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A private advisory panel to Education Minister Hirofumi Nakasone set up to review and revise English-teaching methods in Japanese schools has recommended that entertaining methods be used to teach in elementary schools.

In a draft interim report disclosed this week, the panel, led by Mineo Nakajima, president of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, proposed using methods such as singing and playing games to familiarize those in third-grade and above with the English language.

The draft stated that it will support the introduction of English in elementary schools as part of the government’s new education program to debut in April 2002.

English will be phased in from the third grade in fiscal 2002 and schools will be free to experiment with the system.

Japanese students, except for those attending some private elementary schools, currently start studying English in junior high school as part of compulsory education.

According to the draft, there is an increased need to improve students’ English communication skills in the face of internationalization.

It said English instruction in junior high and high schools is deficient due to its emphasis on reading, writing, grammar and translation from English into Japanese, at the expense of listening.

It called for improving students’ ability to converse and express opinions in English.

The draft stressed the effectiveness of learning in a small class and individualized instruction, and proposed changes in college entrance exams that would place importance on practical skills such as listening.

The panel also recommended expanding students’ exposure to the language through study-abroad programs and involvement in international volunteer activities, and for the faculty to enhance teaching skills with seminars and overseas exchanges.

The report, while disclosing reservations from some quarters on learning English at an early age, concluded that English language instruction in elementary schools is important because younger learners have an easier time mastering languages.

According to Education Ministry officials, introducing the English classes would be left to the discretion of each school.

The panel will soon release an interim report and a finalized report will be issued before the end of the year.