English teachers to study abroad

The Tokyo Board of Education has taken a bold move — perhaps its first ever — to raise the level of English at public schools. If its plan goes without a hitch, eventually all English teachers at Tokyo’s junior high and high schools will have to study and live in an English-speaking country for three months. The requirement is an attempt to improve English in Japan and should be warmly welcomed by anyone caring about Japan’s low level of English competence.

The project is set to start in April when the first group of 200 English teachers in the third year of their careers will be sent for home stays and direct contact with real, living English all over the globe. Tokyo currently has 3,300 English teachers at public junior high and high schools, so the first 200 is just a small beginning.

Hopefully the program will be expanded in the future so that all Tokyo English teachers can participate.

The teachers sent abroad will be given training courses in how to teach students to debate, to base classes on communicative English and, perhaps most importantly, to conduct classes without using Japanese. The Tokyo government last April revised its curriculum guidelines to encourage teachers to avoid using Japanese. Sending teachers overseas is an excellent way to make that happen.

After studying and living abroad, teachers will be ready and able, and maybe even willing to create an English-rich environment for students.

Equally important is that teachers will gain the essential experience, confidence and training to move away from the demands of preparing for college entrance exams toward communicating in real English. Teachers with more experience in the wider world will have the language ability and pedagogical foundation to move English classes toward communication, interaction and understanding, rather than correct answers and memorized patterns.

The requirement to go abroad will also help foster an understanding of different cultures and lifestyles. English has always facilitated broader contact with the world, and now that will have a clear and immediate channel — junior and senior high school English teachers. Teachers will be immersed in cultures and experiences all in English, and will bring home with them something more valuable than the usual omiyage. The best English teachers will be looking forward to this opportunity.

The new move is obviously connected to the 2020 Olympics. Perhaps Tokyo’s major infrastructure weakness is the level of English. This bold new move on the part of the Tokyo Board of Education is a welcome initiative to bringing up Tokyo’s English level — not just to save face when the world arrives for the Olympics but to improve the level of English in a world that uses the language more and more.

  • Cliff Clarke

    An interesting article but the move but he Tokyo Board of Education’s plan would be strengthened by adding Intercultural Communication Training and Foreign Student Counseling to the teachers’ experience while abroad. Stanford received a three-month student who was placed with a local family for housing and the family only ate as a group on Sunday at noon. The Japanese chose not to take initiative to eat the food in the kitchen despite being invited to do so. The informality of the family resulted in her losing 26 pounds in the first month. She decided to hate Americans and requested to be returned to Japan after that 1st month. “Contact Hypothesis” theory suggests that it is not enough to simply enable intercultural contact especially in situations of immersion without six supportive factors. Failure is predictable if these supportive factors are not built into the immersion. The Tokyo BOE has a great plan to invest in Tokyo’s 3,000 English teachers in their schools but there may be many failures if the learnings about the qualitative elements of such programs are not taken into consideration. For the teachers’ sake, I sincerely trust that they will be given such qualitative support and not simply be “thrown to the wolves” in a strange land with forced immersion requirements. These comments come from years of researching and administering, counseling and training thousands of such trainees from other countries, especially Japanese, in America.

  • kyushuphil

    I love the theme that threads this editorial.

    The editorial writer hopes for real change to come about from immersing Japanese teachers of English actually in native English-speaking cultures — “to move English classes toward communication, interaction and understanding, rather than correct answers and memorized patterns.

    Learning English becomes, ideally, then, not just skills linguistic, but human.

    At a time when the great Nelson Mandela has just passed, we can pause over this. We can note his great capacity to treasure the human — always to remember his predecessors — always to keep in mind the many good people and good land around him, and never elevate himself over them, or falsify them, or that, or anything, really.

    This isn’t easy. The great lie of consumerism today is the constant huckstering of happy-happy. Too many teachers fall victim to this — to a reduced, manufactured view of not just a mindless, robotic human, but also one saccharin-cutesy — often in the infantilism of too many textbooks.

    So, yes — let the teachers go abroad — help them do that. But also do so with eagerness for an enlarged and more honest humanity — more essays with wider, more human quotes in them, more debate with fuller context for more complications in them — and the language will come naturally, truly.

  • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

    This has been needed for awhile now. From the numerous Japanese teachers of English that I’ve worked with, I noticed a trend where the ones that had actual experience abroad performed their job far better and had actually had confidence in their teaching ability. The JET Programme’s midyear conferences just ended, and at mine there were numerous Japanese there that kept complaining about how they couldn’t understand any of the presenters because they spoke English. If they can’t even understand that level of English, these people have no business teaching in my opinion.

    All that aside, English education in Japan still requires even more than this to improve by doing the things other commentators have mentioned here.

  • akanosenritu

    This is a good move, but where do the teachers go and study?

    If the destination they go is limited to America, England etc. in which English is spoken in “right pronunciation”(Japanese teachers persist in this), I think the effect of this attempt is also limited. Countries such as India, Philippines should be the destination because it is with those countries’ people that children in the future will communicate in English.

  • Sho Takeda

    This kind of movement should be welcomed considering today’s too stiff English education scene in Japan. But questions still remain; where do they go? is it really effective to study abroad for only there months? will they have enough initiative to study there? etc.
    As a matter of fact, unfortunately, English teachers in Japan have been accepting the reality in which they dont have to use English to teach it. They dont necessarily have to be able to use English even when they teach it!
    My point is, if they dont eager to become to be able to use English properly , do they want to study even if the government send them abroad? I dont think so. The fact that they can be teachers even if they cant use English is meaning that Japanese education is lacking competitiveness which would eventually make teachers to improve their English abilities.