What Do Students Think of Japan’s English Curriculum?

Japan’s English curriculum is often criticized for producing people who cannot speak English, though they may be able to read and understand it. Some could argue that this is due to culture as well as the all-important college entrance exams, but in any case, the results are that Japan’s overall English ability is decreasing.

In a study by EF Education First, Japan was ranked 26th out of 80 countries, with scores declining in the past 7 years. Comparatively, China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia have improved.

But ehat do students think about their English education? Here are some comments:

  • Lectures are useless and boring. “We just sit there in class playing with our phones and texting our friends as these old teachers just go on and on about English grammar, as if it was the most important thing in the world.”
  • The ALT system is ineffective. “I’m pretty sure 3 out of 4 of my English teachers can’t actually speak English, so I wonder why they decided to be English teachers in the first place. It’s kind of weird. Once a week a native English teacher comes to our school to help and sometimes plays foreign music and movies and stuff, but while this is more fun than listening to grammar lectures, it’s more like entertainment and we still don’t learn anything.”
  • Exam scores do not reflect English skills; they are tests of memory rather than ability. “I’ll probably have to get a private (English) teacher or go to juku (after school classes) soon, in preparation for the university entrance exam, which focuses heavily on English. But I know about the exam and again, it has nothing to do with speaking English or your ability to communicate, it’s a glorified memory test of grammar patterns and vocabulary, it’s no wonder Japanese people can’t speak English.”
  • Teachers cannot speak English. “It’s rather shocking that the Japanese English teachers, literally, cannot speak English. In my first week doing this job, one of the teacher’s lesson plans was to ask the students to stand up and read a paragraph each from the text book and then sit down. I asked the teacher what his ‘teaching point’ was and he pointed at a clock on the wall and in heavily broken English replied, ‘killing time.’ I was so shocked I complained to the Board of Education and was allowed to teach that particular class on my own, and, since then, we’ve made great progress. My kids can actually communicate now, way past the basics; actually discuss and debate current events, as well as make jokes and generally having a good time. But I know that this class is the exception and not the rule. I know a lot of ALT’s who come here for a year or two, do nothing but read from textbooks using their ‘native English,’ make some money and leave Japan. This does nothing for the students or the country. But for every bad ALT, there are thousands of Japanese teachers of English who are totally inept at doing their jobs too and must be replaced if Japan want to progress. This is where the core problem lies. We need more native speakers in the classroom and to get rid of those old Japanese teachers that are just killing time, waiting for their pensions.”

It is worth noting that Japan’s English curriculum is changing to address many of these concerns. And it should also be noted that the hours that seriously motivated students out into studying English has a large effect on their speaking ability.

In short, although Japan’s curriculum is often criticized, and although Japan’s English programs need to improve, a major reason for the lack of speaking ability is not enough time spent studying English.

Source: Feature: Japan eyes revising school-based English teaching curriculums as global proficiency wanes | GlobalPost.

Image: Aka Hige.