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!

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.


  • At 12:19 am, Blogger gakusei said…

    My opinions about why they used tr-
    anslating program are as follows.
    I think it's a trick that is caused
    by Group Dynamics(ex.Demonstrators
    change into Mobs.).The more group
    is larger,the more moral paralyze.
    Maybe students are aware that to use transelatingmachine is evil deed.But they think"If we everyone in class use trancelating machine,
    we are not afraid of being rebuked at all",I to speak,The Devil gets into them because of Group Dynamics.
    Last, Japanese university students
    tend to avoid studying.The cause
    of that phenomenon is education system that compel high school students,I think.Whether or not,
    the tendensy that University students avoid studying hard influence to use trancelating machine,I think.
    Prof.Hal should let them hand in again or evaluate as a teacher.
    I think it's not rare case.
    Prof.Hall may be shocked,but it's
    incidental problem.So please be at

  • At 1:42 pm, Blogger happy days said…

    Hello, Mr. Hall. This is happy days. First of all, may I understand that "translating programs" mean "electronic dictionaries"?
    Then I know these students' feelings a bit. After all I use a dictionary if there are words I don't know and I want to make sure whether I spelled the word correctly or I mistook the grammar. In my opinion, I think we had better use translating programs effectively. I don't say that supplement everything with ones. I think it important to use ones only when we don't know or we want to make sure.
    By the way, if I were you, I will say to the students, "You don't have to write the perfect sentences. Please do it by yourself first even if it is a meaningless list of easy words. And after that, check the words you didn't know anyway and you want to make sure using ones."
    happy days

  • At 1:49 pm, Blogger JH said…

    Happy Days,
    Thanks for your question. Translating programs are a little different from electronic dictionaries. With electronic dictionaries, usually you only look up one word. The problem I encountered was the students were using a teanslating program to translate an ENTIRE Japanese sentence or paragraph into English.

  • At 3:05 pm, Blogger Maruchan said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 3:09 pm, Blogger Maruchan said…

    I think it’s due to the current English education system in Japan; though we have learned English at least for six years, we are apt to study English for entrance exams. So, generally, our English communication abilities are lacking in experience.
    And even though we use Japanese-English dictionaries, we can’t find what we want to express. Therefore, these assignments aren’t “simple” paragraphs for Japanese students.
    However, the students may as well check the papers before they hand it in. Also, they should notice that these translating programs are imperfect. Anyway, I suggest why don’t you tell them the demerit of these programs?

  • At 9:41 pm, Blogger cheesecake said…

    Hello! I'm cheesecake. I couldn't fully understand about translating program. Is there a translating program anywhere? Or does it mean that the students translated all their Japanese sentences into English using a dictionary?

    The reason is that the students have worries about their vocabulary, and they wanted not to make a mistake, I think. They must have needed to use the words they didn't know because they wanted to express what they meant although they notice that using a translating program is not so good. If I were you, I will talk to the students about the frustrating experience and say,"Don't be afraid about mistakes! I know that you have a ability to write your own sentenses. It is important to try your best. Try! Try! Try! I want you to write your paper using your own words next time."

    Thank you.

  • At 2:16 am, Blogger Eringo said…

    There would be mainly two big reasons why they used translating programs. First is that they have no confidence in writing something in English. In many cases, people don't like to making mistakes. It is sure that dictiomary tells us a lot of useful words, houwever doesn't tell us how to form sentences. So, they depend on translating programs to avoid making mistakes in forming sentences. Second is that they are not accustomed to writing something in English freely. In a long six years of learning English, they mainly learned about grammar for examination. So they able to fill in blanks, but not able to write English composition freely.
    If I were you, I would tell them that maikng mistakes is important to improve their English level. And then I will let them have the easier assignment like "hitokoto-sakubun" every week, in which they write English composition in only one sentence. This will be easier for them to work on. And after they get accustomed to this assignment, you can let them have an assignment like about coincidences.

