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6810



Joined: 16 Nov 2003
Posts: 309

PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2007 12:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Guest is often rather off the mark... his position is a bloated not a qualified one.

I guess all the bi and tri-lingual education in Europe is really fiction...

He's not ignorant, he's a moron.

BTW, many mono-lingual adults frequently do not consciously reflect on their language usage... not any more or less than a child
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anne_o



Joined: 30 Nov 2005
Posts: 172
Location: Tokyo

PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2007 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Why is everyone so miserable.........?
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J.



Joined: 03 May 2003
Posts: 327

PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2007 12:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read over the article by Mr. Guest ( thanks to Jim for posting it, a scanner really comes in handy). I think he tends to be grasping a bit for what he thinks about learning English in elementary school. As someone pointed out, he approaches the issue more from the point of view of a parent who wants to know, "Why are kids spending time on English and what is it doing for them?" That, apparently, English is his native language just makes it a bit stranger as one might assume he would see some value in learning his own language. I have to wonder if this isn't a case of jumping on the Abe bandwagon and trying to earn some brownie points with the prevailing retrogressive (in my opinion) educational trend.

He doesn't like kids memorizing "lists of words"in English so they can spend more time memorizing kanji? This one boggles logic somehow.

I agree with much of what Glenski said, except that reading is a boring skill. I think it depends on how it's presented. I start reading story books to my youngest students and then we slowly progress to them starting to read them to me, which they can begin to do after about 5 years and around the age of 11. (We've also studied phonics for sounding out the new words.) They love the stories ( think of how your kids like you reading to them) and they not only get to hear a lot of words but they get a lot of context from the pictures (and the questions/ answers, short activities based on the books.) And there are some fantastic books for children being written, as enjoyable for adults as for them.

But I would never say that reading should be taught in isolation, and I absolutely think that learning the names for common things that they are already familiar with or are learning simultaneously in their native language helps rather than interferes with their language learning. We know that young children are super-wired for learning language, most actually enjoy learning language of any kind at this age. It is when the students are required to study obscure grammar rules and cram in reading and writing skills far ahead of their actual levels to try to pass the college entrance exams or impress someone in an interview that they begin to hate it. And with good reason. If there is a failing in English teaching and learning in Japan, and the Education Ministry might do well to clear out the fog and listen, it is that English needs to be taught as a communicative language. And it has to be given enough time for that to be possible. Sandwiching it in once a week for 45 minutes or 2 or 3 times a month is better than nothing, but it won't allow fluency.

The solution is not to eliminate English at the elementary level but to give more time to it and teach it like a regular subject-- everyday-- with people qualified to take the children through to fluency and enough support in the schools for that. Teaching English like a "hobby language" will only produce English hobbyists.
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gaijin4life



Joined: 23 Sep 2006
Posts: 150
Location: Westside of the Eastside, Japan

PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2007 4:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

quote=]'Primary school English - what's the purpose?' [/quote]

I agree with Glenski and J`s. replies - mostly. Guest appears very ill-informed of the situation regarding teaching spoken English in Primary schools. He might have a point or two regarding the lack of planning or consistency in some classes at some schools; but that is a management issue rather than one regarding whether languages should be taught or not. Ofcourse the best way to teach a language is by following good EFL practises.

For me, the debate comes down to this point. The best time to learn a language is when the learner is young. `Language Acquistion` theory teaches that the part of the brain that deals with acquiring language is most active and receptive in young children.

Starting to learn (and especially to speak) another language by Junior High School age is too late in my opinion.

Also the argument that `languages should only be taught if they are actually going to be used,`is surely redundant in this context. Benefits of learning another language go far beyond whether or not there is a likelihood that the learner will ever actually use that language, for example - Latin.

I find the notion that it is not useful for people in Japan to learn English when they might not ever need to speak it, to be odd. There is so much foreign and `Western` influence in this country it can only be an advantage to learn or have some awareness of other languages.
Lastly, I don`t agree with the idea that learning another language can affect the child`s acquisition of their first language(s). It depends on how the first language(s) (or kanji) are taught.

