Teaching English in Japan from the perspective of an immigrant 移民から見た日本における英語教育

My name is Emre Ekici, and I am a trained sound engineer and music professional. My primary job involves technology, so English has surrounded me for more than twenty years, which has helped me develop my language abilities in international settings and with native speakers.
I am passionate about learning, teaching, and English. I came to Japan in April 2022, and after a month, I started teaching English online to various schools all around Japan. In this brief essay, I aim to explain my experiences as an online English teacher in Japan. I had the opportunity to teach many children from different prefectures and schools, including schools for children with special needs. I have realized that there are some significant issues in teaching English. I would like to write an essay to draw attention to Japanese students' and immigrant teachers' challenges during English classes. I will first explain a fundamental issue in each paragraph and further describe the practical issues that emerged from each fundamental issue, eventually with a solution to these issues that emerge to a general theme.

Theme 1: ALTs, their competency and dispatch companies

I would like to start with the competency of ALTs (Assistant Language Teacher: a native or non-native proficient speaker of the foreign language who helps the JTE -Japanese Teachers of English- in classrooms. My impression of ALTs is that many see Japan as an exit from their home country. Japan is not their first choice most of the time, or they have dreamt of living in Japan because of "anime shows." These bachelor graduates might have studied any field, and their licensure is irrelevant as long as they sign a contract with one of the ALT dispatch companies. These dispatch companies are known for their low employee retention ratio due to inconsiderate working conditions and managers. Consequently, a slightly unthoughtful situation arrives in the classrooms of Japan: university graduates of any department who are unsure about what to do in their lives sign a contract with a dispatch company and try to educate Japanese children. Being unhappy in their home country and new country due to working conditions, meanwhile trying to create a positive impact on children from a different culture, I am afraid, is nothing more than overly optimistic. The Japanese schools should have competent English assistant teachers in the classroom, and this situation can only be satisfied when ALT dispatch companies go over a revision of their working conditions by negotiating with the schools under realistic expectations.

Theme 2: Curriculum that ignores cultural differences

Another issue that I encountered is the curriculum that is provided to ALTs. In general, ALTs are not supposed to create a new curriculum teaching; they are supposed to teach what JTE provides to them. Since native Japanese speakers create these curricula, ALTs are discouraged from creating something new. This aspect of limited work tries to somehow cover over the cultural differences between English-speaking countries and Japan. This scenario is puzzling: there is no such thing as "Japanese-style" English teaching. If English is aimed to be taught to children, of course, it should be done by considering the cultural differences but not by having a tunnel vision of the host culture. In other words, the dominant culture's values or mindsets should not override the content of a foreign language. However, the dominant culture's values also should not be ignored in this process of teaching a foreign language. English is a language spoken globally by different nationalities, and non-native speakers of the language can have a gateway to the world with the help of the language. In most English classrooms, students are not encouraged to speak about anything other than casual conversations, which leads to vague statements about what color or animal they like at any grade.
English should be promoted as an opportunity to talk about themselves or learn about other people's genuine interests in a friendly manner rather than having strictly regulated conversations. Curricula are strictly structured without leaving room for flexibility and the free flow of thoughts. I observe that teachers think out-of-book-based speech means being out of control. There is no "one way" to introduce yourself in English: people have diverse interests and opinions, everyone is unique, and people can live along with differences, even if they are too different. Inclusion should not impose sameness on students. Students should not be controlled but be guided to acquire autonomy.

Theme 3: JTEs’ attitudes and nature of foreign languages

A similar issue comes to some JTEs who intervene with students constantly when students try to speak up. I am not sure if this is limited to English classes. However, I observed that JTEs might act similarly to overly indulgent parents to their students. For instance, sometimes, students try to engage with an ALT. However, when they pause for a second, the teacher immediately comes up with suggestions. As if coming up with a suggestion was not enough, the JTE repeats the same suggestion many times to ensure that the student will repeat what they are saying. In my view, it hurts students' autonomy and self-decision-making skills. These interventions kill the nature of speaking a foreign language. There will not be anyone constantly making you suggestions in a regular conversation with an English speaker. Furthermore, even native speakers will make mistakes. English does not have to be perfect or fun! We do not have to speak with a perfect accent, grammar, or cohesion. We are not perfect, and we do not have to be perfect. But we can enjoy it and have fun without being perfect. English should be an opportunity to understand that the world beyond us.

Theme 4: Stress due to social pressure

English classrooms should not be a place that causes stress. It should be an inclusive environment for all walks of life. Children should be allowed to make mistakes, and it should be normalized to make mistakes. Classrooms are the ideal medium to make mistakes and learn from them. Making mistakes in a foreign language should not be a reason for embarrassment. This attitude towards foreign languages in the Japanese education system also raises JTEs. They force themselves not to make mistakes and usually speak basic English. This situation leads to teachers who are afraid to make mistakes raising children who are even scared to try. I see a vicious cycle here with a problematic feedback loop.


To summarize, I have mentioned four general themes about English teaching in Japan. The first one was the competency of ALTs in the English classroom and ALT dispatch companies' role in this regard. The second one was the lack of creativity and openness in the curriculum, which eliminates the fact that learning a foreign language also means learning a foreign culture. Thirdly, JTEs' overly protective and intervening attitude in the English classroom creates strict regulation over learning a language that is mainly achieved through acquisition rather than memorization. Lastly, making mistakes is entirely normal when speaking a foreign language with a different alphabet, and making mistakes in such a challenging situation should be normalized.
In conclusion, when we acquire a new language, we also learn a new culture. JTEs should be able to adopt a mindset that internalizes (a) English classes are international environments, (b) children should be themselves during these classes, and (c) these classes should be an opportunity to explore themselves in a new cultural context. ALTs' duties should not be limited to teaching English, but also, they should be able to introduce new cultures, perspectives, and lifestyles.

私はEmre Ekiciです。サウンドエンジニアであり、プロの音楽家でもあります。私の仕事は主に技術に関わることで、20年以上にわたって英語に囲まれていたこともあり、国際的な環境やネイティブスピーカーとの関わりの中で、自身の語学力を伸ばすことが出来ました。

まず始めに、ALT(Assistant Language Teacher:外国語のネイティブスピーカー、あるいはノンネイティブスピーカーで、JTE(Japanese Teachers of English)が行う授業の補助を行う今教師)のスキルや適性について述べたいと思います。
私のALTの人々の印象は、日本を母国から脱出するための手段として捉えている方が多いというものです。大体において日本に住むことが第一志望というわけではなく、"アニメ "を見て日本に住むことを夢見た方もいるでしょう。ALTの派遣会社と契約さえ交わしてしまえば、ALTの方々はどのような分野の学士号を取得していたとしても、彼らが教員としての免許を持っているか否かも関係ないのです。




(a) 英語のクラスというのは、国際的で、多様性のある環境であると理解すること (b) 子供達が、授業中自分らしくいられること、そして (c) 英語の授業は新しい文化の中で自分を探求する機会であること。ALTの役割は英語を教えることに留まらず、新しい文化や考え方、ライフスタイルを紹介することが出来る存在であるべきなのです。

サウンドエンジニアEmre・Ekici エムレ・エキジ
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