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AI robots may lend hand in Japan's English classes

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This is so sad, it laughable. If folks think English is bad now, it's just going to get ever more robotic-like with this!

So finally got around to replacing the human tape recorder with a robot!

26 ( +33 / -7 )

And why interact with foreigners when you could speak to a piece of plastic

31 ( +35 / -4 )

Some students who interacted with the robots said it was more comfortable to talk with them than teachers, while others said it was easier to practice speech.

Yes, dealing with humans who are not Japanese natives can be daunting..... beem me up Scotty, there's no intelligent life here.... dear oh dear

20 ( +25 / -5 )

This warped idea illustrates the problem of foreign language instruction in Japan. It is a chore, not a key to human interaction and communication.

20 ( +24 / -4 )

Interesting tool. Kids like robots and with this robot, English will become familiar with them.

-24 ( +5 / -29 )

You mean they will become familiar with English. Maybe you could rent one of these robots.

20 ( +22 / -2 )

I don't like how often the term AI is thrown around incorrectly

8 ( +11 / -3 )

Why not use the same technology to teach them Japanese?

15 ( +18 / -3 )

Burning Bush, because English robot can't tell jokes.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Here's a novel idea: Stop teaching the minutia of grammar and forcing kids to memorize lists of words, focus instead on communicating.

Why is teaching English such a mystery to Japanese people when they could easily look at Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia for ways to do it?

17 ( +21 / -4 )

I bet there were years of meetings focus groups by ministry officials, to talk about how woeful English skills are in Japan....and this is seen as a cost effective solution. Decision making at the department of Education is Just as woeful. Replace the decision makers with quasi robots might actually get somewhere.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

Interesting tool. Kids like robots and with this robot, English will become familiar with them.

I agree. Of course humans are best if they are available to every student upon demand. Robots are no different than using language software like Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone that every American classroom would have, but which is even less interactive.

-4 ( +7 / -11 )

Some students who interacted with the robots said it was more comfortable to talk with them than teachers, while others said it was easier to practice speech.

Right, you reap what you sow. Far too many Japanese children are addicted to their smart-phones and "games". Their inability to communicate with other people stems from a large number of reasons.

Generally speaking the kids have few brothers and sisters, their friends are all addicted too, and their parents are out busting their butts trying to get ahead so they are left alone.

One can not blame the child for the mistakes of the parents or schooling. Putting more emphasis on communication skills at a younger age would help, oh and let's get rid of making kids feel like guano for making a mistake too!

The institutional belief that not answering something, when they fear they are wrong or do not know an answer makes things especially difficult in trying to learning anything, particularly a second language. Start grading kids MORE on class participation, and not just sitting their like mushrooms!

19 ( +22 / -3 )

There’s never a face palm emoji when you need it.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

To summarize Japan in 3 words: Reform Without Change.

21 ( +24 / -3 )

Ha! Get ready for another pen pineapple pen generation.

Considering how lazy Japanese elementary school teachers are when it comes to English class, combined with the zero English skills ("Hi how are you I'm fine thank you" doesn't count), they might as well let the robot do the whole class.

13 ( +15 / -2 )

I wonder if they’ll programme the robot to have katakana English, and give the same sort of off the planet answers and conversations you see in the text books? May as well hand the task over to robots and AI , as the human versions of English teachers have done nothing but make their students hate the subject they get paid to pretend to teach. At least it’ll be a bit of fun and novelty to talk to a robot.

JLTs , your days are numbered.

“Then what???” you maybe asking? Actually, probably not.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Here's a novel idea: Stop teaching the minutia of grammar and forcing kids to memorize lists of words, focus instead on communicating.

If you ever get to an Elementary School English Class you will see that they don't focus on grammar or writing, the focus is on edutainment.

Hence the kids really loving English in ES, and then having their bubbles popped when they get to JHS.

12 ( +15 / -3 )

True, the wall comes down in JHS. Kids still seen fine in elementary school, until they hit the chu and that next stage of life hammer of comes down. Something dire happens The transition is quite sad to watch.

How many times have you heard this?

“I used to love English at first, then...”

11 ( +11 / -0 )

For all the talk about robots this is nothing more than a language app that could easily be on an ipad or pc, but in a plastic box.

Computers do assist with language learning and you can have a whole class simultaneously practicing their speaking and listening at their own pace while be corrected by the computer.

So it is basically a good idea if it supplements other tuition.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

If you ever get to an Elementary School English Class you will see that they don't focus on grammar or writing, the focus is on edutainment.

Fair point regarding grammar and writing in elementary school.

My point still stands regarding teaching communication given that edutainment isn't communication.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

WOW! I have never agreed with so many comments here. This is a classic example of how Japan chooses to avoid contact with people/humans. They are stretching it to the younger generation. The Japanese teachers don't want to teach english, so to avoid the humiliation, get a robot to do it. As someone said in a comment

"Slap a blonde wig and a long nose on it!"

8 ( +11 / -3 )

As I write, a crack team of programmers is loading up the AI with "I'm fine and you?", "My hobby is sleeping", and "Why did you come to Japan?"

13 ( +15 / -2 )

How was.... it? Good. It was..... good. And you? Fine. Let's play a game. Okay. How about ... Hangman?

Yes, I can see how this will help.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

You could teach mathematics too if you could teach language.

At the moment youtube is a far more advanced program.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Very big news this morning! The use of AI and robots is a good innovation. It will encourage kids to take up languages and not be ashamed when they make mistakes. And it is fun.

