Factors Inhibiting and Facilitating Japanese Teachers of English in Adopting Communicative Language Teaching Methodologies

Article excerpt

Abstract: This is a partial report on junior and senior high school Japanese teachers of English and changes in their beliefs and practices after attending a 4-month program of language and pedagogical study in Canada. Findings from this case study suggest that this group of Japanese teachers could effectively apply what they had learned abroad if they were not bound by practical constraints, external influences, or if they were teaching specifically communication-oriented classes.

Key words: communicative language teaching, in-service teacher education, constraints

In recent years, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (hereinafter referred to as "the Ministry" or "MEXT") has been sponsoring junior and senior high school teachers of English (hereinafter referred to as "JTEs") to study English language and Communicative Language Teaching (hereinafter referred to as "CLT") pedagogy in English-medium countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Studies (Kurihara & Samimy, 2007; Lamie, 2001; Pacek, 1996) have found that returning JTEs' beliefs and to some extent practices may have changed, yet a number of constraints continue to obstruct their ability to do so. This paper examines the outcomes of such a program in Canada, and delves further into those factors which make it difficult for JTEs to put into practice what they have learned abroad and why, and conversely, which factors enable them to do so successfully and why.

Generally, the introduction of CLT around the world has not been without problems. A study examining the introduction of CLT in South Korea listed a number of countries (Japan among them) which had limited success in doing so and summarizes the reasons why (Li, 1998). These constraints have been categorized by the author using Lamie's (2001) "impact area" framework, developed to highlight them within the Japanese context. Table 1 summarizes the constraints grouped into the following impact areas: personal attributes, practical constraints, external influences, awareness, and training.

Research in Japan has found that, with regards to personal attributes, JTEs tend to avoid using English in class because they lack confidence in their own ability or believe they do not possess the required proficiency to teach in English (Sato, K., 2002; Wada, 2002). Regarding practical constraints, a tradition of grammar translation persists because it is considered useful in preparing students for entrance examinations (Guest, 2000; Sato, K., 2002; Wada, 2002). Teachers are required to use textbooks authorized by the Ministry of Education and in many cases, place a high priority on keeping pace with their colleagues and teaching the same textbook topics at the same time (Sato & Kleinsasser, 2004).

As for external influences, since teachers work as a team, their practices are reinforced by others, especially in the hierarchically-organized Japanese society, where junior teachers are expected to conform to the teacher practices of their seniors, and fear challenging students' attitudes towards examination-oriented English classes (Sato, 2002). In addition, English teachers tend to feel that they do not receive support from colleagues or administrative bodies. With regards to training, Japanese English teachers generally receive little or no information about CLT (Scholefield, 1997) and may not be enthusiastic about workshops due to time constraints or a lack of interest (Sato, K., 2002; Takaki, 2002).

Studies (Browne & Wada, 1998; Lamie, 2001) have revealed that English teachers in Japan feel that they had not been adequately trained for teaching anything beyond Grammar/Translation. Training is often restricted to domestic experiences which sometimes lack adequate English components (Nagasawa, 2004). Most teachers have majored in English literature or linguistics in university, have not been required to take courses in second language acquisition theory, second language teaching methodology and techniques, but many had taken courses in Grammar Translation Methodology. …