EnglishCentral gains momentum in Japan as speaking becomes a key component of the Japanese University Entrance Exam.
In January of 2017, like every year in Japan, over 570,000 students assemble to take Japan’s national University Entrance Examination. This year, on January 15, the day before the test, EnglishCentral was featured in an article on the front page of Japan’s 4th largest national newspaper, Sankei Shinbun, as an innovative solution to helping high school students prepare for the English part of the University Entrance Examination.
The backdrop for the article was the upcoming changes in the guidelines published by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for university entrance exams starting in in 2020.
One key part of the changes is the prioritization of speaking skills in the test. Many high schools are therefore actively looking to boost students speaking ability in anticipation of these changes.
One such school is Meisei Junior High in Osaka, which introduced EnglishCentral in April 2016, as a key part of the curriculum inorder to improve students’ speaking ability.
The Meisei Junior High uses a textbook from the government approved publisher, “Sansdeido”. Beginning in April 2016, it has supplemented that book with speaking practice on EnglishCentral for all students in the second grade. EnglishCentral has adapted the traditional government textbook into an interactive video- based course, allowing for vocabulary study and speech feedback using the same scripts and vocabulary as used in the official textbooks used in the English classroom. EnglishCentral has created interactive video courses from traditional textbook content for dozens of publishers, including Seibido, Sanseido, Kirihara, Cambridge and others.
We interviewed the teacher, Tomoya Tsukahara, who was behind the decision to introduce EnglishCentral into the classroom. Here is an excerpt.
Why did you decide to introduce EnglishCentral into your class?
To prepare for the changes in the university entrance exam, we wanted an enhancement to to the textbook content we were using and which also gave students a chance to practice speaking. I think it is possible that the new test coming in 2020 will use speech recognition to handle some aspects of the grading. Therefore, I thought it important to give students a chance to practice speaking with speaking recognition feedback in addition to talking with actual people.
How are you specifically using EnglishCentral in your English class?
I like to divide activities between those that are best covered in class and those best assigned as homework. For example, it is impossible to ask all students to read aloud, one by one, given the limited time in class. So, practicing reading out loud is a perfectly suited activity for students to work on at home with EnglishCentral.
For almost all my students, smartphones are still a kind of gaming device, but with EnglishCentral I hope they also come to view it as a useful tool for learning.
How often do students use EnglishCentral and what is their parents’ reaction?
As this is the first year, we haven’t made the use of EnglishCentral mandatory for students. Despite this, we have a good group of students actively using it for their self-learning. As for parents, most of them are happy to see these kinds of solutions given the long road to the university entrance exam in 2020. Interestingly, I also have cases where parents are eagerly using EnglishCentral more than than their child.
How do you plan to teach English speaking next year?
I personally would like to see students continue to use EnglishCentral in their third grade. As each teacher has flexibility to set the material for their own grade, my goal is to introduce EnglishCentral to other teachers this year.
About Meisei Gakuen
Osaka Meisei Gakuen was founded by teacher Wolff, a Monk from the Virgin Mary Society in France, as Christian school of the Roman Catholic order, on November 1, 1898. From its beginning, Meisei Gakuen has been known for its strengths in foreign languages and has produced many famous graduates in the Kansai business community. Since its relaunch as a combined junior and senior high school in 1947, Meisei Gakuen has had many successes, including winning the 45th national high school baseball championship. Although 100 years have passed since its founding, Meisei Gakuen nevertheless continues to introduce the latest learning methods, with a sensitivity to its Catholic tradition.