Do You Speak It?

When I first arrived in Japan I think that I definitely arrived with my teacher hat on. I thought that I was going to teach some English, and I came prepared with my finest pedagogical instruments fine tuned for quick educational deployment. One of the active decisions that I made during this time, which has also effected my life greatly here, was to actively not speak Japanese in my schools. This, of course, was made easier by the fact that I spoke no Japanese at all when I arrived, but still, it was a pedagogical choice.

Now, there are lots of ways that this argument can go, but I think that it basically breaks down in two directions. The first is the: "I care about teaching English direction." This is a fine direction, but it is one that anyone with an intention to embark on should understand the monolith of Japanese school bureaucracy that has been designed to impede your progress every step of the way. Basically, you pick and choose your battles and never give up. Some have been successful with this; others have burned out.

The second path is the: "Screw English, I am here to internationalize" way. This is also a fine choice and, lord knows, they tell us about internationalization enough that they can't fault us for going this route. This allows for speaking Japanese at your schools and with your students and caring less about the English progress of your kids. But this does provide less sense of job fufilment than the first option, so you may experience boredom and job fatigue from a much earlier point in your ALT career. It must be said that I have met many people who have fallen into this category, and, as a general rule, these tend to be the people that last longer as ALTs(providing that they find some form of fulfilment outside the classroom). Please, though, don't get me wrong. These people are also proficient at their jobs, but just that they view their role here in Japan as not an English teacher, but as more of a cultural ambassador --to put a large name to it--.

I still think that in terms of students learning more English, an active ALT that goes out and is energetic with students (in English) will come out with students and teachers that speak better English than they would have otherwise (or with an ALT that speaks to them in Japanese). On the other hand, if your main goal when you come here is to learn to speak Japanese as well as possible, then I firmly believe that you do yourself a serious hindrance if you do not speak Japanese in school (and, I think your school life will be better as Japanese teachers tend to think that just because you do not speak Japanese at school that you do not speak Japanese at all).

Which is healthier? Well a combination of both of course. But with regards to speaking only English at school I think that it was best thing to do for my students, but not the best thing to do for me.

Any thoughts?