have already thought of) then becomes, to what extent are all the processes that allow us to employ the above unconscious processes themselves also unconscious?

I guess this is where the disagreement creeps in.

What do we require to do to kick the above unconscious processes into gear? Clearly, in the case of an adult, some of the work, like the above example of looking up words in a dictionary and learning basic grammar rules to even begin comprehending a text, is conscious. Attending and focusing on input is also conscious. But the end result of these conscious processes is an unconsciously controlled performance competence, as per the above examples.

Do conscious leargnig directly produce the unconscious competence?

Given the number of people who fail terribly in attempts to acquire a second language, I would argue not. There seems to be some interface in between.

I think that there must be unconscious neural reorganization processes preparing the way for the unconscious performance competence. Whether any given individual succeeds in achieving unconscious performance competence depends on whether their language learning method does or does not successfully provoke this reorganization.

Individuals who employ mass input methods appear very successful in provoking this reorganization (see Matt vs Japan as one anecdotal example)

Those who harness masses of comprehensive input can kick start the "language engine" that leads to the ability to perform the task above.

More importantly, masses of comprehensible input is the only input that feeds the unconscious brain reorganization processes required to produce the unconscious competence. That is why people who learn using inferior methods only achieve true competence after moving to and immersing in the target language. The methods they have initially used are not sufficient to start the engine running.

I don't think you can deny that learning a second language is a matter of acquiring unconsciously controlled performance competence, since no-one can speak while explicitly recalling all the rules.

Again simply observation tells us that language acquisition is, by definition, a process or "rewiring" the brain".

Krashen is correct to identify the 1) sequence masses of comprehensible input 2) provoking unconscious acquisition processes 3) leading to unconscious performance competence.

This applies to both L1 and L2 learners so I would argue that your blanket statement that "L2 acquisition is not the same as L1 acquisition" is not true, at least not at this level of abstraction.

You quote Schmidt's model as if it negates Krashen, but this is a misunderstanding. Schmit's model of attention and noticing is simply a prescriptive model of what you need to do to build and feed in comprehensive input in the first place. I don't think Krashen says that there is no need to even pay attention to the stimulus. That of course is a given. Suggesting that the comprehensible input theory means you do not have to interact with the input is a misunderstanding based on the theories association with unconscious learning. This happens later in the sequence.

For a child, the comprehensive input is situational and context driven. An adult, particularly learning alone or in isolation from the target language community, needs other means to build the comprehensible input (which must be audio if we are learn to speak).

As adults learn to read faster than they learn to listen and understand, bootstrapping listening ability from text you can already read (by looking up words and making sure you understand a text completely before listenig to it repeatedly) offers and accelerated way to generate the comprehensible input.

Clearly, this is qualitatively different from who children build their input, but once the input is in place and being fed into the engine, the way the brain reorganizes and labels the internal mental map of concepts using the information provided is substantially the same in the case of both children and adults.

This is the approach employed by lingq.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Dr. Kreshen's natural approach is the only way to go. Japanese language teachers are horrible in teaching.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

As shonanbb, say, the work of Dr. Krashan is the way forward. Sadly, his influence is lacking in Japan.

The education ministry in Japan are the very last people in the world who can speak with any authority on language learning.

Language education in Japan is atrocious, focused on the study of rules (often arcane and complex) to the exclusion of large volumes of natural input. If you have smart people who cannot speak after 12+ years of study, clearly your method is wrong (I know we all know this).

Massive input based learning (as advocated by Dr. Krashan) is indeed the most effective way to learn a foreign language as a non-native non-child speaker.

The text books and lessons have way too much Japanese explanation. Each grammatical point is explained to death rather than acquired in context. Students go on to study more complex grammar before they can effectively use and combine the points they have already "learned". All this results in a discreet selection of unconnected explicit knowledge, which is of little use to anyone in the context of a normal conversation with a native speaker. The network of unconscious associations required to speak fluently simply does not kick into gear with the grammar translation method.

