Learning English from errors: An experience from the top

Image copyright EPA Image caption A student in Japan is so appalled by what her teacher is teaching that she has decided to teach English instead A story about the English teacher in Japan…

Learning English from errors: An experience from the top

Image copyright EPA Image caption A student in Japan is so appalled by what her teacher is teaching that she has decided to teach English instead

A story about the English teacher in Japan has prompted the BBC to spend a few days learning the language herself. I’m actually not complaining though. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to learn from mistakes – and it was just after the BBC Overseas Students Week that I was introduced to the Japanese Language Course (JLT). It’s a six week course from the University of Tsukuba which teaches English to students in secondary schools. It’s a rigorous programme of weekly lectures, quizzes and exams which is meant to act as a professional development course for students at the school level. It’s hard to believe that it’s not compulsory at secondary level in Japan – although, there are exceptions – but I quickly found out that an English tutor in Japan never once mentions a word that doesn’t come out as “aso”, or “in the right place” – and this can be hard to grasp for someone who has only just arrived. As the week went on, I got to know more and more about JLT. I started to understand how the professor in charge at the centre works – and I even started to have a relationship with one of the students. He was one of the top performers and so was vice-president of the physics club. He was nice – and he spoke excellent English. That’s the beauty of JLT – it’s important to be friendly and at the same time diplomatic, so you don’t become their main teacher. I’ve been learning stuff!

English students everywhere would not be looking forward to having to do a study group every week. But here at JLT they were my friends. When the quiz starts there was an enormous cheer and party atmosphere. The thing about Japanese quiz systems is that they are all structured in an equal way. For example, I had to answer questions about the World War II invasion of Manchuria – but with a ‘Chinese question’, about the forces invading China in 1941 and the Japanese then invading the area. I didn’t care. If you weren’t good at Japanese quiz competitions and had to depend on your friends for help, you would have struggled. And I was good at the JLT quiz. So much so that my colleague admitted to me when I said I was a bit tired at the end of my work that he might just be wishing he was at my level when his classes were at. It’s fun to play the JLT instructor! Of course, my classmates in Japan were on national TV – so while I got to leave the questionnaire about National Intelligence for My Japanese friends, I was able to save it and save my teachers’ questions for the newspaper quiz. And of course, I was able to keep my answer, which was Juntendo (the teacher’s final letter in English). As the week went on, I got to know more and more about JLT. I started to understand how the professor in charge at the centre works – and I even started to have a relationship with one of the students. He was one of the top performers and so was vice-president of the physics club. He was nice – and he spoke excellent English. That’s the beauty of JLT – it’s important to be friendly and at the same time diplomatic, so you don’t become their main teacher. My nickname among the students became Taze, which is Japanese for ‘uncle’. It was becoming clear that while I was struggling to understand in class, a lot of my JLT friends could speak very, very clearly. This relationship was the perfect illustration of why JLT is such a fantastic prospect for students from non-English speaking backgrounds. You want to learn the language – but what’s actually really important is the communication. By the end of my six week course I had little issues with how foreign phrases sounded in Japanese, but after sharing my work with my colleagues, I had a much better grasp of the overall language. You’d be amazed at how much I can understand if you’re just so straight-forward about it. The experience has taught me a lot – not only about the school system in Japan, but about learning any language for the first time. JLT is only for Japanese students, but in some local secondary schools they encourage immigrants who speak English as a second language to take the course. This is encouraging – if you think you can speak English, why not give it a go? Explore Japanese! Download the English language guide before you go here – Discover Japanese literacy and how we can all write in our own languages. Find out how to write ‘Eugenio Borges’ (which means ‘author’ in English) and explore other crazy errors.

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