As a personal example of the usefulness of learning another language young, I began to learn words and phrases of a native language in my home country from Primary school if not earlier. Even now, many years later, I can still remember things like the days of the week, numbers, colours, names of everyday things, greetings, simple sentances and songs that we learned. Learning that language has helped me in learning other languages; (French and Spanish) and in speaking Japanese, as it was also a phonetic language and had similar vowel sounds. People compliment me on my accurate pronunication of Japanese. Very Happy

I think rather than the question of `Whats the purpose in teaching English at Primary School ?`; - `How to make the teaching of P/S English more effective` would be a more productive discussion for a newspaper article.

And, I really wonder what `kind of` Italian the young Albanians manged to attain conversational fluency in - from watching tv programmes ... hmmm ...
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
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Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2007 8:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I agree with much of what Glenski said, except that reading is a boring skill. I think it depends on how it's presented.
Perhaps I didn't word it accurately enough. Of the 4 skills, reading (IMO) is the most boring because by itself it is very passive, or at least in the most traditional sense, it is so.

Of course, I agree with J. in that it is all in the delivery, and I have taught to HS and university kids reading skills in ways that I would hope are far from boring and passive. It just astonishes me that Guest feels beginners should bypass the easier and more direct skills of conversation (listening and speaking) and instead push reading at them first.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Jim for posting the article.

Glenski, the DY (and also the Japan Times) are available at the library close to City Hall (if you're still living where you were before)...not saying it would always be worth the trek, though ('The Language Connection' especially isn't that interesting on the whole).

Hmm, quite a few comments, generally hostile (to Guest).

I suppose I should've said I just wanted to hear others' opinions rather than 'I agreed with pretty much all that Guest said', but who doesn't ever come away with a general impression from a quick read of something e.g. 'Hmm, Guest may have a point (or two) there', or 'Gee, this Glenski guy sure is an irritable, miserable old goat' (note that this is an 'old goatium' rather than 'ad hominem' Very Happy ).

Anyway, I'll try to get back online this afternoon with more detailed comments (MY opinions LOL), but I'm not sure that I'll want to go into a word-by-word, blow-for-blow analysis of Guest's (and then Glenski's etc) words. Cool


Last edited by fluffyhamster on Mon Jun 25, 2007 10:08 am; edited 1 time in total
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johanne



Joined: 18 Apr 2003
Posts: 189

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 6:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As an elementary school teacher I think Guest is completely off base in most of his comments. I teach Grade 1 at an international school and my students can certainly have a conversations and are very capable of explaining "why" they believe something. In fact it's one of the skills we focus on consistently over the year. If his 11 year old can't have a "conversation" as he defines it, I'd be a bit worried.

Also, teaching English takes nothing away from the kids learning Japanese. In Canada I taught in a bilingual program. My students, mostly native English speakers, received all their instruction in French from the first 3 years of elementary school and then moved on to a 60% French instruction and 40% English for the final 3 years of elementary school. They had better literacy skills in English than those students who had received all their instruction in English. There is a lot of research out there than studying a second language improves students' abilities in their mother tongue.

The one point I would agree with, though, is that phonics as a means of learning to read English should be introduced very early on. In fact, for young students learning to read is very exciting. In Canada my 6 year olds were thrilled to be able to "read" in French. I put "read" in quotes because decoding and reading are not the same thing. Decoding in sounding out the word. It doesn't mean you understand it and without understanding the students are not really reading. However, being able to decode makes it possible to teach the students to learn new vocabulary from context and with elementary students, from picture books. So acutally, I do agree that reading as a focus of a primary English program is a great idea - especially if the students can get regular English instruction, say at least once a week. It's not that hard to learn to read in English if the students can already read in Japanese and done well it can be an excellent way to improve the students' English - showing them proper sentence structure and introducing new vocabulary in a natural way. I lot of students, as well, as not auditory learners and seeing words and sentences written down and working out for themselves, at their own pace, what it all means is more effective than having them role play or do oral activities.

