Sunday, December 25, 2016

TEFLology Podcast: TEFL Interviews 26: Ryuko Kubota (Live at JALT 2016)

(TEFLology Podcast)

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As always, these TEFLology interviews are really interesting.

My only major complaint with this one is that I wish it had been 3 times longer.  There were a number of statements that Ryuko Kubota said that I wanted to hear explained more, but there just wasn't time to get into it.  (This was one of three interviews conducted at the JALT 2016 conference, so all the interviews appeared to be conducted under a strict time limit.)

For what it was, though, it was very interesting.

My own thoughts/ commments.

* It was interesting to hear Ryuko Kubota talk about the Eikaiwa / English Conversation Schools in Japan.  I spent 3 years in that environment myself.

* It sounds like Ryuko Kubota couldn't get access to the major English Conversation Schools for her research, which is unfortunate.
In my own anecdotal experience, I found that students who got most of their language instruction from English Conversation Schools tended to have a lot of skilled strategies for expressing their meaning, but terrible formal grammar.  If someone could just get the access to study this, I'm sure there's some interesting research papers to be done about this phenomenon.

* Because she couldn't get access to the major English Conversation Schools, Ryuko Kubota mentions that she went towards more community English school groups, such as the ones set up by the Christian missionaries.
These English conversation schools set up by Christian missionaries were definitely a presence in Japan.  (Ryuko Kubota doesn't mention Mormons specifically, but I believe the Mormon missionaries in particular were big on this type of outreach.)
Those of us in the expatriate community who were skeptical of religion were always a bit critical of the way these schools tried to cloak their proselytizing in terms of free English lessons.  But is it so bad really?  I don't know.  (Actually TEFLology did an episode on this way back in their past--episode 3 was on Evangelical Christians in ELT.)

* Ryuko Kubota mentions that a lot of young Japanese women were studying English at these schools just because they wanted the chance to be near Caucasian men.
This is what is known in expatriate circles as the "Charisma man" phenomenon.  (W)
Because Hollywood and Western media promote the Caucasian body type as the ideal form of beauty, Japanese women are often attracted to Western men.  That, plus western men are in limited supply in Japan, which increases the demand, as well as makes them more exotic.
So, white men who were not considered particularly attractive back in their home countries suddenly find themselves the object of desire once they move to Japan.
(It's also been true in Vietnam, and I suspect is true in many parts of Asia.)
As yours truly was a beneficiary of the Charisma Man phenomenon while I lived in Japan, the subject has often popped up on this blog in the past.    (For one example of many--see here).
I also would agree with Ryuko Kubota that, based on my experience in English Conversation Schools in Japan, a number of Japanese women do indeed appear to take lessons solely for the purposes of meeting Caucasian men.  Ryuko Kubota mentions "young" Japanese women, but in my experience it was also a lot of middle-aged Japanese housewives as well.

* Near the end of the interview, there's an interesting hint at a conversation about racism in the English teaching industry, that unfortunately didn't get developed.
I would have liked to know in more detail what Ryuko Kubota's thoughts on this were.
I've occasionally had people suggest to me that teaching English in Asia is ipso facto imperialism, and I've always reacted defensively against that suggestion.  Although obviously I have personal reasons for resisting it.
But on the other hand, I don't think anyone could ever deny that the English teaching industry is rife with racism.
One example of many--I get paid much more than my Vietnamese colleagues, even though some of them are much better teachers than I am.
And that's just one example.  I could list things all day.

It should be noted, however, that a  lot of the racism in the English teaching industry comes from the consumer side as well, and not just from the supply side.  Japanese and Vietnamese customers often want their English teacher to be Caucasians, and will complain if they get a teacher with darker skin.  (Perhaps Ryuko Kubota takes all this into account in her writings.  I don't know.)

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