Sometimes, I harbour ridiculous notions that the Ministry of Education in Japan is actually trying to make their children rubbish at English. Why else, I wonder, would they teach romaji in junior high school English classes? What is the point? Romaji, let’s be clear, is in no way English. It is the use of Roman letters to represent Japanese words and as such it is of very little help to children who hope to read and write in English. It has no place in the English classroom unless the teachers hope to convey the message that romaji spellings of English words are good enough. But they’re not. Without a knowledge of Japanese, no foreigner is going to recognise syoppu as shop or makudonarudo as McDonalds. Romaji, then, is not for the foreigner’s benefit. But the Japanese can read and write hiragana and katakana so on the surface it would hardly seem to be for their benefit, either. Why then, do they bother with it at all?
Well, one answer to that, apparently, is that it helps kids to use computers. They type words in romaji before they are converted to kana and kanji and therefore knowing it is very important. That’s fine and true. Although you can type on Japanese keyboards using kana, romaji seems to be the method of choice and that is all well and good and understandable. For that reason alone I believe that it is important to teach romaji in school. Just not in English class. Where’s the link to English? You only use romaji spellings to type Japanese words so why not teach it in Japanese class? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I wish somebody could tell me but neither teachers nor parents seem to be able to provide a reason. All I know is that teaching romaji in English class doesn’t help children become more proficient in writing English. Yet they will spend time on that and ignore phonics completely.