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December 6th, 2013 | Author: David

English in Elementary Schools (Feedback)

Thanks for your comments. It was interesting that a lot of the discussion focussed on the problem of teaching correct pronunciation.

Of course, it is neither realistic nor necessary to expect all Japanese teachers of English to be able to speak with a native-like accent, but they should at least have some idea of what English is supposed to sound like. If you have teachers who just pronounce English words using katakana, I can’t really see how that would be useful to the children in any way.

One point I forgot to make in my entry is that there are actually lots of junior high school teachers who can’t really speak English either, so it is not just a problem for elementary schools. As you know, I work in the faculty of education at a national university. I teach students who want to get an English teacher’s license. Although all of them graduate, I would say that only between 10 and 20% of them can speak English well enough to do a good job.

This is not a criticism of either my students or my university. Every university in Japan is the same. It’s just the way the system is set up. For some reason, English is viewed differently to other subjects that are taught in Japanese schools, and English teachers are given a kind of “free pass.” No one ever heard of a music teacher who can’t play the piano or an art teacher who can’t draw, but everyone accepts that it is quite natural to have English teachers who can’t speak English.

Our first-year students come straight from high school, and of course, most of them cannot speak English at all. Over the course of their four years of study, they have a total of around seven or eight English classes. Most of these are for a single semester, though, so the total is equivalent to about four one-year classes of ninety minutes per week, although some of those are taught mainly in Japanese.

There is no final English test that students have to take in order to graduate, and they are not required to have any particular TOEIC or TOEFL score, so it is quite possible for students to graduate without really having any English ability at all. Of course, our students are encouraged to study abroad, but there is no requirement that they have to do this in order to get a teaching license.

As you know, university in Japan is seen as a kind of “holiday” holiday period between high school and work, and for the vast majority of students in every department, their part-time jobs and their club activities are far more important than their studies. Unfortunately, this is just the reality of university education in Japan.

Anyway, we are changing things now at my university, and all our students will have to pass a number of one-on-one interview tests with me. I will not pass people who do not speak English well enough to teach it, so either we are going to have a sharp rise in English standards, or we are going to have a lot of fifth- and sixth-year students!

Here is some feedback on your comments.

I stand firmly against the reform if my son will have to learn English from current elementary school teachers.
Nice sentence.

Actually, junior and high school teachers are the same, though!
Very true, although there are lots of good ones too.

I remember the school master saying exactly the same thing.
Nice sentence.

it seemed that the homeroom teachers(担任) were just trying to set a good model of an active challenger for their students rather than actually teaching some language.
I think this is definitely the best approach for elementary school teachers to take.

I have helped English classes at the local elementary school
“I used to help out with the English classes …” is probably the most natural way to express this.

Today a lot of young children take English lessons before they start school.
That’s a very good point.

I have lots to talk about this topic!
I have lots to say about this topic.

I think that is what Japanese young people should acquire.
young Japanese people (A-Z: adjective order)

students who speak and pronounce English well are increasing.
The number of students who speak and pronounce English well is increasing. (A-Z: increase/decrease)

I often listened to Carpenters as my hobby.
I often listened to the Carpenters for fun.

and spoke English as if she had been a native
and spoke English like a native

I think the system to employ English teachers must be changed not only at junior high, but also at elementary school.
I really hope that happens!

which is a lot different from the policies I’ve written in my previous comment.
which is very different from the policies I wrote about in my previous comment.

Unfortunately, his teacher is almost 70
Really? Why hasn’t he retired?

Moreover when natives are asked ‘How are you?’ in the real world , they don’t use ‘I’m fine,’ very mush do they ?
Somebody else mentioned this the other day, but actually, “I’m fine” is “fine” as long as it’s not the only response you ever use.

