Jul 062007

In a company where both Japanese and English-speaking staff work closely together on large and complex software projects, miscommunications are sure to arise. To help battle this problem, my employer provides bi-weekly English lessons right here in the office (erm, but no language lessons for the Westerners πŸ˜₯ ). This often inspires the more adventurous employees to attempt communications in both their native and non-native tongues, while the slightly less confident will instead use auto-translation software to add a bit of clarity to their feature requests and bug reports. Perhaps they don’t realize that the translations are anything but useful. But that’s okay. Because time after time, for the foreigners it means hilarity!

Without revealing anything about the project we’re currently working on, here are some carefully selected excerpts from Mantis, our bug-tracking system. Each is the full text of a single bug report, not taken out of context in any way. See if you can figure out the original Japanese meanings!

Please give the input between the number of frames to me without the acceptance when the problem begins. The purpose is to prevent the malfunction.
Prevention of malfunction – always an important bug fix.

A blue line comes out.
Then, the seam on the road shifts.
Please mend.

How zen.

The number of passage appearance must increase at time.
There is a feeling in which the current state develops from first to last by the same rhythm.
I want the situation that passes over the center according to timing to which two or more models are intimate.

I also want the situation in which two or more models are intimate.

Please add the production when it lands on the edge of the car.
The operation that returns to the stand-by state after the cat is in a hurry is done.
At that time, cat’s position is shifted to central inclined to of the player (orig: car) somewhat.

I liking of cats, except car riding of them sometimes make appearance vomit.

Please do not allow the enemy (orig: car) that the user cannot evade to appear.
The following reports existed from Nintendo.
It enters the state in which the refuge doesn’t exist in two path (orig: lane) part and it has knocked against.

This one actually starts out pretty well: Nintendo has requested that I prevent ‘inescapable situations’ from arising.
But then, as usual, all hell breaks loose.

Please achieve the operation improvement of the line drawing on the map.
There is feeling caught in the corner.

Feelings in the Corner. Sounds like a bad Kenny G song if you ask me.

Please drink and make the tunnel even of Toki translucent when you display the result.
There was no mention of drinking or “Toki” anywhere in the original Japanese text. Hmmmm.

The speed is reset and correct it, please though it steps on the brake when corn is dropped.
Again, no mention of corn in the original Japanese. Perhaps the software was simply reasoning “Well, if I dropped my corn, I’d certainly want to step on the brake.”

It comes to the center as the same object comes out from both sides according to the same timing.
Whether goodness when which is pushed is not understood, and toward at putting out two objects or more to the screen same direction.

All your base are belong to us!

It is not easy to understand because the display doesn’t change at all when continuously making a mistake and correct it, please. The slide is done from the under at the center of the lower side of the above screen and it is made to display. An old display is deleted when continuously making a mistake.
It certainly isn’t easy to understand because THIS TRANSLATION SOFTWARE SUCKS πŸ˜†

What’s really amusing unfortunate about all this is that Japan actually requires every citizen to study English through High School, yet the percentage of people who can form a coherent thought in the language has got to be somewhere in the low single-digits. And in many cases it’s not due to a lack of motivation, either: average people spend millions of dollars a year on θ‹±δΌšθ©± (English conversation schools), and I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve received on Mixi saying something to the effect of “Hi! Nice to meet you! (*^-^)/ You Japanese very good! Will you teach me English? (^_^;)”

…Despite specifically stating in my introduction that “I’m an American living in Kyoto, but I’m not a student or an English teacher.” This is an extremely difficult concept for some to grasp (99% of foreigners in Japan are either tourists, exchange students, or English teachers).

But if it’s not (entirely) a motivational issue, could it be that the system of foreign language education over here is in need of some drastic reform? Let’s see if I can conceive of any possible weak points…

  • Reading cookie-cutter phrases out of a textbook doesn’t even begin to prepare you for the variety of situations that may arise in real life?
  • Using textbooks that transcribe their examples into the Japanese writing system encourages bad pronunciation and a tendency to avoid using the Roman Alphabet?
  • Forcing everyone to follow an identical curriculum doesn’t account for individual strengths and weaknesses?
  • Japan-born instructors shouldn’t be hired to teach English conversation unless their pronunciation is actually comprehensible by native speakers?
  • Foreign instructors shouldn’t be considered competent educators based solely on the criteria of having a college degree in anything?

