Monthly Archives: February 2011

Japan to Introduce Compulsory English for 5th/6th Grade Students

Story by Takahiro Fukada for JapanTimes, February 26, 2011:

Come April, English classes will become mandatory for fifth- and sixth-graders, but a 29-year-old elementary school teacher in Tokyo has heard the concerns of her overwhelmed colleagues, especially the older ones, who have neither taught the language nor studied it since their university years decades ago.


News photo


Preparing for the English classes is a new burden for teachers. Some believe they must teach detailed rules of grammar and demonstrate proper pronunciation, even though this isn’t required.

“Many teachers are considerably repulsed. They feel they can’t make mistakes and fear they may speak incorrect English” during the lessons, said the Tokyo teacher, who did not want her name used.

Starting with fiscal 2011, the government will require all elementary schools to introduce compulsory foreign-language lessons — basically English — for fifth- and sixth-graders. All kids in this age group will have at least one lesson per week.

While many parents and other Japanese welcome the government’s move to provide English education at an early age, some experts are concerned that most teachers are being forced to venture into uncharted waters with little preparation. In addition, devoting just one period a week to English won’t be near enough to nurture children’s language ability.

“With one lesson a week, it’s like pouring water onto a desert. It will immediately evaporate — not create an oasis,” said Haruo Erikawa, an English-education professor of Wakayama University.

Japan has lagged behind its neighboring countries in introducing English lessons at an early age, and its impact is obvious in various statistics.

TOEFL data for 2004-2005 put Japan next to last in Asia, with an average score of only 191 points — just one point higher than North Korea. Afghanistan exceeded Japan by seven points, while Singapore had the top score at 254.

“To further internationalize the Japanese people and nurture human resources who can work competently in international society, it is necessary to bolster English education as a national strategy,” the education ministry said in a 2006 report on the language.

English education has long been mandatory in junior high schools, but such classes are not totally new to a majority of elementary schools because of the “integrated learning class” concept, which was introduced in 1998.

Though this class was not specifically designed for learning foreign languages, many elementary schools decided to use it for English conversation lessons. In fiscal 2009, 97.8 percent of elementary schools nationwide were planning to have language lessons for fifth- and sixth-graders, the education ministry said.

Owing to the lack of a unified English teaching program at the elementary school level, gaps in quality among regions emerged as some schools offer two to three lessons per week, while at other schools they are much more infrequent. The material being taught also varies, with some schools teaching the alphabet and others providing opportunities to speak with native English speakers.

To narrow these disparities, the ministry introduced a uniform curriculum. The move appears to have wide support.

According to a nationwide survey in December conducted by the Japan Public Opinion Survey Association, 87 percent of 1,924 adults supported compulsory English education for fifth- and sixth-graders.

Education ministry officials stressed that the new English lessons, Gaikokugo Katsudo (Foreign Language Activities), will be different from English lessons at the junior high level, and students won’t be drilled on comprehensive grammar rules or vocabulary.

The goal of the new program is to help children experience and understand other languages and cultures, motivate them to actively communicate with foreigners and become familiar with the sounds and basic expressions of another language, the ministry says.

It already distributed teaching materials called Eigo Note (English Notes), as well as CDs and other supplemental instruction materials, to teachers and students nationwide. Eigo Note includes lessons in greetings, games, self-introduction and town guides.

Despite high expectations among the public and government officials, some experts and teachers say the curriculum is full of problems that need to be fixed.

To begin with, many argue that training for teachers is far from sufficient.

According to a survey last July and August by the think tank Benesse Educational Research and Development Center on 4,709 elementary school teachers nationwide, 68.1 percent of classroom teachers said they don’t have much confidence or they have no confidence in teaching English.

A 27-year-old male teacher at an elementary school in Kanagawa Prefecture said many teachers aren’t yet at the stage where they can comfortably teach the language.

The teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said one of his colleagues told him he was afraid of giving lessons with his broken English, while another pointed out the possibility that this will merely cause children to dislike English.

To help teachers, the education ministry has put together a guideline and offered a training program since fiscal 2007.

