Please don’t let the children learn anything….

If you’ve just got a teaching job in Japan you might be surprised to hear your boss telling you to “make sure the kids don’t actually learn any English.”

Now this may confuse you a bit – and I know it still freaks me out.  But here’s how they attempt to justify it ….

In Government Elementary Schools

There were Ministry of Education and various board of education sponsored workshops going around the country during the Summer.  And in many of them the “experts” suggest, or even insist, that elementary school English is only to “expose” the kids to English, and they mustn’t actually learn how to use English.  This is also the official government line in the new teaching guidelines.

The reason? The most often given reason is because if children enter junior high school already speaking some English then the  Junior High School teachers won’t like it.  Yep.  One, semi decent, excuse is that if half the kids speak some English and half don’t then the junior high teachers will have a hard time so they want you to keep all the kids even.  At zero.

Don’t ask me why we can’t just make everyone even at a higher level,  that’s a whole other story…

The other excuse given is that most junior high school teachers don’t speak English so can’t be expected to teach anything higher than what is in the junior high textbooks, which they would have to do if kids entered already knowing some of the book.  We wouldn’t want to hurt the teachers’ pride in exchange for giving the kids a good education now.

So keep the kids stupid, “exposed” to English, but not able to use or understand it.  Just do one word animals, fruits etc. Oh and make sure they still love English when they graduated 6th grade.

But  make sure the lessons aren’t too enjoyable because it will spoil the other subjects.

I tell you you can’t make this stuff up can you!

In Private “Eikaiwa” English schools

This is a bit easier to understand, but still terrible.  If the kids learn English (or learn how to learn English) they will graduate and hence the school will lose a paying customer.  As it’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than keep an existing one, they don’t want the kids getting too good too quickly.

Luckily this was the model of some of the major schools that have gone bankrupt, so (slowly) things are changing.

What this means for you?

There is a huge chance for you to privately teach kids to speak English.  You have basically no competition.  The parents want it (and the millions of dollars they spend each year prove it) and even if a child graduates from your “school” speaking English a few years earlier than the school down the street, you won’t be losing revenue.  Because if you were a parent where would you rather send your kid?  To the school who gets kids speaking English quickly (make sure you do events, videos, promotions or maybe even exams to show how good you kids are!) or the one that just takes their hard earned money for 6 years with little result?

Don’t let the “dumb this down” brigade win.   It’s an amazing opportunity.  Please take it.


Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. And when I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. So I'm sharing it all with you now...

19 Responses to “Please don’t let the children learn anything….”

  1. Margit

    It hurts, but it’s true…

    Anyway, Richard, do you know wether there are any official speech contests, and how to get into them?

  2. Natalya

    Hello Richard,

    been reading your blog for months.
    First of all a BIG THANK YOU! for all you share here. And also thanks for repeating things (sometimes we forget something).

    To the subejct:
    I’m from Ukraine, the education here isn’t getting better at all with the time. And the situation with English is even worse than with any other subject.

    I’m teaching privately. Yes, I benefit from the situation, but that’s smile through tears.

  3. Liza

    I don’t teach in Japan but I have been presented with the “entry level secondary school” argument enough times myself.

    I don’t know whether it’s their ego talking or a genuine wish from secondary school teachers, but most of them I’ve talked to say it doesn’t matter a jot how many of the kids have had English previously, they always start at zero with 1st year secondary school pupils and have them all up to the same speed within 3 months!

    One primary school teacher I work with bitterly resents giving up an hour of her time with her class for me to “clown around” with them when she could be using the time far better to improve their reading, writing and mathematical skills. She also uses the above argument as one of the reasons for her opinions. In fact she sees no reason at all as to why English should be taught in primary schools.

    However, some of my 4th year classes were involved in a pilot project where secondary school English teachers came into the primary school for a period of 2 months to give weekly lessons to the 4th year classes to bring the pupils up to speed and prepare them for their first year of secondary school.(among other subjects like maths).

    I don’t know how the kids faired in maths, but in English the teachers were blown away with how much the kids could do and wished that all of their 1st year secondary classes were at that level of fluency and, above all, confidence!

