Many people in Japan blame the education system for their inability to communicate well in English, even though they have studied the language for years in school.
But Kanto International Senior High School in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, is trying to correct this problem. It believes people can drastically improve their English by training their ear muscles.
The school introduced a teaching system in April called the Tomatis method, which was developed by French Dr. Alfred Tomatis (1920-2001), who concluded that every language has a unique frequency span.
For example, most Japanese words are in a frequency band of around 125 to 1,500 hertz, while American English is in a frequency band of between 500 and 3,700 hertz and British English is in a frequency band of between 2,000 and 12,000 hertz, according to Tomatis Japan Inc.
The method, which has been used by Tomatis Japan to provide language education for 10 years, aims to train the ear to get used to different features of various languages through headphones connected to a device known as an “electronic ear.”
The device enhances sounds in a particular frequency band.
“The movement of Japanese people’s middle ear muscle, which reacts to high-frequency sounds and contracts, is slow compared with that of the British, for example,” said Kuniko Murase, a representative of the company, in explaining why Japanese have difficulty distinguishing consonant sounds.
Most of the consonant sounds of English belong to a frequency band of more than 2,000 hertz, she said.
By repeatedly listening to the language through the electronic ear, which emphasizes sounds in a high-frequency band, people can train their ear muscle to contract faster, Murase said.
The electronic ear can also reproduce a language’s rhythm, she added.
For example, when students listen to English spoken by a Japanese person through the machine, its rhythm is modified to sound like that of a native English speaker.
Thanks to this method, Yoko Miyoshi, who teaches English at the high school, said students have become accustomed to the rhythm of English. They are also used to consonant sounds and can recognize them accurately.
“I am surprised” by the enhanced listening ability of students, Miyoshi said. “Their eagerness to speak the language is also growing.”
The school is among those designated as a Super English Language High School (SELHi) by the education ministry. It is the only high school in Japan that has adopted the Tomatis method.
SELHi-designated schools are assigned to develop effective English-teaching methods and curricula within three years, free from the ministry-set regular courses.
After more than 20 sessions using the method between April and early July, in which students listened to and pronounced English words, many became able to differentiate the pronunciation of “r” and “l” and also to recognize the sound of “th,” Miyoshi said.
For example, students can now distinguish the pronunciation of “latitude” and “strength,” she said.
Yuta Minami, a sophomore at the school, said he finds the method interesting.
“I can listen (to English) better than before,” he said.
Miyoshi said she will weigh the effectiveness of using the method over the next three years.