The ministry and other specialists teach education officials at the prefectural level how to proceed with lessons. Those officials then train representatives from each school. Both training programs last about five days. After that, the representatives of each school are supposed to train their colleagues for a total of around 30 hours over a two-year period.

However, the survey by Benesse suggests the reality has turned out rather different.

According to the survey, classroom teachers received an average of 6.8 hours of training at their schools between April 2009 and last August, and more than 20 percent said they participated in “zero” hours of training.

On problems that they face, 57.9 percent of curriculum coordinators said the time is very limited for developing teaching materials and preparing for lessons.

More than 75 percent of curriculum coordinators even suggested English should be taught in classrooms by specialist instructors.

Wakayama University’s Erikawa said it is hard for many schoolteachers to teach English because they haven’t studied the language in a long time.

“For example, the average age of elementary school teachers in Osaka is around 50. This means they haven’t used English for almost 30 years since graduating from university,” he said.

According to Erikawa, this isn’t the first attempt at teaching English at the elementary school level. English lessons were introduced around the middle of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) at some elementary schools. But the poor ability of the teachers at that level led to junior high school teachers saying the elementary school curriculum was worthless and should be abolished.

“I am extremely worried (that) we will repeat the same mistake,” he said.

Although there are many hurdles to overcome, teachers have to face reality and move forward. And experts suggest more can be done in the long term.

Mitsue Allen-Tamai, an English-education professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, said the government should eventually introduce English education in earlier grades as young children can easily recognize and learn the unfamiliar sounds of a foreign language.

Frequency of lessons should also be increased to at least three times a week and more material should be taught so children won’t panic when they get to junior high, where the curriculum is heavier, she said.

The government should continue to work harder to reinforce English education at public schools so there won’t be a wider gap in English proficiency among children, she added.

“Otherwise, while rich kids can get sufficient (English) education, those who are not will be left out,” she said.


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University of Glasgow Foreign Language Cuts

From Herald Scotland, February 23, 2011:  (please note that the “I” from this article is not me — it belongs to a person from Scotland whose name was not provided)


I WAS appalled to learn of the proposed closure of Modern Languages and Cultures, as well as other departments, including the Department of Adult and Continuing Education, at the University of Glasgow (“University to press ahead with cuts despite protest”, The Herald, February 17).

The proposed cuts would harm severely the quality of education in Humanities, Social Sciences, Arts and beyond.

These proposals beggar belief. In an increasingly interlinked world, knowledge of other languages and cultures is more important than ever. Providing adult education for “non-traditional” learners is vital. Or are all native speakers of English to stumble ignorantly around the world, clueless, ignorant of the history, politics, literature and language of other countries? If, for whatever reason, an adult should wish to continue learning, or start learning again, should he or she just forget it, and turn on the television instead?

As a graduate of modern languages from Glasgow University (1991, French and German), a full-time translator, with experience as a teacher in the field of adult education, I strongly urge the university management to reconsider these cuts, which are destructive, short-sighted, and ultimately self-defeating to a university that should exist in order to provide a “universal” education.


There has been a lot of press surrounding the surging costs of accommodating EU students in our universities. What is not highlighted is that this deficit is exacerbated by the failure of our own students to take advantage of the same opportunities offered by universities across the EU.

The reluctance of our student population to be as internationally mobile as their EU counterparts has been long reflected in the low uptake of Erasmus placements by Scottish students compared with the rest of the EU. Rather than looking to halt the number of EU students coming to our shores, we should be looking to invest in our education system to ensure that the same global opportunities enjoyed by EU students are provided to our own.

Given that poor language skills are one of the principal barriers to students studying abroad, it is worrying that one of the first subject areas to meet the wrath of spending cuts is modern languages.

While education in the rest of the world is becoming increasingly global and internationalist with greater emphasis on modern languages, our own education system is doing the reverse. Over the last few years we have seen cuts to modern languages in primary school training, foreign language assistants and the modern language departments of our two biggest universities.