…Nah, everything looks good! Full steam ahead! :roll:

*Note: This is not meant in any way as a jab at my many friends who are English teachers in Japan. I think you’ll all agree in one way or another how ineffective and naiive some of this country’s schools’ policies are towards language education.

  6 Responses to “Let’s Learning English!”

  1. Mwahahaha fun happy times

  2. Nice post, especially on the weaknesses in the English education system in Japan. As an educator in Japan, I often look back to my school days. I studied German for 3 years and French for 6 years (a little less than the Japanese study English here). The thing is, I am sure the avergae level of French after 6 years is much higher in England than the average level of English in Japanese schools at the high school level. I just don’t buy it that the character system causes that many problems.

    I definitely agree that people should not be considered educators if they have a college degree in anything. I wrote an article for the JET Programme, which was published in an unedited form, stating that future ALTs should be hired on the basis of having a degree in education.

    Very good article and hopefully it will spark some debate:)

  3. Look at the trouble Nova has acquired.

  4. The sad truth of the JET program is that the ALT’s educational background has no relation to their effectiveness because almost noone knows how to effectively implement ALTs into the classroom. If JET were to exclusively hire people who had actually been trained in education, and weren’t just looking to “enjoying” Japan, it would mean the end of the program. Not only would the applicant pool be vastly decreased, but I have a feeling that the number of recontracting JETs would be practically non-existent due to boredom and lack of job satisfaction.

    Furthermore, I don’t think that the blame can be solely placed on the existing English curriculum or teaching methods. I think it’s also important to consider the lack of accountability for students regarding their grades in junior high schools(my knowledge and experience is limited to this) and the system of social promotion. When the majority of a class of 3rd year students is at a loss to conjugate “eat” into the past tense, it is not because the curriculum is bad. It’s because they’ve NEVER cracked a book because they’ve never been accountable for bombing tests. After summer vacation, they’ll be hitting the books with a fury to prepare for high school entrance exams, but sadly studying will be a new experience for them.

    I think Strongbad put it best when he said, “The system is down.”

  5. I taught a class one time. It was horrible. Never again.

  6. Dave: While I think it’s wonderful to try and elicit much needed changes to the system, a year in a Japanese university followed by (nearly) a year in a Japanese company have left me entirely unmotivated to try. Mainly because I have tried, several times, in both places, and all I learned is that the Japanese are just too afraid of change to make the effort worthwhile.

    In any case, for as much as I love living here (and I really do!) and as much as it would be nice to see certain things improve, I wrote this particular article purely for entertainment purposes πŸ™‚

    David: Yeah, I read about that awhile back…Nova’s dubious business practices are no secret among much of Japan’s foreign community and it’s great to see some action finally taken against them (referring to this article)

    Now all the government’s gotta do is somehow force them to offer useful language instruction in exchange for their ludicrously high course fees πŸ˜›

    Stuart: Very interesting point…I wasn’t aware of the issue of student accountability, although I guess it does make sense after experiencing how little the students cared about studying while we were at Rits.

    As far as the issue of hiring skilled educators, I agree that hiring them under the current management system would be disastrous. But that just means the management needs to change as well. They need to get rid of their “age-based hierarchy” and “group-based decision making” and start letting skilled individuals make the high-level decisions regardless of their tenure in a company. Since starting work out here, I’ve often been asked how American companies can manage to generate the same quality product while paying their employees two to three times higher salaries than in Japan. In my mind, the answer is simple: they can do it because they spend 50-75% less time on oversupervision and micromanagement, instead focusing on keeping their employees happy and therefore self-motivated. In other words, they take the time and money that Japan spends creating and enforcing its countless rules and give it back to the employees themselves. With so many less hoops to jump through, this also makes the same job take far fewer man-hours to accomplish.

    Although I don’t have any firsthand experience with teaching, I do know a number of long-term University professors here who’ve said they experience a lot of the same thing: ludicrous amounts of time wasted on stuff that’s really not necessary at all. If Japan could just revise its management techniques a bit I don’t think hanging on to skilled foreign educators would be out of the question. It’s just that, as Strongbad put it, “the (current) system is down” πŸ˜€

    (Great quote btw!)

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