Japanese primary schools to teach 285 English words in 2011

From the Yomiuri Shimbun (copied and pasted due to lack of archive)

Fifth- and sixth-year primary school students will learn a total of 285 English words and 50 expressions in compulsory English classes to be introduced in the 2011 school year, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry said Thursday.

The students are expected to learn the words and expressions with textbooks compiled by the ministry titled “Eigo Noto,” (English Notes), according to ministry officials. The 50 expressions are currently taught in the first year of middle school. The ministry has distributed a preliminary version of the textbooks–one each for fifth-graders and sixth-graders–to about 550 schools nationwide to be used on a trial basis in the school year that started this month.

The textbooks are designed to enable students to play games and introduce themselves in English by the time they graduate from primary school.

The students, however, will not be taught English grammar or spelling, they added.

To help teachers who have no experience in teaching English, the ministry has also made available CDs to be used for listening comprehension along with guidance for teachers that includes key points in helping students give speeches in English.

During the school year, both fifth- and sixth-grade students will receive a total of 35 English lessons, lasting 45 minutes each, according to the officials.

The English classes will focus on speaking and listening, but not on reading and writing, they said.

The textbooks are designed to teach English to primary school children through various activities, such as listening to content on CDs and “making presentations in front of classmates.”

In Lesson 1 of the fifth-grader’s textbook, students will learn how to say “hello” in nine different languages, including English, Chinese, French and Russian. Students will become familiar with greetings in different languages, not only through the textbook, but also the CDs, the officials said.

In subsequent chapters, fifth graders will also learn interrogative and negative constructions through bingo and other games, according to the officials.

Sixth-grade students are expected to learn more advanced English expressions. After getting familiar with the alphabet in Lesson 1 in the textbook written for their grade, children will practice giving directions with their classmates and produce their own English-language plays in groups.

In Lesson 9–the last chapter in the textbook–sixth graders will learn how to speak about their dreams in English, using expressions such as “I want to be a teacher.”

Teaching guidance for primary school teachers presents detailed time schedules for each 45-minute class, allocating, for example, five minutes for “greetings at the beginning of the class” and 15 minutes for a “review of the previous lesson,” according to the officials.

The guidance for teachers also gives details on key instruction points and teaching methods, such as “asking children questions while also showing them cards” offering contextual help.

Officials said it would be up to individual schools whether they use the teaching materials. However, the ministry plans to distribute them to all primary schools across the country so that they would be able to start preparations for the introduction of compulsory English classes in fiscal 2011, they added.

(Apr. 4, 2008)

4 thoughts on “Japanese primary schools to teach 285 English words in 2011

  1. Pingback: Japanese primary schools to teach 285 English words in 2011 … | TEFL Japan

  2. signature103 Post author

    An ALT-san,
    Yes, elementary school English is pitched low. But the history of English teaching at this level has never been to teach English as such, but rather, it was for international understanding. Whether this is a good reason to use (teach) English or not is a question that needs to be considered (it is one, I think, the Japanese – deliberately – will not ask). In a country like Japan where a lack of knowledge of English will have no bearing on the future of most people (that is, many will never need to use English for survival or livelihood) one has to ask is there a need to teach English at all.

    Japan has done well so far globally without having to master English. How long this will last nobody knows.


  3. An ALT

    This article quite possibly makes this program sound more effective and well-designed than it likely is. Given the reality of English instruction in Japan, this will probably worsen the status quo.

    To at least somewhat elaborate: English in Japan is often grossly simplified, surrounded by a sea of Japanese, and generally pitched far too low. It’s not a serious effort to teach the language in most cases.


  4. Dr. Sanford Aranoff

    To best teach, we have to understand how people think. See the new book on amazon.com: “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better”.


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