How do Japanese Students Respond to Some Common Challenges in English?
Japan is a country continuously changing at a rapid pace largely due to globalization and marketing. With its growing popularity and necessity, difficulties are sure to arise for people learning English and specifically, in Japan. To fully understand all the problems learners face in Japan, it is important to realize why English is so widely being studied in the first place. Firstly, students must study English for 6 years throughout primary and high school. As well as being part of the Japanese schooling system, the advantages of being able to speak English are endless. The benefits of finding a job or being able to communicate whilst abroad are common motives. However in Japan specifically, more so than western countries, the education and pressure put onto students are tremendously high. Doing well in studies throughout high school to then lead to a bright and secure future are a top priority, which is another reason why English is too popular. These days, with the market expanding and career options widening, learning English is a major benefit to this future-orientated culture.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Stephanie Y. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
One of the most common issues that occur for Japanese students is the difference in phonology.
This is what makes it incredibly difficult for learners in Japan. Every sound in the Japanese language ends in a vowel (except for ‘n’). Consonants in English become daunting and particularly difficult to not only pronounce but also become accustomed to. In particular, “L” simply does not exist in the Japanese alphabet and “R” as it is pronounced differently. Phonology is important for any teacher to consider regardless of the country. Japanese English is another big hurdle, also commonly known as ‘water go’. These are English words that are used in Japan accustomed to the Japanese alphabet and pronunciation. For example, Christmas would become “ku-ri-us-masu” or Orange – “o-re-n-Ji” - a lack of consonant clusters. This is a common problem I expect to face in the classroom, as these pronunciations are what students have become accustomed to, which takes away the fluency in the speech from their potentially high level of English.
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Japan is a society that can be referred to as reserved and even shy due to its nature, upbringing, and culture/politeness.
Students are often reluctant to speak out loud, unlike most western students who tend to have more confidence and less anxiety in potentially wrong answers or simply stating their own opinions. Although this is a common occurrence in all countries, Japan, in particular, has a higher percentage/chance of students who will be too shy to participate in classroom activities or answer questions aloud. Teachers must take this into consideration to build trust and confidence, a bond with the students. Creating a safe environment to make sure all students feel comfortable is essential in establishing rapport. However vital and important it is, understanding Japanese culture is essential here too. It is not simply a matter of ‘shyness’ but of the common rules and mannerisms learned for classes at school and society. It needs to be emphasized that they can voice their opinions and to have the confidence to join in all discussions without an overly strict or daunting atmosphere. Using plenty of pair/group work will help to encourage students and allow them to become more comfortable around each other. Role-play is another technique that can allow students to feel more comfortable, acting as somebody else rather than being ‘themselves’.
The number of students in classes tends to be increasing in size with English becoming a required subject and its growing popularity in Japan.
Trying to involve all students equally in the classroom can be a challenge; however, there are several techniques teachers can implement to help. Due to Japanese culture, it is unlikely that behavior will be the biggest hurdle. Instead, involving all students and ensuring they participate will be a larger struggle, due to their reluctance. With a larger class size, it's easier for more quiet students to blend in and almost ‘disappear’ whilst everyone else is in the spotlight. Using worksheets will ensure all students participate and have gained benefit, whilst pair/group work will maximize student involvement and help students to become more comfortable around each other.
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Students in Japan will undoubtedly be facing a tremendous amount of stress and pressure from society and family.
Suicide and depression rates are particularly high for Japanese citizens with a large percentage being students. Allowing the classroom to not only be a place of study/education but comfort as well needs to be considered. Students need to know that although learning English is of course, of top priority, they can feel safe and free from the constant pressure of daily life. This is where establishing rapport is emphasized. Having a positive relationship with the students is essential, as there will be students who are not willing or motivated to learn English at all. With the stress and expectation they are facing, English may be just another subject that adds to it. Simple things such as; learning your student’s names, their hobbies/interests, arriving early, or staying behind in class to simply chat with them will help to build rapport. It will facilitate student motivation for learning and their enjoyment of the class as a whole enhancing their interest in what’s being taught.
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Teaching students will always cause problems to arise, but it is how we choose to deal with and acknowledge them as well as their culture and society. With Japan's growing population and demand in learning English, we must realize these problems and how they are affected by Japanese culture. Phonology, culture, society, and classroom size are all common problems for Japanese learners that can be improved with different practices and exercises. Understanding your student's culture is essential to truly establishing rapport and helping them to their full potential.
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