The lip-service approach to modern languages raises real and pressing concerns about our education system’s internationalist credentials. With elections coming up, I would be interested to hear how incumbent and prospective education ministers intend to halt the demise of modern language provision to ensure our education system is fit for a global 21st century.

AM shocked and dismayed that Glasgow University is seeking to drop courses in modern languages and culture studies. Are these studies not more necessary than ever, especially in the light of what is happening in the Middle East?

I know that cuts in spending are necessary, but are there not other ways of reducing the budget than dropping this course? What about some of the better-paid professors taking a pay freeze or, indeed, a cut?

As someone who took the Divinity course as a very mature student in the 1990s, I am concerned about the cuts to Adult Continuing Education.

Along with many other mature students this was the way that I got into university. I think those of us on the Continuing course were able to cope better with our studies at university because the lecturers and tutors had drummed into us the need to answer the question when doing our essays and exams. This was very helpful for me; as I had left school at 15 with no qualifications.

I hope that there will be a strong campaign to help students who want to take these courses as Glasgow University has a very high standard. I would be saddened if these standards were to be lowered.


You report that fees of £12,000 might be charged for a four-year degree (“Secret plans to charge Scots students £12,00”, The Herald, February 21).

That’s not really as alarming as it sounds since I was charged £75 a year in 1951. Allowing for an approximate (and conservative) 20-fold change in the Consumer Price index, that is 75 x 20 x 4, or £6,000.



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Texas Foreign Language Battle

It seems that some Tea Party and Republican members in Texas would prefer that no foreign languages be studied in that state.  ENGLISH ONLY is their battle cry!  Do some Americans want to return to the early twentieth-century days when they preferred splendid isolation?  Haven’t we come far enough in the twenty-first century to recognize the importance of globalization and the foreign language study that is crucial to it?   The trend is very scary!

Bud Kennedy from the Star-Telegram gives his take on Texas and foreign language study (February 19, 2011).  I’m sure there’s much more to come on this matter in the days ahead:


First, some parents asked why Mansfield’s schools would teach Arabic.

But now some Tea Partyers — and even some Republicans over in the next county — make it sound as if schools shouldn’t teach any foreign language at all.

In a throwback to the isolationist America of the 1920s and ’30s, the Johnson County Republican Party executive committee adopted a resolution Tuesday condemning the Bush-era Arabic language and cultural studies lessons planned for a few schools in south Arlington and Mansfield.

“We’re teaching everything but English,” county Chairman Henry Teich of Cresson told the Cleburne Times-Review.

The resolution says party leaders “declare and demand” that Mansfield replace the lessons with more American history and government.

On the blog of the Politically Active Republicans of Johnson County, one writer criticizes the whole idea of federally funded language lessons:

“One Nation, One Language, One Culture,” he wrote.

“We have a bunch of elitists who are telling us that we must teach our children these different languages.”

After a barrage of similar complaints — many from religious East Texas Tea Partyers suspecting that Mansfield is going to “indoctrinate” children in Islam — district officials announced revised plans Friday.

Beginning in 2012, Cross Timbers Intermediate School in Arlington will teach a choice of either Arabic or Spanish during short lessons that will touch on other foreign languages.

The federal grants started under President George W. Bush, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said America should promote learning foreign languages to spread our message of freedom throughout the world.

Bret Lovejoy, director of the Virginia-based American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said he’s grateful that most parents are glad their schools get the federal money.

“Frankly, it’s patriotic to learn another language,” he said.

“A student who begins to take Arabic in Mansfield might get interested and become a diplomat someday. If we don’t learn other languages, that only cuts us off from the world.”

He also harked back to the English-only lessons after World War I, when German classes were barred and some states completely outlawed teaching another language.

“Looking back, I think anyone would say that was foolish,” he said.

Still is.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Twitter @budkennedy


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Scotland to Cut Foreign Language Assistants

Article from, February 20, 2011:

Survey discovers that more than half of all foreign language assistants in Scottish schools are facing the axe as council budgets are cut


Over half of all foreign language assistants in Scottish state schools are set to be axed following council budget cuts, according to BBC Scotland.

