Monday, May 25, 2015

Reading 日本人に相応しい英語教育 (Suitable English Education for Japanese)

I bought this book nearly two years ago and it had been sitting on my book shelf since. I decided that it was time for me to read it and I assigned it as reading for a graduate school seminar (for non-English majors) after we had read the book "英語教師のための第二言語習得論入門" (An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition for English Instructors) which advocated a communicative approach to teaching English in Japan. 
日本人に相応しい英語教育 (Suitable English Education for Japanese) by Hajime Narita strongly advocates translation and explicit grammar instruction as an appropriate teaching methodology to use with Japanese students.

Admittedly, I am more in the CLT (Communicative language teaching) camp, but I thought some of the arguments in this book were compelling. Professor Narita emphasises that a communicative approach might be appropriate for students whose L1 is closer to English because their grammar systems (verb tense, article usage, word order) are similar. The "linguistic distance" between English and Japanese is significantly greater and thus learners will need more explicit instruction because they will be unable to pick up rules through just input or communication. This made me reflect on how challenging it has been for me to learn to speak acceptable  Japanese. Language learning is not just fun, it is hard and sometimes tedious work.  In my teacher education classes I advocate a "communicative approach" but I worry that I could be misleading student-teachers into thinking that learning English comes from carefree communication. I have written about this before but it seems that so many teachers teach classes with either too much incredibly boring instruction and monotonous drilling or too many poorly conducted "communicative activities" rather than a pragmatic balance of both. Classes need to have a balance with concise and clear instruction, active and challenging drills, and engaging communicative activities.

Next up on my reading list will be "Effective English Instruction Appropriate for Japanese Learners" written by three of my buddies. Maybe they can point me in a better direction.