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Several Problems Japanese Students Face When Learning English and Ways to Solve Them

Several Problems Japanese Students Face When Learning English and Ways to Solve Them | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Japan is a developed country, with well above 126 million inhabitants, that during the past decade has been gaining more and more popularity as a destination for travelers and as a residence for people from all kinds of countries. Yet its inhabitants often seem to struggle with gaining English language proficiency. In this essay, I’ll try to resolve the question, which problems students in Japan typically encounter when attempting to learn English.

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


The first aspect of this issue is probably the most obvious one. The differences in grammatical structures between Japanese and English are often giving students a hard time to understand and recreate the English language accurately and fluently. Particularly the sentence structure of these two languages differs significantly between these two. In Japanese, the verb is always placed at the end of a sentence, whereas in English, it’s normally placed between subject and object. Furthermore, Japanese is a highly contextual language, where a sentence made of a single verb is completely valid and the subject and object are omitted and become apparent from the context. Additionally, tenses in Japanese do not change a verb that much and usually, verbs follow a set pattern as to how they change within different tenses. In contrast, in the English language verbs often change irregularly, when switching from present simple to past simple, or when switching from past simple to the past participle.

These and several more differences cause Japanese students to struggle with building grammatically correct sentence structures in English.

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Another reason, that seems to lower the confidence and cause difficulties with recreating understandable English language, is the phonology. The Japanese language has a relatively simple syllable structure, with 5 vowel sounds, that may be short or long, and 15 consonants that usually precede those vowels. There are few complex sound combinations, whereas the English language proves to be a lot harder with its aspects of intonation, stress, rhythm, and numerous phonetics. As a result of Japanese students often fail to pronounce the English language correctly, which lowers their confidence.

japanese woman

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The third aspect concerns rather cultural reasons. While Japan is becoming more popular, it was for a long time closed to the world and foreigners, especially outside of major cities, are still exceptionally rare to come across. As a result, students are hardly ever confronted with the English language, neither written in an advertisement nor spoken by someone. So unless students have the motivation to submerge themselves with the English language actively (for example by watching movies in English with subtitles), the lack of necessity to speak, write, read or listen to English results in an abundance of motivation to learn the language.

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The last aspect I want to mention considers the methodology used in common Japanese classrooms to teach English during High school, or middle school. While more and more native English speakers start teaching English as assistive language teachers, or teachers in language school, to achieve fluency and accuracy, the majority of teachers still only teach with the sole purpose of passing the necessary exams. To achieve this, teaching methods are often based around drills and memorizing correct answers, rather than nurturing the receptive and productive skills of students.

As a result, students might pass the exams, but fail to gain actual fluency and accuracy to use the English language effectively.

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To conclude this essay and answer the guiding question, it can be said, that the main problems students in Japan face whilst studying English consist of several grammatical differences between Japanese and English, the difficulties with English phonology, the abundance of confrontation with English language, and the flawed methodology still commonly used in Japanese classrooms.

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