English volunteering in Japan

I do this from time to time throughout the month.

I am not an “English teacher” per se, but an accountant and attorney who studied four languages (maybe five if you count Latin) during my formal education. I am one of the fortunate ones to have also had grammar in grade school English. So I know the parts.

When I show up in these “eikaiwa” settings, I am inevitably put at the beginner table. These are people who learned English but never had a chance to use it. But along the years, I’ve come to suspect that they are the ones in Japan who attended classes that weren’t as well taught as they could have been.

So the people learned English out of a textbook as a dead language, so to speak. But in fact, English is very much a living language. So the joke is on whom? (If anyone . . .)

When I am in this situation anymore, I just start to teach. I am tired of situations where everyone stares at each other for minutes on end. And also in answering the usual four questions about who I am and why I am in Japan. No one gets anywhere that way, and I already know the answers to the questions I get.

What surprises me is that no one here teaches English grammar. Yet they just expect people to “pick up the language” by rote. If you don’t know why sentences are put together the way they are, how do you ever expect to put a complex one together (by) yourself?

It really explains a lot, these volunteer sessions. If I had six years to teach English, like the faculty in Japanese schools do, I would focus on basic English grammar. Only when people feel comfortable with that, would I go on to vocabulary sheets.

The system the Japanese use now is the worst, because it seems to encourage students to drop out of learning. Then, later, they don’t have the courage to admit that they don’t know what they need to know. If you don’t know the rules of putting a sentence together, then you are always, basically, “winging it”. I would rather that people swallow their pride about something where it’s clear they weren’t given what they needed, and use the time instead to pick up what they need to know.

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