Practical uses are being found weekly for Japanese world-leading robots and AI, in schools, combinis, banks, hotels, farms and more. Shrinking and ageing population is no "crisis" at all .

-15 ( +4 / -19 )

We do not feel any inconvenience in our daily life without knowledge of English. That may be one reason we are not very good at English. While I watch Japanese TV and read Japanese newspapers, I feel they need to watch English TV and read newspapers of English since programs of NHK and other stations so poor and childish compared with BBC and NPR, and newspapers are unintelligent except Nihon Keizai Shinbun.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Shrinking and ageing population is no "crisis" at all .

Oh really?....phew..thats good to know, looking forward to the little white robots paying taxes and contributing towards the social net / medical care expenses for all the oldies. Thanks for putting my mind at ease.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

More memorised response practice for rote teaching. No thinking, just memorising. I don't know when or if the Japanese BOE will ever realise their style of english education is just a huge waste of money. They have been teaching English the same way for over 50 years. Most Japanese study English for ten years from junior high to university, but only 12% of the population have a basic communicative proficiency in any second language, not just English. Adding a few more years of the same crap is not going to increase the proficiency at all. One of my high school senior classes went to Taiwan a few weeks ago. The Japanese teacher who went with them was shocked to see Taiwanese students of the same age speaking in near fluent structures, while the Japanese students could only mutter single words at best, despite having studied English for nearly six years already.

My daughter is a great example of the fail of English teaching in Japan. She in in Junior High 3rd grade. Of course, she grew up in a bilingual environment and had great English skill. However, over the last three years of junior high I have witnessed her English communication and comprehension skills deteriorate little by little every year. And, due to the amount of Japanese homework she gets, she has very little time for me to tutor her in English. However, she does do very well in English tests, which is the whole point of English education in Japan.

Nothing will change in English proficiency until Japanese start to take it seriously and stop teaching it for the sole purpose of testing.

18 ( +20 / -2 )

In an age of Youtube, Skype, iTalki, and others, this is a complete waste of time and money. Feel sad for the kids while their Asian competitors get real education

4 ( +6 / -2 )

It reminds me of an electronic game to learn my language about spelling 40 years ago. Very fun but indeed this was not interaction.

What could be ok is that a teacher from the distance could take control of robot from time to time so that it becomes a real teacher. It could help to break the ice and be a tool for cost savings at least in elementary school or where not enough English teachers can reach classroom.

Just a starter, not an answer to reach needed skill about a language.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This is the best example of the reactionary "island mentality" nothing to see here folks. Move along now.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Don't worry about Japan. It could happen that one day all teachers in UK are replaced with robots: more friendly, more intelligent, more responsive and more tolerant.

-9 ( +1 / -10 )

Well, sounds like the end of Eikaiwa schools methinks

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Any subject in Japanese education could be taught by robots, or through an online course from home. English is no exception. National math scores and literacy are high because the methods of rote memorization lend themselves well to the myriad of Japanese kanji and mathematical formulas.

Kids end up memorizing vocabulary (pronunciation transcribed in katakana) and the grammatical rules of English but little else. That's all that's required to pass tests. It is very similar to way I was made to study Latin as a kid. Can I hold a conversation in Latin? No. That wasn't the purpose. And it's not the purpose of Japanese English education either. You can't expect a result different from the purpose of the education. My study of Japanese was worlds different from my study of Latin back in the day. Can I hold a conversation in Japanese? Yes! Because my study methods were ones proven to result in that goal.

Learning to communicate in a foreign language is a big time commitment but that's all. It's not a terrifying task only achieved by a talented few. Very sad that is what Japanese society makes languages out to be: "I studied English in school since 3rd grade and now as an adult I can't even give directions to the tourist on the street. This is an impossible language!" No, your study method was simply the wrong one for the purpose.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Quite honestly, soon English will be no use at all in Japan, and English test will be abolished. Why ? Because all English useful information can be machine translated and un-useful information are not useful anyway.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Nice to see that young feller is wearing the proper t-shirt...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

ALT's in panic mode.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Robots...because we all know it is impossible to train school teachers to teach elementary English.

This is a glaring problem in Japanese teacher training. The system, which relies almost entirely on senior teachers training younger teachers, has its strengths. But when a new subject is being introduced to the curriculum, there is no "senior" teacher who can train new teachers in methodology for foreign language teaching. The system isn't set up to send teachers back to school themselves to learn something new, and Japan seems unwilling to invest in hiring hundreds of teacher trainers who are expert in EFL at the elementary level to move around the country and train teachers.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I studied English in school since 3rd grade and now as an adult I can't even give directions to the tourist on the street.

To be fair, the vast majority don’t need to and would give any foreigners looking lost on the street a very wide berth anyway.

Didn’t the education ministry recently state that they wanted high school students to reach the level of debating difficult issues in English?

Hope the robots have a debate mode setting.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

When I saw the headlines I knew this would get a lot of comments.

I have never taught language (nor have I taught with the exception of presenting some technical topics). I probably to not have the patience or the right personality to teach.

I have done business in Japan for several decades so I will just comment on this from a business point of view. One issue I have found is there is a "fear" or a discomfort with most (not all) Japanese when communicating with foreigners. The communications issues are not only related to linguistics but also involve cross cultural issues as well.

I do not think the introduction of robots as a substitute for teachers (or perhaps even to augment teachers) will help this matter, only make it worse.

Considering the way the world is changing, I am of the belief that Japan should encourage students to interact with foreigners including consideration to subsidizing overseas study (i.e. for a semester or a year) provided the students will bring this experience back to Japan and work in Japan.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

If the dialogue reported in this article is typical of the scripts built into these robots, then they are worse than useless. The robots are actually harming students.

