4 Reasons Why Japanese Students Are Often Lacking Motivation
Japanese learners of English face challenges which are based on background and cultural aspects, racial barriers, perception of the English language, as well the lack of freedom of expression. This becomes the basis on which their motivation, or lack thereof, to study English is built. Coming from a motivational background, I was self-assured that my plans to get my low-level High School students motivated about learning English would be less challenging to implement. Reality proved otherwise as this process has required the breaking of certain barriers in order for me to be successful in my endeavors. Following is a further explanation on each of the different challenges which I have observed to be the cause of the lack of motivation amongst many Japanese learners of English.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Samukelisiwe P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
1) Background and cultural aspects
Learning about Japanese culture has been an essential part of my journey in trying to understand my students, their behavior, and how they process information in a foreign language. The Japanese culture puts more emphasis on team-work and unity, whereas my background emphasizes individuality, independence, and expression of one's opinions and feelings. This cultural difference made it somewhat challenging for me to engage and solicit information from the students on an individual basis in the classroom environment. Trying methods aimed at building confidence has also proven to be difficult due to this cultural aspect. Pair-work and group-work have become the most successful methods I use in conducting activities in the classroom. This, however, still makes it challenging to instill a sense of confidence in my students and also track their individual progress on a regular basis.
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2) Racial barrier
Helping my students to overcome the racial barrier has not been an easy journey. On realizing that this barrier poses a threat to their learning and development, I came up with subtle in-class activities to highlight to them the beauty of diversity. I use videos and pictures to share a glimpse of my diverse background. The limitation to this is the lack of engagement on such a pertinent issue thus limitations in completely changing perceptions and stereotypes. It would be a great opportunity for us to have discussions about racial stereotypes if they were been able to hold a conversation in English. While I have experienced some improvements in this aspect, there is still much to be done in order for us to understand and embrace our differences which could result in improved relations.
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3) Perception of the English language
Amongst Japanese society, English is generally viewed as a difficult language to learn which creates a barrier in the openness to learning or trying to engage in English. In the classroom environment, this translates to unmotivated students who do not realize the value in learning English. A mental block is then created causing a limitation in their learning process. This has required a great deal of understanding, patience, and empathy from me in order to see some changes in attitude during the academic year. Indirect influence has also played a big role in helping my students overcome their own fears and negative perceptions about the English learning process.
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4) Freedom of expression
Teaching at a very low-level High School means that there are occasions where the students are willing to express themselves in English but lack the means to do so. Sometimes they resort to using their native language in class in order to be understood. This certainly affects their confidence level and motivation towards learning English. To try and ease their frustration I sometimes ask the students to express themselves using a single English word and then I complete the sentence for them. In other instances, I resort to responding to them in English with the aim of letting them try to decode the meaning of my response. I have found this to work in motivating the students to be open to me regardless of the inaccuracies of their response which helps them to overcome their fears.
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I think that these challenges are embedded in the society at large and dealing with them is a task which requires a certain extent of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills as a teacher and an adult.
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