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English in Elementary Schools December 2nd, 2013 | Author: David

English in Elementary Schools

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The other day, I met an American guy in the pool at my sports club. We started talking, and it turned out that he was an ALT at a local junior high school. He also works at the elementary school next door.

For the last few weeks, a group of trainee teachers have been visiting his school, and he has had to teach with some of them. He was saying how shocked he was at how little English they could speak.

He said that it was impossible for him to have any kind of conversation with them in English, so he just spoke Japanese to them all the time. He also said that when they were teaching, it was “katakana English” that sounded terrible.

I didn’t know much about the requirements for elementary school teachers, so I asked my colleague. Apparently, Gifu used to have an English test as part of the “employment exam” (採用試験) for elementary school teachers, but they don’t do it anymore. Even when they did, it was just a very simple test that pretty much anyone could pass even if they couldn’t speak a word of English.

Of course, I am not criticising Gifu’s policy. It takes thousands of hours of study to learn a foreign language, and elementary school teachers have to learn the basics of a wide range of subjects. The question is whether it makes sense to have teachers teaching something to children that they cannot do themselves.

When I first heard about the new system of teaching English in elementary schools, I thought it was a good idea, but after talking to the ALT, I have changed my mind. My colleague told me that the aim of English classes is to make learning English “fun” for the students, but I’m not sure how much fun it can be to learn English from someone who cannot speak it even at a very basic level.

At the very least, surely the teachers should be able to pronounce English correctly. If they can’t, what is the point in having them teach it? Wouldn’t it be better for the children to just watch DVDs?

Anyway, I would like to know what all you parents think about this. Do you want your children learning English from teachers who can’t speak it themselves? Do you think it is a good idea for English to be included in the elementary school curriculum?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Comments

  1. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/02 at 8:19

    Hi David and everyone,

    > Do you want your children learning English from teachers who can’t speak it themselves?

    No, as I mentioned in my comment to Fumie a couple of weeks ago, I stand firmly against the reform if my son will have to learn English from current elementary school teachers.
    The leader of my English club is qualified to teach in elementary schools, but she speaks very little English herself. If my son had to learn English from class teachers like her, I would teach him by myself. LOL!
    Joking apart, what I want to say is that there’s almost no chance that you can see elementary scool teachers who can speak English themselves in Japan. Actually, junior and high school teachers are the same, though!

    > Do you think it is a good idea for English to be included in the elementary school curriculum?

    No, if the government really planed to have current elementary school teachers teach English besides other subjects. I think children will just have to start taking poor English education earlier.

  2. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/03 at 10:20

    Hi everyone,

    >My colleague told me that the aim of English classes is to make learning English “fun” for the students,

    This is true in elementary schools in Yokohama, too. I have helped English classes at the local elementary school for three years as a volunteer, and I remember the school master saying exactly the same thing. The basic idea of having young children learn English is 1)to develop “interest” in different sounds/rhythm in other languages, 2)to let them notice or appreciate different cultures, 3)to encourage them to try “actively” or “without being too shy” to communicate with others even if you’re not a real fluent speaker.

    I quit helping three years ago (for several reasons!), but anyway, 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. In that sense, they were fulfilling their aims, and the children were having fun because they were singing or walking around doing games most of the time which is pretty different from learning other subjects. I also heard some teachers saying that the children became more active in other classes since they had started English classes. That is one good effect, at least.

    However, if the state is really going to raise children’s standard abilities of English, I don’t think the current system will work at all. I can’t forget one of the teachers always saying “Hello! Nice to meet you!” whenever I entered the staff room. I know he was just trying to be nice, and probably those were the only greetings he knew. I can’t help thinking that the state is just pretending to introduce English classes at the least cost.

    Anyway, honestly, David’s questions are quite hard to answer. It really depends on what the final goal is, doesn’t it?

  3. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/03 at 10:29

    Correction:

    I have helped English classes at the local elementary school
    ⇒I have once helped with the English classes…

  4. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/03 at 1:52

    Hi everyone,

    I have just realized that the blackboard in the picture on the top of the entry says, “Hello, my name is … Nice to meet you!”

  5. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/03 at 5:19

    Hi everyone,

    A friend of mine visited her son’s English class in his elementary school the other day. She saw his class teacher teaching children “みどりは英語でグリーン”. I was told that she thought “It’s not “グリーン”, but it is ‘green’!”