First, they aren't communicating. They aren't even trying to create a context for real communication. Is the robot answering the student's question? No. It's merely getting the student to say a rote phrase, removed from any context. Language is communicative context. This robot gimmick misses the point of language and isn't going to help students learn English.

Second, the robot is praising students for nothing, which is ultimately going to demotivate the students in the long run. Students need to feel for themselves that English has a purpose, that it gives them power and a voice. Their satisfaction needs to be internal, from the feeling of accomplishment when students wanted to communicate something and found a way to make themselves understood. This robotic superficial praise gives students a temporary, external pat on the head, but it ultimately discourages students from developing that internal motivation.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

And why interact with foreigners when you could speak to a piece of plastic

Exactly my thoughts...they are going through quite an effort to get rid of us lol...

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Tokyo=Engr*. Good points. I think Japan is at a cross roads. They have to make a decision to either turn inwards and continue with a collectivist based social model or try and make a society more based on indiviualism. Real and meaningful communication is only possible between individuals. It’s near impossible to have a meaningful conversation with a collective. Many try to write it off as shyness and language barriers but it’s basically what happens when East meets West. Took years to work this out and to say it has been a load of the shoulders would be a massive understatement!

I think our beloved Japan is at a crossroads. Pretend efforts to learn English have been exposed and are now evident. You don’t fail at something for 50 years and still persist with the same flawed methods otherwise. Teaching for the test is the exact opposite of what it takes to become efficient at communication. To what extent this is deliberate is anyone’s guess. As some people have pointed out Japan just may choose not to continue with English on the scale that it has been doing until now. Maybe it will become an elective subject for those that want to chase the western models of individuation. Perhaps Mandarin may be the prudent choice given the differences in cultures and mindsets , region and proximity. Either way it’s a fascinating topic, one that is very real for those trying so hard to teach it. Goes much further beyond teaching people how to ask what’s your favorite food!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Didn’t the education ministry recently state that they wanted high school students to reach the level of debating difficult issues in English?

That's the problem. The education ministry seems to feel they are the experts in everything - but then don't provide the training or freedom for teachers to design classes to fit the students. Curriculum design involves daily problem solving skills designed by the instructor.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

How many oyaji in the Education Ministry speak or even minimally comprehend English? The anser to that is the root of the problem. Secondary problem is how many of those oyaji EVER taught in ANY school?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Well. In THAT case, you don't even need to teach English anymore. Robots will do everything for us anyway. By the time these kids grow up, they'll already have realized that they don't need a robot. This app will be installed on their phones or watches for free. Who needs language now?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Anything to avoid paying living wages to English teachers. This is literally going BACKWARDS, English will be even worse now

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Okay. How about ... Hangman?

Yeah, I know an ALT that got a serious bitching out BECAUSE he played hangman. Can't have "violence" in the classroom and "kill" someone off because they were making mistakes!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

 I think Japan is at a cross roads.

With regards to a "cross-road", Japan has been stuck at the same crossroad for over 30 years now. It isn't just "stuck", it's had it's feet held in by concrete.

Every road they have chosen so far has been wrong and ends up at a dead end. That is because the folks who are making the calls on these subjects are either politicians, or public servants that only look at reports and make decisions based upon them. They have little if any experience in a classroom and when they do actually participate in a classroom environment, they witness only the best of the best, or participate in a training class that the teacher and students prepared for months in advance.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Bring them on I say. They'll me in business until I can retire.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How about replacing the oyajis at Education Ministry and BOE,s with little plastic robots.....seems a perfect fit for the cute little white robot to sit in passively on a couple of hours meeting everyday, utter a few "soo desu ne " at regular time intervals and spend rest of the day staring at a laptop screen. Imagine all the money saved then.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

As a matter of logic then any teacher of any subject can be replaces. Teachers are screwed.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My late friend taught English in Japan for most of his working life, and he always found it stressful, and he worked in a tertiary technical institute. So I can understand the cynical remarks made here. So why not let the robots do it?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

This is just part of Japan's slow regression back into insularity. It was just too hard to deal with real people. This move will do more damage to Japan's future than meets the eye. But they will do it anyway.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Any teacher who can be replaced by a machine, should be.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Having a little robot dingus to talk to in class sounds like a laugh.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This fixes absolutely nothing. This is like sticking a band aid over a gaping wound.

By the time students get to JHS, all the fun will be drained out of lesson because teachers need to focus on the useless textbooks and prepare students for test after test after test......

On paper this seems like a good thing, but learning a language is communication between people. This just defeats the purpose of learning a language.

I would also like to know how much these companies will charge to use these in classroom? You can bet it will be at over inflated prices and to update them will cost a pretty penny too.

Shrinking and ageing population is no "crisis" at all .

Sure, keep telling yourself that. AI isn't going to help in that department.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If I may ask...

How many of you studied a second language at school?  French or Spanish perhaps?  And how many of you can carry a conversation or even remember what you learned at school?  A very small percentage no doubt.  Those classes were not conversation classes.  They were subjects at school that we had to learn, just like math or science.  The focus was not on conversation. This is the same in Japan.  To expect students to speak or even have basic conversation skills in unrealistic at best.  That's what we have conversational schools for.  Yes, the curriculum needs to be updated to fit modern society, but until the ultimate goal of the subject is changed don't expect to any difference in speaking ability.