  • At 3:36 pm, Blogger minesuke said…

    Hi!! I'm minesuke.In my opinion, the students used the translating program,because they don't have any confidence.
    We learned English for 6 years, but we don't have no confidence to use and speak English. Because, we learned mainly grammar and so on, and we actually can hardly speak in English.We weren't given a chances to use English.
    I think that Chinese and India people can use English very well, because they use English positively.
    I want the Japanese student to have confidence and forwardness. And teacher have the students to encourage and take a chances to touch real English. That's all.

  • At 7:06 pm, Blogger rip said…

    I think there are some reasons why they use translating programs.First,we have studied mainly reading English for long time so some people is poor at writing english.When I have to sentences in English,I sometimes put up abad fight.Though I want to write a lot of things that I think,I can't express what I mean in English well.I guess they sometimes feel so.And they don't know how to construct the sentences.Second,I think they seek for perfect.We were usualy demanded from only a correct answer as I sudied English.So we are not accustomed to making mistake.That is why I think they tend to use translating programs.
    If I were you,I would encourage students to be able to write by themselfs and explain them that I want you to try tinking and writing in English even if you come up with only simple English.

  • At 8:37 pm, Blogger 34mihotch said…

    There are some reasons why they used translating proglams.First of all, they have no confidence their writing ability, I think. In Japanese school, many students tend to study it for school examinations or entrance examinations, so they think that English is meant to be required subject rather than enjoyable subject. Maybe they want to handle perfect English,and they think that sentence include mistakes is not accepted.
    In additiion, they are not accustomed to writing English.For example, Japanese students learn grammer for examination but they can't construct sentence smoothly. When I can't use appropriate sentence or word, I feel completely discouraged.Perhaps they feel like me sometimes.
    So if I were you,I would tell them not worry mistakes and mistakes will be a good lesson to improve English ability.

  • At 2:21 am, Blogger fantasista said…

    I think they haven't had experiences of writing sentences in English so much. So they thought it takes many many times to write them in English ,and the writing homework was troublesome for them.
    They are also quite familiar with their computers, so they used 'translating programs', I think.

    If I were you, I'll tell them the following sentences.
    "I want to see your real thinking sentences in English. The sentences should be in writer's heart and idea. Please write your own sentences in English. If you cannnot write so many, that's OK.
    The best way to improve your English skills is anyway trying yourselves."

  • At 10:29 am, Blogger 74napochi said…

    Hello!!I'm napoti.I felt sad to read your blog.Probably I thought that they didn't want to make a mistake.Although we learned English for 6 years, but it was to pass the exam and enter the university.So it didn't forgive to make it. Of course, teacher didn't forgive about mistakes that students made. Therefore I think they're afraid of making mistakes so they did homework with translating progeam.
    Though it was easy to write a sentence in English,it does no good so much. In my case, of course I'm afraid of making mistakes, but you or ALT said don't be afraid of making a mistake. That's allay the anxieties of me in regard to make a mistake in English.May I propose to you? Why don't you say to them "Don't be afraid of making a mistake!!"?

  • At 10:50 am, Blogger Gabriel Chou said…

    That truly sounds quite horrible and scaring. Had your students had the potential, why would they have referred to translating programs? Well, I guess one thing you could do is to directly tell all the 20 students (do this in private) what you've found out about their writing. Try to talk and understand why they would have done so. Are they not confident enough in their English writing? Are they afraid they're not able to get good grades from this paper?
    Then, the next thing should be to let your students understand different rhetorics in Japanese and English. And they should be too informed that translating program produces odd and weird outcomes.

