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What would you do?

May 24, 2008

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.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ian permalink
    June 11, 2008 5:05 am

    There must be some social nuance that I’m not getting Jon. Aren’t they coming to you for you to teach them correctly? What responsibility do you have for others ignorance? Or is that harsh?

  2. June 11, 2008 1:17 pm

    “Aren’t they coming to you for you to teach them correctly?”
    …seems to be saying I should be correcting these mistakes, while…
    “What responsibility do you have for others ignorance?”
    …seems to be saying I shouldn’t.

    To my mind, I have to correct her teacher’s mistakes as well as her own, but does that extend to going through her school exercise book and re-marking everything that her teacher’s made a mess of?

    That’s what I’d like to do. But it’d cause a bit of resentment, both for her (“But my other teacher said it was right…”), and her teacher, assuming he sees his own annotations corrected.

    So I don’t feel I can make any direct reference to her teacher’s ignorance, because I can’t risk her going into school and announcing it, as there could be repercussions for her (if the teacher’s seen to lose face – just about the worst social fate possible for a Japanese adult – the teacher could retaliate and brand her a troublemaker – just about the worst social fate possible for a Japanese child).

    Plus I don’t want to her to feel that there’s no point in her school English lessons (even though that may be true) and switch off completely. That might start a rot.

  3. remora permalink
    June 11, 2008 11:36 pm

    but how hard can learning English really be?.. (afterall)

    “When he was appointed England coach back in November, Fabio Capello said that his first press conference in the New Year would be conducted in English. “How hard can it be to learn a language?” he wanted to know.”

    but seriously – I see your point – and I have two of my own going through the Japanese Education system..it is a worry.

  4. Ian permalink
    June 12, 2008 5:45 am

    My eldest came home from school the other day with another detention for not doing her homework. She is 13 so obviously she has done nothing wrong and it is sooooooo unfair.
    I wish being branded a trouble maker was such a big thing over here as well.

    On your last point – what ramifications would there be for you if you, as a teacher was branded a troublemaker? Akin to being a whistleblower over here?

  5. June 12, 2008 7:58 am

    Ramifications for me? Pretty much as you say. It’s a pretty small town.

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