S

1 ( +3 / -2 )

How many of you studied a second language at school? French or Spanish perhaps? And how many of you can carry a conversation or even remember what you learned at school? A very small percentage no doubt. Those classes were not conversation classes. They were subjects at school that we had to learn, just like math or science. The focus was not on conversation. This is the same in Japan. To expect students to speak or even have basic conversation skills in unrealistic at best. That's what we have conversational schools for. Yes, the curriculum needs to be updated to fit modern society, but until the ultimate goal of the subject is changed don't expect to any difference in speaking ability.

Let me ask you, how many years did you actually study it perhaps? I studied Spanish for one year, and I still remember how to ask "Where is the bathroom" or "Give me a cold beer" the true essentials in my life!

Here they study, and pay lip service to English education as a national as a whole! Many study English for 10 to 15 years and STILL can not speak the language.

It's a system wide problem, and if you actually know what they teach, the esoteric grammar that no one, outside of an actual English language teacher knows, you would understand the reasons why they literally come to HATE the language, for many, once they hit JHS.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Spidey, very true. Was getting my knickers in a knot a few years ago at a high school teachers English meeting. Assuming we were all on the same page of wanting our students to be able to communicate better and make the classroom more practical one of the more bullish JTEs actually engaged us and said to me and the resident ALT ( we were tag teaming ) “most of us Japanese don’t really want to make foreign friends you know”, of which she was immediately backed up by another teacher keen to get the meeting back on course. That told us. How do you argue with that? Hehe

We both walked away quite gobsmacked and wondering why they would become English teachers in the first place? And then the next obvious question,

Why study English at all??

I think we both died and grew up a little at the same time on that day. Still here though!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Instead of investing in robots they should invest in human resources. Many native speakers are hired as ALT here in Japan. They are usually team teaching with a Japanese teacher who most of the time doesn't any concrete knowledge of English. Not many of foreign English teachers have a proper Japanese teaching license because the procedures to get that essential document are very daunting and complicated unless your are fluent in Japanese. I think the government should create special teaching license or certificate for foreign teachers. The course to obtain that license should be lead in English as well as the test and interview. Therefore

0 ( +2 / -2 )

How many of you studied a second language at school? French or Spanish perhaps?

How many of our countries had nation-wide interests (needs!) to do business in the Spanish or French business worlds? Being an overpopulated small nation with few resources leaves Japan little choice but to engage with the English speaking business world - no matter how culturally opposed they continue to be.

Japan needs to learn not only English, but how to communicate in general. Comunication skills here are abysmal.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Japan needs to learn not only English, but how to communicate in general. Comunication skills here are abysmal.

On that point I agree 100%. 

And being a person who has taught within the Japanese public school system for over 15 years,  overwhelming workloads and the lack of communication skills (on a societal level) are desperately keeping Japan far behind the rest of the world in educational or learning progression.  

S

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Bad idea.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

There were some interesting comments here. When I first read this new bit.

My first though was of the robot in my local kaiten sushi place that speaks English and Japanese Korean and Chinese. Well sitting down waiting for my number to be called I though it was pretty cool.

The best comment like ever was Bungle. For humor sakes. Dingus robot. To funny!

Some points in the article really raises some red flags.

Point- Some students who interacted with the robots said it was more comfortable to talk with them than teachers, while others said it was easier to practice speech.-Really? Japanese students really hate to interact in English that bad? My kid loves English and Japnese.

Point-  They were first introduced at a private junior high school in Kyoto in 2016- Wait a second Kyoto? I was always told that Kyoto students English level was pretty much above the norm.

Point- Robots can supplement teachers' roles as conversation partners,"-In other words class room asset and a tool. I am on the fence. I do not know if this is a good thing or bad thing. Good comments! Very interesting.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Ganbare Japan! 08:53

Practical uses are being found weekly for Japanese world-leading robots and AI, in schools, combinis, banks, hotels, farms and more. Shrinking and ageing population is no "crisis" at all.

Yo could go further with that brilliant idea and replace everybody in Japan with robots, because as Akie (09:52) asserts, robots are:

more friendly, more intelligent, more responsive and more tolerant.

And hey, they speak English.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

“How many seasons does Japan have ?”

”er...three”

”Try again.”

”two ?”

”Try again.”

”Stupid machine ! I give up !”

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

So the days of being an English Teacher in Japan are numbered ... ?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Some students who interacted with the robots said it was more comfortable to talk with them than teachers, while others said it was easier to practice speech.

The rise in demand in adult dolls will soar in the next 10 years. Children and adult are becoming more and more dependent to robots. Say goodbye to human to human relationship.

But I think Japanese are just really anti-social beings. I have a colleague I see most mornings in the parking lot, she wont even look at me, but when at work and we need to interact, she's all smiles. Oh and another co-worker years ago, I saw him in a mall, I smiled and said hi, he just looked at me blankly. Meh.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

As a supplement, if the company is providing them for free, which I doubt, then it can't hurt much. As a substitute, which I suspect this will become knowing things here, things will just be worse than without them.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

By the time students get to JHS, all the fun will be drained out of lesson because teachers need to focus on the useless textbooks and prepare students for test after test after test......

The sad part is, I think they will do 'cute' (childish) things like dress their robots up (with culturally insensitive robot costumes) or whatever they need to to make English 'fun'. The robot will lament how much it likes all things Japan while it stereotypes other countries in a subtly patronizing way. The staff will probably hand out little robot figurines and Japan will boast about how 'cool' it all is to the world.

