Wednesday, October 17, 2007

English Edumucation

If every ALT pontificated upon education in Japan, a swamp like flow of verbal diarrhea would overcome our bilge. Nevertheless, being trapped at a desk and confronted with questions from real English teachers everyday leads one to oration.

Problem: When first year students come in they have a large wheelbarrow of English dumped in their laps and have no idea what to do with it. Over the next two years the wheelbarrow turns into a dumptruck. They are confronted with teachers of various talent levels possibly helping them sort through the mess.

Let me give you an example from the second year text book: Some people believe that when a language disappears that culture disappears also.

As much as I agree with the sentiment, what is a kid who can't manage the difference between "I" and "you" supposed to do with that? That sentence is part of a larger dialogue about Ainu culture. The book is made up of chapters much like that. The kids are expected to learn these dialogues. I believe this was from pressure on the government to increase knowledge of minority groups in Japan, which is all well and good, but what sense does it make when the students can't understand anything being said. The teachers, for the most part, struggle to understand the material, so everyone ends up memorizing words or sentences instead of trying to learn how to speak.

The kids never learn how to diagram a sentence. They don't know what a noun or a verb is. They don't know subject or predicate. They don't know what an object or an adjective is. This is not a plea for "back to basics' education, but to give the kids an underlying structure that they can fall back on when confronted with language they don't understand. Japanese speakers of English largest problem I have seen over the years is an inability to figure out what is the important information in a sentence and what can be put to the side. This is the most important skill in trying to get by in a foreign language, as you will never understand 100% of what is going on.

My solution would be to teach the first years: I am. And then add words on to the end of that and then expand to you and he/she. And so on. That way, when confronted with the example sentence above, they can think "Ok, I don't understand but I see 'people' and 'believe.' There are my subject and a verb." That's all they have to do.

Here is how the system is set up to fail. I am the only person in the school that can speak English. The school has three grade levels of six classes each. I have eighteen English classes, which I am split between. I go to classes like a break for them, like a treat. I have nothing to do with curriculum, or test preparation or anything of that sort. I wish they would give me one grade level for a year. Or even one class for a year. I would do 20 minutes of sentence diagrams and have them read Hop on Pop for the next twenty or so. (The kids can't read either.) Of course, outside of some private schools, foreigners can never be treated as real teachers. Some of that is reasonable. Most of the ALTs I have known aren't qualified to teach macaroni art at the senior center, but if the Japanese government were serious about education they could seek out capable foreigners and capable Japanese speakers for English. But that won't happen, because they aren't serious. Additionally, allowing non-Japanese to occupy actual, substantive role in their society is not going to happen anytime soon.

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attempting to silence the voices in my head.