John Hattie is a very important man in education; he’s currently the head of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. Hattie is big on data-driven reform, which is good, but his technique of throwing dozens of disparate studies in the “meta-analysis” blender has faced criticism.

So I was interested to read this reflective interview with Hattie about how his ideas have been interpreted and implemented worldwide… but I was derailed by this answer:

HK: I also wondered about the language issue between New Zealand, Australia, Denmark and the UK. There must be a lot of language issues?

JH: Oh, yes. I am not sure with Danish, but certainly in the Scandinavian countries, they don’t have a word that distinguishes between teaching and learning. Japan doesn’t.

This claim struck me as a snowclone — Language Log’s term for this kind of silly linguistic argument:

Journalists and others often make an ethnographic or political point by observing that a particular language or culture “has N words for X”, where N is either zero or some number viewed as excessively large. … [T]hese rhetorical flights are hardly ever true in linguistic terms, and their logic would be suspect even if the facts were correct.

It was Hattie’s definitive “Japan doesn’t” that sent up the red flag for me. I’m a (very beginner) student of Japanese, and I recalled that Lesson 7 in the Minna no Nihongo textbook listed oshiemasu (polite form of 教える, “to teach; to instruct”) and naraimasu (polite form of 習う, “to take lessons in; to be taught; to learn (from a teacher); to study (under a teacher); to get training in”) as separate words.

So much for data.