Issues in EFL in Japan (Not currently being updated)

My name in James Hall and I teach an English Teaching Methodologies class for aspiring English teachers and advising 5 senior students (one is in the USA). This blog is will be used as a forum to discuss issued in EFL in Japan. This blog will also serve as a portal to the learners' blogs as I will periodically summarize the hot topics appearing in the learners' blogs. Please come join us!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Our First Practice Lesson!

Last Thursday in ETM3 we had two practice lessons. One group of teachers taught pages 16 and 17 from the first year New Horizon junior high school text book. The key sentences on these pages were "Is this ~?" "Is that ~ " . A graduate student from the Uygur Autonomous Region in China was nice enough to join us and let the teachers teach him some English! The list of the first group of teachers is below:
Happy days
Bear or Toshi?

The second group of teachers taught pages 36 and 37 of the first year New Horizon junior high school text book. Two Spanish teachers from Moriako were nice enough to come to the class and participate as students. The key sentence for pages 36 to 37 was "What do you have for breakfast?" The list of the second group of teacher is below:
The Leo

I asked each teacher to write a reflection on their blogs and the other members of ETM3 to comment on them. I am looking forward to reading the posts and comments. I have also written my comments on the lessons here.

Before the teachers taught, I had advised them to organize their lesson as below:
1. Warm-up
2. Review
3. Introduction of New Material: Usually a key sentence
4. Practice: A mixture of drilling and communicative activities
5. New Words: Introduce the wew words presented in the text
6. Reading: Practice the reading text in the textbook
7. Consolidation: Summarize and confirm what was studied

This structure came from the below teacher training book (in Japanese) for teachers at junior and senior high schools in Japan. I have found that the above style works well for doing a typical textbook lesson for first and second year junior high school classes. I do not know if this could all be covered in a typical high school class though.

米山朝二、杉山敬、多田茂. (2002). 『英語科教育実習ハンドブック』大修館.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Follow Up on the Translating Program Post

This is what I told my students in a freshmen university English class after over half of them used a translating program to write an essay for a homework assignment:

"The English that you write is much better than the English that a translating program can produce. Translating programs have the following problems:
1) It rarely translated the subject of a sentence correctly.
Example:"Since it was a long time, it was very glad to have me and her."
2) It uses a lot of verb tenses but most of their use is awkward or incorrect.
Example: "I slept all too soon, but, at late-night 2:00, have woken up."
3) It uses expressions that are very bizarre.
Example: ".... the same suitable person agreed at all and was going to but the tape!"

"I look forward to reading your essays no matter how good or bad you think your English is. Reading your essays is a good way to get to know you and also to learn your strong points and weak points in English. I actually like seeing mistakes because it gives me clues as to how I can help you. This time, I gave you all credit for your papers put next time I see a paper with English from a translating program I will tear it up and give you a 0. "

I just ran into Pinch Hitter in the hall and he recommended that I show students how a translation program translated English to Japanese so they can understand the imperfections of translating programs. Good advice!

I think the fact that so many students used a translating machine is a sad comment about English education. As most of you wrote in the previous post, the students had little experience writing and trying to express themselves in English. Many scholars of English education in Japan write that adoption of the communicative approach has lowered students grammatical ability in English and thus their English proficiency (for example, see Oka, H. et al., 2004). However, many of the students that I teach REALLY STRUGGLE to express themselves in English, because they have little experience doing so. Many of you said in the previous post that students are busy studying for their entrance examinations. If their ability in grammar is actually decreasing and many students' ability to communicate low, it makes me wonder what students are doing in their junior and senior high school English classes.

Oka, H. , Akaike, H., Sakai, S. (2004). eigo jugyouryoku kyouka manyuaru. Taishuukan.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why do students with six years of learning English need translating programs?

