This article on the history of English teaching in Japan is worth reading for anyone who plans to work as an ALT or wants to understand the background assumptions of the teachers who work in the field. While the article is filled with interesting tidbits about how English teaching has progressed, one paragraph stood out on this reread:
Finally, we need to consider the beliefs shared by many teachers (and university professors) – in particular, perhaps, those with a literary allegiance – that there are important alternative goals of English education aside from the apparently utilitarian one of proficiency in spoken English. Since the end of the Meiji Era, the idea has taken hold that the study of English should develop general cognitive abilities and cultural awareness […]
It reminded me of a blog post I read last year about a conference on English reform where one of the speakers “felt that the most important role for English education in Japan was to improve students’ ability in Japanese.” To someone whose focus has always been on English proficiency and practical usage of the language, it is interesting that the above viewpoint is a common one amongst Japanese teachers.
Is their focus on what I consider to be periphery aspects of English-language education wrong thinking on my part? Is it born from their inability to teach the functional use of English? Is my task simply too big and their approach more rational?
Sometimes I think I need to get over myself. I’ve been placed into a workplace where practical English may not be the goal even though I wish it would be. That’s almost like joining a soccer game and wondering why I can’t pick up the ball and run with it. It’s not what I signed up for (I want to teach useful, real-world English), but as with all foreign countries, adaptability and understanding differing viewpoints is important. Necessary.
Perhaps I should flip this around and firmly re-title this one: “The Problem With My Thoughts and Goals in Japan: 日本で僕の意見と目的の問題”