Regarding Gregory Clark’s Dec. 30 article, “English should be an elective“: The debate over the proper grade level to learn English as a second language is as controversial in Japan as it is in the U.S. because the research is scanty. As a result, anecdotal evidence tends to prevail in forming school policy.

During the 28 years that I taught English in the same high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, I also taught classes for “English Language Learners,” the latest label for nonnative English speakers. Included in those classes were many Japanese, Chinese and Korean students. While they were all extraordinarily conscientious, they were at a distinct disadvantage compared with their siblings who were studying English in elementary school.

In the final analysis, it makes more pedagogical sense to begin teaching English at an early age, even though motivation may be minimal. Future research will provide the definitive answer. But in the meantime, it’s better to err on the side of caution and begin sooner.

walt gardner

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