    Today a lot of young children take English lessons before they start school. Their teachers are often native speakers of English or bilingals in English and Japanese. I wonder if there’s point in bothering to teach the wrong English pronounciations or unnatural phrases again after they start school. I’m not against teaching English in elementary schools, but the problem is who should teach them.

  6. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/03 at 10:58

    Hi David and everyone,

    I have lots to talk about this topic! When this plan was announced, there were pros and cons.
    I think including English in school curriculum and starting English lessons from the third grade has merits and demerits.

    Merits
    1) The more exposed to English, the better their(student’s) English would be.
    2) The earlier to start, the better their pronunciation would be.

    Demerits
    1) It is difficult to have enough teachers who have sufficient English ability. (There is a budget problem too.)
    2) It may lead students to hate English. To evaluate their abilities, students would be forced to take tests.

    Personally I have a favorable view of this idea if they do it successfully. The aim of this plan is to boost student’s English abilities which they will be able to communicate and compete with foreigners when they grow up. I think that is what Japanese young people should acquire.
    To make this plan successfully, they should hire enough teachers who have good command of English and teaching skills and lessons should be fun not grammar-oriented.

    > Do you want your children learning English from teachers who can’t speak it themselves?
    - No like YU, I don’t want my sons to learn English from someone whose ability is poor. Having said that, homeroom teachers are very good at teaching and understanding students so I think it is ideal that they work with assistant English teachers.
    One thing I noticed recently was that students who speak and pronounce English well are increasing. Lots of students are learning English at private schools and English levels of teachers are high. I think they are required to have experiences of living abroad or passing some English test like STEP or TOEIC.

    >Wouldn’t it be better for the children to just watch DVDs?
    - Actually, “Hi, Friends” (English textbooks) come with DVD. You can listen to the correct pronunciations or even watch the lip movements of native speakers. So if teachers’ pronunciation are poor, they should use DVD even so when they speak classroom English students have to hear bad pronunciation. As Biwa pointed out, they can be good role models of English learners.

  7. Tamami
    Commented on
    2013/12/03 at 11:28

    Hi David and everyone. 

    > Do you want your children learning English from teachers who can’t speak it themselves?

    Actually, I don’t have any children ( because I’m a student ).  But if I did, of course NOT. I remember teachers who spoke カタカナEnglish at my junior high school  and it was the more annoying because I was used to normal (?) English pronunciation. When I was an elementary school student, I often listened to Carpenters as my hobby. And I took English lectures which my neighbour (a housewife) held. She had 英検1級 and spoke English as if she had been a native.  So before entering the junior high, I expected English teachers like her. But soon I realised that was only my imagination. The teachers seemed to talk with ALTs in English, but I don’t know what the ALTs thought about their カタカナEnglish… And even if they passed their employment exam, without English speaking ability, I can’t trust them very much as English teachers. 

    > Do you think it is a good idea for English to be included in the elementary school curriculum?

    I think it’s good. Of course I can’t agree the idea that teachers who can’t speak English teach children English. However, I think it’s important for children to have an interest in English before they learn it because forced to study something without interest in it, they come to hate it, as Fumie mentioned. So as long as children can enjoy playing English games or singing English songs in lectures, English should be included in the elementary school curriculum. 

    Hi, YU. 

    > I’m not against teaching English in elementary schools, but the problem is who should teach them.

    I thought the same thing. I heard government had a plan : all English teachers conduct lectures in English at school. (maybe at junior high, high school or university.)  Lack of their English speaking ability prevents this plan from being realising. I think the system to employ English teachers must be changed not only at junior high, but also at elementary school.

  8. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/04 at 9:58

    Hi YU,

    >I wonder if there’s point in bothering to teach the wrong English pronounciations or unnatural phrases again after they start school.

    I feel exactly the same. That’s why I mentioned the teacher saying “Nice to meet you!” all the time. As far as I remember, I have never heard my classmates(=children) in the US using this phrase. It’s scary to imagine Japanese children saying this outside the school every time they meet someone, isn’t it! If the Ministry of Education really wants to make English classes in elementary school something really worthwhile(and I hope they do), they must think of a way to hire enough qualified teachers. They don’t necessarily have to be native-speakers because in reality, there are many kinds of English with different accents. But at least, they should try to give authentic English as much as possible to their students.

    Hi Fumie,

    >The aim of this plan is to boost student’s English abilities which they will be able to communicate and compete with foreigners when they grow up.