I’m interested in how much ALTs are involved in organizing the classrooms.
This depends very much on the prefecture, the school, the Japanese teacher, and the ALT. I was talking to an ALT the other day who complained that her teaching partner never let her do anything except read passages from the book.

although almost every teacher didn’t have any idea on how to teach English
although most of the teachers had no idea of how to teach English

I say “I’m afraid he never will, by just sending him here once a week. If you really think so, you will have to talk to him in English 24 hours a day, or live in a place where he can get enough input outside the house, and work really hard himself.” It’s really interesting and also a pity that so many mothers believe that a language can be acquired that easily.
This is an extremely good point.

Anyway, his insufficiency of the language didn’t seem to bother the talk at all
Anyway, his lack of English ability didn’t seem to affect the conversation at all.

According to some book , to acquire enough language skills, you need 5000 hours!
I would say that is a conservative estimate. It’s simply not possible to do the necessary number of hours within the school curriculum.

I’m afraid, but I don’t think that is the reason.
I’m afraid I don’t think that is the reason.

As I mentioned, I personally think Japan is a very unique country. Most of us can speak only Japanese, all TV stations(except pay channels) air their programs in Japanese,
I’m not sure why you think Japan is “unique” in this respect. It sounds pretty much exactly like the situation in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

That’s it for today. Have a great weekend, and let me know if you have any questions about my feedback.

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Comments

  1. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/07 at 12:25

    Hi YU,

    >As Biwa mentioned, I don’t think children can learn to speak natural English or pronounce English correctly by only attending English school once a week.
    -Common ground! I think learning foreign language is not that easy and need 6000 hours to reach to certain level as you said and the same goes for learning pronunciation.
    Still I feel there are more Japanese people whose English pronunciations are good (not pretty good though)compared to 20~30 years ago.(I’m sorry I already said similar thing as my previous comment)
    同感です。言葉の習得、正しい発音を身に着けるのに週1回、英語の教室に来たくらいでできるようになるはずがありません。でも20~30年前と比べたら、発音のうまい(完璧じゃないけど、カタカナ英語ではないとか、まぁうまいレベル)の日本人が増えているように思うんです。 たまたま地域的にそういう児童が多いからかもしれません。

    >That’s very true, but as for pronunciation, I have a feeling that it will work ‘well’ only when you start using it at very early stage in your life because it is often said that it gets difficult to correct your language pronunciation after 18(sometimes it’s said after 12 or 6!).
    - Yes, that’s true. It is said that the critical period of language acquisition is until you reach 9. Like your son, young children are more flexible than adults.
    Still, we adults can acquire similar pronunciation even if we start it after we grow up
    if we take proper training or by one’s hardest effort. Of course there is a limit in adult case. When I started working as an English teacher for children more than 20 years ago, my pronunciation was Katakana Eigo. Our trainer teacher pointed out my bad pronunciation and I really felt I should correct my pronunciation. So I listened to the cassette tape for pronunciation which our company gave us for self-learning over and over and I somehow came to see the difference between “R” and “L”, “B” and “V” and get the sound of “th” “f” etc.

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your feedback and giving us an interesting topic!
    >Of course, it is neither realistic nor necessary to expect all Japanese teachers of English to be able to speak with a native-like accent, but they should at least have some idea of what English is supposed to sound like.
    - I can’t agree with you more. Every time I hear homeroom teacher saying “Shit down”, I feel awful and sorry for the students that they may think that’s the correct pronunciation!

    > No one ever heard of a music teacher who can’t play the piano or an art teacher who can’t draw, but everyone accepts that it is quite natural to have English teachers who can’t speak English.
    - In my view, English teachers who can’t speak English is nonsense.

    Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

  2. amo
    Commented on
    2013/12/07 at 12:56

    Hi David,

    What a pity that I should not have joined here this week. I am not a parent so I couldn’t answer your questions. Anyway, I hope that the next topic will be the one that I can join:)

    Have a nice weekend all!!
    amo

  3. Anne
    Commented on
    2013/12/07 at 5:42

    Hi David,

    It was interesting to discuss this week’s topic, and also it was good to hear other members ideas.
    Thank you for your feedback.
    >all our students will have to pass a number of one-on-one interview tests with me.—That’s a great idea! All the universities for beoming English teachers should adopt this interview.