This week I had a frustrating experience. I teach a freshmen English class at a university other than Iwate University. The students in the class had an assignment due last week(May 11). We had read a story about coincidences and I asked them to write about a coincidence that had happened to them. I asked them to write about 100 words. I never count how many words a student writes but I usually set a word limit to ensure that students write more than a sentence. I was hoping that today (May 18) students would read some of their papers to each other because the topic was interesting. Whenever I give an assignment I am sure to use it somehow in the next class to motivate students to do the assignment. Well, last night, as I was going over the papers I realized that about half of the 20 students in the class had used a translating maching to write their papers. In other words, they had written some kind of essay in Japanese on their computer and had some program translate it all into English. Usually the English from translating programs is completely incomprehensible. I was shocked that so many students would hand me in something that was so ridiculously artificial.
These students are for the most part enthusiastic and I have enjoyed working with them so far. In fact, every week I look forward to the class. This class is not a remedial English class, and I think that every learner in that class has potential in English.
Can you tell me some possible reasons why students who have studied English for 6 years feel the need to use a translating program to write a simple paragraph in English? Also, if you were me, what would you tell the students?
Please respond by making a comment to this post. I will let you know what I told the students after reading your answers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Talking to Teachers in Taiwan about Vocabulary Teaching and What ETM3 Students Learned

Last week, the learners in ETM3 started corresponding with learners in Alice Chui's English Teaching Methodologies class at Tamkang University in Taipei. Last March, Ms. Chui asked her class to think about how they were taught vocabulary when they were in junior and senior high school and also to write about what they think it the best way to teach vocabulary. In ETM3 we have also recently reviewed and experienced various ways of teaching vocabulary.
I asked learners in ETM3 to visit some students' blogs in Ms. Chiu's class (see the list below) to try to get some new perspectives on vocabulary teaching.

Nineteen of twenty-four students in ETM3 visited the blogs below and wrote a total of 24 comments. Tomorrow (May 18) in ETM3, I will ask students what they learned from reading the blogs from Tamkang University and post what they had to say below.

Posts from students at Tamkang University about Vocabulary Teaching
Wings of Angel
Posts Related to Vocabulary Teaching from Students at Tamkang University
Gabriel (Explains the origin of the phrase "It's raining cats and dogs")
Olivia (Presents vocabulary and grammar learning websites)
In ETM 3, students made the following comments concerning what they learned from their colleagues at Tamkang University:
Teaching Vocabulary:
  • Motivation to learn language is very important. English teachers should not force students to study English because students will start learning English when they’re interested.
  • Happy Days said "it is better to teach vocabulary because we can save time but I think that by learning in class and reviewing at home it connects to true acquisition. It is not important for teachers to teach the important thing is to show how to study."
  • John, representing his group, said that one problems was revealed about teaching vocabulary: It is hard to help students remember words. He also said that there were two approaches to teaching vocabulary: 1, a technical approach (present and learn) and 2, an approach where teachers try to make the experience interesting. He added that his groups realized that it is important for a teacher to be very devoted to his/his students and Vocabulary learning should have a touch of interest.
  • Elle, representing his group, said that his group members realized th following:
  • To know syllable and pronunciation helps to memorize vocabulary and effective dictionary using helps vocabulary learning.

Other Observations:

  • Heabanger, speaking for his group, made the observation that Alice is a very eager teacher; "she has a passion for her students and she devised her lesson very much."
  • Headbanger also was impressed with how well trained the teachers at Tamkang University were and Elle noted that Taiwan teachers study very hard.

