Clumsy of Mouth


Last week a colleague’s cell phone photo was making the circuit around our conference rooms. A junior high school English teacher had asked the students to choose the correct translation of あなたの発音は変です, which would be something like, “Your pronunciation is strange.” However the choices that appeared were:

  1. You are prone to nosebleeds
  2. You sneeze and have a runny nose
  3. You often have a sore throat
  4. You go hoarse easily
  5. You are clumsy of mouth

The correct (sic) answer is number 5.

While this gave several of us repeated laughs throughout the day, it is indicative of a difficulty in our system.

Japanese public schools  allow many foreigners to teach, but only as “assistant” teachers (with few exceptions). As a result, most of the properly licensed teachers are non-native speakers. While many of them are quite skilled in communication and language education, there is a general separation of duties. When tests are created, edited, and graded input is almost never accepted from the “assistants”.

On this particular test, the native speaker offered his assistance and was declined. Other times foreign teachers point out errors in the lessons and generally get an argument in response. A particularly severe case involved a teacher telling the native speaker that unless they had a teaching degree in English, they had no interest in hearing their explanation.

I imagine that there is a certain amount of tension caused by the ever present knowledge that to improve the education process they should probably higher hire (looks like I need an assistant to proof my rants) native speakers. Next year all of the high school English classes are supposed to be conducted entirely in English, which draws this issue closer to the forefront.

Most of the current assistants were indeed not trained in education nor as language specialists; however, as native speakers they certainly could add something to the editing process of the tests.

Fortunately at elementary schools there doesn’t seem to be many occurrences of this tension.


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2 Responses to “Clumsy of Mouth”

  1. verbivore Says:

    I taught in two different high schools and the approach to integrating my input as a native speaker depended on the school – in one, the three English teachers would ask me to check nearly everything, all tests, all lessons etc. It was a wonderful collaboration and we had a lot of chuckles over similar mistakes in the actual printed textbooks, which they would then correct, even going so far as to point out the issue in discussion with their students. Unfortunately, the other high school kept me quite separate from all testing procedures and so inevitably, I would stumble across this kind of error and just grin and bear it.

  2. びっくり Says:

    I am kind of curious to see the inside of the high school environment, but it is nearly impossible for me. In our area, the Prefectural board of education hires the high school ALTs and they only hire through the JET program. JET only hires people living in foreign countries and under 40, so I’m out of luck.

    I’m glad you had a good experience at the one school.

    Private schools in our area actually hire and license foreigners as teachers with full responsibilities, including running sports clubs. (Or other after school clubs.)

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