    >I would say that only between 10 and 20% of them can speak English well enough to do a good job.
    —That’s really sad. What are do you think students required to tackle with to have enough ability to be English teachers?

    Hi Fumie and everyone,
    >we adults can acquire similar pronunciation even if we start it after we grow up—I couldn’T agree with you more. Of course it is easier for young kids to learn correct pronunciations, but by practicing hardly you can improve your pronunciation. Actually, I am still doing with my self-study group.

    Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

  4. Tamami
    Commented on
    2013/12/07 at 9:32

    Hi, David. 

    Thank you for your feedback. 

    >Our first-year students come straight from high school, and of course, most of them cannot speak English at all.

    I think this is because most of the students study English only for their entrance exams which don’t include speaking English. So students don’t practice to speak English at school (and have no chance to discuss something in classes). That’s why freshmen cannot speak English. 
    I discussed this with my friends before, and they said if English speaking ability was required in entrance exams, it would be burden on interviewers (teachers or professors maybe) because it would be hard to 数値化する how much students could speak English.  (How do you say 数値化する in English ?) And the system of entrance exam would become more complicated. So no speaking exam is good for both school teachers and examiners. As a result,
    this allows people to become teachers without English speaking ability. And they don’t have to speak English in their classes. This is just a vicious circle, isn’t it…..?

    >As you know, university in Japan is seen as a kind of “holiday” holiday period between high school and work

    Definitely ! And now I’m enjoying the ‘holiday’. lol Jokes apart, I was surprised to find that students in other countries study harder at university. In Japan what students learn is hardly related to their jobs. (especially 文系 students ) This lets them lazy. And students study only to get grades. Finally they have a lot of time to work and join their club. However, if this situation continues, I don’t think they need to study at university.

    Hi, YU. 

    >Actually, I didn’t mean native speakers of English with “people with English talents” in my sentence, I meant “Japanese people who have high English abilities”.

    I’m sorry for misunderstanding your comment. And thank you for telling me about that !

  5. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/07 at 10:51

    Hi David,

    Thank you always for your feedback.

    >all our students will have to pass a number of one-on-one interview tests with me. I will not pass people who do not speak English well enough to teach it,

    This reminded me of the final interview test with the Japanology professor emeritus(of my university in Germany) all students in the department had to pass before they graduated. I majored in Japanology there. I thought every student got an article in Japanese beforehand and had to discuss it with the professor in the interview all in Japanese. Everyone was afraid of the test and some of my friends from the department asked me to help their preparation for the test. Luckily, I was exempted from the test because I’m Japanese, though.
    The professor seemed to be hated by most students because of his strictness, so might be you, but I think it is finally good for your students. Not only for them, but also for Japanese children who are going to learn English from them in the future.

    > Unfortunately, his teacher is almost 70
    Really? Why hasn’t he retired?

    He seems to used to teach at a major English conversation school in Japan when he was younger, but now he is giving private English classes to children. He seems to give training classes at some companies, too. By the way, his wife is Japanese.

    > I’m not sure why you think Japan is “unique” in this respect. It sounds pretty much exactly like the situation in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

    I thought so because there were some free channels for foreigners in their languages in Germany. I didn’t know that you have the same situation as us(,but we have different reasons, though!), but it might be because the three are all English speaking countries. I mean, I don’t think English is superior to other languages, but people expect almost all people in the world understand English, so you just don’t feel you should air programs in foreign languages. I’m not sure….

    Hi David and Fumie,

    > I think this is definitely the best approach for elementary school teachers to take.

    Have you ever heard of an English teaching material for young learners called “Genki English”?
    A friend of mine from my English club started teaching English to her children and their friends this spring. She has 英検1級, studied in the university in England and in the US, so her English is really good, but she always told me she didn’t know how to teach English to young children and it always took a long time to prepare for her classes. One day she came across to see the site of “Genki English”, liked it, and bought it.
    She told me that every child enjoys learning English with it and she learned that it was the best way for young children to learn English with fun after all.
    I took a look at the site and I was overwhelmed by the genki of the material developer. He is English. His materials seem to be used not only many elementary schools in Japan, but also schools in over 100 foreign countries.

