Teach English in Liangmian Yuanzhongchang - Huai'an Shi

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It is commonly noted around the world that countries in East Asia highly value education, especially pertaining to the education of their youth. Japan is no exception with its public education system having an international reputation for being rather rigorous and its students being characterized as very studious. However, EF Education First Ltd.’s EF English Proficiency Index 2019 rated the country as having a low English proficiency. This is despite the fact that English is taught by law in all public schools across Japan. According to the index, the country specifically holds one of the lowest rankings in East Asia (EF Education First Ltd. 2019). After having been employed as an assistant language teacher in a Japanese public senior high school since August 2018, it has become evident that this is largely the result of several problems being encountered by Japan’s English learners. These issues are specifically due to the country’s English education curriculum and a few of its distinct cultural characteristics, and particularly affect those attending public educational institutions. First, there are specific roadblocks embedded into Japan’s English education curriculum which hinder, rather than aid, Japanese students of English in reaching proficiency. One such example can be found in the absence of any formal teaching of English phonetics within Japanese public schools. Instead, schools teach children to apply the sounds of Japanese phonemes to the English alphabet. This is troublesome because the English language has many more phonemes than the Japanese language. As a result, Japanese people often lack strong listening, speaking, and writing skills in English because they struggle to understand and reproduce English words and sounds. Furthermore, another, much larger, problem is that the primary focus of Japan’s English education is the development of students’ reading and translation abilities. From personal experience, I have learned that these abilities are specifically honed through the establishment of an English curriculum chiefly concentrated on the teaching of grammar and vocabulary via lectures in Japanese and rote memorization exercises and tests. This has led to a lack of opportunities for students to practice speaking, writing compositions, and listening in English. Overall, these pitfalls in the way Japan teaches English as a foreign language has caused unintentional yet significant harm to their students’ potential to attain a strong English ability by way of their public education. Second, some of the barriers Japanese students studying English experience are cultural. In addition to the widespread notoriety of Japan’s education system, the people of Japan are also known worldwide for being very shy and quiet. Because of their shyness and quiet demeanor, most Japanese students tend to avoid speaking openly in their classes, and especially within their English classes, for fear of embarrassing themselves in front of others. Thus, further diminishing students’ chances to practice speaking and listening in English. Additionally, in my experience, most classes, including English classes, are teacher-centered with the teacher lecturing at the front of the class while the students are listening and taking notes. Having grown accustomed to this style of learning, the only style most Japanese students are familiar with, discourage them even more from speaking in class. This situation is made even more severe due to Japan’s school culture favoring large class sizes. Moreover, after having witnessed the ethnic homogeneity and the strong sense of national identity and unity in Japan, it has become clear that a high or moderate proficiency in English is not needed nor seen as a useful or beneficial skill by most Japanese people. This is predominantly true for those living in less urban and tourist-heavy areas or people who do not have a career for which knowledge of a foreign language is necessary. Consequently, there are some obstacles Japanese students face when learning English that are cultural rather than academic. While there are undoubtedly other issues plaguing English learners in Japan, the most crucial first step to begin increasing Japan’s English proficiency is to recognize that their education system and cultural perception of English can both benefit from improvement. Therefore, it is vital that we acknowledge these specific blockades and find interventions to create positive change. Nevertheless, despite the need to wait for formal amendments to the system in order to achieve nationwide change, teachers have the opportunity to take action to build their students’ English skills by finding small ways to incorporate more writing, speaking, and listening practice into their everyday lessons. In order for English teachers in Japan to achieve our goal of seeing our students move towards higher English proficiency, we must not only fill them with knowledge but provide them opportunities to turn their knowledge into functioning skill. References: “EF EPI 2019 – Asia.” EF EPI 2019 - EF English Proficiency Index,