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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Critics of English Education in Japan Misguided says Kumiko Torikai

Critics of English education misguided; English hegemony must be overcome - Kumiko Torikai

Teaching-English-in-Japan-Education-Torikai" In a controversial interview with the Asahi Shinbun, Rikkyo University professor Kumiko Torikai has attacked critics of the current English education system for not understanding it and called for the teaching of "core English" stripped of cultural content.

Torikai criticizes those who bemoan that students aren't taught how to speak English: "The problem today is that conversation skills are being overemphasized. You say students can only read and write but can't converse in English, but that's an old story that is no longer true."

The NHK ""Nyusu de Eikaiwa" (English conversation on current events) presenter also calls for abandoning the teaching of the culture of native speakers of English as part of English lessons and argues that the "hegemony of English must be overcome". She notes that as the number of non-native speakers of English outnumbers native speakers a "Universal English" should be taught that recognizes this and that the US and UK are no longer the arbiters of the language. "For instance, when you say something to an American and the American tells you, 'We don't say that in the States,' you can respond, 'I'm sure you don't, but we do in Japan.'

Professor Torikai was a member of the special advisory committee to the Ministry of Education on education reform in 2001.  Read More


If what professor Torikai says is true, why is it so difficult to find good English speakers in Japan?
Moreover, why is it so easy to find pretty good English speakers in other Asian countries, more per capita than in Japan (in my impression).    Could it just be possible that in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia they are teaching English well?    Maybe Japan could learn from their success instead of clinging to methods that have been shown not to work.    Learning by
rote, audio lingual and old methods like that.   While old methods do have their place at times,
learning more communicatively and having classes that are more teacher centred makes sense.

I do agree with Torikai however, on the point that English is becoming a world language, and that
in Japan we say the English this way.     I think it is becoming the defacto world language and
country-specific dictionaries of English will become the norm.

Singapore for a long time now of course, has had her own unique English, sometimes dubbed
comically as "Singlish."   I think Singaporean English is just another branch of English, as is
American English and probably in the future Japanese English.

I disagree with Torikai about teaching English without culture.   To teach English without teaching the culture that goes with the language,  to Japanese, (a people still very isolated from the rest of the world), is a huge mistake.

Japanese need to learn more about the world, and feel more comfortable with non-Japanese.
English class is one opportunity to do that.

Moreover, a girl was just slashed as a result of racist bullying in Odawara.    The victim of the bullying a so-called "half," lashed out at one of her tormentors.   She was bullied over the nationality of her non-Japanese father.

So English I feel can help to end some of the racism that still pervades Japan.    But to do that
you need to teach the culture that goes with it. 

To my mind, education will help lesson prejudice.