English in Japan Paper

I just saw this (link to summary) over at Issho Kikaku [issho.org], of a paper by Monbu Kagaku Shou (The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) entitled “Regarding the Establishment of an Action Plan to Cultivate “Japanese with English Abilities” [link to full paper].

It’s an interesting read, and though well meaning, as the Isshou summary points out, it has some rather important shortcomings.

Technically, I worked for this department of the Government whilst on the JET programme when it was just called ‘Monbu Shou’. I found them to be a well meaning, but ultimately self centred group, who were more interested in getting young westerners to go home and praise Japan than to really help ‘internationalise’ students in schools.

I have to admit, I heard the word ‘internationalise’ about three million times in the two years on JET, and I still don’t really know what it was they were trying to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic time on JET, and that’s why I came back to Japan, but it’s definitely a programme with an agenda. You can see Monbu Kagaku Shou’s intent clearly in this quote:

In addition, English abilities are important in terms of linking our country with the rest of the world, obtaining the world’s understanding and trust, enhancing our international presence and further developing our nation. At present, though, due to the lack of sufficient ability, many Japanese are restricted in their exchanges with foreigners and their ideas or opinions are not evaluated appropriately.

Monbu Kagaku Shou

No mention of learning about the world; no mention of trying to come to some kind of mutual understanding. Just Japan telling the world how Japan is.

This unfortunately is then Monbu Kagaku Shou’s continued way of thinking. They were never interested in challenging stereotypes – just forcing sentences into people’s heads.

Despite this, I really believe Japan produces some very talented linguists, from people who will try despite having virtually no ‘English‘ skill to explain where something is to a lost visitor, to real polyglots. This is because of the types of people they are – not the poor rigid sentence structure English classes often preach. I don’t blame to teachers too much either – they are not supposed to be teaching real English to communicate – just to plough through the text books and get the kids through the test. As Isshou says – they need to assess why the old system is failing, and from that, devise a new one.

As to the lack of mention of bullying (ijime), well, all I can say is that at the schools where I worked (Junior High Schools / Chugakko) when they had teacher meetings to discuss it, I was asked to go home and given the afternoon off!