    Would that be just Osaka’s policy or the national policy? I’m just interested because it sounds like they actually want to “teach” the language, which is a lot different from the policies I’ve written in my previous comment. Actually, those three policies were written in the 横浜市指導要項2010年 which we(volunteers) received at the beginning-of-the-semester meeting. Maybe the Ministry has changed its policies after I quit, and was handed down to each city. (I’m not really sure about this.)

    Hi Tamami,

    >So before entering the junior high, I expected English teachers like her. But soon I realised that was only my imagination.

    Same here!
    I also noticed that they don’t really teach intonation or stress at schools.

    Hi everyone,

    Anyway, it seems like all the members here share the same idea that hiring “good” teachers is crucial to this plan. I also think “a good curriculum” is very important, too. Japanese people often say “Don’t focus too much on the grammar. Communicative English should be first priority.” However, I really doubt if you can become a sufficient speaker without learning the grammar, especially in a country like Japan where there is almost no input of the language outside the school. I’m not against this trend or praising of “communicative English” since languages are communication tools, except for linguists!

    Watching DVDs or copying the lip-moves of a native speaker may help a lot with acquiring good pronunciation, but I’m afraid that is just one part of language learning. To say what you want to say, or to catch what the other speaker is saying requires all sorts of skills, so I think a well-balanced/ well-considered curriculum is crucial as much as hiring good teachers.

  9. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/04 at 10:21

    Sorry, I read bitsofenglish again carefully, and realized that “set a model” has to be “set an example.” My original sentence should be: “…the homeroom teachers were just trying to set a good example of an active challenger for their students…”

  10. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/04 at 10:24

    Hi Fumie,

    I read your comment with great interest.

    > Having said that, homeroom teachers are very good at teaching and understanding students so I think it is ideal that they work with assistant English teachers.

    I agree.
    Observing my son’s English class, I really feel the ability to read and control children’s minds is one of the essential requirements as well as your English knowledge for becoming English teachers for young learners. Unfortunately, his teacher is almost 70, he doesn’t have any kids himself, so his classes sometimes get in chaos. I like his teacher, but I don’t really think he is suitable to teach English to young kids.

    My friend told me that when she visited her son’s English class the other day, the homeroom teacher was teaching English to children alone with her poor English. As you said, it seems that ALTs are not always there due to cost problems.

    > One thing I noticed recently was that students who speak and pronounce English well are increasing.

    You see!
    My son is still five, but many of his friends already have exposure to English in some way. If the government didn’t make the right reforms now, differences of English abilities between children due to their parents’ income gaps would just go on growing.

    >I think the system to employ English teachers must be changed not only at junior high, but also at elementary school.

    I think so, too.
    As you know, there are still many elementary school teachers who were employed before people started talikng about English education in elementary schools. For those teachers, this reform must be nothing but stress. Actually, they’re not to be blamed. If the government started to employ only English all rounders in the near future, current teachers would come to a dead end in their careers. Actually, I don’t really think people with English talents want to become a school English teacher because it is a very hard job, they would rather choose other easier jobs English talents required and get better paid.

    However, from parents’ point of view, I don’t want to accept my son learning English from class teachers who have only very poor English knowledge or being evaluated by them.

  11. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/04 at 10:28

    Sorry!

    >they would rather choose other easier jobs English talents required and get better paid.

    …..jobs required English talents….

  12. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/04 at 10:31

    Sorry again,

    This comment is to Tamami!

    >I think the system to employ English teachers must be changed not only at junior high, but also at elementary school.

    I think so, too.
    As you know, there are still many elementary school teachers who were employed before people started talikng about English education in elementary schools…..

  13. Tamami
    Commented on
    2013/12/04 at 3:54

    Hi, Biwa and YU.

    >It’s scary to imagine Japanese children saying this outside the school every time they meet someone, isn’t it!

    Yes ! And I think ‘ I’m fine.’ is the same. At school (at least at my school ), teachers told us to say ‘I’m fine,’ when we were asked ‘How are you ?’ 
    So even if we knew the words ‘tired’ ‘sleepy’ ‘good’, for example, we only said ‘I’m fine.’  Here is my experience : I found a friend who looked tired and asked her ‘大丈夫?’. She answered ‘疲れてる…’  Then, however, I asked her, ‘How are you ?’ with only my curious, and she answered, ‘ I’m fine.’ !! Moreover when natives are asked ‘How are you?’ in the real world , they don’t use ‘I’m fine,’ very mush do they ? And it’s also scary as well as ‘Nice to meet you,’ isn’t it ?
    (I heard natives don’t use ‘How are you’ so often, either. Is it true ? If so, what do you say instead of ‘how are you’ ?