A survey of Scottish councils found at least 55 of the current 106 posts across the country are to go this year, with the biggest reduction in Glasgow, where the council is to cut all 35 of its assistants to save £300,000.

The German consul general to Scotland said the impact of the cuts would be felt in years to come.

Native speakers from 15 different nations, including Austria, Columbia, China and Mexico, are used by Scottish primary and secondary schools, in both the state and private sector, to enhance modern language teaching and develop intercultural awareness.

Falling numbers

In 2009-10, there were 167 assistants in Scottish state schools. In the next academic year, there could be fewer than 50.

Glasgow City Council told the BBC it had been forced to make tough decisions in the current financial climate.

A spokeswoman for the council added: “The language assistants are an enhancement to provision in Glasgow schools.”

Out of 23 councils who responded to BBC Scotland, only five – Edinburgh, Orkney, East Renfrewshire, Angus and Inverclyde – said they planned to maintain or create new posts this coming year.

Disappointing numbers

The British Council Scotland said it was disappointed at the falling numbers. A spokesman said: “In an increasingly international world, foreign language assistants provide a unique opportunity for Scottish students to experience different languages and cultures in the classroom.

“It is obviously disappointing that fewer students will have access to these experiences next year but we recognise the current funding pressures local authorities are under.

“British Council Scotland will continue to work with Scottish schools across a full range of projects to offer as many international learning opportunities as possible.”

Education Secretary Michael Russell said foreign language assistants and visiting teachers from overseas made an important contribution to education.

“I hope local authorities will be mindful of the importance of languages, but I know they are facing tough decisions even though our funding settlement for the coming year maintains the council’s share of overall spending despite the damaging cuts coming from Westminster,” said Russell.




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UC Berkeley Adding Foreign Language Courses

Berkeley is one of the few universities adding foreign language courses for its students.  Hopefully, more universities will follow its example!

Here’s the article from, February 16, 2011:

The University of California-Berkeley announced yesterday that it will be adding more than 30 foreign language courses to its offerings–bucking the trend of many institutions to severely cut such programs in recent months.

Beginning in 2011-12, over $500,000 will go towards supporting an additional eight Chinese courses, six Spanish courses, four Japanese courses, three Korean courses and one additional section each for 10 other languages such as Arabic, German and Tagalog. The funding is being provided primarily from increased fees and tuition, as well as increased non-resident student enrollment.

“We have seen in language after language, students being turned away because we simply didn’t have enough seats for them in these courses,” said Janet Broughton, Berkeley’s dean of arts and humanities, who was quoted by The Daily Californian. “The key is for us to be able to hire additional instructors and open new courses so that we can do a better job of meeting our students’ needs.”

Berkeley’s announcement is particularly remarkable in light of the fact that so many institutions have recently scaled back on their foreign language offerings due to budget considerations. In October, the University of Albany made a controversial decision to completely eliminate their Italian, French and Russian departments. In December, The New York Times reported that foreign language programs have been cut at Louisiana State University, the University of Nevada-Reno, and Winona State University in Minnesota.

“There’s no way on earth we should be cutting these languages,” said John M. Hamilton, executive vice chancellor and provost at Louisiana State University, who was interviewed by the Times. Faced with a $42 million cut in public funding, the institution this year eliminated majors in German and Latin, and basic instruction in Portuguese, Russian, Swahili and Japanese.

“We should be adding languages and urging more students to take them,” Hamilton added. “I’m being asked to prepare students for the global economy, but this is almost like asking them to use the abacus instead of computers.”

Ironically, foreign language cutbacks are taking place even as undergraduate enrollment in such programs is on the rise. A recent report from the Modern Language Association found that foreign language undergraduate enrollments increased 6.6 percent between 2006 and 2009, but officials worried that budget cuts may reverse that trend.

“Opportunities to study languages may be threatened by program cuts,” said Rosemary G. Feal, the MLA’s executive director, in a conference call quoted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. “This is a vulnerable time for language study.”

While Berkeley might appear to be an exception to that vulnerability, students are clearly paying the price for those opportunities: Last year, the university became the first public institution to be charging over $50,000 for tuition, fees, room and board for out-of-state students.



