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English language education in Japan: Are native speakers essential?

English language education in Japan: Are native speakers essential?

Like so many foreigners living in Japan, I first entered the country as an eigo shidou joshu, more commonly known as an Assistant Language Teacher, or ALT for short. Although terms like “grass-roots internationalisation” and “globalisation” are uttered during ALT training seminars and by boards of education across the country with such frequency that you’d swear they’re being sponsored to use them, in reality an ALT’s role at a Japanese junior high school (where the majority in Japan are employed) is to go along to class with a non-native Japanese teacher of English (or JTE) and, as their job title implies, assist in teaching. The idea is that students, particularly those from rural areas, will benefit from the presence of and instruction from a native English speaker.

But are native speakers entirely vital to English language education in Japan? And should native English speakers, rather than Japanese teachers of English, be the ones taking the lead role in the classroom?

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Are Japan’s efforts at internationalization succeeding or not?

Are Japan’s efforts at internationalization succeeding or not?

Not a day goes by without Japanese school children hearing the terms globalization (グロバール化) or internationalization (国際化), and why it’s so important for their future careers. In fact, the whole country seems to be swept up in a fervor of these two words. But do Japanese people really understand the meanings of them, or are the terms just being used as catchphrases?

Enter Austin, an international student who has been living in Japan since 2012. Last week he posted a thought-provoking piece called “Some Thoughts – And Doubts – About Japan’s Internationalization” on Tofugu, a Japanese language and culture blog. The piece has circulated around the Internet, and was even picked up and summarized in Japanese by popular Japanese blogger Madame Riri. In it, Austin addresses how while Japan may be making efforts to globalize on the surface, it still lacks something on a deeper level that is preventing it from becoming truly internationalized. Join the debate after we take look at some of his thoughts below.

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Tokyo Tech is one hard school to get into

Tokyo Tech is one hard school to get into

Students across Japan have recently been taking their entrance exams which, if successful, will help them get into the higher level school they desire. Naturally, the more prestigious the school, the more difficult the entrance exam is.

Take these practice questions published in the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s newspaper, the Titech Press for example. In these questions, the student must rearrange the words to form a sentence with the same meaning as the Japanese one above. Even without understanding the Japanese, a native English speaker should be able to unscramble those words, right?

Why don’t you grab a pen and paper and give it a try before you read any further and see the answers? I got all of them except number three.

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10 everyday English words that were originally Japanese

10 everyday English words that were originally Japanese

While Japan’s bank of English loan words has grown to the point where “context” and even “paradigm” can be understood by most people, there seems to be only a handful of Japanese words that have been sprinkled into the modern English vocabulary. Of course, there’s things like “manga”, “sushi,” and “karate,” which English speakers can instantly recognize as comics, a Japanese food, and a way to kick ass (in that respective order), but there are also some sleeper agent Japanese words traipsing about our English conversations. Let’s take a look at Japanese words, like “honcho” (as in “head honcho”) and “tycoon” (as in “oil tycoon”), that we use in English.

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English grammar app makes us laugh, helps us learn with blindfolds, bondage and aliens

English grammar app makes us laugh, helps us learn with blindfolds, bondage and aliens

For Japanese people, studying English is almost a given. Even folks who may have no interest in actually leaving their home country may feel compelled to study the language for business or simply because they’re supposed to. But it’s hard to enjoy learning a language that you don’t have any interest in–and having fun is one of the best ways to facilitate learning.

This has opened up something of a cottage industry for people trying to make the learning part fun. There are nonsensical textbooks and sexy teachers, but then there are the college textbooks that seem like their authors weren’t even trying.

Well, for any Japanese English-learners who are on the verge of giving up – and perhaps for those of you struggling with learning Japanese – there may be one ray of hope still shining: Majime na Eibunpou, a surprisingly funny English grammar smartphone app!

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From “Love Princess” to “Silent Hill”: Awesome Japanese prefecture names changed into English

From “Love Princess” to “Silent Hill”: Awesome Japanese prefecture names changed into English

What happens when you take a prefecture’s name written in kanji and change it into English based on the literal meaning of the Chinese characters? Sounds like you’d get a pretty cool name, right? Well, you may be disappointed to find out that Tokyo (東京), the capital of the nation of Japan, in fact simply means “Eastern Capital,” and Kyoto (京都), the former capital, doesn’t fare much better, coming out as, um, “Capital Capital.”

But with 45 other prefectures to choose from, there’s no reason we can’t find some good ones! Join us after the jump for some fun with kanji.

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Cup Noodle commercial shows us a day in the life of a Japanese company

Cup Noodle commercial shows us a day in the life of a Japanese company

Although it’s been debated on this site before, life in a Japanese company can be tough. For some it can be downright war. And with more and more companies beginning to adopt English into their daily routines, it can be hard for an average salaryman (the term given to average full-time company employees) to get ahead or even survive.

Nissin’s Cup Noodle tries to sum it up how the feeling of a typical worker in their advert titled Globalization. Let’s take a look.

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Adventures in talking to foreigners: Anecdotes from Japanese Twitter users

Adventures in talking to foreigners: Anecdotes from Japanese Twitter users

Although Japan is technically a linguistically and culturally homogeneous nation, there is a significant population of foreign residents who add a sprinkle of languages other than Japanese to the mix. When two different worlds collide, the results can be interesting and thanks to the popularity of Twitter in Japan, we all have access to a never-ending supply of cross-cultural anecdotes. The following is just a small handful of posts by Japanese Twitter users about their encounters with foreigners in Japan.

