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.
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*.