Q: I hear a lot about the upcoming Eigo Noto (produced by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry) to be used in fifth- and sixth-grade primary classes throughout the country. Could you please share your thoughts on them? How well do they match the needs of learners of English here in Japan?
A: The Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson wrote a delightful fairy tale titled The Emperor’s New Clothes. The emperor hires two tailors to make him the finest garments. They tell him the cloth is only visible to the intelligent or elite; to all others it is invisible. When the emperor parades in public wearing the “new clothes,” everyone exclaims how fantastic the clothes look. But one little boy shouts out, “He has nothing on!”
I may be stepping on some toes here, but I think it is clear Japanese administrators and teachers are not questioning the book. I would not be surprised if, at some point, a Japanese child asks, “Where is the English in Eigo Noto?”
Teachers are being told that they do not have to use the books, but since it was created, compiled, published and endorsed by the ministry, a prominent and influential organization in the education community, teachers trust their superiors and think that they should adopt them.
I have reviewed Eigo Noto’s first and second volumes and am opposed to their adoption and usage in primary schools. Because of limited space, I will focus on the first volume today. The problems are:
— The title is in Japanese. If the title “English Notebook” were used, children could learn those two important English words right away.
— The book looks Japanese; there is nothing especially English about it.
— Names are written in Japanese order: family name first.
— All the names are written in capital letters. In English-speaking countries, this is generally the habit of uneducated people.
— The manga characters look like third-graders. The oldest kids in primary schools want to look older, not younger.
— There are no English model sentences for the children to look at, wonder about or try to imitate. I can see a lot of kanji, hiragana and katakana in the book, but far too little English.
— It appears that activities encourage the use of Japanese by the teachers to explain what to do and how to do it. I can envision a lot of Japanese being used to complete activities as opposed to the use of simple English.
— The song Head, Shoulders, Knee and Toes is appropriate for preschoolers. I know for sure the oldest primary school students would feel babyish singing that song.
— There are little people at the bottom of each page, which is confusing.
— I wonder when and how students will be transported into the English zone with such a book.
— This book is not user-friendly for teacher or students. Teachers do not understand how to use it, which will lead to confusing lessons and a dislike of the subject matter by students.
In a nutshell, the emperor is wearing no clothes.
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Readers are encouraged to send questions on any themes related to teaching English to younger learners–particularly those at the primary school level–to Helene J. Uchida via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax (03) 3217-8369. Questions preferably should be written in English and should be accompanied by your name, occupation and the area you live in. This column will return on May 19.