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Lost in translation: When all else fails, throw in some gestures

Lost in translation: When all else fails, throw in some gestures

Thanks to Japan’s ever-increasing attempts at globalization and English education, the most recent generations growing up in Japan have all been exposed to foreign language classes. Some even started as young as preschool! However, because the island nation remains so homogenized, most Japanese citizens don’t come across many opportunities to practice and properly hone their skills. I’d say that with the exception of those who use English for work or have experienced living abroad, by the time they reach adult-hood, the majority of Japanese people only know enough English to not make any sense when attempting to speak it! They simply toss a few English words into a Japanese sentence structure and expect it to make sense.

This poses a problem for the foreign tourists who visit Japan without learning the native language and rely on English signs and helpful English speakers in order to get around. Luckily for both the lost tourists who don’t speak Japanese and for Japanese locals who can’t remember their English, there is a third language which can overcome all great language barriers and promote mutual understanding: body language and interpretive gestures. Although, sometimes these wordless conversations can seem a bit surreal in hindsight, which is why the Japanese site, Naver Matome, put together an interesting collection of Japanese people’s experiences flailing at foreigners.

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Japan learns the meaning of “sausage party”

Japan learns the meaning of “sausage party”

English is a difficult language to master. Not only do you have to learn all of the basic grammar and seemingly nonsensical spelling rules, the language is constantly evolving, with more and more slang terms being thrown out into the world, tripping up unsuspecting English learners. Sometimes, you have to be careful. Very careful. Things like “meat market” or “hit that” can pose quite a problem if taken literally. Another phrase, “sausage party,” had one Twitter user confused at first, inspiring him to take to the internet to tell the Japanese speaking world about his newly learned English. This in turn caused the phrase to be retweeted over 3,000 times in 11 hours, sparked a lot of interesting comments from Japanese netizens, and inspired the creation of a new term for a party with a lot of girls.

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Oreimo English Textbook Coming! Learn Useful Phrases Like “My Little Sister Likes Porn Games”

Oreimo English Textbook Coming! Learn Useful Phrases Like “My Little Sister Likes Porn Games”

Set to be published on 10 April is My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute and Brush Up on Middle School English by Chukei Publishing.

As the name suggests, this book lets students bone up on the required English curriculum set to the backdrop of the My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute popular series of erotic game (eroge) otaku themed light novels. Yes, someone actually made this.

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Little Pricks! Bitch Purses! Hot Members! Japan’s Best Bad English 【Video】

Little Pricks! Bitch Purses! Hot Members! Japan’s Best Bad English 【Video】

Who doesn’t love a nice dose of messed up Engrish? Sure, it’s infantile to chuckle at spelling mistakes and rude words inappropriately used by well-meaning Japanese, but when all is said and done, it’s still funny. And after a long week of work, cold weather, spam in your inbox and having much less money in your bank account than you thought, it’s nice to take a few minutes to sit back and be a little bit silly.

Late last week, Canadian YouTuber Oz (ozzy78) published a great collection of photos taken all around Japan featuring bad English on everything from shop signs to kids’ clothes. We enjoyed the video so much that we just had to share it with you here today. It will make you laugh; it will make you cringe; it will make you wonder why on earth no one thought to consult a native speaker before going to print. Enjoy.

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Order in English and Your Coffee is Free at Rosetta Stone’s Language Cafe

Order in English and Your Coffee is Free at Rosetta Stone’s Language Cafe

Japanese people often get a hard time for their lack of English language skills. But with so few Japanese ever setting foot outside their own country, it’s little wonder that one of the most frequently heard reasons given for struggling with the language is the lack of opportunity to use it.

Just last night, in fact, I was completely caught off guard when a teenage girl in my local convenience store seized the opportunity to break out her English and asked me whether I needed a plastic bag. Unfortunately, I was completely unprepared for the question and it was only after she had repeated herself three times that I realised that a) she was speaking English and b) I’d probably just ensured that she never dare to do so ever again.

But perhaps the prospect of a free cup of coffee would rekindle her enthusiasm for language?

As part of a promotional campaign for the launch of its new ReFLEX language learning software, Rosetta Stone is opening a special limited-time-only cafe in a Shinjuku book store, giving customers the chance to use their English, and doling out free cups of coffee to those who can.

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Japanese Tourists Share 15 Impressions of Traveling Abroad With Limited English Ability

Japanese Tourists Share 15 Impressions of Traveling Abroad With Limited English Ability

While living in Japan and working as an assistant English teacher, I’ve lost track of how many times Japanese people have asked me why most people in Japan can’t speak English. Due to compulsory education requirements, every Japanese citizen must take 6 years of English language courses. What’s more, starting from the 2011 school year, elementary school fifth and sixth graders are also required to have an English class once a week. Some school districts even offer English classes for kindergarteners and elementary school students in grades first through fourth.

But even after spending half or more of their adolescent years studying the English language, many Japanese struggle to carry out an everyday conversation in English. This isn’t just a casual observation by Japanese citizens, either. Japanese students have among the lowest English TOEFL scores in Asia.

So when Japanese tourists want to take a trip abroad, many are unequipped with the practical language tools necessary to go about daily life in English.  The reality of this can be discouraging and even come as a shock to people who have spent years studying back home in Japan, especially when they realize phrases like “Is this a dog? No, It’s a pen.” don’t come up in conversation as much as their textbooks had suggested.

The following is a compilation of impressions of Japanese tourists who have limited English ability while traveling abroad.

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