What’s most problematic about Gregory Clark’s Feb. 5 article, “What’s wrong with the way English is taught in Japan?,” is that we’ve heard it all before: overcrowded classrooms, high school teachers with poor English ability, and the relentless comparisons of Japanese people’s English ability with that of other Asians, as if an English “arms race” is taking place! At this stage, we’ve probably heard enough.
What we haven’t heard are brainstorming proposals for solutions. The fatalistic view that those of Clark’s ilk seem to relish seems most convenient indeed. Another problem is the lack of emphasis on the good work being done.
It was disconcerting, as a high school teacher, to feel so marginalized by Clark’s claim that “study by university students with access to good teachers” can give far better results than anything coming out of Japan’s middle and high schools. For Clark’s information, there are plenty of schools striving to bridge the gap between the system and learners. There are lots of schools striving to provide a good foreign-language education for their biggest stakeholders. However, these stories don’t seem to make good copy.
How about some focused exchanges of ideas that could lead to meaningful changes? One would expect someone in Clark’s position to at least take the lead in tackling this problem. At the end of his article Clark asks, “When will they ever learn?” Maybe we need to ask Clark when HE will ever learn.
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