    If you’re interested, please have a look at this.

    http://genkienglish.net/curriculumj.htm

    Hi Fumie and Anne,

    > Still, we adults can acquire similar pronunciation even if we start it after we grow up

    Yes, I think so, too and that’s why I wrote as below ;

    So, I just doubt if it really makes sense for adults to keep seeking to get better pronunciation ‘even after they get it to some extent’.

    I just doubt if it is worth “(keep)seeking” to get better pronunciation for adults even after you learned to pronounce it well to some extent. It’s of course up to your ways of thinking, though. In my case, I know my pronunciation is not like a native speaker, but it seems to be sufficient to communicate with people from other countries or using it on business, so now I give a larger weight on learning other things besides pronunciation.

    Have a nice weekend, all!

  6. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/07 at 9:17

    Hi YU,

    I know “Genki English” and I checked it sometimes.
    I like his bright color, humorous illustrations and its fun games and Genki songs!

  7. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/07 at 10:01

    Hi everyone,

    I want to pick your brain. Do you happen to know any good Christmas picture book for children? I want to read one at my classes. Last year I read “It’s Christmas, David.” so I can’t use that.

  8. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/08 at 9:02

    Hi David,

    Thank you always for the feedback. :)

    >It was interesting that a lot of the discussion focussed on the problem of teaching correct pronunciation.

    I guess it just shows how much people struggle to actually “speak” English. Adults(=Parents) regret the traditional English education they have been receiving so much that they hope their children will become better speakers by giving them something completely different. I often feel their strong expectations for their children because the mother’s story usually continues like this: “Oh,well, maybe I was expecting too much by saying “bilingual.” However, since my pronunciation is awful, I really hope he acquires good pronunciation by beginning from six years old.”
    Honestly, I do understand her feelings, and I really wish to meet her expectations as much as possible, and that’s what I struggle with every day. (Unless, I would lose my job!)

    I was also quite surprised at how limited the English classes are for future-teachers. I know they must learn other things, but wouldn’t that be lesser than English classes at high school? Anyway, I can’t really talk because I was one of those who enjoyed the four-year-holiday…

    Have a nice day, everyone!

  9. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/08 at 9:43

    Hi YU,

    >Why don’t you teach the system/rules to your husband, too? You’re mean!

    Am I? (lol!) Well, I’m a bit pessimistic about correcting his pronunciation. I guess he doesn’t really think he needs to correct it. Also, “even for young learners” meant “even elementary school children learn better by teaching them that English and Japanese has a completely different pronunciation/writing system.” (By the way, I can’t help thinking that learning ローマ字 at the 4th grade is making things even more complicated for them.)

    >In my case, I know my pronunciation is not like a native speaker, but it seems to be sufficient to communicate with people from other countries or using it on business, so now I give a larger weight on learning other things besides pronunciation.

    I guess you already have the answer yourself. :)
    Actually, I have never heard how you speak! And sorry if my comment sounded as if I was being proud of myself. It’s just that I used to live in an English-speaking country, and I was a bit lucky to acquire some pronouncing abilities. Honestly, I don’t really think I was lucky at all because I’m sure I’m missing things that I would have experienced if I had stayed in Japan.

    Anyway, as for adult’s pronunciation correction, I agree with your idea. I think it depends on the person’s awareness or the necessity of doing it because as you say, children often have more flexible muscles and hearing abilities, so they are better at mimicing sounds than adults. It’s very natural that your son can mimic Indonesian instantly. However, if Indonesian was the only language for you and your husband, I’m pretty sure that you would be a very good speaker without taking so much time. Or perhaps, you don’t really need any “words” when you’re with someone you really like, right? :)

  10. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/08 at 9:46

  11. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/08 at 5:34

    Hi David,

    Is Tomoyo Horiguchi “Tomo” from the older entries?