There are some wonderful series of engaging, funny books written especially for young kids learning to read. The words are chosen because they are easy to decode and the sentences are written so that the new vocabulary is easy to understand. There are usually great pictures to help as well. These books tend to be written as series so the students can go along at their own pace, so if they don't have English that often it doesn't matter. As long as the whole school is using the same basic series they can through the first few levels over the course of 3 years, for example, rather than the 2 months that you would take in an immersion program.

These books are also written in kid friendly language and tend to actentuate the kind of every day English these kids should be learning rather than lists of vocab words out of context. Of course the class should include some oral practice, but in my experience having an appropriate reading program as the backbone of a language program is much more effective that disjointed oral practice lessons. Written work should also be included. There's no reason not to be teaching the 4 language skills from day 1. The kids can handle it.
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gaijinalways



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 2:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dr. Seuss anyone? Cool
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mikeguest



Joined: 24 Jun 2007
Posts: 6
Location: Miyazaki, Japan

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As the author of the article (and column) in question, it would probably be worth my adding a little input here.

First, in regard to speculation about my not having an ESL/EFL background or that I’m somehow only fleetingly related to the profession here are my credentials:
- 20 Years teaching EFL in Japan- 10 as Associate Prof. of English at a national university, the others as a Coordinator at a senmon gakko in Tokyo, and as a language/culture trainer of government workers (inc. lotsa work on policy committees etc).
- MA Philosophy (specialties- religion, linguistics)
- MSc in TESL, I also started a PhD program but dropped it when the then-professor expressed worries about interference with my daily working responsibilities.
- ESL Teaching Certificate (Canada)
- 3 books on EFL, sections as a contributor in two others
- 26 academic papers on ESL/EFL in 11 journals in 5 countries
- 70+ casual, instructional, or op-ed papers or articles, reviews
- Numerous editorial works, teacher training program coordinator programs
- Member JALT, JACET, ETJ, and (ex-longtime TESOL member), officer in two of these
- 60+ presentations on ESL/EFL in 8 countries, several times as an invited or plenary speaker; attendance at 100+ conferences

I realize that these credentials + 150 yen will get me a cup of coffee at Doutor’s and does nothing to validate any claims or segments that I make in the Yomiuri but I would like to dispel the unfounded and speculative notion that I somehow crawled from under an EFL-barren rock.

As for the Indirectly Speaking column, please realize that this is an op-ed piece. It is not a research column, nor a didactic piece. The idea is for me to write frankly my thoughts on various matters EFL. Now, I could write something almost everyone would agree with like, “Learning two languages is a valuable skill for children- the learner they soon the better- it will open doors and aid in their internationalization- but they need to develop communication skills for this and currently this is not happening” etc but- yawn- we hear this kind of bland, vanilla-flavoured stuff everyday. It’s the processed cheese of EFL discourse. There are popular opinions which have come to represent a kind of EFL orthodoxy for some but large chunks of it can seem facile to me and certain prescriptions seem to go unexamined. Anyway, the whole point of the column is not to be wishy-washy….and many readers clearly do like the frankness, the tongue-in-cheek jibes etc. This does not mean that I deliberately try to play the provocateur, but gets discussion going. And, by the way, the little fee I get for the articles is negligible.

As for the most recent column, I don’t think the claims or challenges are as bizarre as many seem to think here although I certainly do expect some points to be challenged- which I welcome, if the arguments are coherent and not accompanied by hostility.
Among the points I raised in this article, either directly or indirectly, were:
- Should the main purpose of primary school English be conversational- given that such concerns are already the domain of the private arena, the relative lack of extra-classroom reinforcement, given the skills of Japanese teachers, plus the weekly time allotted to EFL?
- Should it not perhaps be reading?
- Do children in fact actually have “conversations”?
- Is conversation (as opposed to communication skills) really teachable (as opposed to learnable)?
- Are piecemeal approaches to language items (“naming”) really effective ways of developing holistic language skills?
- Do not children acquire languages more by exposure to input than either conscious noticing (or reflection) or piecemeal “naming” approaches?
- Are “culture” and “games” not often used fatuously or vacuously in terms of their roles in primary school 2nd language education?
- Can learning occur without explicit “teaching”? Might this not be a more suitable approach for a child's EFL education?
All of these points (and at least you know where I stand on them) have at least legitimate discussion value and are valid (IMO) as responses to certain popular viewpoints. They are not closed cases, and taking the positions that I have is hardly “out there”. There is both academic and practical discussion out there on these issues.