    Anyway, as we have been complaining, we need GOOD teachers who can teach 生きてる英語. 

    Hi, YU. 

    >I don’t really think people with English talents want to become a school English teacher because it is a very hard job, they would rather choose other easier jobs English talents required and get better paid.

    Exactly. It’s very difficult to teach someone own native language. When I talk with an American, a Japanese learner, in Japanese, he often asks me ‘what does ~ mean?’ or ‘what is the difference between ○○ and △△?’  I know the meaning or the difference, but I can seldom explain it. And when we talk in English and I ask him the same thing, he can’t answer, either. 
    I know it’s difficult, but we wish we learn a language from a native. And it’s a huge pity for English learners that natives are not willing to be teachers…

  14. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/04 at 7:02

    Hi Tamami,

    I should have explained it more clearly.
    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”.
    As you know, the number of those people are extremely few in this country, so they are always in great demand everywhere. That means, there’s no need for them to choose a hard job like “school teachers” in the first place.

    As Biwa mentioned, I don’t think elementary school English teachers must be native speakers of English, either, but at least they should be highly qualified.

    Hi Biwa,

    > I quit helping three years ago (for several reasons!)

    Do you mind if I ask you the reasons?
    I’m just curious!

  15. Anne
    Commented on
    2013/12/05 at 12:38

    Hi David and everyone,
    > Do you want your children learning English from teachers who can’t speak it themselves?
    —No. Absolutely not. This reminded me of a story from my friend who took a conversation class at the community college. She took the class for beginners and met an elementary school teacher there. He was struggling how to teach English at his class. His speaking level was quite low and she wondered whether or not he could teach English.

    If the Japanese teachers who can’t speak or who don’t know enough English had to teach students, it would be pathetic for both the teachers and the students. Having said that, I don’t think just being a native speaker is a good enough reason to teach the language. But rather the point is a teacher that is trained to teach should teach.
    Sorry to say, I’m not familiar with the recent English education at school, and it’s just out of curiosity…. I’m interested in how much ALTs are involved in organizing the classrooms. Are they inolved just to let students show “native pronunciations”? Or are they responsible for one hour lessons?

    Hi Fumie,
    Your comment was very helpful to understand the recent situation in Englsih education. Thank you.

    >they will be able to communicate and compete with foreigners when they grow up—-I understand what you mean, but to compete with people from other countries, I think there is more important thing that students should be taught at school. That is the abililty to discuss, or to express their ideas clearly. Do students have a chance to discuss at school?

  16. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/05 at 8:43

    Hi Tamami,

    >Anyway, as we have been complaining, we need GOOD teachers who can teach 生きてる英語.

    I really think so. And it is one of the major disadvantages of being a non-native teacher like me. However, I think there is no other way but to sort them out one by one. In that sense, you’re a learner forever!

    Hi YU,

    Of course not!
    Well, the biggest reason was that “they” were the boss! (lol!) I mean, although almost every teacher didn’t have any idea on how to teach English, the policy of the city forced them to be the main teacher. So they just ended up singing songs and doing games without any particular aims. At first, I was really willing to share ideas that would help the students get more involved in the lessons because my sons always complained how meaningless the lessons were. However, the teachers seemed to be obsessed with the idea that they have to be in the center, they never really listened to whatever the volunteers suggested. I always felt as if I were just a CD player!
    Another big reason was that the teachers were always busy with other work. So for them, teaching English was nothing but just a burden. I tried to help them making lesson plans beforehand, but usually, they didn’t have time to plan anything. I thought it was completely helpless, and began to lose enthusiasm. It made me think that I should be spending more time for my own students if I were just wasting time here.

    Things seem to work at Fumie’s school, but I guess many schools and teachers are just panicking at this new plan. I wonder why they don’t try other things, and why don’t they give more authorities to each city/towns? I don’t think every school has to follow the same way. Some schools might like to commission some language school to handle their English classes, or some might like to hire local university students who study English education(like the students David teaches). Of course, schools will have to supervise them, but I think that would be a huge weight off their minds and also helpful for the children.