Meanwhile, Japan will continue to become more insular, because it just comes so easy to them, while they portray an image that is staggeringly different to the reality. English literacy won't budge because they already palm-ball which answers students should memorize ahead of tests anyway. Even after they rid schools of ALT's and JET's (which school staff usually marginalize and treat very poorly!) Japan will appear to be doing OK. But if you think Japanese are... erm.. "shy" (insular and xenophobic) now - give it 20 more years and see how far down the old nationalism path Japan is (again) then!

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I have a colleague I see most mornings in the parking lot, she wont even look at me, but when at work and we need to interact, she's all smiles.

Yep! Does she also ignore her Japanese colleagues like that?

I know for a fact the best way forward for Japan (in English and other areas) is a whole rethink on social attitudes. But of course we all know we will never see that happen in our lifetimes.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

This is good. Much cheaper than ALTs who only repeat after Japanese teachers like robots. Most of them have never learned how to teach English in college/university. They are not "skilled workers" that Japanese government wants.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

“There’s an app for that!”

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The broader problem with education in Japan is that it is driven by administrators whose goal is not education but compliance. Teaching as a profession just gets no respect.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Much cheaper than ALTs who only repeat after Japanese teachers like robots.

If they are only 'repeating after teachers' it may also signal bigger issues in regards to the teachers abilities and interpersonal skills.

Most of them have never learned how to teach English in college/university.

Many do have teaching English as a second language accreditation - on top of their tertiary education. That's more education than their Japanese counterparts in the classrooms. Some of them are great teachers of English and have introduced many widely used processes into schools.

They also often bring skills and knowledge that, if properly utilized, could be very useful for Japan - as the people tend to have a very small scope of life and personal experience in comparison. It would be sad if rejection of these programs came from a place of fear, rather than logic, like the one you are presenting.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

It's gonna be robots vs ALTs after Tokyo 2020.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Are we supposed to feel sorry for the Japanese and foreign "English teachers" who are woefully unqualified to teach and who have had decades to teach English to Japanese students with abysmal results?

No, no one feels sorry for them. As the article itself says, the kids feel more comfortable with robots, which says a lot about the quality of the "English teachers" here. Replace them all and see how it goes, it can't be any worse than it already is

0 ( +4 / -4 )

But can the AI robot do the hokey pokey and touch its toes? That's what it's all about...

4 ( +7 / -3 )

So another words to teach a foreign language by avoiding foreigners.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I have been talking about this for years, that robots will replace foreigners in schools, they don't want non- Japanese around them and feel more comfortable taking to robots (as the article mentons).

They are only learning English to pass that silly Eiken test so they approach English in a black and white way, there's either a right or wrong answer... like maths... therefore many students become traumatised by learning English and end up hating it when adults. on top of that there is the undercurrent of nationalism, (Japan is number one etc etc..) that most kids are programmed with, so they grow up with a disdain for anything other than Japanese being spoken around them.

Expect stock questions to be progammed into these robots such as: Can you use chopsticks? Can you eat raw fish? When do you go back to your country? Why did you come to Japan? can you eat natto? and other inane nonsense..

3 ( +7 / -4 )

They are only learning English to pass that silly Eiken test 

Dont know if you know this but until now it wasn't about the EIKEN, it was about HS entrance exams and then University exams, but since the national "Center Test" is going to stop after next year, or the year after, the schools are changing direction and NOW the Eiken test is going to be officially recognized for college entrance requirements.

The EIKEN tests and secondary interview tests are changing too, as all interviews must be now recorded and starting within the year, all secondary interview tests will also be video taped as well.

The EIKEN is going up, status wise, and it is only going to get worse.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Looks like ALTs will have to start job hunting. The hilarious objections to technology having a role in teaching reminds me of the luddites and their very, very lost cause. No one can stop technological progress no matter how conservative you are

2 ( +5 / -3 )

This is actually likely to be the most significant social issue of our lives. Oil and machinery made manual labor largely obsolete, no AI may make white collar jobs obsolete. We may all end up with nothing to do and it could go either way with some kind of guaranteed income, or an even more severe stratification between the owners of the technology and the rest of us.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

They feel more comfortable making mistakes in front of a robot, because a robot has no judgement, a human quality...

A human teacher's voice has nuances that a robot would misconstrue...

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@ Reckless,

It's actually the Dadaist Utopia to automate all jobs, thus freeing mankind to pursue artistic goals.

We just need to get past the idea of 'money' and wait for the technology to develop.

The classroom robots are just a supplement. There are far worse elements (IMO) of the MEXT plans for English education being implemented in the next few years...

but I think the after school Eikawa's are going to see an upturn in business

2 ( +3 / -1 )

ALT here … with 36 years teaching college classes in Japan, formerly a ‘tenured’ Associate Professor of English Communication at Jissen Women’s College (ha), a Master’s degree, doctoral work in TESOL, academic presentations in three countries, publications, and lots of community outreach work.

A lot of weeaboos and safely entitled expat elites here just don’t seem to get it.  

This has nothing to do with the capabilities or qualifications of educators or even human tape recorders. And in most cases beyond elementary school, English classes have little to do with 'education'. The classroom is a heuristics and tool to reinforce the values of competing for hierarchical rank and compliance to authority.

There has been no end of gadgets and shortcuts to reinforce those values — from language labs, to iPads, to on-line outsourcing — a constant search to maximize profits with the least amount of personal responsibility.

ALTs, or Associate Professors, has simply been an easy target for dehumanization or dismissal because of the low-stakes cost to a rigidly hierarchical and authoritarian system. 

Robots in the classroom?  