    However, they did also say that it is a huge problem having half the class as good as my kids are at entry level, and half the class who have never had English before, or not as intensively. The difficulty is not losing the onces who are familiar and confident with English whilst getting the others up to the same level.

  4. Gumby

    I often have to shake my head and wonder WHY go through all this trouble to introduce English in elementary when they have such low expectations! It’s overall a very frustrating situation. I can understand, though, why elementary teachers are told NOT to teach English in prep for JHS. A lot of the teachers I have met with this purpose teach with a very bookwork type approach and end up with an unbalanced group of students.

    Liza, I really feel for you in your situation. How awful it must be to have to work with such a colleague. I don’t know if this would help but there are a lot of studies that show foreign language learning helps raise scores in other subjects. Here is one bibliography I have found.

    http://www.uwyo.edu/fled/documents/FLAnnotatedBibliography.pdf

    There are a lot of good arguments as to why students ideally should be on the same level when starting JHS. There should be efforts in trying to do this and I think GE is a very good way. It relies less on the ability of each individual teacher.

    But I am really tired of fighting the system. Instead I share when asked and am shifting the focus back on my students, where it should’ve been all along!

  5. sussie

    Same sad situation in Italy, but with a twist: don’t teach the kids to SPEAK or UNDERSTAND English, just rub in the grammar! And problem is that a lot of parents want this as well.

    In fact, the line of thought is that if they start speaking another language they will confuse it with their native Italian…So little 8-9 year olds sit there and struggle to understand the rules for using “do” (and often they can repeat the rule by heart, but obviously have no idea how to use it!).

    So, it’s difficult to teach privately to speak English, when parents complain their results are not related to the marks they get at school since these are based on grammar only!

  6. Lines

    Hello again after my Summer holidays and Thanks for being there.
    I agree with you, but in my school I do my lesson all the fun I can do and I never listen to people who envy the way I teach using Genki English.
    I love all the materials I bought of genki English and I speak about genkienglish to other teachers and also to head masters in places where we ( the teachers ) recycle ourselves because I would like these head masters could take Richard to Spain my country, better my town ” Ponferrada”

  7. Jesse Hall

    Wow. I’m feeling lucky that I’m in Korea after reading everything. The government here wants everyone to become fluent in English so their mandate isn’t simply to “expose” elementary kids to it. However, there is the big problem of everyone not being on the same level because many kids go to private schools and increase their language. It seems that there’s always going to be factors that will make not all students be on the same level. But I’m still amazed at what I read here.

  8. richard

    Although they sometimes push grammar and things a bit too much, Korea is fantastic with their goals and everything. I read the other day that Korea plans to lead international technology and commerce, have world class athletes in every major sport and have the no.1 pop star in the World! You can’t argue with ambition like that!

  9. Romulo

    I think the argument is a bit biased. What I have heard so far in all the meetings when there is some instructor or observer sent from the Ministry of Education is that the children are not OBLIGED to learn something, not that they are not supposed to learn anything. This is to avoid that HRTs get too strict like they usually are with the other subjects and try to force the children to memorize things mecanically. For example, once I finished months/birthday lesson and the chime for the break time sounded. The teacher made the students queue and said that the ones who couldn’t say at least their birthdays couldn’t leave the room and kept sending the ones who failed to the back of the line.

    It was very embarrassing for me too and felt sorry for the kids, some of them were crying and of course I wanted to go to the break too. It is this kind of attitude that they want to avoid by giving this recommendation of “oboenakute mo ii” not to make them hate English with that kind of traumatic experience.

  10. richard

    Hi Romulo,

    This is absolutely true and the “no obligation” is a good thing for all the reasons you say. And what I’ve found this Summer is a distinct shift away from this to the type I mention in the main post. It is a tough line to take though, push too much and we have a JHS system where kids hate English, but it does seem the current rules in many prefectures are being pushed the other way towards the “no learning – only experiencing” being taken more literally.

  11. Gaz

    How very very true. I did feel awful for all the private people who came out here wanting to make a difference in someones lives, I met many people working for the eikaiwas over the last 5 years or so who genuinely wanted to connect with their students and help them improve, but were basically told not to.

