Wednesday, April 8, 2015

March 2015 Meeting

DQEE had a meeting in March 2015 to discuss the three DQEE foundation reasons. Despite provocative topics we had, the participants talked in calm manners. If there were instances of excited conversations they were taken well by the attendees. The attendees were currently engaged in the versatile teaching contexts of children, young people, or adults. Both native and non-native speakers of English attended the meeting.

The talks continued for three hours, which were not enough to depict the whole picture of the English education world in Japan, but honest confessions clarified some issues.

Discrimination against non-native speakers of English exists in the English education world of Japan. However, personal experiences differ from one teacher to another. The most neutral one came from a teacher who had this account.

“Some years ago, I applied for a position of a teacher for children’s English education. I knew there was a demand for a teacher who was a native speaker of English, but I sent my CV anyway, which clearly indicated my status of a non-native speaker of English. The school interviewed me with the presence of some parents. Their decision was to hire me with the same conditions they gave to the previous teacher, who was a native speaker of English. So, I have a neutral position on the issue of discrimination against us.”

A big contrast to this experience is the story of another teacher who is also a non-native speaker of English. He had this account.
“I have applied to many conversation schools and universities and I was sometimes invited to job interviews. In all interviews, I had the impression that I was more experienced than my interviewers were. If English comprehension was of the concern, I spoke better English than my interviewers did if they were Japanese nationals. (There was friendly advice from a friend of mine to avoid showing any confidence during an interview for such an act would intimidate interviews. I sometimes forget it.) The reasons for my failures in job interviews are never clear. Since replies, if there are any, often blame on the tough screening process, I have no choice but to speculate on unspoken decisions. I suspect some of the interviewers are afraid of me because I am good. Some of them may not like my age. If they did not like my nationality, they would never say things like, ‘We will not hire you because you are Japanese.’ There is, however, one exception to this convention and a school sent me a reply to my application that says, ‘We do not hire Japanese people.’ In another instance, a Human Resources representative of a company sent me an email that said, “Are you kidding me? Did you really think we would hire a man of your age?”

Another teacher reported on a case where students refused to learn English with a teacher from a Caribbean nation. While the mother tongue of the teacher is English, the refusal is based on racial discrimination. Thio (1985) makes a clear distinction between prejudice and discrimination: prejudice is a feeling and discrimination is an act. According to this definition, disliking the Caribbean teacher is an act of prejudice and refusal to learn with the teacher is an act of discrimination.

The next story is powerful, but how truthful the protagonist was is not known. Not many years ago, a non-Japanese person was spotted near a train station in Tokyo while he was talking practically to all passersby. He was saying, “Do you speak English?” and nobody was responding. A teacher of English saw him and asked him what was wrong. Much relieved by the attention, the desperate man told him his story. He was an English teacher from Asia and had lost all his teaching contracts and wanted money for lunch. The teacher who offered help asked him if he wanted the telephone number of his employer instead of lunch money. The Asian man did not want the telephone number but wanted money.

If teachers, who are a non-native speaker of English, receive questionable treatments for a job interview the reasons can be their non-native speaker status or age (with the assumption that the teacher is a good teacher). However, individual experiences differ from one teacher to another. Some teachers are clearly discriminated against and some teachers are less so.

At one point during the meeting, a friendly caution was made by a teacher against the association title of Drive for Quality Education of English that it might alarm some people. He, in fact, often thinks about the danger of being a conscientious teacher. He believes some teachers will win popularity from students by not challenging them. With the same token, some teachers will win a support from local authorities by not questioning unnatural English expressions that are sometimes advocated in the traditional pedagogy of English. He is a native speaker of English, who had this account.

“Local governments hire us and send us to schools to teach English. But I sometimes wonder how effective we are because the government officials    seem to form pedagogical guidelines without reflecting on the voices of native speakers of English. It is as if we are used as a fun addition to the traditional pedagogy that is already decided. It is like we are expected to be popular teachers by accepting errors, if there are any, and not challenging students or school authorities.”

DQEE concludes that the English education of Japan faces some serious issues. The most serious is discrimination against non-native speakers of English. Though personal experiences in this regard differ from one teacher to another, it does not deny the fact that teachers of English who are non-native speakers of English face discriminatory treatments. 

DQEE suspects that the world of English education in Japan does not incorporate the voices of native speakers of English well. If there are any reasons for native speakers of English to take part in the country’s English education, their roles are arguably given to creating a fun learning environment. If so, the reason for it is another issue to pursue.


Thio, A. (1986). Sociology: an introduction. New York: Harper & Row, Publications.

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