Teach English in Hangji Zhen - Yangzhou Shi

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By the time the average Japanese student graduates from high school, they will have studied English for more than six years. Those who continue to university will spend at least another two years studying the language, for a total of eight years. Despite this, the average Japanese graduate is hardly able to hold a basic conversation in English. The differences between Japanese and English languages plays a part in this discrepancy. But the reasons are much more complicated than just that. The latest changes to the curriculum have called for a greater emphasis on communication skills and less focus on the grammar-translation method of teaching. However, there have been no noticeable improvements in Japanese students’ communicative ability so far. There are a wide variety of reasons for this disconnect, but two deeply intertwined issues are the university entrance exam and students’ general attitude towards English classes. It is a common belief in Japan that the reason English education is so poor is because the teachers are only “teaching to the test,” namely, university entrance exams. Because university is considered such an important step to success, teachers across the country tend to teach only the skills needed to pass the entrance exam, regardless of their personal feelings on the matter. Even teachers who want to adopt new methods of teaching often can’t due to the pressure of the exams (Underwood 917). As a result, many teachers revert to using what they know best: grammar-translation methodology. This is what was most likely used when they were students and possibly what they were taught to use as teachers. Of course, grammar is key to learning any language, but this is hardly the most efficient way to do so. Because many teachers still feel obligated to teach using this outdated methodology, the majority of students don’t find their English classes compelling or engaging. This, combined with a culture of not standing out, is the second problem. When Stephen Ryan asked university applicants why they wanted to learn English in his article “Ambivalence and commitment, liberation and challenge: investigating the attitudes of young Japanese people towards the learning of English,” he found that the answer “has almost invariably been, ‘Because I like English’” (406). According to one interview done by Ryan, English speakers are considered “cool,” but somehow “stupid” at the same time. Students perceive English speakers to be “cool,” but rarely speak English in class because they themselves might look stupid. It may be that students view “classroom English” and “real English” as two distinct entities where using “real English” is positively viewed but “classroom English” is not. It is also possible that while some students may view English positively, their immediate school environment does not support that attitude. For example, students that can speak English well can gain popularity easily, but if they show off too much of their English ability, they stand out and risk being bullied (Ryan 416-417). For many students, then, their relationship with English studies is complicated. Due to the nature of the typical Japanese school environment, most students are less likely to want to do well in English if it means they’ll stand out from the rest. While many steps have been taken to improve English education in Japanese schools, there are deep-rooted systemic issues that make it difficult for students to learn. From the entrance exam culture to the “nail that sticks out gets hammered down” mindset that discourages any kind of perceived difference, it is clear that the reason Japanese students have so much trouble learning English is much more complicated than just the difficulty of the language itself. Ryan, Stephen. "Ambivalence and commitment, liberation and challenge: investigating the attitudes of young Japanese people towards the learning of English." Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, vol 30, no. 5, 2009, pp. 405-20. Underwood, Paul R. "Teacher Beliefs and Intentions Regarding the Instruction of English Grammar Under National Curriculum Reforms: A Theory of Planned Behaviour Perspective." Teaching & Teacher Education, vol. 28, no. 6, 2012, pp. 911-925,