English Teacher in Japan as Entertainer.

I particularly like this recent comment over at Let’s Japan:

Starting here, and quoting an earlier post:

What’s all this ‘entertainer’ crap anyway?

I think a good starting point, if you want a teaching career on or out of Japan, is CELTA. It is at least a step in the right direction, and something a little more than simply doing the monkey dance for the chipmunks, in the glass booth of an Eikaiwa bunch of crooks in Japan.

[It continues: ]

It all depends if you seriously want to think about a career in teaching, or being a chipmunk entertainer.

It might surprise you to learn that eikaiwa operators, whatever their various moral. intellectual, spiritual and sexual shortcomings may be, do like their native English teachers to do a bit of teaching as well. This is generally stipulated in their lesson materials, lesson plans and evaluation criteria. Unfortunately, they seem to figure that as Japanese people learn all the grammar and vocab in school all they need is speaking and listening practice, and that all teachers need to teach that is being able to speak English themselves. So, they hire the most minimally qualified native speakers allowed by Japanese visa regulations, and guess what? These native speakers have no idea about how to teach anything, so they are the ones who decide that ‘entertaining’ the students will be sufficient. They just yak on for forty or fifty minutes, and hope the students will learn something by osmosis. The management doesn’t particularly want to spend the time or the money on extra training and higher salaries for supervisors, so either they don’t have any or the ones they do promote are just as clueless as the regular instructors and offer no useful performance monitoring or effective leadership whatsoever. So, ‘entertainment’ is not the main thing that is supposed to be going on at eikaiwas. If that’s all some instructors are doing, it’s because that’s all they’re capable of.

Incidentally, I know one or two people with CELTAs. I’m not knocking the course or anything, but I don’t rate them particularly highly.

END [Emphasis added.]

In five years, I have this . . . this entertainer phenomenon both when I came to Japan and also in more recent times. As a result, I’m convinced it’s been part of the routine for as long as the Japanese have been importing foreigners in to teach English.

English is not education, English is entertainment. They really ought to come right out and say it. (Notice, I’m not saying learning can’t be fun.) It’s when the focus on teaching goes to where it’s primarily about “keeping the customers happy” rather than reaching a goal.

It think part of this is the fault of the business ethic (more money is better than less). But a large amount lies at the feet of the Japanese bureaucrats. They really don’t want “English for the masses”, just English for the upper classes. So they’ve done everything they could think of to screw with the occupation.

I don’t want to set off any politically-correct buzzers, but it’s similar to what had happened for many years with black people in America. For many people, it was only acceptable for blacks to be entertainers, (if not stuck in the worst of menial jobs or in marginal agriculture.) And this reality reinforced the notion that the only thing black people could do was entertain.

So similarly here in Japan, there is a lobby (including those who perpetually inhabit the “beginner” classes and tables of Eikaiwa functions) who just see English as this entertaining sideline: much too difficult to ever master as a native speaker or a Japanese who spent time abroad. Therefore, not worth making the effort to work it.

Learning English from a native speaker also involves submitting to the authority of someone who isn’t Japanese. And a number of Japanese (a minority, but sizable) have a real problem with that.

I used to see that in my accounting days here. As a lawyer and a CPA, I probably know more about accounting than anyone you might pull off a bus. Standard, double-entry accounting has followed basic concepts since Fra Luca codified it over 500 years ago. But you find Japanese wasting their breath about “that’s not the way we do it here!”, when they really mean they never learned the concept of an accrual.

The tax system is fundamentally the one adopted on the advice of the Carl Shoup Commission (a Columbia University professor who served the Occupation Government in the 1940’s). It is a Roosevelt-Truman era progressive tax system, including the old variable standard deduction, with a consumption tax tacked on. Social insurances are treated like fixed-rate annuity or coverage payments.

Yet I had people arguing that the Japanese system was so different from anything that could be imagined by an American!

So I say that a number of the impediments young Japanese (and not so young) find to learning English here has more to do with government and political connivance than it does some “impossibility”. If you tried to learn biology or chemistry from an entertainer, you’d only end up useful as an alchemist, too.

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4 comments

  1. What? · July 15, 2010

    What? The CELTA again? He is all over the English language teaching sites

    CETLA, or as some refer to is as SELL-ta, is a one-month piece of paper. That’s it. If you know nothing about English teaching, it introduces you to the subject. That’s it. It is NOT an accreditation or some sort of diploma. And you will not be some sort of teaching expert with it. In fact, you will still have to compete with non-CELTA holders

    A Masters, experience and good character is what matters. The reality is, why would you spend thousands on a piece of paper when you can spend some time on the Internet, educate yourself a little, and get the same job? You are still the same entertainer. Of course, there are always the SELL-ta guys extolling the virtues of a piece of paper to make themselves some money.

    • hoofin · July 16, 2010

      I agree it’s cheap credentialization. And it really burns that some people can get away with it.

      Take it from me, an actual, licensed CPA, who has to compete in a market with dozens of “pretend” CPAs. In most states of America, pretending to have a CPA is at least a disorderly persons offense, and if serious money is involved, a crime of some degree (fourth degree, etc.)

      If obtaining a CELTA is going to get someone the offer letter, then clearly it’s worth it. But as a certification, you’re right.

      It’s a shame that Japan allows scams to go on and on.

  2. ken44 · July 16, 2010

    Teaching English in Japan is a joke. The only question is will you be the one laughing or will the joke be on you.

    • hoofin · July 18, 2010

      Yes, the joke part is quite factual. But if you take helping people seriously, trying to turn the joke around just makes someone as much of a cheater and schemer. I’m not sure that’s a solution. I’d rather have the cheaters and schemers called out and judged.

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