Anyway, moving on, in the article, I did NOT state, as has been intimated or directly stated in this thread-
- that I’m against bilingual education (not at all!)
- that I’m against English in Japanese primary schools (rather, I’m questioning the focus and priorities)
- that I believe 2nd language acquisition interferes qualitatively with mother tongue development (the research is unequivocal that it does not)
- that I believe children should not learn to communicate in English (rather it is an issue of domain, whether teaching conversation in a top-down fashion is in fact effective as a means of acquiring EFL, and a question of prioritizing content).
- I DID say that teaching English would seem to be futile in primary schools. I did NOT say that ESL communication skills cannot be developed or learned in primary school. I think they can and should be. Astute readers will understand the difference between the two concepts and what they imply; those less astute will invariably conflate the two.

As you know, I provide my email address with each column. So far, I have received 15 replies, 12 positive, 3 negative (of course positive people are more apt to respond to my personal email, just as online message boards tend to attract the bully pulpit element despite the thread initiator’s general agreement with my article). Of the 12 respondents, 7 were teachers of children, 4 were university people, and 1 was unknown. Of the negative respondents, one said the article was “lame” but did not offer any reason as to why (the effect of this type of comment is invariably water off a duck’s back), one written by a non-native English speaker that was a bit difficult to decipher, and one an intelligent, articulate, well-argued response that I much appreciated. Even informally among a bunch of colleagues and local teachers over beer the reactions were mixed. For example, some (all parents interestingly) scoffed along with me at the notion that children really had conversations, many agreed that currently popular notions and practices regarding teaching conversation were questionable (or better, facile)- others disagreed on these issues. Hardly commentary of the “You must be on drugs!” variety.

The point to be made here is to note that there IS a healthy and meaningful discourse regarding these issues with deeper issues and justifications existing on many sides. That some would dismiss these concerns as ignorant or moronic so adroitly, as if the issues were settled and truth had been established, is more telling of the authors of those comments than anything else.

Also, note that I began with a disclaimer that I am not knowledgeable (in terms of in- depth reviews of studies and practices) regarding children’s education. This hedge somehow became the hanging-by-his-own-rope, as by admitting that this is not my precise area of expertise (lexis, grammar of speech and testing being more my research areas) some readers chose to use this as an opportunity to play the “you sure are ignorant” card. So much for the honest hedge. Some people respond to challenges well. They have, on occasion, responded with intelligent, well-argued positions which have resulted in an informative two-way discourse that benefits all. Others seem threatened by differing viewpoints and see any questioning of their (often status quo) EFL views as prima facie evidence that the writer “knows nothing”, “is ignorant” or in some way interpret disagreement as somehow being a moral failure or character flaw on his/her part. Some display an almost evangelical hubris in their belief that my failure to express the “correct views” is an indicator of a complete lack of knowledge of the issues, or of my being- for lack of a better term- a moron.

In short, what I was saying is that there is much regarding primary school English education that concerns me- and while I am not as well-read on the deeper theories regarding childhood EFL as real specialists in the field (although of course I’ve come across the basics numerous times)- I think I have a legitimate basis for questioning some aspects of it and may be able to offer up some meaningful and effective alternatives. I’m perfectly willing to discuss (and be persuaded) by other opinions on these matters as long as the discourse is coherent, not disingenuous and maintains at least a semblance of courtesy.

Finally, since the question as to whether children actually hold conversations seems to be the biggest bone of contention I’ll explain my position in more detail in a day or two- as long as discourse remains civil (although anyone is always welcome to PM meat the email address provided with the article).

