Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Happy New Year 2011!

A belated happy new year!

We went away for Christmas and New Year, and now that school is fully back into the swing of things, it's time to kickstart this blog for 2011.

Yes, I am still alive and fully functional. I am still going about my business, doing my best to assistant language teach here in Shimanto. And the Japan journey continues, day by day.

I'll write another blog entry to talk about our family trip to New Zealand, complete with a few photos. But right now, there are two things I want to talk about. The first is a little story.

It all started on Saturday night, this past weekend. The temperature dropped ever so low and white flakes had begun drifting down as the evening wore on. Our hot water heater had just been repaired that day, so it was as dry as Tutankhamun's face. We were forced to vacate the premises in order to wash, so after dropping the kids off at their grandparents', Mika and I went to an onsen out in Hiromi; a town in Ehime prefecture that we have visited on occasion.

The snow continued throughout the night and we were greeted in the morning with a white blanket that covered everything in sight. Getting to church was ok, as we had parked the car down at the hospital parking lot the night before and we drove carefully along the icy road.

But driving home was a different story. As we came around a corner, the car started to slip on some ice. Too late to do anything, we slipped out of control and the car spun and crashed into the guard rail.

Everyone was fine, but the poor car now needs some cosmetic repair work done. We trust God for the finances to get done what needs to be done. We are thankful that no one was hurt and that the car is still functional. It is hopefully going to be repaired this week, as Mika is going to call back the garage where we are getting it fixed.

So that was our little ordeal on the weekend. The hot water pipes freezing over a couple of days in a row are minor compared to filling out a police report over a car accident.

The second thing I want to address in this blog entry is a collection of comments I just submitted to a survey regarding English teaching and learning here in Japan. It is a survey being conducted by a fellow ALT here in Kochi prefecture. Her goal is to "keep the enthusiasm for language learning from primary school going all through middle and high school."

You can find the survey here.

Here is what I submitted. I have changed the titles slightly. Note that I only wrote about "middle" school (chuugakkou), even though the issues surrounding classroom English teaching are tied into more than one level of academia.

Good points about the way English and other cultures are approached
We have the freedom to talk about almost anything regarding our culture and things from our home country. There is an open mindset regarding foreign cultures, as students find the "different" to be interesting, no matter how disinterested they are in practising any sort of spoken English.

Limiting points about the way English and other cultures are approached
There is little room for simply a cultural interaction approach. It is mostly work, work, work.

Students are not encouraged to speak English outside of the classroom. For those that don't have any sort of interest in the subject or find the academic approach to be boring, they struggle and get left behind and by the time they leave "middle school", they may have developed a hatred for foreign languages - due to the difficulty of learning and effort required to make progress, and the current classroom approach to learning.

Learning English in the classroom is limited. Students are not given enough freedom early on to realise that languages learned within the classroom don't need to be all repetition and grammar. It often feels confined, and even though repetition and group work are both good, Japanese schools seem to hang onto the past and not move forward at a pace that keeps up with advancements in the synergy between learning and teaching.

How can these limiting factors be improved upon?
It's difficult to say how anything could be done differently. If students are shown at primary school level that there is more to learning anything in the classroom than working out of a textbook and "learning" by rote - including foreign languages - and are given real examples - really shown - why they are learning English and how it can impact them: then that is a start and a good launching pad for entering chuugakkou.

Feeding more life into English class is getting away from the preaching and lecturing followed by repeating and scribing approach. But how that life is fed into English class is a metamorphosis that takes a lot of thinking, a lot of effort, and a willingness for teachers and possibly the entire education system to accept and adapt.

My overall opinion about the way English and other cultures are approached
The cultures themselves are approached with interest. Anything foreign is unique - and unique is good. It broadens the students' world view and shows them that they are not alone here with their language and their culture and sub-culture.

If language and culture can be tied in together a lot more, then more students are likely to find that motivation that they need to embrace the language associated with any given culture.


It was hard to put into words or to pinpoint the problems surrounding the current methodologies and systems in place for teaching English in the classroom. Cultural exposure is one thing; tying in culture and language and really encouraging students to embrace something so foreign is an ongoing struggle.