Just another of a string of business models, vainly trying to do what corporate capitalism in large scale populations does best — to paraphrase Michael Sandel ... replace ‘higher’ values (such as the individual empowerment of educational ideals) with ‘lower’ values — monetizing hierarchical concentrations of power, namely ‘corporate capitalism’.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Steve Martin.....well said sir! Gotta give kudos to you for sticking through so many years!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thanks Yubaru ... red-faced in embarrassment, wishing I would have corrected my English before hand ... replacing 'has' with 'have' and ending with 'corporate capitalists'.

But yeah, it is not just Japan ... China, the U.S., just about every large population seems to have a small percentage of 'dark triad' personality types (opportunists, narcissists, and psychopaths) in which a large population provides cover and niche opportunities for them to build their 'Towers of Babel' and drain the blood out of everyone below them, until the whole thing collapses into another bubble-stock market-crash, Lehman Shock, housing-loan crisis, war, or similar malthusian-like 'correction' — and then the process starts all over again. Only next time, with the current re-escalation of nuclear weapons, may be the last time.

'Robots in the classroom' reminds me of two movies I used in the college classroom ... Charlie Chaplin's 'Modern Times', and Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis'. (sigh) Nothing new.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Steve Martin,

Eloquently and efficiently summed up. Kudos.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thanks Mu-da. A verbal kudo here, and a cool beer there, helps take the sting out playing Casandra. Make that a beer and and can of Otoko Ume ;-)

But even in a half drunken stupor, I can't help but to imagine robot teachers giving way to robot journalists and robot news ... but wait. Appears that the U.S. has already beaten Japan to the punch.

More convinced than ever that A.I., big-data, or anything that STEM fields produce will not be able to protect humanity from our worst enemy, ourselves.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I recall hearing how English teachers would be replaced by interactive programs on a new thing called CD-ROMS.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Different people learn in different ways. If the robots are available IN ADDITION to normal class time and are able to really get the pronunciations correct, fine.

But I've had trouble using computer-based language tools which could only say "incorrect", but I thought I was saying exactly the same thing, in the same way, as the example speech sample.

Robots replacing native speakers today just isn't viable.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Hi theFu.

You are correct. People DO learn in different ways. I just wish 'learning' was the priority of schools. Robots are not 'educationally' viable ... but education as defined as personal growth and empowerment is not the priority.

Robots, outsourcing, skype lessons, speed learning CDs, language labs, iPads, etc. have been viable as excuses for under the table bribery, conflating educational institutions with for-profit enterprises, corruption and ineptitude at the highest levels, safe and secure careers at the mid-level, and dehumanization at the lowest.

Sonny and Cher are from another generation altogether, but the beat goes on.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

And in most cases beyond elementary school, English classes have little to do with 'education'. The classroom is a heuristics and tool to reinforce the values of competing for hierarchical rank and compliance to authority.

Nail on the head. I think this applies to every subject in general, and consciousness of hierarchical rank starts from elementary school. It's important to understand the overarching purpose of education is not the tatemae of mastery of the subjects being taught or critical thinking or any of those nice-sounding words.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

That robot looks boring. Why don't they dress them up like chickens like in the Nova commercials, so the students can repeat "This is an eeto, pen. This is an apple. Eeto, apple pen."

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Thanks Fouxdefa ... seeing my own words reflected in your praise did give me cause me to pause though. I guess I should have qualified that as 'public education' because just like any other country, there still are pockets of genuine learning and mastery of craftsmanship in Japan. But as S.F. writer Theodore Sturgeon once said about science fiction, 90% of it is crap — but then again, 90% of everything is crap.

After class activities is where some real learning takes place. I don't care much for the fanatic military-like approach of some of the team sports training here (I guess everything has its cost) but it has turned out some fine athletes. The college kids who participate in a once a yearly culture festival can be quite creative and playful without the military discipline. And I am genuinely amazed and moved at the televised, yearly national choral competitions held by Jr. High schools. I have never heard anything so beautiful in the public school Jr. High's back in my home country, the U.S.

But the above mentioned examples take place outside of the public school classroom.

That reminds me of a remark I heard at a lecture in one of the courses I took at Showa Women's University which are open to the public. It was a course on the history of public education in Japan, and taught by a professor who (like myself) once worked for the Ministry of Education. I was once one of a handful of textbook proofreaders for the MEXT approved Jr. High textbooks. But what he said in one lecture really got my head ringing — 'The Japanese public education system began with the Meiji era and is modeled after Victorian England's public education system.' He then went into details with old prints and documents indicating the Victorian system itself was based on two pre-existing systems ... the military and the penal system. Wow. For we peons, I can see things have not changed very much. Public education, and most higher education, has little to do with personal growth or mastery of a subject — unless it has a place under the umbrella of a greater goal, producing disposable human capital to keep the system going. For me, the stuff of Orwellian nightmares.

I went back to read the original article and found the ending ironic:

As the country is slated to make English a formal subject for elementary school students in their third year and over from fiscal 2020, what role AI robots will play is in focus.

Toshiyuki Kanamaru, a Kyoto University associate professor, said teachers at elementary schools in particular should be given support through seminars and training, expressing hope that robots will help their efforts.

"Robots can supplement teachers' roles as conversation partners," Kanamaru said. "The government, industry and academia must coordinate in conducting research to clear quality and cost issues."

Almost funny.

Why have not the sentiments above first been suggested for dealing with ALT's, not just now with robots ?

I shudder to think of the answer.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Would teach us better English, unlike the folks at Shane, Nova, Aeon, who do not have any education bachelor profession, they should hire people who are qualified teachers, not just anyone with a degree or because theyre foreign.

