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Establishing Rapport in Rural Japan

Establishing Rapport in Rural Japan | ITTT | TEFL Blog

I first decided to take this TEFL course because I am currently teaching English in rural Japan. I plan and execute English lessons for Junior High School students, as well as serve as a cultural representative of my country and foster cultural exchange. Here's the catch though - I don't speak Japanese.

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

Setting up good relationships

I've had to think a lot about how to get students to like me and the subject I teach without relying on verbal communication. I don't know enough Japanese to convey my outgoing personality, or to make jokes, or to ask questions about their interests. They don't know enough English to be comfortable doing the same. How can you build rapport with this big of a language barrier? In this essay, I will attempt to apply the course's ideas on establishing rapport with my current life, as well as suggest my ideas for establishing rapport with this unique ELL population.

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Beginning of the study

In the introduction to Unit 1, maintaining a good rapport with students is considered foundational to being a "good teacher". It also includes personality traits like kindness, patience, and being "lively and entertaining" (page 1). Furthermore, Unit 5 discusses establishing rapport through classroom management. In my situation, as an assistant teacher without Japanese, I've had to rely on much smaller strategies to establish myself in the classroom, such as body language, smiles, gestures and facial expressions, and even simple high fives. I've learned to adopt a manner that is inviting and friendly in every way. This has been a great lesson: creating rapport is a constant effort that involves a full range of abilities, including physical. I encourage all teachers to think of all the ways that positive relationships can be fostered in their classrooms.

Inspiring students

Apart from physical behavior, I think a key aspect of establishing good rapport is an encouragement. Unit 1 discusses the multiple roles that a teacher undertakes apart from that of an educator. I think another role that could be added is "supporter". Especially for ELLs, having a supportive teacher that encourages them throughout their learning process is crucial. In my Japanese school, classes are monolingual and around 35 students, all young beginners (with some false beginners) with ability levels spanning beginner to intermediate, in the first age category. This means that each classroom is unpredictable in motivation and ability, and its students are often shy and afraid of making mistakes (Units 1, 19).

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Rewarding system

As an ALT, I often lead pronunciation practice, speaking tests, and games or warmers in which students must produce language on the spot, and, for these students, doing all this in front of a Native English speaker AND their classmates can be daunting. Therefore, I believe that the English teacher should not only be the coach, but also the cheerleader. I frequently reward students with stickers or applaud or cheer for them. Even if their English isn't perfect, there is much to be celebrated when my students try. To enjoy learning, students have to feel comfortable and supported, and I think this kind of environment begins and ends with the teacher.

Role model

Finally, I think a good rapport is established by being a model for language learning. In Unit 20, the use of the native language in class is described as "problematic", since it does not encourage second language learning. In Japan, I have been able to use my lack of Japanese to model language learning for my students. I study Japanese in my free time at work; I invite students to teach me new words, and I ask them questions. Most importantly, I make mistakes. Frequently. I try and fail all the time, and I feel that it encourages empathy in my students.

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English only

Furthermore, my openness to learning Japanese encourages the other teachers to attempt using English with me. Even if their teachers only speak a little, I believe having students witness it is priceless - there's nothing better than having students see that people that look like them are capable of learning English and succeeding at it. I think that if the use of the native language is used as a tool, and that English teachers can show students that they are interested in their students' languages and cultures, it can depend on student-teacher relationships in a new and very personal way.

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Of course, my situation in rural Japan is unique and non-traditional. However, I think that teaching here has truly pushed the boundaries of how I create positive student-teacher relationships. More than anything, I'm grateful that this new teaching environment and this TEFL course have forced me to reconsider and tap into new ways of establishing a good rapport.

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