Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stephie-baachan's Corner: Japanese English Textbooks

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk flipping through one of my Japanese-government-approved English class textbooks as I was talking to my co-conspirator and brother in arms, Guillermo-san. Now, you will remember that I am currently residing in The Land of the Rising Sun working as an ALT (Sidenote: I will now reveal to you, the chosen few, the true meaning of this acronym: "Assassins Limited". The whole "Assistant Language Teacher" thing is a cover). Since I AM undercover, though, I have to put up a good front, which means that my desk has a nicely diversified collection of English textbooks, dictionaries, teaching guides and whatnot.

But anyways, like I said, I was flipping through a textbook. Now, I have noticed this from a long time ago, and indeed one of the topics we ALTs like to complain the most about is the state of English language education in Japan (seriously, the problems are endless, we NEVER get tired of it). Textbooks are a happy example. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are word-for-word excerpts from some of the books (gotta make sure to cite my sources!):

"We are all high school students. We are on a large ship. The ship sails around the world. We speak different languages. We come from different cultures. We are all different in many ways, but it is OK. We all have the same passport--love and friendship. We also have the same ticket--English. Together, let's use them and make new friends. Come on! Let's go! All aboard!"
(All Aboard English 1 High School English textbook, Lesson 1, pages 10-11)

And another gem:

"This flower is beautiful. That flower is also beautiful. They don't compete with each other. Each flower grows and blooms beautifully. Each is alive and proud. So why do we compete? We too are flowers. Each is unique. Big flowers. Little flowers. We are all different. You're not No. 1? That's all right. Each of us is only one. So let's grow and bloom."
(Captain English 1 High School textbook, Lesson 1, pages 10-11)


Now, the first one is meh. Incredibly corny, but relatively harmless. The second, however, is painful. It's apparently a translation of a song by SMAP, the popular Japanese boy-band (man-band? All the members are over 30). That brings me to another massive problem with the textbooks. They're amazingly outdated. Many feature inserts with lyrics to songs by the Carpenters (I Need to be in Love, 1976), Olivia Newton-John (Have You Never Been Mellow, 1975), The Beatles (Hey Jude, 1968), and John Lennon (Imagine (1971), which is the defacto national anthem of Japan). I understand that many of these songs are slow and therefore robably easy to understand for ESL students, and I'm not saying that I expect to see Lil' John lyrics (SKEET SKEET SKEET!!!) appearing in the books any time soon, but since they print new books every year (no hardcovers in this education system, everything is paperback because the kids keep the books) can't we at least keep the gap down to LESS THAN 10 YEARS AGO?? I don't think that's much to ask. They also have script samples from movies like Back to the Future (1985), ET (1982) and Titanic (1997). I do applaud them for featuring important figures in history, like MLK Jr and Mother Teresa, but they also constantly have people like Charlie Chaplin. No offense to our old boy Chuck, but come on. They also have some of the most pointlessly ridiculous chapter topics I've ever seen. Like sea otters (no joke). And while I think that learning about kids who were affected by war in Cambodia is important as an anti-war message, I don't think high-school ESL class is the proper vehicle for that. I have a problem with the fact that the students learn the word "land mine" before they learn the present progressive (ex. It is raining.)

Well kids, that's it for today's segment. I hope you enjoyed my ran-- I mean, informational short. As for me, I'm gonna try to not strangle the next textbook vendor that comes into my office. It's not THEIR fault their books are shit.

1 comment:

Eric said...

I learned the word for hand grenade in German before I learned future tense (It will rain), and I think I turned out okay.