Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why TESOL education is often counterproductive

In Japan. You would think that some formal education in linguistics, language acquisition, teaching, etc would be a huge benefit to both teachers and students. Unfortunately, that is not often the case in Japan. Hence, NOVA, GABA, Berlitz etc, where pretty much anyone off the street who is a native English speaker can be successful after a few days of "training." I would go so far as to say that real professional training and knowledge is in many cases useless and sometimes counterproductive. Someone with basic customer service skills and just common sense (meaning you don't piss off the customers) is just fine.

Why? You generally don't have time to do much of what you should be doing. Often the students won't do much of anything outside of class---1-2 hours per week. Another is that Japanese education and the view of teacher/student roles are much different. But of course, the "student" here is actually a customer in a private business which has the primary duty of making a profit. If not, then the "teachers" would soon be unemployed.

Since the student is the customer and no matter how bizarre their ideas are about how best to acquire a language, you tend to have to play along a little. You can try to persuade folks that perhaps it is impossible and counterproductive to correct them immediately for every single grammatical---or other---error they make, but since most Japanese are drilled to death from junior high school onwards with such nonsense, you aren't likely to succeed.

I met one new student the other day who immediately tested me by making small "errors" during our introductions and a short get-to-know one another chat. She then pointed out errors that she intentionally made and asked me to correct them all immediately. I explained why instructors didn't usually do that (and that it is impossible anyway) but she, like many, is an expert on teaching English, even though she has a huge misunderstanding of what is important and effective in teaching and learning.

You run into these types regularly, but this one is a case beyond any that I have met. So, know I have to decide how to proceed and perhaps get her beyond the anal-retentive---hell, in her case anal-frozen---grammar-nazi idea. But since she already knows everything, it will not be easy and I suspect it/I will ultimately fail.

(Now what was it that I disliked about teaching children? Hmmm. Perhaps I should go back to that as long as I am in this field.)

A CELTA certificate is more than adequate in Japan. In fact, if you aren't in one of the NOVA, GABA, Berlitz, AEON, ECC eikaiwa chains, you may get good use out of it some of the time. Anything more is basically a waste, unless you get the magic masters degree which makes it easier to get a job teaching in a university. (Whether or not you can use the knowledge you acquired in getting it to teach there is another question.) An undergrad TESOL degree, minor, or certification is sorta in no man's land. Not a masters degree, and more than you need. Besides, few know what the hell it is anyway so you won't gain any advantage over a CELTA holder. About all you'll have for all the extra time and money spent is a bunch of extra theories floating around in your head getting in the way of the teaching. Or if all else fails, go to Berlitz and get their rudimentary 6 day course. It is good enough for eikaiwa (though it isn't really well-understood or used at Berlitz. Don't believe it? Ask some instructors what the difference is between learning and acquisition. See if they can answer in detail if at all. It ain't all that important in Japan!)

Here is a hint: In Japan, an ad for a qualified teacher usually means native speaker (a restriction that is big mistake) with some experience at something. Or, someone dumb enough to work for them on a lower than usual salary. Or something. It does not necessarily mean any formal credentials, because, again, they ain't all that important. Or frankly, not all that relevant.

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