Lively discussion in the Japan Times (Krashen vs. Chris Clancy)
My original letter:
Recreational reading will score
Published in the Japan Times, January 19, 2014
Regarding the Dec. 31/Jan. 1 article “English to get 2020 push but teachers not on the same page“: Experts have criticized Japan’s reform plan for English for not including enough hours of English instruction to accomplish its goals. They’ve also noted the lack of resources and staffing.
There is an easy way to help solve both problems and ensure that growth in English will continue after students finish school: Invest in libraries and promote recreational reading.
Study after study shows that self-selected pleasure reading results in profound gains in vocabulary, grammar, spelling and writing style in first and second languages.
Also, reading can be so pleasant that students are often eager to do it on their own. Many of these studies have been done with those acquiring English as a second language in Japan, and they have been published in scholarly journals all over the world.
I hope that the panel of experts about to be created by the education ministry will study the work of some of the prominent scholars in Japan who have done quality research in this area, including Beniko Mason, David Beglar and Atsuko Takase.
Professor Mason has reported that older English acquirers who develop a reading habit in English make impressive gains on the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) even without extra English classes. (One of her subjects was in his 70s!)
Clancey response to my letter
Pleasure reading presents hurdles
Published in the Japan Times, Jan 25, 2014
Having the esteemed professor emeritus Stephen Krashen contribute to the ongoing question of English education in Japan is always pleasurable. However, his letter of Jan. 16, “Recreational reading will score,” raises more questions than it answers.
Just how investing in libraries and promoting recreational reading will solve the problems of inadequate resources and staff, as well as too few hours of instruction to meet the education ministry’s reform goals, is difficult to envision. Though the plan may very well ensure that growth in English will continue after students finish school, it fails to relate to the issue at hand — reforming English study from elementary to high school.
Also curious is the claim that research studies involving self-selected pleasure reading have been conducted among learners acquiring English as a second language here in Japan. This perhaps exemplifies that the good doctor may be off target.
Technically the study of English as a Second Language (ESL) pertains to situations of foreign speakers in an English-speaking environment — Latin Americans in the United States, for example. Contexts such as that in Japan, where English is studied more as an academic discipline than a tool for communication, are usually referred to in terms of English as a Foreign Language (EFL).
As for the issue in question — bolstering English education from elementary to high school — there are tremendous hurdles to be overcome prior to even considering any notion of sustained silent reading, or reading for pleasure. Krashen appears to be out of his league.
My response to Clancy, submitted to the Japan Times, January 25, 2014
Investing in libraries and recreational reading is still a very good idea: Response to Clancy
In my letter of January 16 ("Recreational reading will score"), I suggested that investing in libraries and promoting recreational reading would help English language development in Japan. Chris Clancy objects ("Pleasure reading presents hurdles," January 15).
Clancy says that because of inadquate time and resources, libraries and pleasure reading will only "ensure growth in English … after students finish school." Isn't this our goal?
Concerning the issue of time: Studies by Beniko Mason show that extensive reading is more efficient in terms of language acquired per hour than traditional instruction. Reading is a time saver.
As for resources, it is interesting that we cheerfully spent millions on untested technology that is obsolete as soon as it is assembled, but are unwilling to buy books, which are never obsolete.