When students in Japan are taught a grammar point (often in isolation, and years after they have learned related points, meaning they have already forgotten then and therefore cannot combine the old and new, they learn with too few examples - there is not enough meat in the sandwich, through recombination and repetition, for students to get their teeth into.

Separately, people still spent too much time translating. To translate something, you need to understand it. If you already understand it, then translating it is wasting your time (it may provide a useful means for the teacher to check progress, but does not help the learner).

Further, no attempts are made to gradually contextualize listening. For example, you can start with something easy you can read, at first listen while reading at the same time, and only when you can go that gradually remove the text. Only as you learn to listen and understand with no effort and not text what you also read without effort should you then gradually move into "cold" listening. By cold listening, I mean where you are just hearing something for the first time and trying to figure it out. Too much cold listening is soul destroying. If you don't understand something, you can listen again and again. You won't magically understand it unless you work your way into the text as described above.

Almost as bad as the failure to avoid going straight to "cold" listening is the failure to do much listening at all.

Without listening practice, you might learn to say a few phrases, but you certainly won't understand the unscripted reply.

That is where the massive input comes in.

In short, everything that could be wrong with foreign language education in Japan is wrong (at least re: teaching English) and if the same lack of knowledge is applied to teaching Japanese, the result will be failure.

If you are interested in learning how to learn a language, go on you tube / search online for anti-moon ( a site by Polish people who became fluent in English), AJATT (All Japanese all the Time), Matt vs. Japan (which expands on AJATT), and Steve Kauffman (who runs the site lingq).

All of the above will help you far more with language learning than the Rosetta Stones, Duolingos and Berlitz's of this world. They will hopefully in years to come be regarded as pioneers in the development and expansion of Krashen's work.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Dr. Krashen's natural approach is the only way to go.

It certainly is something that should be considered more carefully than it is.

I teach many would-be middle- and high-school teachers, but not in SLA (第二言語習得論) content classes directly. Rather, my contact with such students is in their graduation thesis preparation classes. They know about Krashen quite well and have to to pass the teacher's licence.

However in my years of discussions with students, I've witnessed a number of worrying phenomenon. Briefly:

--all of them have interpreted i+1 in terms of grammar acquisition to the exclusion of all other forms of acquistion

--no one (to date) has demonstrated any understanding of the acquisition/learning difference

--although they can spout the elements of the Natural Order hypothesis, they simultaneously espouse the value of multiple-choice grammar questions that target, for example, the third-person singular 's' in the early years of L2 English learning

And many more!

But until they stop learning Krashen as a set of items to be regurgitated in an exam and begin seeing it as an integrated and highly complex system of viewing the learning process, I don't hold out much hope.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Dr. Stephen Krashen, to correct the spelling, sorry.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Krashen’s outdated (c. 1983) theory of second language acquisition has been critiqued and put to rest mostly by SLA researchers working in the area of cognition (e.g., Schmidt, 1990). In addition, Krashen was attempting to address ESL, not EFL, with ideas he concocted absent research. Mistakenly, he wanted to build a theory of SLA based upon first language acquisition, which language researchers now realize is both inappropriate and simply wrong.

In addition, Krashen never made application to Japanese language learning. As Schmidt and many others, by now, have pointed out, you cannot omit consciousness with regard to language learning. Krashen’s idea of separating acquisition from learning sounded practical and was popular among ESL teachers in the U.S. and Canada (including myself). Yet we do not learn a new language unconsciously—the basis of Krashen’s personal theory.

However, Schmidt’s theoretical model of noticing, awareness, and attention underscored the cognitive deficiency of Krashen’s unproven idea.

For teachers of Japanese, a Japanese model of SLA must be formulated and tested. There are a number of non-English factors that make it a different type of language to learn, most prominently, its three syllabaries.

Interested parties should also read Ann Pakir’s approach to a non-Anglo SLA.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Speaking three foreign languages, I often get animated on this topic, so it is a shame that one poster reads a long (and what I thinks¥ is a well though out) contribution and their first response is to point out a single spelling mistake which I have corrected underneath anyway. (we could do with an edit function JT? )

Anyway, the above contribution is long, but everyone of these points applies to teaching Japanese to foreign kids in Japan, at least those over a certain age. I can imagine 14 to 15 year olds with no Japanese turning up with their parents, struggling, and the Ministry deciding they need, for example more grammatical explanation in their own language not less, as this is the approach they take with English.

