English classes in Japanese junior high school level English classes will be conducted primarily in the English language, and the global lingua franca will become a standard subject for fifth and sixth graders, this under a plan announced on Dec. 13 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) – a plan that has drawn a mixed reaction from teachers. English classes have begun to be conducted in English this academic year in high schools, but some people have remained doubtful of the effectiveness of this process.
According to the execution of the plan, this action is to be introduced incrementally based on changes in the government’s instruction guidelines beginning in the 2018 academic year. MEXT plans for English to go from its current extra-curricular status of one hour a week to becoming a standard subject – with students being taught three hours a week in the fifth and sixth grade. Third- and fourth-graders will begin studying English as an extra-curricular activity of one to two hours per week. Junior high school English will be taught exclusively in English, and high school English courses will add more reports and debates as they aim for students to score somewhere around grade 2 on the Eiken English proficiency examination by the time of their graduation.
One teacher at a public Tokyo junior high school with over 30 years’ experience teaching English said, “I am concerned because I have not learned how to teach in English.” Currently, the class done by the teacher is conducted mostly in Japanese. “If audio components become central to the class, I may be able to help students who have an aversion to written English, and bring out their interest and abilities,” the teacher added. Developing a new methodology would be hard, the teacher stressed, saying that he wants “to receive proper training.”
Professor Yukio Otsu from Meikai University’s Faculty of Languages and Cultures said, “There was confusion at high schools, where people mistakenly thought that classes had to be taught completely in English under any circumstance. The English sentences taught in junior high school are not as structurally complicated as in high school, so if a proper Japanese explanation is given alongside them, English classes conducted basically in English should be possible.”