Jamie Hall started an interesting discussion:
I have been teaching in Japan for 6 years. Currently, I am a EFL teacher-trainer/ EFL instructor. I came to Japan a big proponent of the communicative approach but now I just don’t know if it is the appropriate approach for the students I teach. I read a book by a professor at Keio University. He is a Japanese teacher of German writing about foreign language learning in Japan. He wrote that Japanese students are just not the kinds of students who will speak out in class. Thus, the communicative approach is ineffective. His experience has been as an evaluator of Japanese students’ foreign language ability is that the students who have undergone a communicative approach to foreign language learning that he has evaluated learned next to nothing in their classes.
But then seemed to go offline. So I’m posting here and hoping he’ll re-appear.
Here’s my take: 1) OK, Japanese students won’t speak OUT in class. That’s because of Japanese group protocol. It doesn’t mean they won’t SPEAK. Soooooo, have them speak without being put on the spot. One way is to break them into small groups each working on different (or similar) tasks. Break up the group! Coz that’s when they feel all eyes are on me! and it makes them freeze. (There’s a lot more to it, but that’ll take a longer post).
2) How does the teacher of German KNOW they don’t learn anything from the communicative approach? Like, ask them to stand up in class and say something in German? Why might that not be a good idea, let alone a good way to evaluate them? OK, I don’t KNOW how the teacher evaluated students, but that’s the point. Without knowing that, it’s impossible to say if the teacher’s judgement was correct or not.
3) Japanese students won’t speak out in class, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn to speak a foreign language! There are plenty who manage it.
The problem is the class! Because of Japanese group dynamics a class of more than 5 students is a very bad format in which to teach people to learn to speak a foreign language. The most effective way I found is to break the whole class into pairs and have them practice acting out a scripted dialogue. Everyone is speaking at the same time, no-one’s on the spot. With good coaching, they can go 90 minutes like that.
So why have classes at all? Ah, that takes us into another fascinating direction. Here’s something I read recently about the matter: Against School