Japanese politicians are blabbing once again about internationalization, something they know nothing at all about.
The plan? Just as bone-headed as all past plans â€“ double the number of ALTs in Japanese schools and switch from one useless test to another useless test. The net effect will be zero and in a couple of years, they’ll decide it was a waste, cut the number of ALTs, etc. And then in a few years after that, talk about internationalization again, and so on, and still nobody graduating from a Japanese school can answer the question, ‘How are you today?’
The problem is and has always been the same â€“ the way English is taught in Japan doesn’t have anything to do with real conversation.
English Teacher Tape Recorders
Doubling the number of ALTs won’t make any difference because ALTs are underused in the schools. Many of them are simply English teacher tape recorders. No matter how many foreign faces there are in schools, teachers still have to stick to the textbooks and testing.
They need to change the focus of junior high and high school English so that it’s about communicating and not repeating phrases. They also need to scale it down a bit. One reason Japanese kids hate English so much is that classes are so grammar-based. When I taught in a junior high school, the third year students were learning relative clauses. What the hell is a relative clause? Exactly my point. When I encountered these same students in the hall and tried to start a simple conversation (the bulk of my job there), they couldn’t do it.
In Japan, there is a national obsession with testing. I guess it’s one no-brainer way (supposedly) to understand progress, but if you’ve ever taught English conversation, you know these tests are absolute BS. I’ve met plenty of high test scores that couldn’t carry on a conversation, as well as those with dismal scores who could speak English pretty well.
General Laziness and Lack of Interest
Finally, there’s a cultural problem which no amount of legislation is going to overcome. Students are uninterested in English and the world beyond Japan’s shores. It’s an unfortunate fact that makes life hard for all English teachers in Japan.
But why would a Japanese teenager care? They live in a Japanese bubble for the most part. Nobody speaks English and even on TV everything is dubbed rather than subtitled. Most parents don’t even try to speak English, even with the English teacher! How is a kid going to believe in themselves and be interested when everyone tells them, ‘You’re Japanese. You don’t speak English.’
But here’s one huge ray of hope â€“ The story is different when you’re talking about private lessons. While 90-something percent of Japanese kids have no interest in English, the few who seek out private lessons do. Where the schools fail, private lessons succeed.
Please excuse the ranting. Okay, here’s my takeaway – Get a silly ALT job, ditch it immediately once you get over here, find more meaningful work. The good news is that if they double the number of ALTs, that means plenty of jobs.