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  1. #1
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    Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    I have taught English in Japan for nine years using different textbooks changing my approach occasionally. Currently the textbooks use an eclectic approach - traditional grammar, communicative language teaching, task-based learning etc. Something is not working with English teaching in Japan - witness the ranking of Japan proficiency on the TOEIC scale almost at the bottom of the list of countries. There appears to be no framework on which to hang English. Could the functional grammar approach via Derewianka/Halliday/Systemic Functional Linguistics be successful? I am struggling to introduce some of these elements into my classes at a basic level. Anybody have any comments.
    John Curran

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    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack in Tokyo View Post
    I have taught English in Japan for nine years using different textbooks changing my approach occasionally. Currently the textbooks use an eclectic approach - traditional grammar, communicative language teaching, task-based learning etc. Something is not working with English teaching in Japan - witness the ranking of Japan proficiency on the TOEIC scale almost at the bottom of the list of countries. There appears to be no framework on which to hang English. Could the functional grammar approach via Derewianka/Halliday/Systemic Functional Linguistics be successful? I am struggling to introduce some of these elements into my classes at a basic level. Anybody have any comments.
    John Curran

    Hi John,

    I'm afraid that you're fighting an uphill battle. Japanese students have so many bad habits, so deeply ingrained that it is virtually impossible to rectify these short of moving them out of the country.

    Some problems:

    1) Too many Japanese believe that knowing about English is tantamount to functioning in English.

    2) All Japanese students have been taught a large number of falsehoods about English. These stick like s**t to a blanket.

    3) Too many Japanese think that they can translate from J to E and people should understand. Some, many??, even think that they can use Japanese word order. This is the product of the terrible grammar translation method used in Japan.

    There are other problems but this is a start. So what's a teacher to do.

    First, you have to explain to students, this is best done in their own language, that a great deal of the "knowledge" they have on English is not quite accurate.

    They have to begin to actually think that the object of their study is to function in the English language. [This is 4)]

    I could go on and on but I'll stop here for now. Ganbatte kudasai!

  3. #3
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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    Thank you Riverkid for your thoughtful reply.

    I agree with everything you write and obviously you have a wealth of experience in teaching - but do you have any comments on the functional grammar approach?
    I am only an enthusiastic amateur teacher but I am trying my best - actually I was in agricultural science prior to coming to Japan. I think the problem with the current textbooks is that they were written by scholars coming from the traditional Latin paradigm. This doesn`t seem to work with Japanese students. I was fortunate to learn Russian by this method when doing National Service in the Royal Air Force many many years ago - it seemed to work with Russian because Russian is such an inflected language.
    Have you had any experience with functional grammar as I wrote in my first message? It seems an interesting approach but nobody seems to have tried it except in Australian schools.
    You wrote that you could go on and on. Please do.

    Shitsurei shimasu

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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    Riverkid I would like to continue if you don't mind.

    I am writing the following to to draw you out on your background!
    My entry into teaching English in Japan came about ten years ago when I took the RSA CELTA in Melbourne, Australia. This was carried out by clever experienced TEFL teachers following a method based mainly on traditional grammar and emphasising the four skills. I think two percent of the class had any idea of traditional grammar! After six months teaching at probably the best of the big schools in Fujisawa I took up teaching my own private classes,exclusively adults. I found that I quickly had to modify the four skills RSA approach if I wanted to retain a sizeable number of students in my classes.
    I thoroughly enjoy this work and I wish I had started it many years ago instead of weeds,seeds and cattle in Papua New Guinea.
    I don't know if you are American but four years ago I discovered the superb book "Understanding English Grammar" by Kolln & Funk. This is probably the bible of American English teachers - although apparently the FORMAL teaching of grammar is shunned by many teachers there as in other countries.
    Kolln & Funk emphasize a linguistic grammar -a functional approach and introduce it in parallel with traditional grammar. Riverkid - are you still there?

    This functional approach to English grammar has recently been reinforced by my starting a M.Ed (TESOL) - (five units out of a total of eight almost finished) and discovering functional grammar in the Halliday perspective.I have scoured the internet forums trying to find other people who are interested but you are one of the very few to respond - many thanks.
    I am of advanced years and as you can see uninhibited in my seeking of views - time is running out.

    I would be extremely interested to hear from what perspective you have come in your teaching.
    John Curran

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    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    I taught ESL for 17 years, John. All of that time was spent in Japan. I taught students from 6 to 60, university students and research scientists.

    I'm not completely sure just what this particular functional approach entails. I know that "functional" is the only way to teach languages. It's done all the time with every child in every language in the world and children seem to do alright. It's only adults and adults who "teach" that produce non-functional/non-functioning students.

    Could you expand on the approach of that American grammar book, please?

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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    Riverkid,
    Your career sounds familiar although when I started out with my first big language school I had kids of 3,who couldn't even speak Japanese. Their ambitious parents wanted them to have a good start in life! Currently I have a student of 83. And I have one evening a week at a famous Japanese company where my students are R & D types.

    The American grammar book (well worth getting) - adjectivals, adverbials, noun phrases, verb groups. On a slightly different perspective - the form and structure classes.

    Now expand on your 17 year career and what worked with the Japanese students.

    Looking forward to your reply.

    John Curran

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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    I teach adults in India. Though they learn formal grammar in schools, while speaking, they translate from their mother-tongues which sends syntax for a real toss. If you give them a written test they would probably do very well in it, but spoken English is another matter ..and it's KILLING me

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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    Sounds fascinating - teaching in India. Tell me more. How many adults do you have in a class? Do you use the TEFL textbooks such as "Headway","Streamline" etc.?

    John Curran

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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    yes it's a strange mixiture of many feelings Curran! As you said indeed it's fascinating-teaching in India provided when one gets desired results. when one does not get the desired results it's a completely different feeling one gets. I have teaching Enlgish in one of the tough regions of India. What I feel is that the linguists and the grammarians are not doing enough to make the English easy. Imagine teaching the students who have learned the English alphabet in tenth year and going on to answering after just six years, on George Orwell or AG Gardiner. You and Riverkid seem to work in an ideal conditions in terms of class room ambience. Where as here we have work in compromising conditions. Want more about such things? Please let me know.

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    Re: Teaching functional grammar in Japan

    Hi,
    I'm John teaching English in India. My fascination for English is critical by nature. Why it is said that it takes almost eight years for native child to learn English. English grammarians and linguists are not doing enough to make it easy. It might be fascinating to teach English in big cities in India, but it's not easy to make any headway in getting the positive results in the rural places like where I teach.

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