Yoroshiku,
M.G.
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Eva Pilot



Joined: 19 Mar 2006
Posts: 351
Location: Far West of the Far East

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Holy crap he's stalking us.

I've never even heard of you. Embarassed
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southofreality



Joined: 12 Feb 2007
Posts: 579
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Give the guy a break, Eva. He's posted one response so far. Hardly a stalker, I'd say.

The original post was about his article after all, wasn't it?
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wabisabi365



Joined: 04 Feb 2007
Posts: 111
Location: japan

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some of the responses to Guest's article seemed a tad, well, antagonistic. Not all, just some. It got me to wondering...

Some of the posters here have limited themselves to the hallowed halls of Dave's whereas Mr. Guest has spread his journalistic wings beyond the confines of chat rooms, exposing himself to a much wider audience. Could some of the posters here, (some of whom could fill volumes with their often verbose responses to mundane queries) be feeling a little... envious?

I'm sure many of our more wordy posters here have contributed to academia with even more wordy theses and hidden journals in order to boost the old resume... but going beyond that, getting out of Dave's and stepping out of the safety of the academic journals... well, that is admirable. And also provokes that little green-eyed monster to pop its head up.

Just a few thoughts as I re-read the posts. Thanks Jim for posting the article and allowing us all to have a chat about it.

ws365
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billysmolesworthy



Joined: 18 Mar 2007
Posts: 26
Location: Hamamatsu, Japan

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Mike Guest for taking the time to join this forum and post such a thought provoking response.
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 5:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I for one am glad that the author has come here to post. It saves a lot of pointless posting (yes, even from me).

Mike (may I call you that, or is it too familiar?),
You wrote:
Among the points I raised in this article, either directly or indirectly, were:
- Should the main purpose of primary school English be conversational- given that such concerns are already the domain of the private arena, the relative lack of extra-classroom reinforcement, given the skills of Japanese teachers, plus the weekly time allotted to EFL?

Well, based only on the first 9 words, I think most people who responded here, including me, would say yes, conversational is the better purpose. However, I disagree with you saying that "such concerns (conversational English) are already the domain of the private arena (presumably eikaiwas and jukus)" . To ask that parents spend more money sending kids to eikaiwa just because it is there is asking to much, IMO. We are talking about an introduction to bilingual education, and you yourself have said that you are in favor of it. It happens on a regular basis in mainstream schools all over the world, so why not Japan? Just because Japan has a huge eikaiwa and juku industry, I don't think you should pawn off such introductory EFL lessons on them. So what if the current teachers don't have the training for it? I was dead against the rush to put it into primary schools when it happened a couple of years ago, simply because the teachers were given no prep time, but that doesn't mean that we should completely abandon the whole approach. Provide the training and it will succeed as well as other countries.


- Should it not perhaps be reading?
I would like to know what more you have to say on this. Kids are going to learn the basic English alphabet in primary school, and a few words. They SHOULD learn phonics, but they probably won't. So, just how do you expect them to learn how to read? And, to what extent? Think of L1 in this instance. You didn't learn to read before you learned how to talk, did you? Speaking (which involves mastering pronunciation of different phonemes in this case, plus listening to such) is a faster form of communication, with more immediate results. Should reading be avoided? No, it should be taught concurrently, but you are going to have more progress with speaking, and I feel you are going to get more results out of motivating students that young if you give them conversational English instead of reading. Would like to hear your response.

- Do children in fact actually have “conversations”? Most respondents here seem to think so. Rebuttal?

- Is conversation (as opposed to communication skills) really teachable (as opposed to learnable)? I'm going to need a little more explanation from you on this one, but I'll give it a shot off the top of my head (withoug rereading your article, if you don't mind). Conversation for primary school kids will involve communication skills, no matter how you slice it. Pronuciation, listening, phonics, etc. as I mentioned above. It also involves teaching kids how to be polite (please and thank you, and excuse me and may I), how to answer direct questions without being rude, how to ask for things without being rude, etc. I don't expect primary school kids to learn how to make plane reservations or give speeches, but they will have conversations at their own level of maturity. Yes, you can teach that. I have done nicely with my own 3-year-old.

