I asked Prof. Shinichiro Torikai of Rikkyo University, Japan. We met last Friday and sat down together. An impromptu interview ensued and this question popped out. Just like that.
He replied:”Even today I love English because learning a language is like a romance. It is very romantic.” Though I am not clear as to why he said so, he continued. “I can meet more people and I can talk to them. They can talk to me. I can make many friends. For example, though I cannot speak Indonesian, I can speak English here and still make friends here, right?” He stated one of the best examples of being able to speak English. He just cannot stop learning and teaching English.
He only spent five days in Indonesia, which was barely enough to explore Jakarta, not to mention Indonesia! At his advanced age, I supposed he has visited Indonesia once or several times before. But he said this was the very first experience.
I’ve been always seeing Japanese folks as a very adventurous tribe. They travel a lot regardless of their age. They are keen and shrewd and meticulous and industrious as humans can possibly be.
On this trip to Indonesia, he was with his college-age son. Then I had a hunch he was married later in his life, which was quite normal and accepted in Japan. His son is enjoying the country and wants to go to college here (while some of Indonesians are eager to go to Japanese colleges and universities).
When I touched on several places to visit in the Indonesian archipelago, he mentioned about Bali. “It’s quite famous in Japan. A beautiful island with an indegenous people living on it. They have their original culture and language.
As an English learner and sometimes teacher, I too got curious about what he was trying to share with people in Indonesia. The scholar teaching at the 97-year-old private university in the downtown Tokyo said he shared his experience as an academician in regards with Teaching English as Second and Foreign Language in Japan, a country very well known for its strong and deeply rooted cultural identity. So strong the people find it hard to even absorb the most prevalent global phenomenon: English as the world’s lingua franca. As we all may know, Japanese people are not that into English learning. They simply think they won’t bother learning the so-called global language because Japanese alone would suffice in communication.
On one hand, this strong cultural identity is desired because it is so much easier for a nation to stay together. No wonder, Japanese people are relatively homogenous in comparison with Indonesia which consists of hundreds of distinct tribes scattered throughout the archipelago.
When I came to his lecture, Prof. Shinichiro was highlighting the difficulty of learning how to write Latin alphabets. Making shapes of letter as simple as B and D in small and upper case can be troublesome for Japanese learners as their first language does not reqire writing this type of alphabet. Indonesians like me do have an advantage that we speak and write Indonesian that adopts Latin alphabets. This fact allows us to transition more smoothly and efficiently to English communication mode. Several other challenges still remain but they are not as large as what Japanese learners have to deal with. Even Prof. Shinichiro praised Indonesian students’ English proficiency. “It (read: English teaching) is very successful. The students are very active and outgoing,” he commented.
So this is what encourages the professor to devise any possible ways to solve this issue. They have to be creative to teach the lessons without even frustrating students. In the 21st century, problems of English learning in Japan is becoming more complex than ever before. It’s not enough for students to master main skills such as writing, reading, speaking, and listening but they also now have to have a grasp of communicative skills, he argued.
“There has been now more emphasis on communication, not only reading, writing, etc. We used to teach reading a lot but now we teach more skills like speaking, presentation skills, listening. We try to foster these multiple skills so they can communicate better.” All this is aimed at opening more doors of opportunity for students to the world so they can have more options of career even outside their home country. This is what he refers to as English Education Reforms. (*/)