Challenges of EFL Teaching in Barbados and Japan
This essay will be a comparison of my personal experience teaching English in Barbados, a country whose main language is English versus teaching English in a rural area in Japan, a country whose main language is Japanese (not English). Firstly, I will briefly discuss the definitions of teaching. Secondly, I will summarize English education for young learners in each country. Finally, I will compare and contrasts my personal experience in both countries and the valuable lessons I have learned. To protect the anonymity of the schools, the specific areas and any other identifying information will be excluded from this essay.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Desriel G. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
What is Teaching?
A broad definition of ‘teaching’, is the process of imparting knowledge to or instructing an individual on how to do something. The teaching process is dynamic and influenced by many factors. Consequently, teaching can be defined as a constant stream of professional decisions made before, during and after interaction with the student; decisions that, when implemented, increase the probability of learning (Hunter, 2014). As this essay is a comparison between my teaching experience in Barbados compared to that in Japan, the main factor that will be discussed will be culture, highlighting the difference in professional decisions that had to be made before, during and after interacting with the students within the respective countries.
My International Experience
Barbados is 166.4 square miles, located in the West Indies with a population of approximately 286,000. The main language used in Barbados for formal purposes, i.e. newspapers, government offices, and educational institutions, etc. is English (British standard). People from Barbados are referred to as Barbadians and also speak ‘Bajan creole’ in informal settings. Bajan creole has many vocabulary items seen in English with a few African influences. Education in Barbados, from Primary (2 – 3 years and up) to University (18+ years) is greatly subsidized by the government and essentially free for residents of Barbados. Only primary (elementary) and secondary (junior high) education is compulsory. Barbados has a literacy rate of 99.7%, as measured by the 2018 UNDP Report.
Japan is an island country in East Asia located in the Pacific Sea. The main language spoken in Japan is Japanese. Education in Japan is compulsory for Elementary and Middle School students, with High School being optional. However, most Japanese students continue to High School level. English language proficiency within Japan varies, with larger cities, such as Tokyo, scoring higher on the Eiken test than other more rural areas. The Eiken test is an English language proficiency test.
According to the fiscal 2016 survey on English Language education, carried out by the statistical office of the Ministry of Education Culture, Sports and Science and Technology (MEXT)-Japan, many schools in Japan have English scores below 50%. The particular area where I was placed in Japan was a small rural area, similar size of Barbados, with a population less than one-tenth of that of Barbados. Outside of the classroom, English was not used anywhere, neither written or spoken. Emergency broadcasts, supermarkets, doctor offices, etc. only spoke and offered information in Japanese. Therefore, most locals I encountered daily, did not know any English at all.
Grammar and Vocabulary Lessons
My personal experience teaching in the respective countries were very different. In Barbados, I was contracted to teach a tertiary level psychology course, and it was on encountering a substandard quality of English, that I added lessons specifically focusing on English grammar and vocabulary to the course. This substandard quality of English was previously unnoticed, as students completed most assignments with the aid of technology, and functions such as auto-correct and spell-check automatically corrected errors that students had been making. However, when my students were asked to complete written assignments, the standard of English plummeted significantly.
‘Subject and verb agreement’ was inconsistent, as well as challenges with words that sounded similar such as “they’re, their, there” versus words that were spelled similarly “were, were”. Some students did not use punctuation at all, nor did they capitalize letters at the beginning of sentences.
The major challenge I encountered was motivating students to learn the correct grammar and vocabulary items. Most students held the belief that ‘paper and pen’ were outdated forms of communication and any future job they would have would require them to use a computer that would correct their mistakes. 50% of my students believed learning grammar was a waste of time. To convince students grammar was vital, I had to demonstrate that several positions required notes to be written first and then typed later, such as police officers, doctors, lawyers, etc. who do not take computers to scenes, but often have to record events in a notebook, to then transfer digitally later.
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Comparing Japan and Barbados
In contrast, teaching in Japan, the English ability of my students of the same age group, was well below that of my Barbadian students. However, though they were operating at a far lower level English language level, they had greater motivation to learn grammar. My students in Japan were not encouraged to use computers as much as my students in Barbados. The majority of my Japanese student's work was done with pencil, ink, and paper. There was no spell-check or autocorrect for the Japanese students in my rural area. Thus, they had the additional benefit of not just hearing, and speaking the words in class, but writing practice which assisted them in recalling the specific spellings and grammatical structures later. Although my students in Barbados we're more fluent, my students in Japan were more motivated with regards to learning grammar.
Another major difference seen between my students was their differing confidence levels. My students in Japan were more reserved. When asked to present information in front of the class, they often refused or performed poorly. This was seen in instances in other subjects as well, not just in the English language. In contrast, my Barbadian students were more confident and comfortable making oral presentations. Japan has a very conservative, collectivist culture versus Barbados, where individuals are more individualistic. My Japanese students, therefore, worked far better in groups than my Barbadian students. So, while in Japan my focus was to encourage students to be more confident so they could present their projects in front of peers, in Barbados, I had to spend more time encouraging collaboration and community skills.
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All in all, I loved teaching in both countries. Both groups of students had their strengths and their weaknesses. Both tested my skills as a teacher and my inspired personal growth. Teaching is indeed an everchanging and dynamic process. Culture is one of the many factors that influence the teaching techniques, challenges, and solutions. Being able to adapt is essential to being a good teacher.
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