    Hi Anne,

    >I understand what you mean, but to compete with people from other countries, I think there is more important thing that students should be taught at school.

    Absolutely. Aren’t people too much possessed with the idea that you have to be able to speak like a native-speaker when doing business with people from other countries? Is it just my impression? Anyway, I think it’s completely the other way round. I don’t think people would just ignore you because of your poor language ability. I think it’s the idea or your thoughts that counts.

    By the way, I notice that many mothers who come to see my class- to decide whether they should send their children or not- say the same thing. “I’m really bad at English, especially speaking and listening, so I hope my child will be able to speak like a bilingual in the future.”
    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.

  17. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/05 at 8:49

    Correction:

    >and why don’t they give more authorities to each city/towns?
    ⇒and why they don’t give more authority to each city/town.

  18. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/05 at 9:15

    Hi Tamami,

    >Anyway, as we have been complaining, we need GOOD teachers who can teach 生きてる英語.
    -I totally agree with you. In your case, the conversation of “How are you?” and “I’m fine.” is just should-be memorize phrases not 生きた英語。Students just repeat what the teacher said like a parrot. There are no meanings the words itself.

    Hi Anne,

    >I’m interested in how much ALTs are involved in organizing the classrooms.
    In the case of my city, at junior high schools, English teachers and ALTs teach together whole 50 minutes classes and at elementary schools, homeroom teachers and JTEs teach together whole 45 minutes classes. In both cases, English teachers and homeroom teachers mainly do lessons and ALTs and JTEs are helping them as assistant teachers as a matter of policy.
    I think this team-teaching system is the best if it goes well. ALTs and JTEs are good at English and they have skills and know games and songs and teachers(Junior high English teachers and elementary homeroom teachers) are good at class managements. We(JTEs) don’t fully understand students’ abilities and natures so if we taught alone, clasees would be in chaos!

    Hi Biwa,

    >The aim of this plan is to boost student’s English abilities which they will be able to communicate and compete with foreigners when they grow up.(This is my comment.)

    >Would that be just Osaka’s policy or the national policy?

    -Oops! I’m not sure that policy is national one or Osaka’s one or none of them. I read many those things from several materials and I may mix them up. I should check and write those things.
    この方針が大阪のものか、国のものかどちらでもないかよく覚えていません。いろんなところでいろんな意見を読むのでどれがどれなのか整理でできてないまま書き込んでしまいました。こういうことはきちんと調べて書くべきですね。不注意ですね。すいません!

  19. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/05 at 11:43

    Hi David,

    > At the very least, surely the teachers should be able to pronounce English correctly.

    I know what you mean very well, but as you know, a very limited number of people can pronounce English correctly in Japan. They’re either native-speakers or returnees. As I mentioned, I don’t think returnees are likely to become school English teachers from choice. I doubt they can have 教員免許 here in the first place because some of them finished different school curriculums both in other countries and in Japan. Likeweise, it’s not very easy to find native-speakers who speak good Japanese sufficient to give English classes alone, too, so as Fumie mentioned, if you want your children to learn authentic English at school, the most realistic solution is to have all Japanese elementary school teachers in charge of third-year class or above teach English together with native/Japanese assistant teachers, after all.
    In this case, the government will have to employ much more number of assistant teachers by 2020.

    Hi Biwa,

    Thank you for your reply.
    It’s very rude to treat volunteer teachers like you in such a way. I can’t believe that it is the story about an advanced city like Yokohama, but as you say, the fact might be that teachers were so busy with their other work that they couldn’t make time to work together with you to make interesting lesson plans… It sounds like “lose-lose-lose situation(win-winじゃなくて)” for teachers, vorunteers and students!
    Anyway, as David says, there’re already too many requirements for becoming an elementary school teacher. They have many things to do besides teaching. A materialistic person like me would never choose such a hard work. If I had the basics of a wide range of subjects like them, I would teach at a cramming school!

    >Absolutely. Aren’t people too much possessed with the idea that you have to be able to speak like a native-speaker when doing business with people from other countries? Is it just my impression? Anyway, I think it’s completely the other way round. I don’t think people would just ignore you because of your poor language ability. I think it’s the idea or your thoughts that counts.

