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Amparo Bertram

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09:53 am: But that would be too hard
Friday I finished up two of my remaining three classes, and then the third was cancelled. So I was looking at having nothing next week but working on my yukata. (I sewed the two front panels to the body. It's getting there.)

Then the teacher next to me asked if I could join her for two classes next week. Supposedly this is because her students wanted to have a "conversation" class, which they don't currently get. (They're not English majors.) I said, "Sure...could you ask each student to come prepared with one thing to say?" (It's hard to get a conversation going when no one has a clue what to talk about.) The first of the two classes would be Tuesday, so I figured if they got the message on Monday, that would give them overnight to think up one thing to say.

Her response...that would be too hard. Instead, she suggested that I write up a bunch of questions beforehand and bring them to the class, and we could play a hot potato game where the "potato" would be a box full of the questions. Whoever got stuck with the box would have to draw and ask a question. Now, this is a perfectly good game, and I have no problem doing so. But here's my beef: These are second-year high school students, which means they've been taking English as a mandatory subject for five years. FIVE YEARS. And coming up with one thing to say when given a day to think about it is TOO HARD.

Excuse me?

Granted, they're not English majors. But even a student who hates English with a passion should, after five years, be able to come up with something such as "What sports do you like?" if given a day to think about it. Heck, I only took French for a few weeks back in middle school well over a decade ago, and I could at least come up with one sentence if I had to. (I couldn't spell it, mind you, but I could say it.)

Yet they can't. Or, rather, the teachers believe that they can't, and thus never ask them to try.

I probably wouldn't have ranted so much about this, except I just started reading a Japanese novel this morning. It's set in New York, and the main character is a young Japanese man who gets accidentally knocked unconscious. As he's coming to, he hears two people talking about him and wondering whether he's Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, since they can't tell by looking at him. The suggestion is to get him to talk, because "If he talks fast, he's Chinese, if he talks loudly, he's Korean, and if his English sucks, he's Japanese."

There are many, many Japanese people who speak good English. Yet it's always discouraging to see what's going on behind-the-scenes in the education field and to realize that the situation could be so much *better*.

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From:basicblack
Date:March 12th, 2005 01:01 am (UTC)
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By the time I'd been taking French or German as minor subjects for ONE year I'd at least be able to come up with something to say. Hell, I've NEVER learned Russian and I could still come up with a sentence at least. (Even if it's "Is this a house? There is a cat, a table and a chair."...)

As for Japanese people's English sucking... I would disagree with that as a stereotype. Quite a few people I met there COULD speak English a little, they were just shy to try it out.

I hope the class goes well for you, at least. :\
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:March 12th, 2005 04:21 am (UTC)
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I could still come up with a sentence at least. (Even if it's "Is this a house? There is a cat, a table and a chair."...)

<g> My French would be rather similar. "He is in the garden..."

Quite a few people I met there COULD speak English a little, they were just shy to try it out.

That's another problem. The students get lots and lots of practice reading, but they are rarely ever asked to say anything because they're too shy to volunteer and even if called on will just shake their heads or mumble "I don't know." Even among my English majors, when I ask for an answer, there are a lot of students who will point to what they've written down correctly on their paper, but they won't say it out loud.

Whenever I can, I try to make it clear that I expect them to say something, waiting and giving prompts if necessary. (They can't master a skill they're never asked to perform.) Most of the other teachers don't, though.

I hope the class goes well for you, at least.

Thanks!
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From:nitasee
Date:March 12th, 2005 06:52 pm (UTC)
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I wonder if what you're saying may be the reason behind something I've noticed. I think I've mentioned before that I work at a university library and that we have a lot of Japanese students - most of whom are here because of the intensive English program. At the library, two-thirds of our student workers are Japanese. They're great workers, better than their American counterparts for whatever reason. But this is the thing: they will hardly ever talk to you. (Or me or whoever. You get the point.) When they have to ask me something, they barely say more than a few words. They study texts written in English (with an electronic translator handy). They're here to study English so you would think they'd be more willing to try to converse.

I'm not annoyed about it, just surprised a bit. I've rather suspected it was a combination of shyness and fear of not getting it right. Still, I wish they'd learn that the rest of us are very forgiving or mistakes and that use would improve they language skills. *sigh*
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:March 12th, 2005 11:32 pm (UTC)
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I've rather suspected it was a combination of shyness and fear of not getting it right. Still, I wish they'd learn that the rest of us are very forgiving or mistakes and that use would improve they language skills. *sigh*

As a teacher, I feel that way too. Sometimes I feel kind of guilty, because I rarely talk during my daily life either, concentrating mainly on reading. However, I do think taking a language class that includes communication as a goal puts one in the position of being obligated to practice speaking the language. It's a different context.
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