- Are piecemeal approaches to language items (“naming”) really effective ways of developing holistic language skills? Again, I don't know what you are driving at here. All I can say is that with primary school kids, you are dealing with very short attention spans, so your lessons aren't going to be more than piecemeal. Let me know if you meant something else.

- Do not children acquire languages more by exposure to input than either conscious noticing (or reflection) or piecemeal “naming” approaches? You are trying to separate learning/teaching techniques here, like in your use of the people who learned a foreign language simply by watching TV. (Reminds me of the unrealistic example in the movie "The 13th Warrior", where the Egyptian nearly mastered Norse by exposure alone on a ship cruise from his homeland to Norway.) You shouldn't and can't separate exposure from conscious noticing. You should know this. Teachers should try to expose students to as many opportunities to the foreign language as possible, PLUS explain it to them and give them chances to practice it in directed activities.

- Are “culture” and “games” not often used fatuously or vacuously in terms of their roles in primary school 2nd language education? How would you know how either one is used? I don't teach that age group. Neither do you. I have friends who do, and I assume you do, too, but how would you expose kids that young to a foreign language, when the goal is to prime their motivation for junior high? Games are a given for that age group. Cultural exposure only serves to enhance the experience. What do you call "fatuously and vacuously"?

- Can learning occur without explicit “teaching”? Might this not be a more suitable approach for a child's EFL education? On the first question, I would say yes, although it is a sad lawyer's tactic to get me to say yes. Limited context. As for the second question, I would disagree, countering with a defense that "explicit teaching" can mean quite a range of things. Games (with an enormous variety of techniques), cultural activities (like carving Halloween pumpkins), Internet experience, television or video (like my often-mentioned Eigo de Asobo), etc. all provide tons of material for kids to learn. Why are you so dead set against using any of this (or so it seems)? If you are proposing some sort of theoretical research topic, so be it, but I think the practical application of "explicit teaching" would easily win out.

I DID say that teaching English would seem to be futile in primary schools. I did NOT say that ESL communication skills cannot be developed or learned in primary school. One does not have to be "astute" to try to figure out the difference, but I think the brevity of your article (a given) gave many of us this idea, and I hope you can see why. Even though this was an op-ed article, it didn't make this point clear enough, I think.

Thanks again for coming to join the discussion.
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JimDunlop2



Joined: 31 Jan 2003
Posts: 2286
Location: Japan

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 6:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

mikeguest wrote:
Among the points I raised in this article, either directly or indirectly, were:
- Should the main purpose of primary school English be conversational- given that such concerns are already the domain of the private arena, the relative lack of extra-classroom reinforcement, given the skills of Japanese teachers, plus the weekly time allotted to EFL?
- Should it not perhaps be reading?
- Do children in fact actually have “conversations”?
- Is conversation (as opposed to communication skills) really teachable (as opposed to learnable)?
- Are piecemeal approaches to language items (“naming”) really effective ways of developing holistic language skills?
- Do not children acquire languages more by exposure to input than either conscious noticing (or reflection) or piecemeal “naming” approaches?
- Are “culture” and “games” not often used fatuously or vacuously in terms of their roles in primary school 2nd language education?
- Can learning occur without explicit “teaching”? Might this not be a more suitable approach for a child's EFL education?


Well, seeing that Mike Guest himself has decided to address some of the comments made in regards to his op-ed piece, I will also enter the fray, albeit briefly and only to point out a couple things that I feel are sufficiently important in pointing out.

Let me say, first of all, that I cannot list a whole bunch of qualifications and degrees like Mike can, but I DO have a level 60 druid on World of Warcraft and can play a really mean game of foosball.

