Back to life – starting over

I’m resurrecting this blog after many years (last update was 2010).

I will write about some chronic issues that I’ve encountered over the years, and which never go away or seem to improve. These are the major speed-bumps in my teaching.

After teaching for over 30 years, and now approaching retirement, I want to pass on whatever wisdom or insight I may have acquired with regard to teaching English to college students in Japan, and if possible, to throw some light onto these major stumbling blocks or obstacles.

The major obstacle, I’ve found,  is a culture gap: a gap between (obviously) my English/British/European culture and the Japanese, but also a gap between European and Japanese values, and perhaps between the older and the younger generation.  The gap is only partly linguistic: it is not just because they don’t speak or understand English and my Japanese is still limited. It is also because of major differences in values. The problem becomes one of how to identify these differences, and then how to talk about them and resolve them if possible. Until recently, I had no real way to talk about them with students, except privately with a very few interested ones, and mostly they would agree with me but be unable to offer any practical suggestions for future action.

Here is a brief summary of some of the issues I encountered, with a list below of other topics I plan to address in future posts:

  • Students seem  trained to be obedient, to follow rules, not to take initiative.
  • They wait to be told what to do.
  • They ask permission before taking action. This may seem like simple politeness, but I suspect it is rather the result of too much obedience-training.
  • Very few students have any great interest in or motivation to learn to speak English. I’m talking about non-English-majors, obviously. This is in marked contrast to younger children who often show enthusiasm for communicating. At some stage this is knocked out of them.
  • Institutions appear not to place much emphasis on results (again, I’m talking about non-English-majors), although they are all eager to have English classes on the curriculum across the board.
  • Perhaps as a result of the above, students also do not seem to expect results in terms of improved English ability.  I remember vividly a group of students whom I’d failed and who were most indignant about it because they had attended all the classes and completed all the assignments; yet they readily admitted that they could not really put a sentence together. However, they did not blame me for that, nor did they see that as grounds for failing the course!

Some topics I’ll be writing about:

  1. Why Japanese students are so meek (generally speaking)
  2. Why students and teachers attach so much importance to attendance
  3. Why college students ask permission to go to the bathroom
  4. Why Japanese young people are on the whole ignorant of their rights and hesitant to insist on them
  5. One dominating value of Japanese education (and no, it’s not “harmony”)
  6. Why Japanese students don’t ask questions
  7. What might be done about it
  8. Why Japanese students are so shy and the problems that entails for language teaching and learning
  9. What might be done about it
  10. Why Japanese students tend not to think critically, and what might be done about it.
  11. Why my Japanese colleagues asked me “Do your students study for you?”
  12. Why all Japanese students hate studying and what (if anything) might be done about it
  13. Why, when I waxed enthusiastic about a Self-Access Centre, a Japanese colleague (teacher of French, no less) told me it’ll never work unless you make it compulsory
  14. Why you have to sign forms with your full name, even if your family name is Twinkletoes or Ali Baba.
  15. Why Japanese school corridors and classrooms have nothing on the walls (is it a Zen thing, or a Spartan thing?)
  16. Why Japanese students’ essays are either totally one-sided or hopelessly middle-of-the-road
  17. What Japanese diplomat Shirasu Jiro’s Cambridge tutor told him on reading Shirasu’s first essay, and why that is relevant to teachers today
  18. Any other random aspects of teaching in Japan that I happen to be ticked  off about


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