Hello. My name is Nicky Sekino. I think you notice that my name consists of an English first name and a Japanese last name. You may think that I am from an English-speaking country with a Japanese ancestry. The fact is I am not from an English-speaking country but from Japan and with no foreign ancestry. If I may add this, my native language is Japanese. Do you want to know why a Japanese person has an English name? Well, here is the story of what has happened when I was young.
Nicky is actually a nickname, not a real name. My real name is Shinichi, but I use the English name for a reason. Someone gave the name to me when I was in the United States.
During the summer I lived in the country to study English, my school decided to stop its lunch service to shock all students. We had to find restaurants somewhere. My choice was a cafeteria of the University of Houston, which turned out to be a nice choice.
The cafeteria had a huge dining hall and a huge kitchen separated by a long counter table. There were food samples at the entrance. You choose one and ordered it to the kitchen staff. The kitchen staff cooked it and gave it to you. You placed the food and a drink on a tray and went to a cashier who rang up the price. You paid to the cashier, found an empty table, sat, and ate.
My cashier turned out to be a beautiful woman. She was also friendly and wanted to know my name. I said, “Shinichi.” She had a hard time pronouncing it because it could have been her first time to hear Japanese names. The next day I went to the same cafeteria, of course, to meet her again. She said, “You have a nickname.” I said, “What is it?” She said, “Nicky.”
Now, you know why I go by Nicky.
Names are a personal choice, but to educational institutes instructors’ names are more than a personal choice.
An old employer of mine once advertised a program with my name as Nicky to give the false impression that the class was taught by a native speaker of English. They apparently thought an instructor with an English name would attract more clients. The company knew the educational quality would be the same no matter the instructor is Nicky or Shinichi because they are the same person. Why did they decide to advertise the course using my English name then? Was it because of their blind faith in native speakers of English? If so, how about learners? Aren’t they also victims of the same idea? My answers are “yes” to the two questions.
Let me finish the story with three points. The first one is discrimination against non-native speakers of English. The second one is the game played in the English education world when it pursues more business success than educational success. The third one is the need for higher quality of English education.
To address the same three issues, I have established a private association and named it Drive for Quality Education of English or DQEE. DQEE is still new and had its second meeting in March 2015, when we discussed several issues concerning English language teaching in Japan.
Regarding the topic of discrimination against non-native speakers of English, the members’ opinions varied. The most neutral one came from a Japanese teacher of English who runs her own programs. Here is her account:
I run my own English programs and occasionally help other corporations. Some years ago, a company wanted to know if I would teach their children’s class. I said yes and sent in my resume, which clearly stated my Japanese nationality. I was concerned about the fact that I am Japanese because I knew the school wanted a native speaker of English, which was to meet the demand of parents who would send their children. The school interviewed me and invited some parents to witness the interview. Their decision was to hire me and they offered the same conditions they offered to the previous teacher who was a native speaker of English. So, I have a neutral opinion on the issue of discrimination.
A big contrast to her account was the experience of another teacher who is also a non-native speaker of English. Here is his account.
I have applied to many universities and conversation schools for a teaching position. Most of them have not replied to me but a few of them have replied to me with an invitation for an interview. During the interviews, I have answered all questions honestly and truthfully yet no employers have offered me a job. I have been thinking about the reason and I could only think that I was a threat to some teachers. I am not boasting by saying this, but I have a 30 plus years of teaching experience, which is longer than my interviewers’. If they think I knew more about English education than they did, they could have been afraid of me.
I do not know if they have rejected me because I am Japanese. It would rather be careless and possibly damaging for the school’s reputation to say, “We do not hire you because you are Japanese.” However, there is an exception to this rule. A Tokyo school has sent me an email letter by saying, “We do not hire Japanese persons.”
A DQEE member reported on a case when Japanese students refused to learn English with teachers from the Caribbean islands, based on their skin color and despite the fact that their mother tongue was English, which is a clear case of racial discrimination. According to Thio, prejudice is a feeling and discrimination is an act (1985). So, if someone is unhappy to see English teachers from the Caribbean islands, it is a case of prejudice. If someone refuses to learn English with teachers from the Caribbean islands it is a case of racial discrimination.
Another DQEE member was walking in the premise of a Tokyo’s busy train station. An Asian looking man was talking to practically everybody who passed him by. His voice could not be heard because of the distance between the two men. As the DQEE member walked near him, he said, “Do you speak English?” The DQEE member said, “Yes, I do.” Relieved by this response, the man told his story. It turned out he was a teacher of English from an Asian country who had lost all teaching contracts.
He then begged for money for lunch. The DQEE member did not give him money but asked him if he wanted the telephone number of his company, so he could get a job and work again. He wanted money but not the telephone number and did not explain the reason.
When the DQEE member returned to his office, he told this story to his colleagues. His colleagues said he did the right thing and said, “If he was a native speaker of English, all he would have to do is to sit in Tokyo’s coffee shop and wait. People would have come up to him asking him to teach English.” This shows that to a large extent the Japanese are sometimes prejudicial and discriminatory towards non-native English speakers.
One DQEE member, who is a native speaker of English, thinks many Japanese students want non-challenging classes and do not want challenging ones. He also thinks local school authorities are supportive of this psychology. This is why he is “careful about doing a serious class and commenting on unnatural English expressions he heard used in his colleagues’ English classes.” His colleagues are Japanese and they do not seem to be happy to hear his comments. He thinks local governments treat native speakers of English as if they are an amusing addition to the classroom and would not listen to what they think.
In conclusion, non-native speakers are, on the whole, discriminated against in Japan. Whether the reason for this is the blind faith in native speakers of English, is a topic for further inquiry. However, if the Japanese respect people who speak English, they should also respect fellow Japanese who have acquired English to a very high level. Yet, in reality, it is the other way round. If someone refuses to take a class taught by a Japanese person simply because the teacher is a Japanese person, it is a case of racial discrimination and DQEE will address it.
Nicky Sekino is an experienced teacher of English. He started teaching the language in the 1980’s and during his 30 plus years of teaching experience he has taught more than 1,800 students. He realizes that many of his students suffer from some self-blame that their English skills are not enough. Therefore he wants to teach English well but also wants to support students who have lost their confidence in the language. He thinks he is lucky to be able to establish a quick rapport with his students and to be able to win students’ trust through his honesty when teaching English. He started Drive for Quality Education of English, or DQEE, whose website can be found here.
- Thio, A. (1986). Sociology: an introduction. New York: Harper & Row, Publications.