3 years later…
When I taught these students as 5th and 6th graders, they would run into the English room, sit with me and chat before class, laugh a lot, enthusiastically raise their hands and take every chance to practice and improve their English.
One of the regular activities we did in class was “Talk with Three People.” This was a great way to review the English from the previous lesson. The only rules were to remember to smile, use a big voice, make eye contact and gesture. That and “boy and girls mix please.” Of the three people they spoke to, one had to be the opposite sex. It is only once the students got toward the end of their 6th grade year that they started to dread the whole mixing part.
If any of us remember junior high, we remember that it was probably the most awkward time in our lives. Same for Japanese kids. They are clearly aware of their bodies, of the opposite sex and are in the mind frame to relentlessly tease each other about anything that is not normal, out of the ordinary or different. When I spoke with my students, I was incredibly disappointed by how much their conversational skills have slipped. This is the big problem in Japan, though. The focus is to learn English to pass exams, not to actually converse. That’s why our conversation-only program in elementary school was such a point of interest – it was practically revolutionary!
It pained me to see students who used to have super sharp listening and speaking skills sit quietly in class and be afraid to raise their hand or open their mouth. I could understand all of what they said to each other in Japanese…they were trying hard to remember some key phrases. And they kept picking on the few students who still actually liked and excelled at English to be the spokesperson for the class. That broke my heart too. Many students had fallen out of love with English. It’s such a shame!
This photo I’ve shared with you sums up where these kids are in their lives. (That and a good example of why this ENglish teacher sucks, but that’s a totally different blog entry!) All the girls are on one side (even me), and all the boys on another. Kids who would have been fighting to get their face in the frame are even turned away from the camera. Only the girls are throwing the peace sign, and with 50% enthusiasm, at that. They just want to look cute. The boys want to remain cool. No one wants to appear to be too excited.
As much as I loved seeing my babes, I was tremendously disappointed in their level of English. In just three years, without the constant interaction of a foreign teacher, they’ve lost that tremendous skill they were once so praised for. I anticipated (ok, I dreamed) that I would come back to them and be able to have real conversations with them. But sadly, they’ve become typical Japanese students who can understand everything they read and write, and who may be able to understand what you say, but who – due to a lack of practice – are incapable of conversation. That was tough for me to see. And it drives my desire to return and whip my kids into shape! I want so badly for them to enjoy English again!
The Great Divide – Notice anything in this photo? Girls to the left, boys to the right. Not a chance in the world that my kids, now teenagers, would mingle! Gotta love teenagers!