Wednesday, July 27

English Education in Japan (and Why It Doesn't Work)

English is muri.

So, rounding up two years teaching English here on an island in Hiroshima, Japan I have a few things I like to say about the failing English system in Japan. As a JET some think I will swoop in to a town and everyone will speak English fluently. Others look at the track record of English programs and how little has improved and are already guessing the fateful outcome. The problem is that there isn’t such a definitive correlation between native English teachers in Japan and “successful” students. (The quotes are there to question what success means in Japan which is based on the short-term goal of written tests scores—you can already see how the road to success has become rather complicated).

Wait, native English teachers don’t really affect the English system in Japan? Well, I’ve tried my best (and did a damn-good job) getting students enthused about English learning while pushing students to understand the absurdity of those of their classmates that are unmotivated to learn or even try in class. Also, for students that are truly motivated, I give them special attention in and out of class to reinforce their English and praise their success. Furthermore, I’ve paid special attention to phonics and native English patterns to teach such points that normally go under the radar of traditional education. But my method only goes so far in terms of molding perfect English speakers. 

Seriously though, all interests should be encouraged.

In fact, when I leave the class and when the student goes home that day and for the whole week (or two) I don’t see that student he is flooded with the Japanese language and usually only English that has undergone the 5 vowel-sound transformation of Japanese. So when I teach “How is the weather today?” the students are learning by environmental reinforcement to change it to “Hau isu za weza- tude-?” One teacher can only influence so much. Imagine if outside of Japanese class, students had no one from which to learn or hear native Japanese. Then everyone would realize how little class actually does to reinforce the subject. How much trigonometry or chemistry do you actually remember? Not much if you’re not currently in a field related to one of those subjects. 

Wait, there are plenty of opportunities to learn English outside of the classroom:

In my opinion Japanese is taught rather poorly in Japan. Sure, it’s enough. And sure, there are Japanese intellects birthed from this system that excel in grammar, seem to know every kanji and are specializing in archaic Japanese. These students are exceptions which occur with no help from said educational system. Well then, why can everybody speak Japanese in Japan? It’s pretty obvious that considering a student’s family and community already speak fluent Japanese that each student has constant reinforcement of a subject that is under-taught and overestimated. Again, it’s enough, and even not-so-bright students pop out of the system with fair language skills. Evidence of this is in dialects like Hiroshima-ben which aren’t exactly cool dialects (considering old people love using it) but some people can’t stop using a dialect which their community and family has taught them.

The other reason a native English teacher in Japan has no weight in the educational system of Japan is that a lot of times their suggestions (and gripes) go unheard. Case in point: I talk with my team-teaching teacher about next year’s text book. I suggest choice E even though it is a little challenging because A and B (the normal choices teach in a way I think would confuse the students, while choice C is way too difficult, and D has grammatical errors (come on, you can’t start a sentence with “and”…and you’re teaching this to 7th graders?). So even though I have influence my team-teaching teacher, and her in-depth report makes it to the principal, there seems to be an interruption before the recommendation hits the Board of Education (which further elucidated the excess of Japanese paperwork that gets stamped and goes overlooked).

Good luck to all you new JETs!

What happened to my good intentions? I spent nearly a full day reading through textbooks A to E and made intellectual recommendations based on my two years working in Japan. Maybe the B textbook company has given the BOE a can’t-be-beaten offer for their 2011-2012 set (which hasn’t changed much since the previous year). Or maybe they just stuffed some money in their pockets. The truth is the BOE has little connection to actual schools even though they make all the final decisions concerning education. So, even though there are continual gripes about education such as the lack of focus on English speech, the focus remains on writing and nothing can be changed. (Our students need good test scores, you know.) When I push a little I am met with such responses as, "The problem is that English is just really difficult." What they have neglected to say is, "English is a language just like Japanese. So it's reasonable that we teach them in the same rote methods."  Yappari


  1. Good luck to all you knew JETs! Don't you mean "new"?

  2. It's interesting that the might teach a foreign language in the same manner as they do their native language.

  3. Thank you again for all the knowledge you distribute,Good post. I was very interested in the article, it's quite inspiring I should admit. I like visiting you site since I always come across interesting articles like this one.Great Job, I greatly appreciate that.Do Keep sharing! Regards, tutor

  4. Thanks, Dan Moeller for sharing this post. This post about Japan Education system relevant. I am waiting for your another next post.I also sharing a resource for your checking about Japan


You should probably engage in some conversation.