  12. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/08 at 6:20

    Hi Tamami,

    Don’t worry, I always take other members’ sentences wrong, too!

    > because it would be hard to 数値化する how much students could speak English. (How do you say 数値化する in English ?)

    My dictionary says “数値化する = digitalize, convert into numerals”, but I guess what you actually meant was “点数化する/点数をつける”, am I right? So, how about “give a score”, or “score/grade students’ speaking ability”?

    By the way, I heard that PM Abe has a plan to apply the TOEFL tests in university entrance exams in the near future.

    Hi Biwa,

    > And sorry if my comment sounded as if I was being proud of myself.

    No, I didn’t feel so. It’s very natural that you pronunciation is better than others. I think that is one of the reasons why your classes are always popular! :-)

  13. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/08 at 10:27

    Hi Biwa,

    Thank you for introducing me a nice book!
    Coincidentally, one of my colleagues introduced me the same book. It seems an interesting book. I ordered it. It’s lovely to see children’s happy faces when they listen to interesting books!

  14. David
    Commented on
    2013/12/08 at 10:43

    Hi Biwa,

    Yes. Tomo is the Japanese editor for my books. She doesn’t join us much these days because she has started a new job, and she is very busy, but I think she still reads the blog from time to time.

    Hi Fumie,

    Sorry, I don’t know anything about children’s books. Even though they are very famous, I only heard about the “David” books for the first time last weekend. Funnily enough, the woman who told me about them was called “Mrs. Barker”! She is Japanese, but she married a British man who has the same surname as me. Anyway, I laughed when I saw the book, “No, David!” I think that was my mother’s favourite phrase when I was growing up!

  15. Tomo
    Commented on
    2013/12/09 at 12:20

    Hi Biwa,

    Thanks for remembering me!

    Hi David and everyone,

    I haven’t joined you for a long time, but I do read the blog when I have time :-)

    Hi Fumie,

    I have a Christmas picture book called “Father Christmas.” A long time ago, when I went to a bookshop, I fell in love with the picture on the cover and bought a Japanese version for myself. I’m not sure if it is good for your students because it’s like a comic book, but Santa Claus in the book is very charming. He is not like a saint, though!

    Hope you all had a nice weekend,

    Tomo

  16. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/09 at 5:35

    Hi David,

    Don’t worry. Biwa already introduced me a nice book.
    > Anyway, I laughed when I saw the book, “No, David!” I think that was my mother’s favourite phrase when I was growing up!
    -Did you used to be like that David; naughty but a lovable child?

    Hi Tomo,

    It’s lovely to hear from you!
    I like Father Christmas illustration too.

  17. Anne
    Commented on
    2013/12/09 at 8:16

    Hi Tomo,
    I’m glad to hear from you again.
    You seem to have been doing well and that’s nice^^)

    Hi Fumie and everyone.

    Whenever I read the book “It’s Christmas, David!”, I remember David here!
    It might not be suitable for reading children in the class, but I like the book called “The Night Before Christmas” that is illustrated by Tasha Tudor.
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/Night-Before-Christmas-Clement-Clarke/dp/0316832715/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386543172&sr=8-1&keywords=The+night+before+christmas

    I sometimes buy picture books for me and this is one of them^^)

  18. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/09 at 9:59

    Hi David,

    Thanks, I just happened to see Tomo’s picture in your 会社紹介, and wondered who this beautiful woman might be!

    Hi Tomo,

    Of course I remember you! :)
    Hope you can join us more. I love reading your comments.

    Hi Fumie,

    Glad to be of help.

    >It’s lovely to see children’s happy faces when they listen to interesting books!

    Me, too! And I’m sure you and I are doing exactly the same faces when we read to them.

    Hi Anne,

    I have the same book. The pictures are really lovely. The sentences are a bit difficult for children, but it’s still very nice to give them some images of a cozy and Christmassy house.