Positive comments about Japan’s system of English teaching are rare, but hope is on the horizon. This month, 96 Japanese high school and junior high teachers of English leave for a half-year training program in the United States. They will enroll this fall in courses on English-teaching methods, stay with local families and work as interns at secondary schools in America.

The experience they bring back will be a great step toward genuinely improving Japan’s woeful way of teaching English.

The program, sponsored by the government, is an important initiative. The teachers, most in their 20s to 40s, will be able to acquire the kind of experience that will have an enormous impact on their students.

By going abroad, these teachers can learn how to teach communicative English and how to communicate better themselves. That will bring a higher level of English into the classroom as well as a broader outlook on English as a global language. That will also be a start toward changing the current fixation on exam-based English.

After these teachers return, they will also be changing the attitudes of students. At the send-off ceremony, Vice Education Minister Hirofumi Ryu said the teachers would be able to change the “inward-looking” nature of Japanese students and help to nurture students who can be “active globally.”

Teachers who have developed a broad-minded, active and open approach themselves will be even better equipped to achieve those aims.

These teachers will also be able to encourage young Japanese to study abroad, or at least study with greater zest. The authority of experience goes a long way, especially with young people.

No matter how many vocabulary words and grammar patterns a student memorizes, at the end of the school day, a meaningful anecdote and instructive story is what really motivates students.

These teachers will be stocking up on the experience and understanding why studying another language is so very important in this day and age.

In the past, Japan has brought many foreign teachers and language assistants to Japan to help improve English teaching. Those programs have had many positive benefits, but sending Japanese teachers abroad to live, learn and maybe even love other languages and cultures, is likely to have an even greater impact.

Their students and colleagues, and anyone interested in improving the level of English in Japan, should wish them a good voyage and a fruitful visit.

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