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Easy Solutions for Problems Faced by Japanese Students in English

Easy Solutions for Problems Faced by Japanese Students in English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Learning a second language can be difficult and depending on the learner’s mother tongue, it can present challenges unique to a certain group of people. More specifically, there are several unique challenges for Japanese native speakers who are learning English and vice versa. English can be difficult for Japanese native speakers for various reasons such as difficulty distinguishing certain sounds, the use of katakana to teach English words, and drastically different sentence structure.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Justin W. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Difficult Sounds

When speaking English, it is vital to be able to distinguish between the “r” and “l” sounds. There is, after all, a large difference between the words “right” and “light” or “rice” and “lice”. However, for a person learning English in Japan, it can be difficult to distinguish between these two sounds because in the Japanese language the “r” and “l” sound are one sound. For example, in the Japanese sound rl, it is pronounced in a combination of the normal “r” and “l” sounds in English. This misunderstanding can lead to several issues such as misspellings, improper pronunciation, and misunderstanding of the speaker. To help solve this issue, it is likely that the teacher will need to devote a lesson or two towards distinguishing between the “r” and “l” sound in English. Then, the teacher can periodically review the material over the year to ensure that the students are still able to distinguish between the “r” and “l” sounds in English.

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Vocabulary Typical to Japanese Only

The second issue that is unique to Japan, in terms of learning English is the use of katakana in the language. Katakana is used for a word that did not originally exist in the Japanese language and was imported from another country. For example, the Japanese word for the computer could be written in English letters as conpyuta (コンピューター)。The problem for Japanese speakers then becomes saying the katakana form of words while they are speaking English. Besides, to assist students who are not strong readers, Japanese teachers of English will sometimes write katakana above words to aid in pronunciation. However, the katakana is typically not the correct way to pronounce the word as most Japanese sounds end with a vowel. While meant to help students, the use of katakana in teaching English will often lead to learners adding an extra vowel at the end of words. For example, when students learn the word “like”, the teacher may write the katakana alongside the English spelling which causes students to pronounce it as “liku”. The best way to prevent this issue is to keep it from becoming a problem by focusing on the proper pronunciation of English letters when students begin learning English. Also, reading practice without katakana will allow students to become accustomed to reading English to the point they do not need katakana. The teacher could also elicit words that have a katakana equivalent in Japanese and focus on demonstrating the difference between the Japanese words and the English words.

students on the japan flag background

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Sentence Structure

The third problem for learners in Japan is a drastically different sentence structure. While this is not an issue unique to Japan, the two languages have very different sentence structures and many words do not have a direct translation into English. This primarily creates problems when attempting to do direct translations from Japanese to English or vice versa. It is likely most effective to use pictures and visual aids to teach grammar and new words. However, this approach will be more difficult with adult learners who often want to know the equivalent of the English phrase they are learning in their mother tongue.

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In conclusion, there are several challenges for English learners in Japan. It can be difficult for Japanese native speakers to distinguish between the “r” and “l” sounds, the use of katakana words can create pronunciation issues, and the different sentence structure can make it difficult for adult learners. To effectively teach students learning English in Japan, these common problems among Japanese native speakers should keep in mind and addressed at some point during the class.

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