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The Most Challenging Aspects in English for Japanese Students

The Most Challenging Aspects in English for Japanese Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Description: When teaching English in Japan, there are a few common problems all learners, young and old, face. Two main issues students face are with grammar, as well as pronouncing and hearing certain sounds. As this course was designed for teaching young learners, in this paper, I will address the issues above and possible solutions as they apply to this age group.

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

Grammar Tricks

Grammar is difficult to learn, no matter where you are from. However, some critical issues for Japanese students, in particular, are sentence structure and word order, articles and plurals, and verb tenses. For starters, the grammar structure in Japanese is almost the opposite of English. For example, an introductory English sentence is in the order of “subject + verb + object,” while in Japanese, it would be similar to “subject + object + verb.” Thus, forming sentences with the correct word order may be challenging for students, especially at a beginner, starter, or breakthrough level. Not to mention the various other parts of speech that are used in English. Articles are non-existent in Japanese as many such students drop them in speech or struggle to determine the difference between uncountable and countable and indefinite versus definite. Along a similar line, the concept of plurals is also not part of Japanese, and so that will often drop the “s” or will use an article at the wrong time. Verb tenses and the various rules and exempts to said rules are other difficulties for students.

With any of the above grammar issues, the best thing to do is practice the different structures. For young learners, this should be in the form of games for ages 5-9. Storytime, singing songs, and chanting will also help them form a sentence correctly to keep their interest while learning such a tricky part of the language. For ages 9-13, a controlled worksheet during the study stage will be an excellent way to practice grammar rules. Fill in the blank or matching questions with answers could be helpful for verb tenses and articles.

Pronunciation Tricks

The Japanese phonemic system is about half the size of the English phonemic system, meaning that some of our sounds do not exist in their language. While there is technically the letter “r” when translating Japan’s alphabet to the Roman alphabet, the pronunciation is like a combination of the /r/ and /l/ sounds, making this pair very difficult to distinguish. Articulation of fricative sounds is another problem for Japanese students as this type of sound is not in their language. The mouth placement and voiced sounds are challenging for this reason. Other problem pairs are /v/ and /b/, /f/ and /h/, and /s/ and /∫/. With the phonemes, both productive and receptive skills need to be addressed. One way to work on pronunciation issues is with 3x3 drilling. Again, singing songs and chanting will also be helpful for this issue. Younger learners can have fun trying to produce these sounds by pretending to be a vacuum or a fan, as some example. Older young learners may enjoy trying out some common tongue twisters.

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Overall, most Japanese students’ grammar and phonemes are two of the biggest problems in learning English. In young learners, addressing these problems should be done using fun and games that provide them with lots of practice for both productive and receptive language skills. The outlined issues are just some of the problems Japanese students face but are undoubtedly important ones that should be taken into account when making a syllabus or planning lessons.

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