    RE: Government schools. It’s interesting to note that your mileage may vary. The overall instructions are to “encourage English education” but I notice schools are granted (or simply take) a great deal of autonomy with regards to the English curriculum. One particular school I go to requests extra lessons for all grades a couple of times a month if I’m free and they take a very healthy interest in English, they even went so far as to tell me not to use Eigo Noto, saying they’d deal with it as it would be a waste of my time (I heartily agree, it’s mostly nonsense)

  12. Margit

    Romulo, Richard, Gaz, …Yes, Yes, Yes.

    I made the same experience, and I think that they go now more into “just experiencing” is, because the government doesn’t spend any money on English education, uses dispatch companies for ALTs, and we know the entire system is so horrible, that the teachers hardly have the chance to aim for more.
    I mean even a teacher who WANTS to do the English lessons on her/his own, and skip the ALT lessons (nothing against ALTs, but we know the system is making them very unreliable in many cases)
    is told “You are not supposed to teach these kids any English, that’s not your job”.
    So?!~what was the title?

    gaz, You seem one of the few of us left who is surviving as far as the public system is concerned.. I keep my fingers crossed for you, that there won’t be a change of principle, or whatsoever…頑張って

  13. richard

    government doesn’t spend any money on English education

    Over 8.5 Oku Yen (about $10,000,000 US) spent on the Eigo Note though!

    P.S. Are we trying to get this post into the “most commented” section on the right? 🙂

  14. kobekid

    Wow this explains a lot. I teach for a small BoE that is very serious about English education. There are five elementary schools in the town and the BoE has hired two foreigners through a dispatch company. I teach all grades and at the kindergartens adjacent to the schools. 1st and 2nd years I see once a month and 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th year students meet with me once a week. Although the dispatch company has a curriculum I switched over to GE after a month of classes and two of my schools bought GE Teacher sets. Two years ago I found a dusty old Smart Board in a storage room and things really took off. Members of the BoE came to see one of my classes, loved the SB and a year later bought state of the art, wide screen models for all schools. Then last year in mid-May I had two demo classes added to my schedule within the same week. On Monday all senior members of the BoE and city council were coming to observe a class. On Friday I was told that English teachers from the two local JHS were coming to observe a class. When I asked why the JHS teachers requested to see a class I was told they were at a loss as to why students enjoyed English so much in elementary school but hated it after entering JHS. As fate would have it, on Sunday several cases of the H1N1 virus were reported in neighboring cities and all classes were canceled for that week. Neither demo class was rescheduled. Although I do have some sympathy for the JHS teachers as I’m sure the BoE is more strict with the materials, and methods they are allowed to use in class, I also think they are somewhat obtuse. It’s like someone eating at McDonalds every day, never exercising, drinking a six pack of beer before bed and then asking you to explain to them why they are fat. Maybe if we had a demo lesson together they could get some new ideas about how to approach their classes, however many times as Richard pointed out, you have teachers unable to speak the language they are paid to teach. Much easier to get others to tone down the learning and fun than to reflect on your own methods and try something new.

  15. Margit

    kobekid,

    great to hear your situation. (I’m still wondering wether you ever got my mail,; probably not??! As we’re pretty close, we should get in touch!)

    Anyway, some questions: Are you one of the two teachers hired by the dispatch company?
    How was it possible to switch the curriculum?

    As far as the JHteachers are concerned I think you’ll find those and those. The ones you’re talking about are probably afraid of loosing control.

  16. Christopher Glen

    Totally agree with these comments. I make token use of Eigo Note now, perhaps for 10 minutes of the lesson then switch to Genki English materials. Most Eigo note activities that allow for 15 minutes the kids can finish in 5. Designed for 1st and 2nd graders really

  17. Anon

    Hello! Im working for a school that uses its own unique curriculum and it is alarming how little the students can do. They buy the books though and we are advised to go as slowly as possible through them. Here’s why. What I do is do my own stuff loosely based on the topics. My impression of this school Im working for is that the students and parents are wising up to these tactics.
    Also, we dont use songs cos kids dont like them after kindergarten, apparently.

  18. Anon

    What I meant by wising up to it is that parents and students leae fairly unimpressed by the stuff I do from the book

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