Non-Japanese often, if not always, think English of Japanese sucks. In general it does sucks, I must to admit after watching some UN meeting video; especially that of some politicians and also journalists of second class papers.
They — should I say we? — may become defiant about their poor English skill; particularly some Japanese English teachers, judging from information from the web pages written in Japanese. Some Japanese are not even aware of how bad their oral communication is while many are totally aware of it.
Many of my friends, who do mathematics and physics, told me that they often do not understand a presentation given by Japanese, while their contents are sufficiently interesting enough to attract serious attention. I went to Boston University a while ago for a meeting for system biology. Many graduate students from Kyoto U gave a talk but some of them are horrible in presentation style and English. In other occasion, I did see many good presentations by Japanese, but some people just did not understand the questions at all. Some time a questioner got angry. During a long meeting, if you give an incomprehensible talk then people will just go to sleep to recover energy or just go to restroom.
Now let’s see what they are saying.
English Proficiency: Japan vs. the Philippines
I see his point. Comparing Japan and Philippine, however, is not meaningful, since their social and economic structures are totally different. They have every reason to learn English, but many Japanese regard English as a hobby. Also Philippine has 171 languages. So English is a tool to communicate among different groups. Japan has one. If other minor languages like Ainu, Okinawa and Korean are counted then it has 4.
There are highly motivate non-Japanese English teachers around there. But, to be honest, who is teaching in English in Japan? I know many of my friends who went to teach English abroad from Canada and US. Some of them might have been dreaming about teaching since they were 3. But most of them are teaching opportunistically. Like, “Well I finished my college but do not know I want to do in my life. Humm, going to Japan might be fun and it will give me some time to think about my future. Also I can see an exotic country.”
Most of Japanese are not well prepared to communicate in English but many English teachers from abroad are also totally unprepared to teach English effectively in a foreign country and just feel frustrated. A teacher cannot teach students who are not intrinsically interested in any subject. They however can not teach when they themselves consider their job as an extension of a hobby.
Of course, Japanese do have a lot more things to learn.
Using English grammar to process
- my growing awareness of a belief among Japanese students of English that they can somehow learn English ONLY by being in the presence of an English-speaking foreigner – “English by osmosis” – and that practice (alone or with a Japanese partner), drills (both oral and written), learning vocab, are either irrelevant or can somehow be bypassed when you have a real, live, English-speaking (and preferably blond(e) and blue-eyed because we all know that those are the only real foreigners) “gaijin” to yourself, if even for a few minutes;
- a growing awareness of a patronising attitude (in some cases, open disdain) on the part of colleagues towards the “conversation” teachers: glancing references like “students are not going to progress much if they’re just repeating ‘hellomynameis’ every day” (so that’s what they think we’re doing).
“But what if students’ desire to “talk to the foreigner” was actually (at least in part) a desire to use (English) language to create meaning?
Something I should realize by now that has probably been sadly lacking in their experience of English language education.”
To sum up, Japanese are too passive. Fair enough. Continue Reading