OSAKA — English teachers from Japan and South Korea who are trying to deepen international exchanges in Asia through language education have together developed a unique textbook.
The textbook, “A Rainbow over the Strait,” introduces the two countries’ cultures and customs in English, Japanese and Korean. It was unveiled last month by a Suita, Osaka Prefecture-based group of Japanese teachers of English.
The publication is already being used as a supplementary material in English classes by some Japanese teachers, according to Shoichi Tsuji, chairman of the e-dream-s teachers’ group, which comprises about 70 high school teachers, including those from Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kitakyushu.
More teachers, including those at South Korean schools, will start using the textbook next year, he said.
Using materials concerning non-English-speaking countries in English-language education might sound odd to students in Japan, where typical entry-level English textbooks used at schools use “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones” from the United States, Britain or Australia to give examples of basic conversation.
“Members of e-dream-s are looking to contribute to the international community through English-language education and strongly believe that such contributions should not be limited to exchanges with English-speaking countries,” Tsuji said.
“Given the fact that Japan is part of Asia, it’s natural to start with Asia.”
Tsuji said the A4-size, 95-page textbook is Japan’s first English educational material compiled by Japanese teachers, and the first arranged in English, Japanese and Korean.
Tsuji, a teacher at Suita High School, is currently working at Mino-Jiyu Gakuen High School as part of a one-year exchange program.
The full-color textbook examines differences and similarities between Japan and South Korea over 12 themes, including food, marriage, school life and Confucianism.
“It would be a material of great use in a social science or geography class as well,” Tsuji said.
The text marks the first concrete result of the Educators’ Collaboration of Asia-Pacific program, under e-dream-s.
Last August, 30 people, including 25 schoolteachers from Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kitakyushu, visited South Korea to conduct field research.
The participants held workshops with seven local counterparts. Some toured high schools or Japanese-language institutes and others stayed with families to get a better grasp of life in South Korea.
“The discussions with South Korean teachers went on and on, from morning till night, for four days,” said Miki Tsukamoto, a teacher of Hibiki High School in Kitakyushu. Tsukamoto is a member of the ECAP planning committee and took part in last year’s ECAP seminar.
ECAP received favorable reviews from South Korean participants.
Kwon Young Hee, a teacher at Garak High School in Seoul, said, “I am sure that these small efforts will be able to make people in (South) Korea and Japan feel closer and overcome past hostilities.”
Tsukamoto said the ECAP program also improved teachers’ English-based discussion skills.
She said, “Participants had an opportunity to use English as a tool in a practical manner, and the experience allowed us to realize that English is an international language.”
People outside Japan might assume it is only natural that teachers of English can actually speak and hold reasonably fluent discussions in the language, but this is not necessarily the case in Japan.
ECAP members said the program was a substantial success in terms of teacher training.
Last year’s ECAP seminar was just the beginning of a planned decade-long program. Preparations for ECAP 2004 Korea, to be held in two weeks, are already under way.
South Korea was not the original venue for this year’s program.
The organizers had originally selected Vietnam, and sent teams there for a series of preparatory field studies. But the plan was called off because they were unable to find teachers who showed a common motivation and aspiration toward English education.
“The Vietnamese teachers were highly motivated, but seemed to find it difficult to communicate well in English and were more inclined to discuss English education itself or hold teacher-training workshops,” Tsukamoto said.
The second ECAP seminar will focus on research into historical assets in Seoul that are linked to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Teachers’ discussions are set to highlight contentious bilateral issues, including a long-standing dispute over a cluster of small uninhibited islets known as Takeshima in Japan and Tok-do in South Korea.
Tsuji stressed the importance of English-based discussions among teachers, saying dialogues in a third language can help sustain objectivity and impartiality.
“A third language can offer better objectivity, and I am sure that to create an unbiased educational material, it is essential to retain a perspective that is little affected by either of the countries’ backgrounds,” he said.
The cooperative activity among teachers has nurtured long-lasting, steadfast friendships.
Tsukamoto invited Kwon to Hibiki High School in December to conduct a class using a draft of the textbook.
“I hope such grassroots activities will help deepen friendship on an international scale,” Tsukamoto said.
For future ECAP seminars, Tsuji said he is considering working with teachers from Taiwan, Singapore or Australia.
He said one of his dreams is to hold an international conference with people in the Asia-Pacific region on the role of English.
“I know there is some talk about English imperialism, but we have to admit that we need the language for international communication,” he said. “The issue here is how we can make use of it.”
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