Essays on English in Japan

About Essays

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“Why essays?” you ask, and that is a great question. An essay contains a central, focused idea, under which is support, both emotional and logical. That is what most students and learners and teachers of English need. Already, the number of textbooks, dictionaries, online practice programs, educational studies and government ‘white papers’ is huge. The bookshelves of libraries, bookstores and study rooms groan with the weight of those books. The internet is filled with study English sites of all kinds and descriptions. They are not bad, but they are not enough.

What is needed is not more books and sites, but better ones. Essays are really good at getting to the heart of the matter. Essays filter out the unimportant parts and help make the important parts part of one’s outlook and habits. Essays compress a lot of information into digestible, usable forms. They do that by telling stories, giving reasons, confessing mistakes, confronting dilemmas and sharing experiences. Those functions are part of what friends do, too. These essays, then, are just like the support a friend might offer.

Essays do not have to be logical, either, which is one of their strong points. One of the most absurd parts of the huge English industry in Japan is how they try to make everything so coherent and rational. Language is not that kind of thing. Essays are a better way to confront the creative chaos of language. Of course, language has a lot of rules, but the other side of language is creativity. The “Other Side of English” in the English title of my book refers to this often-ignored creative side of language. That’s my favorite side, and maybe a lot of other people’s favorite side, too.

Most importantly, essays can do what most other methods, techniques, textbooks or study guides cannot: essays can inspire. Without inspiration and passion, all the grammar textbooks ever published will not help. Essays are like a cup of tea or a shot of espresso; they pick you up, or calm you down, so you can relax, re-energize, and then get back to doing other things. Essays give you time to pause and think a bit, before heading back in to the challenges and practical details of life.

In this day and age, what is needed is not more information and more technology, but better habits of mind. So much of modern life is about constantly being on the go, multi-tasking, and staying busy. People are always fiddling with something, a cellphone, computer, project, new purchase, job or hobby. Essays offer mental space to step aside those activities and slow down a bit, take a big breath and re-conceive what is going on.

For that reason, reading and writing essays is one of the most valuable experiences in modern life. Most of all essays change us. The word ‘essay’ comes from the French meaning ‘to try.’ As you can read, then, almost all of the essays on this site are really about changing--attitudes, ways of thinking, patterns of feeling, creative habits and important parts of life. Reading essays is not information acquisition; it is life change itself.

 

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About The Author

Michael is currently teaching at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan, in the American Literature section of the English Department. More information in the About Me page.