I like what AJ Hoge from Effortless English has to say about the way that English is taught in Japan, not because the story is a happy one (it's actually very sad) but because it was exactly my experience of almost 20 years ago. You can listen to it here, or read the full story here, but if you don't have so much time then you can find it below in 659 words.
Something is Wrong in Japan
I was an English teacher in Japan. I worked at a junior high school. A Japanese English teacher was the main teacher. I was the assistant, so I watched her teach. I didn’t do much teaching. Sometimes I had to read aloud from a book.
On the first day, we walked into a classroom. The students were excited. They were curious because they didn’t usually see foreign people. They wanted to start learning English.
The teacher said something in Japanese, and all the kids stood up. They bowed to us and we bowed to them. They sat and picked up their pens, and the teacher wrote an English sentence on the board.
The boy gave a pen to the girl.
The students were happy. They were smiling. They wrote the sentence in their notebook. Then the Japanese teacher began talking in Japanese. I can’t speak much Japanese, so it sounded like blah, blah, blah, da, da, da. I sat and watched. I didn’t understand.
The teacher talked, and the students wrote for several minutes. Then, the teacher picked up a blue piece of chalk and circled “the”. She wrote something above it in kanji. The students wrote, and the teacher continued in Japanese: blah, blah, blah, da, da, da, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese. The students were writing and writing and writing. More and more and more.
I sat and listened. I didn’t understand. What was happening? What was she saying? What was she saying about just one word?
After ten minutes, she stopped. She took another piece of chalk and underlined the word “boy”. She said, “Boy desu.” She said, “Boy subject.” And then da, da, da, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese.
Then she drew an arrow from the word “the” pointing to the word “boy”. Then she wrote something in Japanese above the arrow, and then she continued talking more in Japanese. Japanese, Japanese.
The kids filled pages of notes. I just sat there. The teacher took another piece of chalk, and underlined the word “gave”. She drew a little “v” for verb. She said, “Verb desu.” And then she started talking in Japanese again. Da, da, da, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese. On and on and on.
The kids were writing, writing, writing. The teacher circled “the” and “boy” together and drew an arrow to the verb and she kept talking and talking and talking. This went on for the whole class.
The whole class was about one English sentence, and it was mostly in Japanese! It was 99% Japanese and maybe one percent English.
This seems like a funny story. A woman talks in Japanese, and writes in Japanese, for an hour about just one sentence! How can anyone talk for 10 minutes about the word “the”? Why would you need to explain one word for 10 minutes? I don’t know.
It’s funny, but it’s also a tragedy, because every class, every day, was like this. Every class was in Japanese most of the time. The teacher would write a new sentence, and then she would draw circles and arrows and lines, and she’d write in Japanese all over the board. The students would take notes and notes and notes in Japanese about one English sentence.
After several weeks, the kids were not excited any more. They didn’t seem happy. The kids became bored. I saw them lose their natural curiosity to learn. They became more and more confused, frustrated and stressed, especially when the teacher started to give them tests. The tests were about grammar. The students had to remember long lists of vocabulary.
Something was wrong. The children’s love of learning was destroyed. That’s what the school system did to them. That’s what their English class did to them. The teacher was a nice woman. She wasn’t a bad person. She was friendly. She cared about the students, but this was how she was trained to teach in a traditional, normal, Japanese school system.