Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Are Teaching Standards to Blame for Japan`s Poor English Ability?

I have been teaching English in Japan for several years now. I consider myself to be pretty damn good at this gig. I have even been able to earn myself an above entry level position. Yet, if there is one issue that is considered a `big stinking elephant in the room` it is taking a hard look at the English teaching standards in Japan. A lot of teachers are happy to go to work everyday and do what is expected of them without ever considering raising the bar. Usually when I bring up the topic of teaching standards to fellow teachers, they show little interest in wanting to talk about it. A lot of them have a good thing going and don`t want to so-called rock the boat. With the economy in bad shape and jobs becoming less available, it may be time to start talking more serious about the standard of English teachers in Japan.

The fact of the matter is, most English teachers in Japan did not plan on becoming a professional teacher. The teaching profession was simply a vehicle to live in Japan. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to live in the land of raising sun. Despite all the different reasons I could cite, the fact still remains that a lot of teachers never intended to make teaching their live work. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. Hell, it can be a great way to enjoy an experience of a life time while at the same time bring in a steady income.

Our problem is one which has been supported and accepted for so long that solutions are hard pressed to find. The hiring and training policy of English teachers in Japan has been holding onto one simple practice; `Be a native speaker of English and you can work as a English teacher.` While there are other factors in hiring and training English teachers, the above mentioned policy influences the English teaching profession in Japan from top to bottom. It is no secret that most people who break into the English teaching profession in Japan start with little or no experience. They also usually lack formal education in the field of teaching. Most companies or schools do not have the time, resources, or money to invest in an employee in order to get them to the level of being a high quality teacher. Instead, the hiring and training process focuses on producing a marketable and profit generating product.What most companies end up of doing is conducting training on the most basic of teaching methods. Along with very basic methods of teaching, a good amount of time is spent on appearance and how to `play the part` of a teacher. 

The type of above mentioned training can produce a marketable profit generating product with the proper follow up training and e-vals. Yet, the overall quality of lessons rarely live up to teaching standards of properly qualified teachers. The current situation of the English teaching field in Japan has created relatively low English speaking ability for many Japanese.  English being a major world language, not just for business but also as a commonly spoken language in general, is a vital skill for many Japanese people to attain the ability to speak English. Yet, it seems that for every one English teacher with the proper qualifications and skills, there are fifty teachers lacking proper qualifications. So, the big questions remains; how do we change this situation?

Currently, the industry does not seem willing to support teachers who want to get better qualifications and higher skill. A quick search around the web will show that there is little in the way of attaining English teaching qualifications in Japan. There are a few workshops around but they only offer things most good teachers already know.  Of course, anyone looking for get any kind of qualification in teaching English should be careful of money making scams which offer no real help at all.  They are all over the place and it is pretty clear they are a scam if you know what you are looking for.

If the industry does not want to support English teachers seeking to get better qualified, hence giving the English teaching profession more creditability, the teachers themselves are going to have it do it. The first level of qualification for anyone wanting to get more serious about teaching English is the CELTA. This entry level qualification is intensive yet worth every penny. Unfortunately, there is no way to get this qualification in Japan. Yet, another sign of the poor English teaching standards in Japan. If you are working as a English teacher in Japan, the best way to get CELTA qualified is going to Thailand for a few weeks.  An English teacher can get the CELTA qualification in Thailand in a matter of four weeks. It is one month of intensive study and practical experience which will mean a world of difference to your skill as a English teacher. There are two pretty good companies in Thailand offering CELTA qualifiactions; ECC Thailand and Cactus.

Getting more English teachers in Japan qualified up to at least the CELTA level will be a big first step in increasing English teaching standards in Japan. It will be good for the English teaching sector, good for teachers, and most important good for Japan. Hell, maybe a few teachers will be inspired to take it a step further and go for the DELTA qualification.