If you are learning Japanese, you would rather learn from a professional, who can speak keigo and proper grammar, not just anyone because they are Japanese. Same thing.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

There will be no leaps 'n bounds in robot technology in this century that will surpass a quality human teacher.

If you're after a buzz, whirr, flash auto-voice then you might possibly be happy - but teaching, esp language teaching is about much much more than text book content.

2 unii students in different classes yesterday - both wearing masks. I asked about their health, how they are feeling, etc. Both had caught colds and one guy had a fever. We had a 3+ min talk about his condition and what he should do. He listened & tried to speak and explain in english and I think welcomed the exchange as a chance to speak real english and because of that fact that someone was concerned about him. The other , a young woman looked miserable so we also talked about what she should do and I checked she understood her homework, because she looked dazed. She didn't so we went over it again.

No robot in the world can now or will ever be able to banter in such a simple way - not for yonks anyway. My daily teaching life is full of such moments, utilizing language for communication on a human level.

See that fast moving cloud out there, the one that looks like black wool - do you know what it's called? What does it tell you about the weather in the next 30mins?

Robots, Bobots - Ha!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

This is a Cat, This is a Dog, pretty much any robot with batteries can say that a million times.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Hey Kenji ... dead on, correct about the schools.

The problem is that Shane, Nova, Aeon, and newer outsourcing companies ... and in a more large-scale, opaque sense (is there a Japanese equivalence to glasnost and perestroika?), the public school system, are not in it for education.  

The former are mere for-profit business enterprises and their business model does not support the expense of hiring qualified instructors.  

The latter ... well, public education in most countries ... is a quagmire of socialization conflated with institutionalization, nationalistic propaganda, and creating technically literate but compliant-to-authority 'shiji machi ningen'.  

Even the corporations which complain that colleges are not churning out creative problem solvers, do not in fact want creative problem solvers because such out-of-the-box thinking (and a liberal arts education) is subversive to authority by nature.

My close friend is a kacho at Mitsui-Sumitomo Hoken, one of few females in mid management of Japan Inc. Just last week, she gave a workshop to a little over 70 newcomers who had been with the company a little over a year now, and when she asked how many felt some sense of satisfaction or elation at having learned something new on the job, not a single hand went up. And these are people who graduated from the likes of Todai, Waseda, Keio, Sophia, etc. In our chat, we recalled the ongoing problem in not just the famous companies, rather, most companies in Japan Inc. is that about half of the new recruits will quit their first company within 3 years — and not for better paying jobs. Unlike the U.S., it is usually a downward spiral after the first job.

Both she and I agree that despite the latest buzzword (now it is 'diversity' ... and before that it was 'work-life balance' ... the honnei of what most companies want is compliance to authority.

The increasing gap between the haves (entitled authority) and the have-nots, the high drop out rate of corporate newcomers, may be a sign that it is not just ALTs that the authorities want to replace with robots. As one or two other commenters pointed out, this is just the canary in the coal mine.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Regarding replacing ALTs with robots as the canary in the coal mine, just today ... the news feed included an article indicating the national government replaced 'handicapped' with 'dead or retirees' regarding hiring practices.

As with the practice of a lot of digital media, both of the articles about Robot 'teachers' and 'government malfeasance' and the comments below them, will soon be 'old news' and no longer available for viewing.

Old news, but the pattern of the entitled dehumanizing the marginalized is as old as humanity itself.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Heck even SIRI on my craphone teaches better English than Shane, Nova etc lol

5 ( +7 / -2 )

So many expertly written comments, so something's been working or are they machine translated.

Good point about hangman, what a horrid " concept" for a game.

Just came from Robot Week at Big Sight, didn't see these, but oh boy, "Peppers" everywhere.

I think I could take about five minutes of dear Pepper, I agree with browny1, teaching is soooo much more.

Yes this is the first country I have ever been to, that English isn't commonly understood, but then that does protect you from American Culture.

AI, Robotics and IoT will certainly help your "ageing and shrinking" population, and leave you more cohesive than immigration.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Kenji - why are you / have you wasted money on those schools if SIRI is better?

You need a real teacher - a facilitator of learning, an active conduit, a human with a heart & nouse.

Many around and no aggregate of chips will out -master them.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

If the Android is like this:

https://youtu.be/S5t6K9iwcdw

Then I'm sure Nova, Aeon, Gabe etc will disappear

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Good snag there Kenji.

Have you seen 'Ex Machina'? ... https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0470752/

Good movie. Scary implications.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Japanese, please protect your language by not encouraging english medium of instruction or transacting in everyday life. It will kill your language in a short period of time and the extended culture before you even realize. It is easy to catch on to not so useful things in life....celebrating valentines day, Halloween, christmas e.t.c in a non native country like Japan. Have you every heard of western stores celebrating any asian festivals in their country? I wonder what will happen to all those english teaching careers that turn into japanophiles first and later on end up commenting on JT how japan does not fit into their mould....AI is real, it is on its way and it is just good enough to solve problems like these.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

People who want to learn a language are most successful by using mImicry, as that's what you do when you're a child..

If this AI turns out to be successful, which is not realistic but one can still dream, then English speakers will actually have to learn proper Japanese and get some real skills as opposed to becoming an English teacher,. It's those teaching careers who fail to integrate only to land on JT to whine and moan about how bad and xenophobic Japan is.

Any burden to them is a boon to me.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Too many of the anti- english teacher brigade on here, present a very stereo-typical image of "The English Teacher", as if there is a commonality that exists other than language.

