What would you do?
It’s no secret that despite studying English at school for around 6 years, most Japanese students leave school unable to have a conversation in English. There are many reasons for this. One reason is the emphasis on writing (students are, after all, often quite hot on grammar). This is because students aren’t being taught to use a living language, they’re being trained to pass written tests that have no spoken element.
Another reason is simply the standard of teaching. I once interviewed a lady who came for English lessons who was unable to understand the question “Where do you live?” but later revealed (mostly in Japanese) that she was a public school English teacher. I think it fair to say that there are almost no native speaker English teachers in Japan’s public schools. I couldn’t hazard a guess at how many have English degrees or English-teaching qualifications, except to say I imagine there are few.
So I shouldn’t have been shocked this week. But I was. As one of my classes got on with some groupwork, I had a glance at one student’s schoolbook which was on the table.
Here are some examples from written translation exercises that her school teacher had marked correct.
“Hi is Japanese.” Moments later – “Shi is Japanese.” Elsewhere – “He is Japanise”.
The sentence “犬が好きですか?” (Do you like dogs?) came out as “Do you liek a bog?” but was marked correct, all mistakes unnoticed or ignored. (The transposition of b and d seems quite common among Japanese children. Later, also unnoticed, was “I stuby English”.)
Later on, “docter”. 3 times in 3 lines.
The teacher in me is just dying to put the mistakes right. But I can’t. It risks creating an awkward situation if my student goes back to school and calls out her teacher in front of everyone. But at the same time, saying nothing makes me feel terrible. Some of the ‘bad practices’ are so ingrained (use of katakana for pronunciation being the worst of them) I sometimes wonder if it’s worth undertaking the Sisyphean task of trying to put them right.