Literature, second language, authenticity, passion

I have fond memories of my undergraduate days as a Japanese major.

To me they were exciting times. The world was seemingly spinning at a furious pace. The people I met were doing things, going places. My future was ahead of me.

My future now, of course, is still ahead of me (metaphorically, can it be nothing other than ‘ahead’). But it is different, still exciting, perhaps a little more focused and a little less uncertain. Twenty years down the road and I have made more progress (alas! a little slower than I would have liked) towards my goal as an academic. Continue reading

If you can’t even get your Japanese right how are you expected to get your English correct

My kids watch this show on NHK called Cooking Idol Ai My Mine. Great show about a girl who is a real live cooking show host. Shows like these truly give kids imagination and creativity.

But I was really disappointed in the looseness of their script writing in this dialogue shown the other day:

Child: “Are there truly angels in the world, Mine?”
Mine: “Yes, there are … Probably.”

So which is it, Mine – yes or maybe?

Were they (the script writers) afraid to take sides on this issue? Afterall, Japan is not a Christian nation (there is no concept of angel in Buddhism). Japanese Children are indecisive like this. Perhaps the writers were only a mirror for society. Or are they wearing rose tinted glasses?

Either way it is troubling.

This is one instant I can think of right now but there are many others I have come across over the years.

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.

Continue reading

Speaking isn’t the key

… most students learn how to speak English by actually speaking it.

This comment original made in a letter to a Taiwanese newspaper about how teachers should make sure students produce a lot of L2 language while in classroom echoes the sentiment and attitude of many teachers in Japan. It could well have been a letter in a Japanese newspaper.

Here Stephen Krashen, a leading researcher in language acquisition (LA) and co-author of an important study Language Two, gives a concise explanation as to why the belief that increased speaking of L2 will promote language acquisition is ultimately a mistake.

The best hypothesis is that the ability to speak is the result of language acquisition, not the cause. If this is true, forcing students to speak before they are ready is not only useless, but counterproductive.

The italics are mine. He continues by suggesting the way to develop spoken fluency is “to provide lots of interesting and comprehensible input” instead. In other words, rich reception or input, is better and more logical. And I agree with this.

But because input is predominately a passive activity it is often equated, both by the teachers and students, to low language acquisition. It is avoided by both groups because the language gains are not seen immediately in a world that demands immediate results. More often than not more effective methods, like rich input, simply take the backseat in ELT because of profitability, and students suffer for this linguistically as well as financially. Students pay large sums of money only to have poor results. Their language foundation is weak and bad habits form that later become hard to change; all the while the teachers and language schools are laughing all the way to the bank.