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Volume 5 Number 4, Winter 2008, Pages 1-210   

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From the Editor-in-Chief

    Bernard Spolsky

This issue, with its now regular wide range of topics and papers by scholars from throughout the region, carefully selected and reviewed by our efficient editorial team with new readers, also gives a compelling picture of the problems being faced by those concerned with improving the teaching of English in Asia. They tackle from various angles the issue of the gap between reading ability and production, especially oral production. Asian students, we are told, are reluctant to speak and difficult to understand when they do. From the papers, we learn that there are promising ways to remedy this, especially by finding methods to encourage students to share in the learning experience and not just be passive observers or examples to be corrected. We also learn of the difficulties of implementing these changes, requiring more than telling teachers what to do or presenting them with new textbooks. Again, the answer lies in participation ??having teachers share in producing the changes in policy and the new materials that are needed. Cooperation is the keyword.
The paper by Trent tackles the issue of the widespread conviction that Asian students are unwilling and unable to participate in classroom discussion in English. He shows, in a study of Hong Kong economics students, that this need not be so, but that teachers can encourage active participation by setting up situations in which student contributions are valuable and valued. Why can?셳 Japanese students of English be understood? Kashiwagi and Snyder show that a strong accent is not the only problem, that segmental problems (vowels especially) are more a cause of difficulty than suprasegmentals, and that Japanese judges had as much difficulty as native English judges.
Cho studied the way that five experienced English teachers assess student writing. Working without guidelines but having taught at the same institution, nearly half of their comments (and presumably half the weight of their grades) had to do with formal aspects. Few seem to have paid attention to content. There is a detailed analysis of each grader, but in spite of their differences, they generally agreed on the final grades they gave. The concentration on form and correction perhaps help explain why Korean students are reluctant to speak; if they feel their teachers are looking for their mistakes all the time rather than appreciating their input (see the paper by Trent), then no wonder they keep quiet. Xiao described organizing peer review for adult college students who do not have time to meet and therefore exchanged electronic versions using the Word tracking system to comment or correct. The students like the procedure, and reported that reviewing each other?셲 work also had benefits on their own writing.
Like the paper by Trent, this one shows the value of involving students in the teaching process. The paper by Siti Mina Tamah provides further supports for this principle, showing the effective working of a technique for cooperative learning in an Indonesian school.
On the other hand, in an account of a top-down initiative requiring conducting English classes in English in Korea, Ko proposes ?쐄estina lente,??as my Latin teacher (who of course did not try to run his class in the target language) would say, ?쐌ake haste slowly.??The teachers she interviewed were not ready for 100% use of English, but expressed preference (and gave arguments for) other mixtures of the two languages.
Chen and Chen come back to the issue of learner centered instruction, reporting an experience where fifty Taiwanese College English learners were paired electronically with the same number of American college students studying ESL methods. Motivation was improved, and the experience beneficial to all.
In the final paper, Farooqui describes the development of a new textbook in Bangladesh and the problems that teachers are having in using it in the current educational situation.
As I write these lines, the news from Asia looks unusually bad ??apart from the economic depression which is starting to affect all of us, we feel especially concerned for our colleagues in India, Pakistan and Thailand, to mention current headlined violence and political uncertainty ??not to mention the new outburst of bird flu, and the normal cyclones and other natural disasters. We cannot solve these problems, but as language teachers, we share in the responsibility of working for a more peaceful world in which they can be tackled.

Bernard Spolsky