English and why it’s necessary for you!
Interviewee: 情報学部 情報社会学科Max Praver 先生 (英語科目部委員)
Question (Q): What do senior students learn in the Faculty of Informatics?
Praver sensei (P): They focus on information technology: how it is going to move forward in the world, ethics and morals, as well as concrete basics behind them.
Q: How do you characterize senior students in the department?
P: Regarding the students I’ve experienced up until now, in the last two years, I can say they are all mostly hard-workers. They are pretty strong with math and science. There are all sorts of English levels. I’ve taught incredible students and students with lower levels and others that are in between. But most are really serious.
Q: I am wondering if there are some instructors who ask students to write an abstract or thesis.
P: I had four seminar students last year. One of them actually wrote their thesis in English. These were undergrad theses of course. It was one of my female students who wrote her thesis in English and the other three students wrote theirs in Japanese. I helped her quite a bit and had to do a lot of corrections but it was a really good effort.
Q: What are the minimum English skills they need to acquire in their four years?
P: After four years, the goal is definitely to get the students to be able to (in my ideal world..) not only to read and write, but also know how to write an abstract, if they are going into academia. They should have good enough vocabulary so that they can communicate what their field is about. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. They should be able to have some intelligent conversations about their field of expertise. That’s why I’m here. I want to get them talking and communicating.
I think they especially need presentation skills in their first language, second is doing that in English. Those are different but the same. They need to be able to give presentation such that they are not reading slides. This is a basic presentation skill and is going to be important for 3rd and 4th year students. Really being able to talk about their area, their expertise, and being able to do that as fluently as possible in English. These skills are what 3rd and 4th year students need. And being able to write about it, too. That’s also difficult, you know. At least they should be able to speak about it, so that they can go to a conference that’s held in another country. They don’t need to write so much about it. And at the lowest level, they should at least create some slides where their English is correct. And they can talk about it for 20 minutes plus 5 minutes of Q & A. If we can get the students there, that would be ideal.
Q: To help them develop their English skills, we currently provide a variety of elective courses as well as compulsory ones. But the thing is that many second-year or older students won’t register for elective courses. The number of students who take those courses is quite low. Ideally they would take advantage of these courses. What do you think of the current situation?
P: We first need to explain to them why they are going to need English. Many of them don’t yet understand that today in 2014 or 2015, … In their search for a job, speaking English is no longer enough. They need English and then what else can they do? This is going to be a requirement. They must have English and show their skills in English. To get that information into the heads of the students, it will really good for them to take these extra classes. We can show the merits of those classes. For example, in a discussion class, we can limit it to less than 15 students and they will get a lot of personal attention with native speakers. Find ways to draw them in and this is really going to help improve their conversation. Get into this class and this is really going to help their writing. I think taking elective classes is a really good option.
Q: Without doubt, advanced students can learn by themselves.
P: Exactly. And interestingly, if the majority of the students’ standards get higher and higher, they motivate themselves eventually. That’s an interesting area to look at: why some students enjoy conversation. I asked my students this very thing just the other day. One of the students was giving a presentation on English education in Japan so we got into the topic. The five of them didn’t need to take this class. It’s an elective. They were taking it because they liked English. Looking at their language learning history and what was different for them.
Q: What else can we do outside the class?
P: There is some stuff students can do outside the class. For example, there are vocabulary learning websites. The school needs to buy a license but it’s something they can do on the side for homework. That is not in the class but could be useful.
Q: Actually, every student at Shizuoka University can access online English practices called ALC NetAcademy2, which provides several courses (http://web.hedc.shizuoka.ac.jp). One of them is PowerWords where students can develop their vocabulary on their own while having fun.
P: Extensive reading could also be something students become involved in. At the beginning we have to explain it to them and the set up is a bit difficult. They would need a great reader library, maybe 5000 or more books on each campus. They go on to read their appropriate level and take tests to find out “well, I can read level one, two and three”. After reading the books, students can take online quizzes about the books they have just read. If they get enough correct answers, they get the number of words in the book. If it’s a 2000 word book and you answer a ten question quiz, you get 2000 words. After you have finished five books that are at level 2. You can go to level three. Because level 3 has more words, you can get to your goal faster because you are able to read books that have more words. It’s something you can do on your own, on the bus, on the train, in your house, in between classes. Graded readers are not meant to be difficult. They exist to help improve your fluency. No need for a dictionary…easy-peasy reading!
Q: So, they can increase their exposure time to English.
P: Yes, exactly. And it’s a great way to do it outside the classroom.
Q: Just for enjoyment?
P: Right. Maybe they wont see it as enjoyment at first, but maybe they also get credits for it. They could come to enjoy it!
Q: Lastly, I would like to ask you about our study abroad programs. The university provides opportunities for students to go abroad for study in Nebraska and Alberta, for example. What do you think of the program?
P: I wish every student could go abroad for a semester. If they go, there needs to be support from the university. Students should not be hurt by going or be punished by having to take extra classes when they return…they must be rewarded for going. The system needs to be set up so that students see it as a positive experience and not a hindrance. For example, if you can attain a particular GPA, you can go abroad. You can go to this school or that school. Give you choices. You can stay there for six months. You will come back and you will get your credits.
Q: That would be the strongest motivation to study English. I heard some students got discouraged because they couldn’t even get a single hamburger at a shop in NY. That is also a good experience.
P: I just read an article written by a professor at a nearby university. If he had his way, every student would be required to go abroad not only for English but because they are going to learn something even if it is only cultural, even if it is “wow, different people are out there”. You are going to learn something that you cannot learn here.
Q: According to some famous linguists, every healthy kid is gifted the ability to acquire language with the exposure to the target language. I hope similar things will apply to their second language although there are some environmental differences. The pity is that Japan is literary an island and we have little opportunities to use English in our daily lives. But if we exit the country, we can’t live without English.
P: There is no substitute for sending someone abroad for six months. They are going to learn more there about life than staying in country. Just by being surrounded by English morning, afternoon, and night, you have no choice but to learn.