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Monday, July 1, 2013

A Proposal for A New Japanese Foreign Language Curriculum


The current state of foreign language education in Japan is embarrassing at best. The only system of language education I have seen to be worse is the Canadian one and I only say that because Canada claims to be a bilingual country. Sadly the average American is more likely to speak passable Spanish than the average Canadian is to be able to speak French. Now if we get back to talking about Japan, I must be fair and mention that there have been some efforts to better Japan's foreign language education system, including what is being called the all English curriculum. I am a stern supporter of the all English curriculum however I still believe that there is more to be done.

Many of the problems Japan is facing in its attempts at foreign language education have more to do with political alliances than a genuine intention of creating a strong understanding of foreign languages. Japan has a strange relationship with America, a relationship that would make for a great case study on the topic of Stockholm syndrome. This relationship has created a short sighted over emphasis on only learning English as a foreign language.

The problem of the failing education system of foreign languages in Japan is a complicated and political topic. There is no simple answer for reform however the new move towards an all English curriculum is a good first step, however I believe more can be done. That is why today I will offer a complete restructuring of the Japanese foreign language curriculum which could help Japan become a more relevant and progressive country. But first let's look at a few reasons the current system is failing.

A lack of Choice
Japanese students have very little choice when it comes to foreign language study. A few high schools offer courses in Chinese or other languages for a semester or two but this a rarity. Most Japanese students are forced to learn English for six years. For three of those years they study English up to four times a week. However the average Japanese walks away from this obsessive indoctrination of English hardly being able to introduce themselves.

Nationalism
Japan despite its declining economy is a fairly powerful nation. It may not be what it was in the 70’s and 80’s but it is still rather strong and fairly self sufficient. Japan's self sufficiency is something I admire however combined with Japan's long history of extreme national pride and a desire for keeping up a pure monoculture, few Japanese see value in learning foreign languages.

The teachers
Many of the English teachers in Japan are under qualified, this includes native English speakers. Many of the Japanese teachers hold little more than an elementary understanding of english based on overly pedantic textbooks. Even worse many Japanese teachers, sometimes even those who are near fluent, simply lack confidence in their ability to conduct well organized and engaging classes. Native speakers often suffer from an opposite problem. They are overly confident in their status of being a native english speaker and therefore do very little to improve their own command of the english language or their understanding of effective educational practices.

One place that all teachers, both in North America and Japan, seem to be lacking is their limited knowledge of psychology, particularly cognitive psychology, and learning theory. For a teacher to be lacking in a basic and up to date understanding of how the human brain processes and deals with information is a major problem in many educational systems today. Every teacher should at the very least have a strong understanding of basic theories on how memory works. All educators should also be well trained in empathic practices and have an understanding of the importance of creating a supportive learning environment.

The Curriculum
Now that we have covered three major reasons why Japan's current attitude towards foreign language education is failing, I would like to offer you a revised foreign and non-Japanese language curriculum. This curriculum would help Japan, move towards being a multilingual nation, increase cultural sensitivity and of course help those students, who want to go on to postsecondary education, develop an in depth understanding of the English language that will ensure high test scores.

Grade
Language
Frequency
Focus
Testing
Supplementary

小学
Elementary School
-English
-Chinese and the history of Kanji
- Okinawan and Ainu
-Once a week
-Once a week for two semesters
-As a complement to cultural and creative studies
-Instructional Language
-Games
-Songs
-Traditional Stories
-Nursery Rhymes
-Tongue Twisters
-Testing should be avoided
-Student’s grades should focus on participation and effort.
-Art classes should have a minimum of one three class unit each semester that focus on Chinese, Okinawan and Ainu Art History.
-Music classes should teach at least one English, Okinawan and Ainu song a semester.

中学
Middle School
-English
-Once a week
-English
cinema and literature
-Review writing
-Pen pals
-Basic conversational Practice
-Script writing
-Presentations
-Traditional songs and rhymes

-Testing should be used to help students gage their own personal progress.
-Student’s grades should be based on participation and effort.
-Students should learn to prepare for exams by creating exams based on the kinds of exams they will take in high school
-Art classes should have a minimum of one three class unit each semester that focus on Chinese, Okinawan and Ainu Art History.
-Music classes should teach at least one Okinawan song and one Ainu song a semester.)
-One semester each year of music, art, physical education, drama or home economics taught in English

-Ainu and  Okinawan
-One chosen foreign language
ex: Chinese
Korean
Russian
-Once a week for one
semesters
-Once a week for two semesters

-Instructional Language
-Games
-Songs
-Traditional Stories
-Nursery Rhymes
-Tongue Twisters
高校
High School
-English
-One chosen foreign language
ex: Chinese
Korean
Russian
-A minimum of four semesters of conversational English for those who opt to study other languages.
- Minimum of three years of foreign language study.
-Reading
-Writing
-Media
-Test taking
-Testing should be based on preparing for government and university exams.
-Art classes should have a minimum of one three class unit each semester that focus on Chinese, Okinawan and Ainu Art History.
-Music classes should teach at least one Okinawan song and one Ainu song a semester.
-One semester each year of music, art, physical education, drama or home economics taught in English



Basic 4 day class structure
(Middle School and Up)

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4 A/B
Reading
Writing
Media
(A)Tests
(B)Conversation
Warm Up: a Short song or rhyme
Warm Up: a Short song or rhyme
Warm Up: a Short song or rhyme
Warm Up: a Short song or rhyme
Review last section
Review day 1
Review day 2
Review day 3
Activity: Read aloud and comprehension exercises
Activity: Written response based on readings or unit theme
Activity: Watch, movies, cartoons, listen to music, practice karaoke
Activity: make and practice tests and conversations  Alternate between A and B weekly.
Recap
Recap
Recap
Recap

Conversational English
(High School)

  • Conversational classes should be taught using a constructivist approach. Students should be encouraged to develop short skits, performances, and presentations. They should be encouraged to engage with and respond to foreign media.

  • Testing should be avoided. Rather than focussing on overly structured goals students should be encouraged to set their own fluid goals and be taught how to access useful resources. Each student should focus on developing the vocabulary they see to be necessary for their own personal self expression.


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