    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    I’ve never lived in English speaking countries, or my parents couldn’t speak a word of English, so I can’t pronounce correctly.
    In Germany I always had trouble to pronounce R and L correctly. However, what I learned from living there was that people started to recognize me when I learned to exchange opinions with them even with my poor German. Till then, I thought they just didn’t want to talk with me because my German was terrible, but it wasn’t.

    As David always says, I don’t think you should disregard pronounciation when you learn foreign languages, either, but on the other hand, as you(Biwa) mentioned, I think it is just a small part of language learning.
    Actually, I’m more interested in how much my son will be able to express his opinions in English in the future rather than how good his pronounciation will be because no one knows he’ll live in Japan, in Indonesia, in English speaking countires or in Swahili speaking countries! I just think anyway he’ll lose nothing from learning English to communicate with people from other countries in the future.
    So, I personally think it’s a pity that you ruin the child’s potential before it had a chance to develop by too much interference in their pronounciation, in a “unique” country like Japan particular, where you have chances to hear almost only one language(Japanese) since your childhood.

  20. Fumie
    Commented on
    2013/12/06 at 5:11

    Hi YU,

    >I know what you mean very well, but as you know, a very limited number of people can pronounce English correctly in Japan. They’re either native-speakers or returnees.
    - Do you think so? I see people both children and adults whose pronunciations are pretty good or good often recently, I mean more than before. I guess the reason is that many children go to private English schools and adults can aquire correct English pronunciation via internet, TV, radio. Thanks to technology, now we can learn English including pronunciation even if we don’t go to English speaking countries.

  21. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/06 at 9:32

    Correction:

    >It made me think that I should be spending more time for my own students ⇒spend more time “on”

    I noticed that almost half of my comments are “corrections” this week! I wonder why I can’t spot them before I send them. :(

    Hi YU and everyone,

    >As David always says, I don’t think you should disregard pronounciation when you learn foreign languages, either, but on the other hand, as you(Biwa) mentioned, I think it is just a small part of language learning.

    I don’t say it’s just a small part, actually, I think it’s a very important part if you want to communicate with others orally. However, it’s still just one component of the whole learning besides grammar, vocabulary and all others.

    By the way, my husband sometimes talks with his clients from home because of the time lag. Anyway, his English is horrible! (lol!) Not to mention “l” and “r”s, but he mixes up all other things. The other day, I heard him saying something like “ma-scene”, and I noticed afterwards that he was actually trying to say “machine.” Anyway, his insufficiency of the language didn’t seem to bother the talk at all, moreover, the client he was talking to seemed to be a non-native speaker, too. It made me think strongly that abilities such as to guess or to meet your clients needs might be a lot more important than the fluency of the language. Having said that, I’m sure things would be much easier for him if he had a better pronunciation!

  22. Anne
    Commented on
    2013/12/06 at 9:52

    Hi Fumie,

    Thanks for explaining how English is taught in your city. If every school in elementary school in Japan adopt that system, it would be effective and the burden of the teachers would be reduced.

    Hi Biwa,
    >“I’m really bad at English, especially speaking and listening, so I hope my child will be able to speak like a bilingual in the future.”
    >It’s really interesting and also a pity that so many mothers believe that a language can be acquired that easily.
    —I totally agree with you!
    A lot of kids learn English even before entering the elementary school, and new plan starts concerning English education. I think new plan itself would be good to open the door for children to be familiar with English and different cultures.
    If you learn English three times a week from the first grader to sixth grader, total numbers of hours is estimated less than 500 hours(83 hours a year). You often hear a word “bilingual”, and it sounds like a magic word for language learners. According to some book , to acquire enough language skills, you need 5000 hours! As you mentioned, without immersing yourself(children)in that situation and without effort, it looks like a sad fantacy(or delusion?),right?

  23. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/06 at 10:35

    Hi Fumie,

    >I mean more than before.

    Maybe you’re right, but strangely, I don’t see adults like you described as often as you do, or better say “at all”! LOL! 95~99% of adults around me are just like mothers come to see Biwa’s class. Should I go around with more intellectual people?? :-) By the way, it’s very interesting that Japanese people look up to other Japanese people who speak English fluently!

    Back to the topic, anyway, I think the problem is whether adults like you mentioned all want to become school English (assistant) teachers. I don’t really think it is realistic(I mentioned the reasons already) or the number of them is enough to start teaching all third graders or above in Japan from 2020.

