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Japanese Native Speakers and Their Challenges in ESL Learning

Japanese Native Speakers and Their Challenges in ESL Learning | ITTT | TEFL Blog

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

I am currently an English teacher living in Japan. I teach both Elementary and Junior High School English Language.

Japan’s government allows the students to start learning English sometimes as early as Kindergarten. Most Elementary schools have a designated ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) that possesses a native level of English. Even though English is a compulsory subject in Japanese Junior High and High Schools, these students struggle with achieving even daily conversational English. In this summative task, I would like to highlight the two problems that greatly affect learners of English in Japan.

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The first issue I would like to highlight is the way English is taught in schools. In the classroom, there is always a Japanese teacher of English (JTE) alongside an ALT. The Japanese teacher of English teaches some of the English classes before the ALT and JTE team-teaching classes begin for the week. While the JTE teaches the English classes, they do this in the Japanese language. The teacher is already setting a bad example for the students. If the students don’t see their teacher communicating in the language, they will not be motivated to do so themselves. Questions are asked and get answered in Japanese. This fosters no actual communication in English. English classes are heavily grammar-based and the emphasis is placed more so on accuracy and avoiding grammatical errors. There is very little time devoted to conversational practice. The silent skills of reading and writing are heavily promoted. Listening is passive in the classroom rather than an active part of the conversation. The students make a habit of copying what is on the board and memorizing it all to just pass the exam or test.

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The next problem I encounter while teaching Japanese students is the matter of the Japanese culture itself. The Japanese culture is one in which one can be very conservative. Especially in the way communication happens. The cultural norm is that the Japanese are not able to speak up in front of others as they fear doing so means you are disrupting other people around you. It is considered rude to speak up in this culture. Because of this, students are unwilling to participate when a volunteer for a class activity is required. Most of them, if they try to answer a question in English, are afraid to answer the question with a clear voice. They mostly whisper almost to the point of no one being able to hear them. In this society, the odd nail gets hammered down. This analogy is brought to light in the classroom and no one wants to stand out. The fear of making a mistake in English causes most of the students to not want to participate. They are not trained to know that it is okay to make mistakes as this will help them in the long run as mistakes are good to learn from. They believe that they must speak perfect English and if they are not able to do so they do not make any effort to communicate in English. In a sense, they impose silence unto themselves.

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Effective Engagement, Study, and Activation should be integrated into these classes. I intend to work alongside my JTE to help promote more production time in my lessons. I believe I have a better knowledge of how my skills can now be used in the classroom so that effective communication in English can become a norm.

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