English Writing

Last year, around this time, I was working with the seniors on their English writing. It was a small class of about 10 people, and they were taking these extra classes to practice composing English sentences that they translate from Japanese. They vary from things like, “The rapid decline of the birthrate and the extension of the average lifespan has created many problems in modern society” to “I fell asleep while reading a book on the train and almost missed my stop, but luckily a friend from junior high school woke me up just in time”. This year, a whole class of about 30 seniors attended the writing practice class. And I’m getting students asking for help to correct their short essays every day.

I have a feeling that many college entrance exams are requiring students to write more English. It’s like how the GRE used to be all multiple choice, and suddenly, a change required test-takers to write a couple essays, to which all those anticipating to take the test lets out a resounding sigh.

A lot of students write direct translations, which comes off sounding very Japanese-like English (perfect grammar, but “different” word usage and non-traditional organization) and  but a few who’ve drilled themselves through practice, and reading a ton of model answers can write sounding very natural.

It’s really impressive, but necessary, as these students are applying to go to the best universities in Japan, competing on the world stage. But they are doing so at such a disadvantage: the fact that most of their teachers haven’t been properly trained to teach English composition, so that job goes to the native English speaker, the ALT. To be honest, I can only teach the basics of English composition: the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion, the stuff you learn in high school. Beyond that, I try to get them to question things, think, and dig (aka BS) for ideas. Writing was never my forte, but I’m finding myself to more interested now that I’m helping students of English use it.

So much that I even looked up what I needed to do to get a certificate in English composition because I feel so unqualified!

But it really brings up all the memories I have from all my English corrections in high school, especially from my personal essays. Comments like “redundant”, “word choice”, “relevance?” Being a computer science major, I avoided a lot of the writing classes, and technical writing was the only thing you needed to do. I can barely remember a required English writing class I took one summer in order to get it overwith. I think I got a B-, even though the instructor was kinda cute.

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