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Learn Your Big Numbers Kids

March 4, 2009 4 comments

Recently I’ve been amazed at the kinds of numbers I’ve had to digest. When I teach, I usually talk about news and such things to get warmed up, and as many of us know the headlines are dominated by this global recession. One thing I’ve found I have to review with my students are large numbers.

In Japan large numbers are a way of life, but Japanese people have real trouble figuring out large numbers in English (not to criticize because large numbers in Japanese are my nemesis). When translated into yen they become even larger. So, I have to explain large numbers; and I’m not talking about just millions. Those are digits of the past. These days I’m talking about billions and trillions. I sware I saw a figure like “1.5 quadrillion” in some newspaper. What is that? Help me out!

With the release of President Obama’s first budgetary figures for the United States it seems we should just get used to talking in billions and trillions. No longer is the norm to strive to become a millionaire. Old standards friends. Now we have to adjust everything to billions. How many billionaires are there within the borders of your nation? That’s where we are starting. Becoming a trillionaire will be the new exclusive club for all to reach for. Scary!

Just FYI, billions = 9 zeroes (1,000,000,000); and trillions = 12 zeroes (1,000,000,000,000); and I speculate quadrillions = 15 zeroes (1,000,000,000,000,000). I’ll vouch for only the U.S. system since I am a U.S. American. I’m sure there are different ways of counting…Isn’t it always that way.

Welcome to the new reality.

Peace

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“Inefficient Language Education”

July 6, 2008 2 comments

This is the title the Japan Times Online editors gave to the response article I wrote about Japanese language education. You can check out my response and the original article by going to the Japan Times Readers In Council site (click this link to do that).

The title is perfect because the truth of the matter is Japanese language education is inefficient, if promoting overall speech and intercultural communication is the goal. If promoting high grades on entry exams is the goal then the system is working right now, sort of. We need to bridge this gap between Japanese language teachers and foreign educators so as to break down the divide in Japan’s language education system. My response offers possible solutions. Check it out.

Peace

They Got Him!!!

Better late than never. The Osaka police folk nabbed the former President and CEO of now defunct NOVA Corporation, Nozomu Sahashi. See “Former Nova chief arrested” for all the details.

All I will say is this guy is a crook, and wouldn’t know how to properly manage a sandwich in to a paper bag. I sincerely hope they throw the book at him. I don’t wish him any ill will, I just want him to rot in jail for the rest of his life. That’s how much he owes, fiscally and emotionally. But now the final decisions are up to the Osaka justice system. The Japanese justice system usually has a 99% conviction rate. I hope this guy isn’t in that 1% who get-off.

The Daily Yomuiri Online also has a good write-up if you care to read from more than one source. I pray for his soul. Peace

Opening Akita City To The World

June 11, 2008 2 comments

I’m not one to preach (well maybe a little), but some things I’ve noticed this week have really set me off in certain directions. One of the major directions I’m traveling in is spreading the English language.

I’m not an English imperialist, but I am an English teacher who sees the value of a language that everyone can use to communicate. I’ve always said that the World needs a language that everyone can speak. I don’t care if it is Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Japanese, Chinese, whatever. Just as long as it is a language that is real, with history, dynamism, and all the things that make a language worth learning. I guess I’m lucky that English seems to be the language that people want to speak. Trust me when I say, I count my blessings. All that said, of course I don’t mean that one language should replace another. I think some people believe that is what learning English means. Not true! I’ve traveled quite a bit and I can safely say that those people who can speak English fluently are the ones who, more often than not, know more about their own history, culture, and language than those who only speak the native tongue. That is one of the many beauties about learning a second language. You become so much closer to your own, and the culture it supports.

It’s interesting though what happens when we approach people about learning English. Quite often people freak out, look shocked and dumbfounded, and often jabber (in English) in self-deprecating commentary that proves they can actually speak English and are capable of taking our classes. Sometimes though I take a step back and wonder if they really are nervous about learning a new language, or are they nervous about being opened to a totally different world? Quite often, in Japanese society, these kinds of educational pursuits are seen as explorations into futility. So the pressure is there not to do things out of the ordinary. And Japan as a whole has not fully grasped the importance of globalization, and language education (English or otherwise). Still I push and try to reach people because in the end people want to use the knowledge they’ve gained throughout their lives. And, I truly believe that everyone has something to say, and they want/need ways to express themselves. It’s my job to give them the tools to complete their life projects, so they can fulfill their hopes and dreams.

