What has Zen got to do with English language teaching?


“Revisiting” my master in Zen on YouTube the other day I was compelled to think about what it means to be a language student and how it relates to Zen.

It seems to me many of the students I teach unnecessarily limit themselves with a psychological barrier – they believe they will never achieve native-like fluency. By thinking so they have effectively placed a limit upon what they can achieve.

Language itself already places limits upon you. So for students to place another one upon themselves, the limits become twofold.

But I am not saying that they will achieve native-like fluency either, but rather they make it harder to even remotely make any headway into acquiring a second language. To truly achieve native-like fluency one must have the years of experience in and exposure to the target language and culture. Nothing can replace that.

But nothing can stop you from trying and that is the essence of believing in being able to acquire some resemblance of a second language which is like native-like.

So the next question is how can I possibly teach my students to not place limits upon what they can achieve. Again, for this I will need to think that it is not impossible.

How many hours do Japanese students have to study in order to master English?

I was told by one of my teachers back in my undergraduate days about twenty years ago that for me to master Japanese it would take me 700 hours of class time.

The number now seems to be 2,200 hours.

Japanese is a language notoriously difficult to learn for native English speakers because of their linguistic differences.

To start with, Japanese has three writing scripts – hiragana, katakana and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are syllabic scripts with, in general, one unit representing one fixed sound where most units are consonant-vowel pairs. Kanji are logograms with each unit representing a word (meaning) but not its pronunciation. Most people know kanji as Chinese characters.

English, in contrast, is based on an alphabetic script where each unit is a representation of a sound be it consonant or vowel. Each letter may represent more than one sound (examples: ‘c’, ‘g’, ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ and ‘u’) and sometimes conbinations represent a single sound (examples: ‘ch’, ‘sh’, and ‘th’). Continue reading