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Beyond the Teaching of Standard English
at Japanese Universities
|by Mukesh Williams|
In a world of expanding intellectual possibilities and shrinking natural resources more Japanese students at the university level would be interacting with English speakers from China, Korea and India just as they now do with the Anglo-American world. Renegotiating a difficult world and redrawing its boundaries would require not just rudimentary English skills but a proficiency in language and familiarity with ideas that only innovative and bold courses at university level can address.The teaching of English has always been a difficult and complex undertaking as it is impossible to place it into any one area of pedagogy or philosophical paradigm. Teaching an entry-level class is as important as conducting a thesis-level seminar. Each has its own priorities and recompense, and this must be clearly understood by any teacher of English before developing a syllabi or teaching methodology. With the advancement of new forms of knowledge in the last two decades, the construction of academic disciplines has radically altered. Historicist, structuralist and post-foundationalist ideas have decentered earlier models of critical and linguistic inquiry and introduced new ways of perceiving and learning. Now a teacher requires a wide-ranging knowledge of various modern disciplines to impart the best and most-satisfying instruction to students.
The global proliferation of media and business technologies has also given English a global presence. English is no longer an elitist prerogative of Oxbridge or Cambridge but an important medium of literary, philosophical, judicial and scientific inquiry. In today’s world English belongs to all. As a global lingua franca it is possible to approach English in the classroom through its own unique register and not through a sacrosanct standard. The fallacious dichotomy of native-nonnative instruction and legitimacy is already giving way to a more holistic philosophy of multinational instruction and authenticity. This involves the induction of teachers from non-European backgrounds as well. From this perspective a teacher ought to be seen more as a resource and not a director of linguistic or ideational knowledge. The premise allows a teacher to develop an active-based group willing to learn and not a pressure-based class reluctant to understand. In other words, English must be seen more as a communication tool and less as a cultural standard.
The communicative aspect of English at the university level should be employed to allow students to access scholarly articles in English and yet retain their unique cultural heritage. Students should be taught through the pedagogic and anecdotal mode to argue and write effectively in the English medium. Those pursuing doctoral studies must be given a thorough grounding in research methodologies. Students should be taught ways to comprehend, interpret and negotiate complex corridors of thought, so that they can make their voices be heard. It is possible to modernize university thinking by appropriating the modernizing aspects of the English language, transforming it to suit academic priorities without relinquishing a unique cultural heritage.
Developing a modern English sensibility will raise the standards of university students in Japan and help them to compete effectively on an international level, a belief now endorsed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). If English is to acquire a meaningful role in Japan and rise to the level of an official second language, then the teaching of English must eschew mere linguistic translations, textbook teaching or grammar rules (yakudoku method) and become more socially and intellectually interactive. This would also imply that the general public at large should acquire the ability to conduct basic conversation in English and university students use English in understanding specialized areas of economics, media, technology and the sciences.
At the university level the new pedagogy would imply that students are taught content-based modern disciplines impartially. It also means that they are allowed to research on related topics of interest in libraries and the Internet without significant intervention. Language must be seen as a tool not just for communication but for listening, writing and debating. Therefore issues dealing with global needs and perspectives, such as nation, identity and technologies of living must be incorporated in developing linguistic competence. Our linguistic tradition and works of culture, as Fredric Jameson has argued, cannot be seen as sacrosanct edifices but as forgotten codes or ‘symptoms of a disease’ that we have lost the ability to even diagnose. Students must be empowered to unravel the mysteries of codes and culture in order to understand them better. A word of caution must be added here. Unraveling the mysteries of human knowledge need not be an exercise in debunking all existing knowledge, but an attempt to find new ways of understanding our predicament. Such teaching can judge our present, concretize our future, and in doing so become a hope for this century.
This new process of learning would allow students to become autodidacts who would take responsibility for their learning, find strategies to resolve problems and collaborate with others responsibly. A wider understanding of contemporary issues would allow students to define their learning goals and evaluate those goals by using international standards of excellence, benchmarking their intellectual and linguistic growth. Using complex ideas and concepts, students would then create new intellectual strategies, draw ingenuous connections, and develop models of accessing knowledge. This can help them to become strategic problem-solvers and acquire a genuine love of learning. A self-reflexive and autodidactic approach would help students deal with conflicting ideas with greater empathy and fairness.
In recent decades, “homogenizing cultural forces” such as the entertainment and advertising institutions have further accelerated multicultural English interactions across the world. This has a direct impact on the way academic disciplines are taught now or will be taught in the future. English language techniques and methodologies are also changing and diversifying. Not only TESOL and TOEFL methodologies are altering but the Internet and the web are making the English language more informal and adaptable. The shift from global English to global Englishes has created the need for challenging the limitation of ‘standard English’ and introducing a more acceptable multidimensional English-- Chinese English, Korean English and Indian English. In a world of expanding intellectual possibilities and shrinking natural resources more Japanese students at the university level would be interacting with English speakers from China, Korea and India just as they now do with the Anglo-American world. Renegotiating a difficult world and redrawing its boundaries would require not just rudimentary English skills but a proficiency in language and familiarity with ideas that only innovative and bold courses at university level can address.
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