I have not seen the details of this program, but if the training of teachers includes supplying more teachers who are proficient in the children's native language, then we will have a double-edged problem as the teachers will likely be terrible at the language they think they can use to help the kids, due to the above structural problems in the teaching of all foreign languages to Japanese people.

The basic experience of the Ministry of Education is grounded in teaching English. They have much more experience, in terms of years and numbers of students, than they do in teaching Japanese to foreigners. And they are making a complete mess of it.

It stands to reason they will have no idea what they are doing teaching Japanese (at least to older children) as the principles are the same. Why would a body that is so poor at guiding the teaching English suddenly start teaching foreign languages effectively just because the language has changed?

If the teaching is provided all in Japanese and targeting younger children who will learn a lot from non-structured immersion anyway, then perhaps some progress might get made (perhaps despite rather than because of the Ministry who I would not trust to oversees a decent curriculum, even one aimed at younger kids).

However, all evidence suggests that children, particularly older children, particularly those arriving with no Japanese ability in high school, will not be well served by Japan's bureaucrats.

If you doubt the deep structural problems of English language education in Japan are transferable to other language learning settings, see, for example, how much verbal Chinese ability the university students studying Chinese have.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

If the above response is TLDR - here is the short version.

The above comment on the ministry's lack of understanding of language learning issues very much applies to late teenagers arriving with their parents and no Japanese ability.

They will have their confidence and ability absolutely destroyed by, for example, Japanese teachers trying to teach them detailed Japanese grammar points in bad Portuguese / Spanish / Chinese.

Perhaps I am completely wrong and that is not their approach.

But if the Ministry had knowledge on how to implement good monolingual instruction to older children, why would they no be applying that knowledge to the disastrous state of English teaching.

That is why the evidence suggests they are lacking in that knowledge.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

--although they can spout the elements of the Natural Order hypothesis, they simultaneously espouse the value of multiple-choice grammar questions that target, for example, the third-person singular 's' in the early years of L2 English learning

This is a very important point. Multiple choice questions by definition introduce children to (or at least encourage children to look at ) grammatically incorrect answers, "scrambling their input" as it were. They are numerous variations on this, such as reordering incorrectly ordered sentences and the like. There is so much to be gained from simply eliminating all such exercises and making sure a child only ever sees pure, unadulterated correct sentences.

Maybe the Ministry won't be testing foreign language learners of Japanese like this.

Maybe the above worries are completely unfounded and an institution that has absolutely no idea how to teach foreign language to its own citizens will suddenly start employing effective techniques when teaching its own language to foreign students.

With apologies for piggybacking on this post, seeing kids with an incomplete model of English struggle through testing that further confuses, rather than clarifies their internal model of the language is one of the reasons why I claim the Ministry of Education is in no position to be teaching language to anyone and has no idea what they are doing.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

ensure Japanese language classes are available in all parts of the country

I can not stress enough how important learning the Japanese language is for the whole integration process in addition to employment and respect for Japan's rules, norms and values.

I hope the Japanese government focuses heavily on this aspect so they need to make sure the framework is available for those willing to learn the language and also take measures against those who are not willing to do so.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The downvotes on the above comment are interesting.

Who really thinks it is actually a good idea to give children, who are already confused about the structure and usage of a language, multiple choice tests so that they spend a lot of time reading sentences that are grammatically incorrect (or incomplete in the case of fill in the blank type exercises).

(As I mentioned, let's hope this is not actually what will happen with the foreign kids learning Japanese. Maybe someone from the Ministry is reading this page and will heed this advice?)

Well, I guess since it is common practice in language education in Japan to perform all manner of tests using incomplete linguistic fragments, and these are techniques that have been used down the years to force millions of children to waste millions of hours, someone somewhere must think it is a good idea.

I've never heard anyone explain why though....

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites