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Teach English in JiubujiAng Zhen - Zhuzhou Shi
I have been an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan for two years now and I have had the opportunity to observe English language learning and training. If you ask Japanese students what is the hardest thing about learning English, they will point to the grammar and pronunciation. Japanese and English share very few commonalities when it comes to grammar and that makes it difficult for both sides to learn the opposite language. There are certainly problems with pronunciation, since the Japanese language doesn’t have a lot of sounds that English has like ‘th’, ‘v’, and a true ‘f’ sound. However, there are more problems than basic grammar and pronunciation, but I will go into more detail on these too. The first and foremost problem with Japanese students learning English is, I believe the curriculum. The course materials are approved by the Ministry of Education at the federal level with little room left for flexibility. The Ministry will often include foreigners in the panels who put together the course materials, but I have heard from a few of these foreigners that their recommendations are often taken lightly and either ignored outright or done in a different way that doesn’t really solve the problem. Also, students are taught that perfection is the only standard that they should aim for. The whole purpose of the English curriculum is to prepare students to pass their high school entrance exams and eventually university entrance exams. Though this is an admirable goal, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for students to actually acquire the language and actually ends up demotivating many students. There are some teachers that allow for interesting games and activities in their classroom while many others strictly adhere to the textbook with little to no variation. The reason that Japanese students will tell you that grammar is one of their problems with learning English is included in the reason above. There is not a lot of room for language acquisition as the focus is primarily on the entrance exams. Language acquisition is not truly necessary for successfully completing these exams as they are written in such a way that rote memorization is the best skill to have. This does not leave a lot of room for students to practice language fluency as the focus continues to remain on accuracy. There tends to be more penalization on lots of English used creatively with several errors than basic English in small quantities with fewer errors. This demotivates students from applying what they are learning in new and creative ways. It ultimately prohibits them from experiencing the language in a way that children do and reduces their ability to acquire the language in a substantial way. The government is trying to change the focus to communication which would bring the focus towards fluency and away from accuracy, but they are struggling to find a way to do this. In my opinion, Japanese pronunciation is not a huge problem. Japanese students certainly do struggle with saying certain letters and sounds. They struggle to hear the difference between ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds. However, these aren’t major problems. These are problems that simply get easier with time and some practice. The Japanese have created something that they call “waseieigo” and it basically means they pronounce English words in a Japanese way. One of the three scripts in Japan, katakana, is used mainly for foreign words. What they end up doing is changing the English word and writing it in a way that can be pronounced using Japanese sounds, often using the katakana script. For example, hamburger would be written hanbaagaa (ハンバーガー), which is fairly similar to how British people might say the word. It does lead to some problems when the word doesn’t actually translate over properly. For example, the waseieigo word ‘manshon,’ which sounds like mansion, actually means apartment. Though this isn’t a huge problem, it will probably lead to some miscommunication if used improperly in a conversation with an English speaker. In general, I think Japan needs to reconsider their focus on accuracy and focus more on fluency when it comes to teaching the English language. By doing this, I believe that they will come much closer to achieving their goal of increasing the communication skills of English language learners. I believe that more students will learn English more successfully and have less struggles in learning the language. By providing students with the opportunity to make mistakes, they will be able to experience language in the way that children do as they acquire their first language.