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Slavic and German Languages Merge at UNC

At least these two departments won’t be cut or desolved — only merged.

Article by Amelia Nitz in The Daily Tar Heel (February 14, 2011):

In response to productivity standards issues and a cut of at least $3 million for the College of Arts and Sciences, the Slavic languages and literatures department will merge with the Germanic languages and literatures department.

The two departments are merging to ensure that their undergraduate majors, when combined, will create one major with enough students to warrant its survival by the University’s General Administration, said Bill Andrews, senior associate dean of the College.

“By combining them, we preserve them,” he said. “I don’t want to see the opportunity to study foreign languages eroded to the point where our students don’t have a chance to study these languages.”

The departments have anticipated deep budget cuts for some time, a factor they considered when they decided to merge their programs in November, said Christopher Putney, chairman of the Slavic languages and literatures department.

As one of the smallest units in the College, the department has historically been targeted as a low productivity program, he said.

Low productivity programs produce fewer than 20 undergraduate degree recipients in any two-year period and are usually primary targets for elimination during budget cuts, Putney said.

The merger will ensure that the department won’t continue to be a low productivity program, because the combined major will likely produce more than the required 20 degree recipients every two years.

“We see this as a step that will help protect our program in the future from possible targeting for elimination,” Putney said.

The new merger will not stop students who are already completing their track from obtaining degrees in their departments, he added.

“Our undergraduate majors will continue to be served at least as well with the merged unit as they have been in the past,” Putney said.

Putney said students who had already declared majors and completed 50 percent or more of the coursework toward the major by the end of this semester will receive the pre-merger degree.

The changes will not take place until after July 1. After that date, any student declaring a major in either department will be enrolled in and select a concentration within the merged program.

The concentrations will include Russian language and culture, Slavic and East European languages and cultures, Germanic studies and Germanic literature and culture.

“Both the Slavic and German groups are behind this and understand why it is necessary and why it will allow us to continue to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” said Clayton Koelb, chairman of the Germanic languages and literatures department.

Putney said the Slavic languages and literatures department’s faculty will not be affected by this merger. In an e-mail he sent to his faculty and graduate students in November, Putney said all tenured, tenure-track and fixed-term faculty will continue to teach and conduct research in the areas where they have been working.

Koelb added that his department would not lose faculty members and is actually hiring more.

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A Letter in Support of Foreign Languages

A retired Professor of French wrote the following letter (published in The Guardian, February 13, 2011) in support of reinstating a language requirement for university entrance in the UK. He was responding to an article (see below) by Andrew Hussey, published on February 6 in The Guardian.

Andrew Hussey’s piece “French is too important to be left to middle-class Francophiles” (Comment) articulates very clearly the problems being faced by UK university French departments. He could have made similar claims regarding the teaching of the other “big languages” of Europe, notably German, but an essential point, which he does not make, is that the language choices a community makes are, ultimately, political choices. They are not ideologically neutral. Opting out of European languages implies that, as a group, we do not wish to relate meaningfully to the speakers of these languages and that we do not believe that they have anything to teach us.

While our European neighbours are led to broaden their world views through learning English, we choose to narrow our horizons, in the belief that sourcing all our ideas in a single place will lead to intellectual creativity, economic regeneration and cultural autonomy. The UK universities could transform the situation by reinserting into their minimum entrance requirements the language qualification they abandoned a generation ago. They are alone in Europe in not making such a requirement.

Anthony Lodge, emeritus professor of French language and linguistics,

University of St Andrews


Here is Hussey’s article, “French is too important to be left to middle-class Francophiles”:

Within a few years, the study of French at UK universities, already severely endangered, may well become extinct. The reasons for this are various and complex, including the idea that anyone interesting speaks English anyway. But the fact is that university applications are in an apparently unstoppable downward spiral and French departments are under threat. What is worse is that this depressing situation – depressing at least for those who teach French in universities – has been met by the government and the public with a resounding: “So what?”

