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A better way to teach kids foreign languages

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KOBE – The Japan Times recently reported that third-year junior high school students were struggling with aspects of English in a nationwide achievement test conducted this year by the education ministry (“Nationwide test results highlight Japanese students’ poor English speaking and writing skills,” Aug. 1).

Most readers who have been involved with English-language education in Japan would probably not be surprised with the findings. But the results were still disappointing nevertheless. It was not so much the students that failed, but rather the system failing them.

I recently had dinner with a semi-retired Japanese English teacher, who was the impetus for a local board of education in Hyogo Prefecture to hire me 29 years ago in the early days of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. Sachiyo-sensei is very good at English because she enjoys speaking it and, more importantly, she understands that language is a tool for communication and not simply a subject to grammatically dissect for tests.

As a truly respected senior teacher, she currently trains new and younger teachers but laments the fact that textbooks have not fundamentally changed in the 50 years since she was a student. Mastering English, unfortunately, has become a drill to be run rather than a dream to be pursued.

While the aforementioned article focused on junior high school students, whose curriculum is scheduled to change in 2021 with more emphasis on speaking and writing, I would like to discuss a proposal for high school language education that I have introduced to a number of politicians, educators and prefectures, as well as the education ministry,........

© The Japan Times