With the inspiration and drive from my Japanese wife we’ve been able to set up a small business (Back To The School) that brings English language education to the masses of Akita City, Japan. We want to expand things into a business that also focuses on opportunities in continuing education. Through all this we want to open the World to Akita City, and create a community that reaches its full potential.

Berlitzers Feeling A Little Bellicose

And I thought it was just NOVA/GCommunications who gave their teachers a raw deal. I guess not. According to John Spiri’s Zeit Gist article in the Japan Times of Tuesday, May 6th, 2008, teachers at the eikawa school of Berlitz are striking and fighting mad. You can see the full article by clicking on the title – “As parent firm posts record profits, Berlitz teachers strike back.”

A little FYI stuff – Berlitz is run by Benesse Corporation. Berlitz International, Inc. still has its name attached to schools all over the world, but know that the backing behind the behemoth is a Japanese. Another little sidenote – I sent a comment to the Japan Times about this article. See the full text below:

This is in response to the article, “As parent firm posts record profits, Berlitz teachers strike back” by John Spiri. The article outlines what is the trend with eikawas around the country. This has to end. I was a NOVA teacher for 5 years before its collapse. I now work independently as well as at a local university. I can safely say that the fall of NOVA was the best thing for me. I work less and get paid more, and my work is far more fulfilling in that I have time to prepare for classes. I have time to really interact with the students and gauge their performances in a much more pedagogically useful way. I can give hardcore criticism without fear of “losing revenue.” This security makes teaching more worthwhile.

Another perspective that I’ve gained as a result of working in the eikawa industry, and that arose from the fall of NOVA is the essential need for eikawas in the overall English language learning industry. University level students are amazing in an academic setting, but what I have realized is they lack basic conversation skills. They haven’t been taught how to have a simple conversation. This doesn’t just affect the university students I teach, but also my private students. Adults who have been studying English for quite a while still seem to lack the confidence and ability to transform their book English into conversational English. Eikawas can help in this regard.

All that said, teachers need to be treated better. There is real work to be done, and eikawa teachers should be paid accordingly. When companies are making money there is no excuse for not treating the employees better. By better I mean adequate bonuses for hard work, incentives for doing better, programs that will increase teaching skills, etc. Properly investing in the employee base can only help business. A happy employee is a good employee, and a happy and good employee will always be good for business. I think these eikawa companies forget this. Instead they try to cut corners by not telling teachers they have to pay social insurance, etc. They try to cut on-the-book hours so they can bypass the insurance liability; all the while teachers are really working long hours.

If the government isn’t going to forcefully regulate the industry, then who is? If left up to the eikawas nothing would happen and standards would never get better. More power to the unions on this regard.

Peace

In the NOVA Wake

November 12, 2007 Leave a comment

NOVA Usagi On High, of Crashing From the High?

So NOVA is about to be liquidated, and for many who live outside of Japan you might be asking yourself, “What is NOVA?” Well, it was the largest English conversation school in Japan, and recently due to, in my personal opinion, poor management and lack of proactiveness from the top management core is ruined. It has made a deal with a company called G Communication, which runs a subsidiary company called G Education, to hand over control of the remaining NOVA branch schools. NOVA had over 600 branch schools around Japan, but now G Education will decide whether to open these branches or…? The key thing is that what people knew of NOVA is over, and a new system will eventually be in place. Whether this will help the corporate culture is anyone’s guess.

A few major points to make – 1) Students seem to have been left out to dry as they aren’t really getting fully compensated for lost investments (G Education seems to have skirted around that issue); 2) There is no guarantee that all branches will open as the new management has indicated that it plans to reopen up to 200, and I gather that was if the company sees it necessary/worthwhile; 3) the teachers have been thrown into serious limbo with issues ranging to getting rehired, receiving back salary, and even validity of VISA status, not to mention a slew of other things (where to live among them); 4) and probably the most disturbing point – the lack of government oversight/intervention in such an issue. The Japan government seems paralyzed by this situation. It makes me think, “What if the government officials are protecting his/her own interests?” Japanese government officials wouldn’t be the first to act crookedly and unjust. I for one was hoping for better.

To get a more indepth view of this story check out – LetsJapan.org and JapanEconomyNews.com. LetsJapan.org is more of a blog with a lot of personal rants, still it has good information and English translations of major news stories. JapanEconomyNews.com is the more technical of the two sites and gives great insight from a business point of view. The commentary is really good as well.

Peace My Friends