    >I guess the reason is that many children go to private English schools

    I’m afraid, but I don’t think that is the reason. 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. I think they are just given a chance to exposure ‘authentic’ English by their parents once a week. So, employing native-speakers or returnees in elementary schools just gives young childen more chances to exposure ‘real” English, but I don’t think it never mean every child will learn to speak fluent English very soon.
    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, our government accepts only a small number of immigrants(at present) compared to other advanced countries, so actually I don’t think it is that easy for Japanese children to acquire English even if the government reforemed only English education in schools.

    > Thanks to technology, now we can learn English including pronunciation even if we don’t go to English speaking countries.

    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!).
    I’ve never tried the way like that in my life, but I wonder how much my bad English pronunciation will be corrected and get closer to natives’ one by using it because I’m over 40. Have you ever tried it yourself? Did it work?

    By the way, my husband came to Japan when he was 25 and he’s been living here for about 10 years. He speaks only Japanese at home and at work, so he speaks Japanese fluently, but my son’s pronunciation is much better than his.

  24. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/06 at 11:45

    Hi Biwa and everyone,

    > I don’t say it’s just a small part, actually, I think it’s a very important part if you want to communicate with others orally. However, it’s still just one component of the whole learning besides grammar, vocabulary and all others.

    Oh, sorry!
    From my own experience, I think other language learning components often can cover your poor pronunciation unless it was ‘incurably bad’.
    Even a person like me who has difficulities to pronounce R and L correctly was able to communicate with Germans, Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, Americans or others in English on the phone every day at work.

    As you mentioned, things would be much easier for you if you had a better pronunciation, but the fact is that there’re much more non-native speakers than native-speakers in this world, so I don’t think you have to feel small so much just because your pronunciation is not like a native speaker’s. Likewise, I don’t think you have to feel small just because you’re not good at English, either. By chance English is the most spoken language today, so it is called a global language, but I don’t think English is superior to other languages or vice versa in the first place. I hear many native speakers of English are not good at other languages!

    I often feel many parents misunderstand that their children have to have perfect pronunciation to compete with people from other countries in the future, but we’re not learning English to compete with other people for better pronunciation, but most of us are learning it to communicate with people from all over the world, aren’t we? Pronunciation is indeed very important, but sticking to only pronunciation is nonsense, I think.

    Hi Anne,

    > you need 5000 hours!

    The DVD of DWE(Disney World of English) I borroewd from a friend of mine from my English club says “you need 6000 hours!”

  25. Biwa
    Commented on
    2013/12/06 at 2:12

    Hi YU, Fumie and everyone,

    >From my own experience, I think other language learning components often can cover your poor pronunciation unless it was ‘incurably bad’.

    I think that is true, too. That’s why I mentioned my husband’s case. The listener can usually guess the word by the context, or the speaker can replace it with other words. Also, I think that having the same experience, or tacit knowledge(暗黙知) will make things easier, too. I might have a little better pronunciation than my husband, but I would never be able to do business like him.

    On the subject on pronunciation, I actually do give a large weight on teaching it to my students. For example, to recognize the difference in the sounds “o” and “u”(short vowels as in “hot” and “hut”) is extremely difficult for them, but using various ways, they finally do acquire it. I don’t think that just giving them native-speaker’s English would be enough when you teach pronunciation. Even for young learners, I think you need to teach them the system/rules.

  26. YU
    Commented on
    2013/12/06 at 3:52

    Hi Biwa,

    At first, I’m not a professional teacher like you, so please forgive me if I say something nonsense.

    Why don’t you teach the system/rules to your husband, too? You’re mean! Joking apart, do you think adults like him will be able to pronounce as correctly as your students(young children) do, too only if he gets the rules?

    I don’t say people like me who are far older than 18 never be able to improve their pronunciation through knowing the rules or doing effective exercises like you give to your students, but still I think adults are different from young children, I believe there’s a limit for us. 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 personally think learning intonations or enlarging vocabulary are more useful in adults’ case. I know you agree with me in this point, though.

    > I don’t think that just giving them native-speaker’s English would be enough when you teach pronunciation.

    Do you think so? Then, why mixed children living in Japan can pronounce English or other languages correctly even though their parents never teach the rules? My husband sometimes teaches Indonesian language to my son, and he can copy what my husband says very easily, but I can’t do it very well. I can’t beat my son no matter what I do. So, I don’t really think it is only the matter if you teach the rules or not, but I think young children still have flexible senses for other languages.