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Top>Opinion>How Should We Teach English?


Hideki Hashimoto

Hideki Hashimoto [profile]

How Should We Teach English?

Hideki Hashimoto
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Intelligent Space (Control Engineering, Robotics, Electric Power)

Read in Japanese

English logic test

At 18:00 on Wednesday, July 18, 2012, we conducted a 60-minute logic test in English in Room 5533 at the Korakuen campus in order to measure logical thinking. We managed to get about 100 undergraduate and graduate students to participate in spite of their being busy preparing for end-of-term exams. An analysis of the test results is currently underway, based on which a three-day seminar on English logic is scheduled for September.

My teaching and research in the Department of Electrical, Electronic, and Communication Engineering focuses on control engineering, robotics, and electric power, so English is not within my field. I use English, but I do not like it so much. However, I became deeply involved in this English logic test.

Background to the test (Memo)

Riso Kyoiku Co., Ltd. employee who took part in my e-learning seminar on January 27, 2012 introduced the Japan Institute of Logic, saying that "logic, English logic, is going to get more interesting from now on."

On February 28, I visited the Japan Institute of Logic to find out more. I was told that "Although most English communication partners in the real world are non-native speakers, they somehow understand our imperfect English. So long as our logic is sound, we can get our point across."

On May 11, I attended a meeting held by the IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which has over 400,000 members worldwide and 13,000 members in Japan) to investigate its member services in Japan. The IEEE stressed that "We can support the English education of Japan's science and engineering students, technicians, and researchers."

When I thought about English, logic and the IEEE, and most students' dislike of English, I decided I might be able to do something for English teaching, so on May 22 I gave a trial lesson (attended by the university's Vice President, Toshikazu Kato) on English logic at the Korakuen campus. Based on the result of that lesson, on May 25 I accompanied someone from the Japan Institute of Logic on a visit to the IEEE's Japan Office. (The IEEE has offices all over the world.) I said that Chuo University's Faculty of Science and Engineering wanted to look into a new form of English teaching in collaboration with the IEEE, and asked whether it would be possible. I also asked whether the IEEE would support a test for measuring the English logic ability of our faculty's students. Their response was positive, and on June 13 I had talks with the board members of the IEEE who gave their approval to proceed with the collaboration.

In Chuo University, meanwhile, discussions began in June at the Department of Electrical, Electronic, and Communication Engineering followed by a consultation with Youichi Ishii, Dean of the Faculty, as a result of which a three-way approach by Chuo University's Faculty of Science and Engineering, the Japan Institute of Logic, and the IEEE was decided upon, and the English logic test was conducted on July 18. We also receive strong support from the public relations office and positive backing from the Career Center.

I had heard that Chuo University tended to be excessively cautious (I joined the university in April 2011) so the speed of these developments was unexpected. Chuo University held discussions in earnest from June, and I don't think other universities would have taken such quick action. Hopefully it will keep up this speed even in other areas.

Status of English (Personal opinion)

It does depend on the field, but in my work on control engineering, robotics, and electric power I tend to speak mostly with non-native English speakers. Most of the people I met at international conferences and working meetings this year have been Chinese American, European, Chinese, and Korean, and very few have been native speakers of English. The same holds true for my email correspondence.

We can say the following about English communication in science and engineering.
(1) Most researchers in science and engineering are non-native English speakers and speak the language far from perfectly. It is enough just to get their points across.
(2) The same is true for their research papers, in which easily understandable English sentences are called for rather than perfect English.

The common thread is that although their English may not be perfect, their logic is sound and they succeed in communicating even if their vocabulary and grammar are deficient. In fact, Japanese language communication with non-native Japanese speakers found in Japan is the same as above. Opinions may vary, but communication is established so long as there is logic.

So how should we teach English?

Students should master logic in English. For them to do so, we have to create a methodology through the actual teaching in Chuo University's Faculty of Science and Engineering, using the knowhow on logic verification conducted by the Japan Institute of Logic and English-language materials specific to science and technology in collaboration with the IEEE.

Things are getting tougher as other universities also tackle the specialization of English for science and engineering and competition surrounding English stiffens. Globalization has changed the situation so that we no long need to be so cautious about English.

We will begin to study the possibility of a new form of English teaching using the results of our new English logic test. Our collaboration with the IEEE could be applied not only to materials but also at a more fundamental level such as the introduction of a new education system.

A Final Word

Communication is established if people's logic is sound. But before that, they need some contents to convey. If the contents are something that the other person wants to know, he or she will pay attention even if the speaker's English is poor. Until recently, the world always wanted to know about Japanese engineering. Simply being a Japanese engineer generated interest and people persevered in listening to our broken English.

Developing nations are catching up, and people may no longer pay attention in the future unless we have something very special to say. Having English skills is not good enough to be accepted. The sequence is that first we need some contents to speak about, and then we need sound logic.

Hideki Hashimoto
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Intelligent Space (Control Engineering, Robotics, Electric Power)
Born in 1957 in Saga Prefecture, grew up in Tama (with three years in Shimonoseki), lives in Minato Ward, Tokyo. He entered Shimonoseki-nishi High School and graduated Toho High School. In 1981 he graduated in Electrical Engineering from the Faculty of Engineering, the University of Tokyo. After working briefly in the electric power industry. He became a doctor of engineering with a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tokyo in 1987. He held positions at the same university as lecturer from 1987, associate professor from 1990, before becoming a professor of the Department of Electrical, Electronic, and Communication Engineering on the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Chuo University in 2011. From 1989 to 1990 he was a visiting scientise at MIT. He has also been a visiting professor at Nagoya University, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, and Seoul National University. He has been engaged in research into intelligent spaces that make use of control technology, robotics, and electric power, and is conducting research into personal mobility, energy management combining wireless power transmission and ESD (Energy Storage Devices), sleep-inducing robots, and so on.