I was in junior high school when I had an English lesson from a native English teacher for the first time, and it was the first time that I spoke in English. English was (and still is) my favorite subject, so I was very excited talking with my English teacher during the break, even if though I couldn’t speak English properly. What I understood from what she told me was that she studied Japanese in her home country and missed her boyfriend who was living in Australia a lot. (I guess she told me more, but I can´t remember, sorry) She came to my school through the JET Programme.
The JET Programme is now a very well known international exchange programme sponsored by Japanese government to increase mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations. The aim of the programme is to promote internationalization in local communities by helping to improve foreign language skills.
As a result of the programme, I had many opportunities to meet people from other countries who had come to Japan to teach English. There are also other ways to teach English in Japan, as English teacher in a private English school for example, but the JET Programme is not a language school business that makes a profit from teaching English.
The program itself is a good way for students to get know other cultures and also to improve their English skills. Based on my own experience, however, I feel that the English communication lessons which I took didn’t improve my English skills so much as the lesson took place just once a week. These days in Japan, though, people are thinking that things are getting a bit better since the Japanese government started to assign native English speakers as assistant teachers in public schools.
Since the 1980’s the theme of “English education in elementary schools” has been discussed. Due to a lack of communicative training, there have been serious problems with the teaching of English in Japanese schools.
Now the English education system in Japan is changing. The change, that children must have one English lesson a week, is intended for children in the 5th and 6th grade. The problem, however, is that not all home grown teachers are able to teach their pupils English. You would probably assume that teachers coming through the JET Programme are suitable for this, but actually they are not teachers (mostly they haven’t fulfilled the criteria to be a teacher in Japan), so they can only work as an assistant language teacher there. In addition, they are working as contract employees, even though they can extend their contract up to 5 years. As a result of this, it is thought that Japanese people who can speak English and have experience in teaching English with children can support the system, hence why there are many offers for English teacher training courses.
I think changing the Japanese English-education system in this way is one effective solution to improving children’s English skills in public schools.