To some extent, this is understandable. In a grim economic climate, why should anyone really care about the plight of a discipline which is usually perceived to be posh, elitist and pointless? The cause is not helped by the generally perceived notion that French literature these days, a bit like French cinema, is mainly pretentious tosh – incomprehensible when it is not simply boring. Indeed, the prevailing consensus seems to be a not-too-faint echo of the classic Britpop statement from Jarvis Cocker (who is himself a long-time Paris resident): “You can take your Year in Provence and shove it up your arse!”

Actually, Jarvis is making a serious point and I agree with him. In essence, my view is that the study of French in the UK is far too important to be left to a middle-class, Francophile elite. I say this as someone who has been working as an academic in French studies for more than 20 years and always hated the fantasy version of France and, in particular, the image of snooty tourists sipping pastis in the Dordogne.

My experience of France couldn’t be more different. I come from a working-class background in Liverpool and I first went to Paris in the 1980s to buy records, mainly rai music, Afrobeat, rare stuff you couldn’t get at home. I fell in love immediately with the area of Barbès, the tough immigrant district in the north-east of the city. I also fell in love with writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Emile Zola, who documented the rough edges of Paris.

This first visit was also the starting point of a fascination with the North African culture of Paris. I went back to England, did a first degree, a PhD and eventually became a professor of French. Why is that important? Well, because, at least in the classical sense, I’m not a Francophile at all (in some ways quite the opposite – for one thing, the longer I live in Paris the more I find that Parisians really do live up to their reputation as the most irritating people in the world).

The really interesting part of my job is to interpret the French-speaking world, which is partly in Paris in microcosm, but also much bigger than France. It is this work that, in recent years, has taken me from Bucharest to Algiers to Montreal.

What studying French has really done for me is to provide me with a new mental landscape. French writing, from Voltaire to Sartre to Houellebecq, has a hard, confrontational edge to it, driven by big ideas, which does not exist in the same way in the English-speaking world. This is why French literature has appealed to English writers of a certain “outsider” stripe, from George Orwell to Will Self. This is a political phenomenon as much as anything else. For a working-class intellectual (which was how I rather cockily fancied myself as a student) to speak and understand French is to short-circuit many of the stupidities of class prejudice in the UK.

In the 21st century, it is equally significant that in London, Berlin or Rome, French-speaking members of the Middle Eastern or African diasporas are, as I write, forging a new relation with Europe and “European-ness” through the French language they have made their own. Interestingly, this is all happening outside official French culture.

One of the present generation of UK academics who is leading the charge against “Francophilia” in French studies is Charles Forsdick, who is the current James Barrow professor of French at Liverpool University. In a recent article on the doomed future of French studies, Forsdick acidly remarked that in the past French departments had usually been staffed by French nationals and that their “persistent Francophilia often tended to obstruct the distance of ethnographic objectivity on which modern languages should ideally be based”.

In other words, we cannot rely on the French or their admirers to tell us what French culture is. More to the point, the role of UK French studies is  not to promote France or Frenchness, but to help us understand how (or if) the French-speaking world works.



That said, it still needs to be made fit for purpose in the 21st century. Part of that job is to think of French as a world language and not the preserve of braying Brit holidaymakers. Writing in French, from Morocco to Senegal to Quebec, has much to teach us in Britain about the hyper-complexity of the postcolonial world; for this reason, it should be read by all classes, all races, and not just those who are lucky enough to go to an expensive school.

For the past five years, I’ve been based in Paris as dean of the University of London in Paris (ULIP). Here, we teach students from all backgrounds a degree in French. What is most exciting about this project is the way in which these students discover a new world – politics, art, history, philosophy – via Paris. And that, too, is what French studies in the UK is all about. That is why academics in the French studies community should be self-confident and even combative about their future.

To let French studies go the way of classics – a museum piece for specialists – would not only be an act of cultural vandalism, but also a direct attack on the premise of social mobility in Britain. All young people in the UK have the right to access the world beyond the Anglosphere. For all the reasons stated above, French is one of the best ways into that zone. And that is more than enough reason why – and this is where I really am speaking the same language as Jarvis – we can’t let French studies be hijacked or abolished by those who like France too much.


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