Credentials aside, Mr. Guest, in your defense of the op-ed piece, you seem to be taking the position that the truth behind your arguments comes second to the fact that they should be unorthodox, and perhaps even non-sequitur. If you truly believe the opinions you have posted, that's fine but unorthodoxy just for the sake of debate or to be contrary is plain garbage in my books. There is a place for such discussions, but a daily newspaper is hardly it. You are much more likely to only raise the ire of those who are not interested in a debate for debate's sake rather than cause serious consideration and discussion to occur. I understand the need of some people to publish their own "Modest Proposals" from time to time, but I have yet to see one that has not been grossly misunderstood and not resulted in harsh criticism or ostracizing of its author.

To address the points you discussed in your column (and then reiterated here on Dave's), I'll try to do so as briefly as I can...

Quote:
- Should the main purpose of primary school English be conversational- given that such concerns are already the domain of the private arena, the relative lack of extra-classroom reinforcement, given the skills of Japanese teachers, plus the weekly time allotted to EFL?


Absolutely! A resounding 'yes.' Mike, don't take for granted the fact that Japanese students all rush to jukus and eikaiwas after school each day. I teach in twelve elementary schools (working as a direct hire of the city board of education). To even say that a FRACTION of my kids receive any sort of language training other than what they get from me would be naive. It's truly only a VERY SMALL proprtion of kids who come from families who have either the money or the desire to have their kids attend extra-curricular language training.

Quote:
- Should it not perhaps be reading?


Not a chance. As laudable a goal as this might be, until MONBUSHO decides that English is important enough to be treated as a REGULAR subject in schools, I won't be seeing my kids any more than 45 minutes every two months. What kind of reading can anyone teach in that sort of time frame? Nothing. I can barely get the kids to remember what "How are you?" REALLY means, and how to provide a natural, self-reflective answer rather than an automatic, pre-rehearsed one.

The teachers with whom I work often have a hard time with the alphabet themselves. Phonics? Not unless the Japanese teachers first got taught how to teach that first. SOME of the teachers feel it important enough to practice some of the English that I teach while I'm not there. But that's only a very small fraction. What something SHOULD be varies widely from what it HAS to be due to the current circumstances and state of education in Japan and reading falls square into that category.

Quote:
- Do children in fact actually have “conversations”?


You bet your boots they do! I've had all sorts of meaningful conversations with kids. Sometimes, philosophy majors have a hard time seeing the forest because of all the trees. Let's not obfuscate the obvious. Yes, quite often, like the example you provided in your column, it's more of an "exchange" rather than a conversation -- but I've had kids tell me stories about what they did in the summer, listen to me when I told them my own stories, and even ask questions to get me to elaborate further. If that's not a conversation, what is? Often, I find that this kind of conversation can only occur once a certain comfort level has been achieved between the student and me. Some kids are also more chatty than others -- I'd say that individual variation is the key here.

Do students have conversations with each other? Of course. Sit down and listen to kids some time. Or try to remember what conversations you may have had when you were a kid. I can certainly remember more than a few.

Quote:
- Is conversation (as opposed to communication skills) really teachable (as opposed to learnable)?


To say that we teach "conversation" is a misnomer. Just like I used to have a boss who trained dogs. If you asked him about it, he would deny it and say he didn't train dogs -- he trained people how to train dogs. The same way, we teach the TOOLS to have a conversation -- not conversation as such. Yes, the tools can definitely be taught. I know, for instance, I've had a successful class, when a student approaches me in the hallway and asks me my favorite food (in Japanese) and his classmate comes by, whacks him and says: "Go ahead and say it in English! He just taught you how."

Code:
- Are piecemeal approaches to language items (“naming”) really effective ways of developing holistic language skills?


First of all, define piecemeal. Let's say I AM going to teach reading. One approach might be to start with Dolch sight words. If I were going to do that, I'd call that pretty piecemeal... Wouldn't you?