In the professional world of education where I operate, the differences in language teachers skills, personalities, education, manner, enthusiasm, creativity, foresight etc are huge. I have little connection with ALTs, so I don't really know, but the majority of people I meet in my field are professionals.

Sterotyping is common, you know all lawyers just chase money, all politicians are corrupt, all tech engineers are nerds, all rock guitarists are druggies, ad nauseum.

And re robots in the language classroom - I say again, they will be only whirring novelties for a long time to come, offering basic repetitive conversations.

If I had a choice for my daughters to be educated in Language by a robot or human - I'd choose the human everytime - unless I wanted a babysitter for playtime.

In the year 2088 I don't know - but in the foreseable future - no!

1 ( +6 / -5 )

 I guess I should have qualified that as 'public education' because just like any other country, there still are pockets of genuine learning and mastery of craftsmanship in Japan. But as S.F. writer Theodore Sturgeon once said about science fiction, 90% of it is crap — but then again, 90% of everything is crap.

It is "crap" maybe to people from low-context, meritocratic societies that place a high value on results rather than fulfilling roles in a seniority-based hierarchy. But for Japanese people who fit the mold, it isn't sinister or crap at all but very good and necessary. It's necessary for Japanese business culture, necessary to produce a large, tax-paying middle class, necessary for the things we enjoy about Japan like relative discipline in public places, attention to detail and customer service, the four seasons, etc. (ok the last one my tongue is in my cheek^^) If you get close and belong to a Japanese community, you can experience the finer fruits of this education in the dynamics of "reading the air" "ki wo tsukau" and putting organizational needs over private ones that can be very pleasant for all.

For the Japanese people who do not fit this mold, it is "crap" and soul-crushing. They even die from it in extreme cases. It's just good to be aware I think and make careful decisions about raising children here as a foreign parent, for example, and not get too caught up in these debates over the tatemae of things while blind to the elephant in the room.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The program called Duolingo (using AI) is being used by millions (?) now.

It's free and quite well done.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just wondering ... is there anything inherent to linguistic A.I. keeping it from being a tool for propaganda, gaslighting, or disseminating 'fake news'?

If not, I don't see any real progress — just a technological continuation of a cat-and-mouse game between those driven by empathy and altruism ... and dark-triad personality types — opportunists, narcissists, and psychopaths.

As any educated person knows, there is no such thing as a 'realist'.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hi Steve, Ex Machina was a great film!

I'm more worried about the upcoming terminator film.:

https://youtu.be/WjHS36n3Qr8

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hi Steve, Ex Machina was a great film!

I'm more worried about the upcoming terminator film.:

https://youtu.be/WjHS36n3Qr8

Hey Kenji!

Yeah, that new Terminator flic does seem a bit long-in-the-tooth and worrisome. On the other hand, wouldn't it be a hoot to see the next A.I. English Teacher modeled after a terminator?

In my best Schuwa-chan imitation ... 'Kids. Answer correctly if you want to live.' ;-)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A robot based on: https://youtu.be/lomUE6MoxvA

would be much funnier

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A robot based on: https://youtu.be/lomUE6MoxvA

would be much funnier

LOL .... well he IS a native speaker. Would love to hear him call a sumo match.

A.I. in the classroom can be funny, but A.S. (Artificial Stupidity) can be hilarious!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

this can lead to many great things.

the government outsourced a lot of these jobs, and these jobs suck. mostly the foreigners are escorted into classrooms to shout vocabulary lists at children. "Dog. Cat. Show. Fill. People. Lake. Ocean. Mother. Father. Big. Small." What a crappy job.

low-level, repetitive, optimized English teaching should be taken over by AI.

I mean, who needs non-native speakers of English shouting vocabulary lists at children in rural areas, only for the vast majority of those foreigners to quit and move to the city to find more interesting work after only a few months? the application, interview, placement process is very expensive to schools, government, and the local teachers.

Of course, some exceptions apply, but in general, this move towards AI optimization for beginner learning is the right path.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

the government outsourced a lot of these jobs, and these jobs suck. mostly the foreigners are escorted into classrooms to shout vocabulary lists at children. "Dog. Cat. Show. Fill. People. Lake. Ocean. Mother. Father. Big. Small."

If that is how the imported teachers are being utilized, then perhaps the fault lies with the culture of the schools and their teaching methodology...

I know for fact that a lot of these foreigners came here wanting to teach communication in English, but soon realize that their Japanese counterparts are not aligned with that desire.

Of course, some exceptions apply, but in general, this move towards AI optimization for beginner learning is the right path.

Well, for one - it is not "AI". It is simply a programmed robot. There is no intelligence, artificial or otherwise. And going by your logic, there are a lot of other jobs that could/should also be slated to be replaced by robots in schools - rather than just the typical singling out of foreigners that came here on good will.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It starts from birth. All kids hear and see is English is a joke on TV with their Idols and then they see their mom N dad say I can't do it and it's too hard . Teachers dont speak English. I met a so called teacher with her Masters in English that couldn't speak. When it comes time to learn English they have given up long before they even started. The parents need to wake up and treat learning English like Kanji. First 3years of school 360 characters 1600 before Jr high but 26 letters and 42 sounds is too hard cuz it's really okay not to learn and God forbid we loose are culture.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Nobody can speak a foreign language without an extensive working vocabulary and the only way to acquire one is to read every day in order to NATURALLY store words in the memory available for recall. Unfortunately, Japanese have little time (or incentive) to read real English and few opportunities to speak with foreigners. It's no wonder that English in Japan is as alive as Latin and no robots can resuscitate it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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