Currently, and I guess for at least the past five to ten years in Japan there is strong, almost desperate, movement for people in Japan to learn English. The lucky (?) ones are taught from a very young age; two, three years old, and once entering primary school it is now a staple of the of the school curriculum.
As a native speaker of English, I am granted certain privileges in this country. If I want work, and am happy to devote my working week to teaching English there are countless options at hand. Turns out I am not incredibly interested: my graphic design work and portfolio, and Japanese learning takes priority. I feel as though if I devote a large part of my week to English teaching, I would lose sight of the end goal, and lose grip of my dreams and aspirations, albeit if only for the remaining nine months I am here. Being an English teacher, and although this is a redundant statement, requires you to speak English, and my goal here in Japan is to learn Japanese.
Please note: Being a native speaker of English does not automatically make you a good teacher of English.
Teaching is a skill in itself, and not only that, the way a native speaker learns a language is vastly different to the way a non-native does. To look at the other side of the coin: when I started learning Japanese every word was taught to us in Romaji (roman characters, i.e. the roman alphabet), and to remember the scripts Hiragana and Katakana we always had pictographs of what each character looks like to help with the sound, and also the form/writing of the character.
Just to put this in perspective: If you showed a paragraph of Japanese written in Romaji to a Japanese person, chances are they couldn’t make sense of it straight away. I remember years ago my host family received a letter from a previous student, written completely in Romaji. They gave it to me to read to them. As for the Hiragana and Katakana pictographs, it blows everyone’s minds when I tell them that is how we are taught.
Japanese are surrounded by Japanese language the moment they enter this world, just as I was instantly surrounded by English. So of course learning style and intake of language differs when it comes to learning a second language. How about this one, for the native speakers of English out there:
I will go to the beach (Yep) I will go beach (Nope)
I will go to the home (Nope) I will go home (Yep)
How many people, native speakers of English, could explain adequately why ‘to the’ follows ‘go’ when the beach is being talked about, but when you’re talking about your home it is simply ‘go’?? Learners of a second language learn differently – not just how it should be written and spoken, but why grammatically; structurally, it is written and spoken this way.
All this talk about English teaching may lead you to believe I feel learning English is a must. I myself am not of the opinion that English should be spoken worldwide. Maybe because I am a language learner, and get great pleasure from speaking, or attempting to at least, other languages of the world. French, Portuguese, Korean… There are so many fascinating and challenging languages in this world, and for me I don’t view any as superior over another.
If you haven’t discovered the joys of language-learning, I encourage you to try! The experience is challenging, involving and also rewarding! Perhaps for your next overseas trip buy a phrase book and try to learn a couple of words. Makes your trip a bit more interesting, and I can guarantee you whoever you are talking to will appreciate the effort.