In addition, I never teach JUST vocabulary in the classroom -- and I'm not sure how many teachers actually do. If I teach names of animals, for instance, they goal of the lesson will be to ask (and answer): Do you have a (pet)? / Yes, I do. / No, I don't. In the very limited time given to me by MONBUSHO and the local school system, I really can't do much more than self-contained lessons like this... However, whenever I can, I DO build on what we did before so it's not piecemeal... Eg. Last time we learned, "Do you like (food item)? Today, we have the same pattern: Do you HAVE (an animal)?"

Quote:
- Do not children acquire languages more by exposure to input than either conscious noticing (or reflection) or piecemeal “naming” approaches?


Input, as such, is little more than NOISE unless decoding of the language is taking place. Sure, in a direct-approach classroom, you are exposing the students to massive amounts of input in an attempt to cause learning to take place. I don't have that luxury. If I can successfully teach a short vocabulary list (and I'd say that's probably about eight new words, maximum) in addition to a target question / answer sentence, I'm doing really well...

Quote:
- Are “culture” and “games” not often used fatuously or vacuously in terms of their roles in primary school 2nd language education?


Many educators, both past and present would vehemently argue with you. In particular, one of my favourite historical figures in pedagogy is John Amos Comenius. Even today, his educational reforms and ideas are considered sound pedagogical practice by many. In his home country of (today's) Czech Republic, his birthday is celebrated as Teacher's Day and his namesake is a UNESCO award for achievements in education...

He was also the first to propose that learning in children takes place most ideally in the most natural conditions. His study of "nature" (which is a rather abstract term) and its impact on education is best exemplified with the use of songs and games. Children, when left alone, undisturbed by adults for any period of time will start playing. It is natural for them to play, to invent their own games, and to enjoy and amuse themselves. How much more natural could it be than to tap into that natural "playing" mode and introducing learning into it? My kids tend to remember English words and phrases a LOT more when they become a part of their normal game play. I've often caught my kids jankening each other in English ("one-two-three") and playing the games that I taught them even outside of class and during recess. Once, I walked into a grade six class unexpectedly, only to find the kids and teacher playing the exact same game I taught them months prior, but adapted to another subject. I would not underestimate the usefulness and power of game play and songs can have in language learning.

As for the culture aspect? Without getting too much into it, it's hardly fatuous or vacuous to provide basis for which a language is being learned. It's pretty much impossible to teach any language stripped of it's cultural or historical context.

Quote:
- Can learning occur without explicit “teaching”? Might this not be a more suitable approach for a child's EFL education?


Learning does not happen by sheer osmosis. You definitely seem to have taken the side of direct-approach theorists based on the things I've read so far. As I also mentioned before, direct-approach learning is rarely an option for many of us, as it requires a LOT of time, on a frequent, regular basis.

In the end, Mr. Guest, if what prompted you to write your op-ed piece is being guided by linear, practical concepts, (i.e. When is a Japanese student ever going to be placed in a situation of having a mono-lingual English playmate) then you are far off the mark and completely missing the point of English education in public elementary schools. Without getting into a thesis of what this nebulous purpose might be, let me say that at least part of that has to do with self-esteem, personal development, and education for the sake of self-improvement. Even if it's nothing more than a "cool" factor for the kids, I'd say that's no less legitimate than anything else they may learn in school but not need/use later in life. Let me provide an analogous example, which is, in essence what you seem to be saying about the purpose of English education.

Let's just say that I learned the names of the planets in order as they get further from the sun. I could easily argue that since that grade four class when I was forced to memorize that junk, I've NEVER needed to know it. WHO CARES where Jupiter and Saturn are-- how many conversations have I had with astronomers lately? None. Did I waste my time in learning that? I'd say not. What would you say, Mike?

I'm just going to conclude with this: my position (that of teaching in twelve of my city's elementary schools) is not going to get eliminated any time soon. Nor is it going to get expanded (the way MONBUSHO is going)... As such, Mr. Guest, given the fact that I teach over 4,000 students, 45 minutes at a time, every two months, what would you propose that I fill my days with teaching, if not fun, simple English conversation? If you could give me a workable, reasonable answer to this question, perhaps your op-ed column would carry more weight with me.
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