  • At 12:28 pm, Blogger mibora said…

    I tink that there are three reasons why they used translating programs.The first reason is that e had never had the class form of discussion in English.therefore we did't have any chance to express own opinion in Englishduring English class of junior and high, we dod't have technique to translate from Japanese into English in the brain.
    In the class of junior and high scool, we learned only designated sentences that do not help daili life and stating own opinion.this is second reason.
    And third reason is Japanese character.Japanese are very shy when we speak English. Becuse we are afraid of making mistake, and own poor pronunciation.And,Japanese can not express own opinion in Japanese, these Japanse character influence that problem.
    Miho Fujiwara

  • At 1:54 pm, Blogger The lion said…

    Hello. I'm The Lion. When I read this story, I was very surprised and sad. But, now many translating programs can read in internet. So probably many people use it naturally. This class's students rarely discuss each other in English. So they don't understand how to write their opinion in English. But, if I were the student, I ask teachers or read the grammar book and English dictionary. I think you should point out your students and provide more discussion in English you do in our class! And you tell them 'Don't be afraid making mistake!' And you provide for example 'the question time' more after class. Some students can ask during the class but other students can't ask during the class because shyness. So, I think you make an environment to ask teacher without constraint.

  • At 3:24 pm, Blogger patapata said…

    Hello! I'm PataPata. I was very shocked and surprised to read it.
    I guess students were very busy at other subjects. So someone find a translating program and then he or she taught some friends to use a translating program.
    I suppose that some students don't have confidence in their writing skill. So they used a taranslating program.
    I think it is the best way of writing by oneself. Even if students don't want to develop English skill, they should get down to writing. And it is good to use a translating program whether their grammar are correct.
    If I were you, I told the students not to be afraid of making mistakes.

  • At 6:52 pm, Blogger yoshie hb said…

    Hello!I'm Yoshie hb.
    I think they affraid to mistake using English.And it come from Japanese culture.I learned Japanese have "Haji-no bunka(culture of shame)"as western "tsumi-no bunka(the culture of sin)"
    I learned western people think they always looked their behaviour by God.
    In Japan, people don't strain at their religion. So the God is people. Japanese hate to compromise themselves very much.
    You spoked us that your experience in the junior high school in MMCE.It was the Japanese student take time to answer the question.
    I realized it cause to same reason that your students use the translate sistem.
    And they weren't accustome to explain their idea by using English.
    But I didn't think all the students didn't use the sistem even if they could it. Because they affraid to make an exhibition of themselves.
    If I were you, I tell the students
    that making mistake is not shamefull thing. And encourage to using english.

  • At 11:46 pm, Blogger Elle said…

    That's terrible problem...
    For instance in mathematics, calculate integral problem with calculator. Following is my opinion.

    In recent years, there are many children who are not eager to learn and think. And MEXT feel it big problem, so they work hard to make them have "確かな学力" that includes learning curiosity.

    These childeren feel this assignment as only "task", I think. They can't enjoy this activity (even if this paragraph includes interesting story) because it is only task for them. And they haven't been able to enjoy English for many years.

    I think we should do more interesting activity with moving that needs high level English skill. For example, it should be diary life activity with foreigner in US or England. That means false experience in foreign country. If student get high level skill for English, I think they should do more real English activity, I think.

  • At 12:25 pm, Blogger headbanger said…

    I think there are two reasons of the students' using translating programs. First, they might feel it is a burden with writing English sentences. I think this is because they are not used to 'output' in English and they have not had much opportunity to write what they thought or felt in English.
    Second, some of them might care about grade, thinking that the assignment would influence their grades and being afraid of making mistakes in the assignment.
    If I were you, I would tell them that the students do not need to make the sentences perfect and I want them to let me read what they really wrote because it is a lot of fun.

  • At 12:31 pm, Blogger nyanmage said…

    I am one of person who afraid for making mistakes.
    Because if I make mistakes I fell very ashamed.
    I don't have faith speaking English very much.My pronunciation is not good, my grammar has many mistakes.
    This is same thing the students.

    But we know that we have to
    please take long time to speak English.In fact we want to speak English more fluently.

  • At 6:15 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think that they use translating programs because of the laziness that is inherent to human nature. Formulating sentences in a foreign language can be a difficult task even for people who have studied English for six years, as they may have never paid attention to the language beyond tests.

    When I write essays for my French class, I often make use of the online translating programs as well. Oftentimes it's because focusing on making grammatically correct sentences in French ruins my thought process for the rest of the essay. Instead of focusing on the nitpicky grammar errors, I have to try to see the big picture, which requires too much work, so I become dependent on translating programs.


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