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16 February 2007

Debate on English education in elementary school

Mr. Ibaki, the Minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), has been creating a stir with his opposition to English education in elementary school.  I work as a translator, and naturally am proficient in English.  I started learning in the 4th grade in elementary school, from a private tutor who was Japanese.  After that, I studied at English conversation schools with native speakers, and I learned not only the English necessary to pass tests in school but I also became conversationally fluent.  After I graduated from high school, I went to America to study at a university for five years, and thanks to my previous English education and current “real-life” English education, I earned my Bachelor’s degree.



Based on these experiences, I both agree and disagree with Minister Ibaki’s opinion.



First of all, with regard to why I agree with Minister Ibaki, it is because when we talk about language, language is not just about communicating information.  While we talk, we think about various things, and when we say that we are polishing up our speaking skills, we are also polishing up how we think.  The sentence construction of English and Japanese are very different.  In particular, when one becomes used to expressing the conclusion at the beginning, Japanese becomes a very difficult language in which to speak.  In addition to being able to find the right words, it is also important to have the ability to consider exactly what it is you want to say.



In translating work, this definitely becomes an obstacle.  Without completely considering the flow of the entire sentence, it is impossible to translate that sentence.  Being stuck between the two languages, left without the power to think, even understanding the main point that you want to communicate becomes difficult.  To take the example of this author, when I was in junior high school, in addition to excelling at English the other subject I excelled at was Japanese.  I believe that because I became very good at reading comprehension in Japanese, it helped my progress in learning English.



That is to say, rather than language being something that one learns, language is something that one becomes accustomed to.  From that point of view, the younger one is, the better one is able to adapt.  Setting aside the merits and demerits of English, English is becoming the common global language.  If one learns it well, it is clearly to that person’s advantage.  If one is raised in an environment in which one does not feel uncomfortable around English, then after that things will be much easier.



Particularly with pronunciation, it is much better for children to learn at an early age when they have no preconceptions.  Because the pronunciation of the Japanese language is one of the simplest in the world, it creates many difficulties.  For example, the differences between L and R, V and B, and Th and S do not exist in Japanese and are therefore hard to grasp, and by the time one is an adult the fixed habits interfere and it becomes difficult to hear the difference.



However, I do not believe that Japanese education and English education should progress simultaneously.  Before learning how to speak as if it were one’s mother tongue, one should learn the native language properly and build up reading comprehension and critical thinking.  Whether it is the native language or a foreign language, without the ability to comprehend, one can neither speak nor listen.

Written by Masagata. 

 Translated by a MIT graduate.

20:32 Posted in Language learning | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: education

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