I would like to conclude this post by thanking everyone at Tamkang University for their participation and I look forwatd to reading more of your blogs and having more discussions with you in the future.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Students Analyzing their Learning Experiences - A Follow up

On the post below, I summarized the results of the questionnaire I gave ETM3 learners about their language learning experience. I also summarized learners' responses to the following 5 statements: 1. My most enjoyable language learning experience has been…. 2. My least enjoyable language learning activity has been … 3. My most valuable language learning activity has been … 4. My least valuable language learning activity has been .... 5. In general my language learning experience has been ....
Today, in class, ETM3 learners talked about what they thought was most interesting about the results. Here is a summary of what they said:
  • Most of the ETM 3 members tended to enjoy such language learning activities as watching TV, learning songs and speaking English with their teachers. These activities had characteristics of speaking and listening
  • Most people think that all the activities on the questionnaire were valuable except writing poetry. (Note from JH. Cheesecake did write that it was her most enjoyable activity though.)
  • Most ETM learners thought activities such as memorization, translating and grammar rules were valuable but were not fun.
  • Some people think that reading aloud is valuable but some people did not. Chocolate Ice Cream said in class that reading aloud is not valuable because there is a difference between reading and conversation. She elaborated “I think reading aloud is not valuable because readers do not focus on the meaning.”
  • Two people think that reading aloud is valuable but one person think it is not valuable. Why this difference?
  • Many people think memorization is least enjoyable but valuable. Why does least enjoyable become most valuable? We think that is because if we study memorization we can get a high score so it is valuable.
  • Most of us thought that all athe language learning activities were valuable.
  • Most people do not like memorization but they think it is valuable.
  • RIP thinks conversation is very important but if we don’t know grammar we cannot speak English.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Students Analyze their Language Learning Experiences and Reveal the Shocking Truth!

Thanks to the hard work of Olive and Montitti, we were able to add the results of the questionnaire that learners in ETM3 answered. The results can be viewed here, and the original questionnaire can be viewed here. What surprised me most was that learners of ETM3 marked almost every langauge learning activity listed on the questionnaire as valuable. Even such unpopluar activities as translating were considered valuable. For example, 7 out of 17 students said they disliked translation but all 17 said it was valuable.
As written in my previous post, members of ETM3 were asked to analyze their English learning experience by completing 6 statements after they filled out the questionnaire. They completed the statements in their blogs and wrote reasons for their answers. In this post, I have categorized the responses and written the number of responses in each category. The questions and results are below. Some reponses fell in more than one category. To learn more about these responses, please read the students' blogs.
Statement 1. My most enjoyable language learning experience has been…
9 conversation
3 music
1 Teaching English at an elementary school
1 poetry
1 watching tv
1 Teaching English in Thailand
1 The Spanish lesson with JH
1 structured speaking
1 repetition
1 memorization
1 reading aloud
1 translating
1 writing sentences
1 homestay in the US
1 class with an excellent teacher

Statement 2: My least enjoyable language learning activity has been …
5 university entrance exam study
3 memorization
2 reading silently
2 dictation
2 language lab
2 structured speaking
2 grammar
1 repetition
1 tests

Statement 3: My most valuable language learning activity has been …
4 Conversation
2 reading aloud
2 repetition
2 Nakano
2 reading
2 memorization
2 grammar
1 1st and 2nd grade high school class
1 High School English Club
1 new words
1 UN Seminar
1 Fun

Statement 4: My least valuable language learning activity has been ....
4 nothing
3 reading silently
2 translation
1 Reading aloud
1 jr. high school english home study
1 poetry

Statement 5: In general my language learning experience has been ....
4 memorization, grammar, and reading
2 not enough
1 speaking, listening and reading
1 experiential
1 paper work
1 wide
1 poor
1 confusion to realization
1 speaking and listening
1 reading and writing
1 watching TV

Although the questionnaire did not reveal much difference in the ETM 3 members' philosophy of language learning, the analysis did.
On-chan, wrote that her language learning experience "has been starting from confusion to realization" and she has been positive about most of her language learning activities especially repetition, memorization and reading aloud. Eringo, on the other hand, wrote that she prefers reading silently to reading aloud and that reading aloud was not helpful to her.
John Wang wrote that for him listening and speaking has been most important in his English development while RIP claims that for him learning the rules of grammar has been most valuable.
Everyone is very convincing in their reasoning, but I wonder if we can find a middle ground.