Feb 13, 2011

When My English Was Improved

I've read Katsuya Sugawara's "Between English and Japanese".

An international survey discovered that the competency of Japanese people in English language was lower than most other countries, so English education in Japanese public schools has been criticized for a long time. Responding to this criticism, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology represented a new policy where that English education in high school would change from lessons focused on reading and writing to lessons focused on oral communication by direct method.

Katsuya Sugawara demurs this policy. Since I don't know about the actual condition of English education in high school nowadays, I can't judge his opinion, but I agree with the precondition of his discussion.

He said that when discussing English education in Japanese schools, it must be taken into account that almost all students were living in a Japanese language environment and had almost no chance to communicate in English. Since English lessons in school are limited, it's quite difficult for students to gain practical ability in English. He insisted that the goal of English education in school should be getting a basic ability in order to be able to learn English by yourself when you have to communicate in English. I agree with that considering my experience.

When I was a high school student, I had no chance to communicate with foreigners in English. The English, which I learned in school, was not practical but just bookish. I remember that I had four chances to make progress in English after I graduated from high school, and in any chance I put myself into English environment and leaned English by myself.

The first chance was the time when I entered a university and majored in cultural anthropology. Anthropology is a minor discipline in Japan, so all of the major books in anthropology were not translated into Japanese. I took classes to read thick academic books in English in turn. I had read just short fragments of English in high school and I had not read a whole book in English. So it was quite hard for me to read such thick books. I was frustrated when a professor pointed out my poor English with sarcasm. But I made great progress in my ability of reading English at that time.

The next chance was the time when I had been to a language school in America for three months. I could move up to the highest class in grammar, reading and writing, because I had learned English grammar in high school and read English books in university. At first I could not speak English well, but I was getting used to communication in English just for three months. When I was in America, I tried to keep away from other Japanese and live just in an English environment. I think that one could master oral communication by living in an English environment for a short period, if one has the basic knowledge of grammar and the basic English reading abilities.

The third chance was the time when I began to use English for business. In my company I use mainly Japanese, but I sometimes read English documents, interview with foreigners and negotiate with business partners overseas in English. And then I was getting used to communication in English. At the time I have frequently communicated with non-English native speakers in English. I became able to communicate with someone in English for business, but I couldn't have a chat with foreigners at lunch until now.

The last chance is now. I began to communicate in English on the internet. At this time I'm writing a lot of journals and tweets in English.

According to my history of learning English, if you are willing to master English, you have to get into an English environment in some way and read, write and talk a large amount of English. So it's impossible for students to master English just learning in the classroom. I agree that the goal of English education in school is bringing up the basic ability of English, which will help students to learn English by themselves, as Katsuya Sugawara insists.

My English education is useful for promoting my English ability, isn't it? In conclusion, yes, it is. The knowledge of formal English grammar, which I learned in high school, is indispensable to read academic books in university or communicate precisely for business in English.

On the other hand I’m worse at having a chat than communicating for business. I don't have enough experience of casual communication in English. In this regard English education in high school isn't useful for me.

In the end I think that the goal of English education in school depends on what kind of English communication each student is aiming for. If you want to have a chat fluently in English, you should have more oral communication with native speakers. If you want to communicate precisely for business or to collect large amounts of information in English, it’s important to master formal English grammar and vocabulary.

For myself the latter is more important, so I guess that English education is somehow useful.

No comments:

Post a Comment