Note: This is a series that was started about a year ago, so it really is time to bring it to a close, with installment 10, the final reason. We will follow this up with a quick summary that links to all 10 reasons and their separate entries at the JPNHEO Blog. Then, a bit later, we will conclude the series with an article that integrates all ten reasons into one coherent piece.
Why English learning fails in Japan: Reason #10
Reason #10: The language teaching 'profession' in Japan
At all levels, EFL teachers face a situation where English is treated as just another school and test subject, and yet the effective teaching and learning of a foreign language require something well beyond the standard treatment as a school subject. So it is hard to write this reason without seeming to be harsh on the teachers. However, much of this situation hardly seems to be attributable to the teachers, but rather programs, schools, school boards, universities and the national government.
For teachers at most levels, there is a lack of serious and useful teacher training and professional development. In higher education, there is also the issue of who is designated to teach EFL courses. Most have backgrounds in fields that are supposed to be related to and support TEFL (e.g., literature, linguistics, and teacher training), but the reality is that such academic backgrounds prove limited for serious language teaching or the development of future language teachers.
It also means, at least at the level of higher education, academics are not rewarded for their language teaching but instead for their scholarly achievements in their original specialties (literature, linguistics, and teacher training). Moreover, this creates a double problem at the universities and colleges: university and college personnel are not really serious about creating effective EFL programs and courses for the general student population, but even the training of EFL teachers slights EFL at the expense of concentrating on education, applied linguistics, and theoretical ELT (largely imported from the US, UK and other Anglophone countries). This issue then proliferates because such inadequate teacher training programs send out young teachers to teach in the junior and senior highs.
Meanwhile, at such 'professional' organizations as JALT here in Japan, scholarship and 'research' about EFL learning and teaching abound, but a closer look at much of this discourse reveals the true state of the 'profession'. On the one hand much of it lacks any real depth of understanding of EFL and EFL in Japan and reflects instead imported teaching techniques and materials which are mostly superficial adaptations of ideas that come from Anglophone countries' ESL or British ELT for Europe.