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Monday, October 20, 2014

News in Japan - ( What’s wrong with English education in Japan? / Tokyo 4th in Global Rankings / Naruto Ends Next Month )

What’s wrong with English education in Japan? Pull up a chair

By KK Miller - Japan Today

"When you speak to foreign English educators in Japan, one thing becomes crystal clear: English education in Japan isn’t working. It’s just awful. While English classes are mandatory in Japanese schools, the percentage of students who emerge with actual English abilities are surprisingly low. Students in China, Korea and Japan are in an arms race to see who can produce students with the best English, and Japan seems to be trailing far behind in third place.
With the Olympic Games coming up in 2020, the Japanese government has proposed changes to increase the level of English ability in their students. Changes like starting introductory English classes in 3rd grade elementary school and making the subject compulsory from the 5th grade. Are these changes really going to help? We’ve gathered opinions from both foreign teachers and Japanese citizens about issues with the system and what might improve it.
Every foreigner who spends any amount of time in Japan will understand the fundamental need to change the way students study English. But a recent thread on the Japan subreddit, which seems to have been started by an English educator, tried to assemble as many opinions as possible about the matter in one place. Many of the complaints fell into three main categories:
1. Teaching to the tests
For those unfamiliar with the Japanese school system, most high schools and universities have a test that prospective students must take and pass. Especially in the case of high schools, there is a mandated set of content that appears. And so, Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) focus on the grammar and vocabulary that will be on the test. A broader understanding and the practical uses of English are largely ignored because they have to cover the specific material and don’t have time for anything else.
So, if Japanese students have to learn specific material for the tests, why should they learn anything else? There is no point in actually learning the language if all that is required is being able to pick the correct answer on a multiple choice test. Many Japanese netizens agree, “Why change anything unless the style of testing is changed?”
2. The quality of the textbooks is quite low

Many foreign language teachers criticized the textbooks used in the classrooms, complaining about all manner of things including content and grammatical errors. Even more specifically, many people found the choice of grammar included to be suspect, saying it wasn’t grammar used very often in native English. The JTEs have to teach these archaic forms through topics such as recycling plastic, people and animals dying in WWII and boring Japanese history, causing students to be apathetic. (Topics like these are required in government approved textbooks.)
3. A focus on translating into Japanese and JTEs speaking in only Japanese. Where is the English?
Perhaps one of the biggest complaints was the amount, or lack of English used in the classrooms. The JTEs often teach all the grammar in Japanese, and check that the students can follow the textbook by translating the English into Japanese. Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) are regulated to human tape recorders, and then set free to roam the class and “help” the students. Of all the hours of English education, how many of those hours were spent actually listening to and speaking English? (Repeating English is not the same as speaking it.)
Japanese people agree that the current teaching style often limits students to what little English they hear from the teachers and what words are put in front of them. Successful teaching should include as many senses as possible to surround students in English. One Japanese netizen suggests that TV dramas should be utilized to hear real English, while seeing the facial expressions and mouth movements all together in one package. How can a student not be excited to learn phrases like “OK, I’m on my way”, “What’s the problem?” or “Freeze! You’re under arrest!”
Which brings us to the main problem with the current system: Japanese students don’t understand the benefits of learning English. This is certainly not limited to Japanese learners, but how many time do you hear a student say, “I’m Japanese, so I will never use English in the future.” Studying English as a language is one of the least interesting things about it. But, what about all the different things that you can experience when you understand English? TV shows, movies, books, games, and it’s not even limited to entertainment, scientific journals, international business and the majority of the Internet is conducted in English.
When the exposure of English is limited to the classroom and the unfortunate textbooks, a majority of the students will disengage from it and end up not learning anything. When students are forced to study and learn about certain grammar points and vocabulary, with no knowledge about how you can apply it to all the amazing things in English, of course, the students are going to do poorly. Expose them to the idea that, yes, this is a subject you have to study, but look at what you can do with it outside the classroom. You can excite students with that and promote self-study, which is a much better approach than learning “This is a pen” for the sake of a test."



Tokyo stays fourth in global city ranking

by Masaaki Kameda - Japan times

Tokyo topped the list in the economy category and came in second in research and development, but ranked a lowly 17th in livability, ninth in environment and 10th in accessibility

"Tokyo remained fourth out of 40 major cities in an annual global city ranking released Thursday, trailing London, New York and Paris.
The latest Global Power City Index, compiled annually by the Institute for Urban Strategies at the Mori Memorial Foundation since 2008, assesses 70 indicators in six categories: economy, research and development, cultural interaction, livability, environment and accessibility.
“Though Tokyo came in fourth place, the same as last year, in the overall ranking, the city improved to sixth from eighth in the cultural interaction category,” said Hiroo Ichikawa, a professor at Meiji University’s Graduate School who helped compile the ranking.
Ichikawa said the hefty increase in the number of foreign travelers to Tokyo last year contributed to the improvement in its cultural interaction rating. The capital drew 6.81 million tourists from overseas in 2013, up 22.5 percent from the previous year.
Tokyo topped the list in the economy category and came in second in research and development, but ranked a lowly 17th in livability, ninth in environment and 10th in accessibility.
Ichikawa said that despite the high economy ranking, Tokyo could stand to improve its market attractiveness and regulatory environment.
One way to improve the poor score in accessibility, meanwhile, would be to increase the number of flights to and from Japan, he said.
Tokyo should take advantage of the 2020 Summer Olympics to improve on its weak areas, Ichikawa added.
Rounding out the top 10 was Singapore in fifth place, followed by Seoul, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hong Kong and Vienna."




After 15 years of ninja action, manga Naruto is ending next month

By Casey Baseel - Japan Today

“Naruto,” creator Masashi Kishimoto’s wildly popular weekly ninja series, is just weeks away from its final installment.
When “Naruto” made its debut in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump in 1999, it’s doubtful that even the most optimistic editors at the magazine expected it to last as long as it did. Stories about a plucky warrior in training, who teams up with his friends (one he has a rivalry with, and the other he has feelings for) to face evil foes and overcome challenges had already been done by numerous other series before Kishimoto ever drew sketches of main characters Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura.
The devil’s in the details, though, and while readers may have seen the broad strokes before, the fine points of Naruto struck a chord with readers and drew them in. It has had such a strong hold on fans that the manga now stands at 694 chapters, with 70 collected volumes that have sold more than 130 million copies in Japan, and another 70 million overseas.

And now, after 15 years, it’s all coming to a close. Kishimoto announced two years ago that “Naruto” would be winding down, and this week publisher Shueisha announced that the manga’s 699th, and final, chapter will be published in the issue of Shonen Jump that hits newsstands on November 10.
Given that Kishimoto is just 39, it’s likely we’ll more manga from the artist after he takes a well-deserved break. Naruto and company aren’t going to immediately disappear altogether either, as there’s a new anime movie, “The Last – Naruto the Movie” scheduled for release on December 6. Shueisha has also promised some form of “Naruto entertainment” is coming in 2015.
But even though November 10 isn’t going to be a complete and final goodbye, it still marks a big change for fans who have become used to getting together with their ninja buddies once a week for the past decade and a half.


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