The Most Common Issues Faced by English Learners in Japan
Given the increase in globalization during the late 20th and early 21st centuries and the growing inter-dependencies of domestic economies within the international marketplace, English, as a primary language medium for conducting international business arrangements, has become an increased priority both socially and within the business environment. However, notwithstanding the importance of English fluency within contemporary society, Japan and Japanese English learners face difficulties when trying to achieve competency. These difficulties and issues can be shown by the 2018 EF English Proficiency Index which ranked the English level of Japanese learners as rank 49 out of 88 countries which place Japan within the “low proficiency” category. The difficulties and issues that Japanese learners face when trying to learn English are both complex and multifactorial in their nature, however, it is evident that the differences in pronunciation, the Japanese culture and the average class sizes in Japanese schools all are major components attributing to such difficulties.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Lee H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Pronunciation and Sentence Structure
The elements and structure of language that create phonology within the Japanese and English language differ greatly leading to difficulty for Japanese learners to pronounce words correctly. This difficulty stems from multifaceted sources. Firstly, the syllable structure in the Japanese language is simpler than when compared with the syllables and phonology contained within the English language. This is evident through the existence of consonant components and sounds within the English language which is absent within the Japanese language which contributes towards the difficulties in pronunciation. Second, the existence of Katakana and “gairaigo” (meaning ‘loan language’) within the Japanese language is a further source of the difficulty when Japanese students try to pronounce English words. This is because students inadvertently semi-automatically translate the English words and pronunciation into the quasi-English “gairaigo” which renders it more difficult for students to grasp the correct pronunciation. Finally, the sentence structure within the Japanese language differs from the structure usually contained within the English language. For instance, the Japanese basic sentence structure follows a subject-object-verb pattern whereas sentence structure in English is more fluid. It is therefore apparent that Japanese learners will struggle with the pronunciation and expression of correct English syntax.
The very nature of the Japanese culture can limit Japanese students’ ability to further their knowledge and mastery of the English language. Unlike many countries throughout the contemporary world, Japan has a collectivist society which places a strong emphasis on the well being of society as a whole rather than the needs of the few of the individual. As a consequence of this societal philosophy, many students struggle to participate in class due to increased levels of shyness and the unwillingness to express individual opinions and ideas within a group setting. This shyness and reluctance can result in students not willing to practice to obtain the correct speaking and pronunciation skills which can result in an inability to progress within the course. It is apparent that students in Japan typically like to work within the parameters of grammar and written expression and it is therefore evident that the culture can hinder a student’s ability to obtain the requisite English-speaking skills that are required to converse within the language.
Japan has one of the highest population densities within the global environment. As a consequence of the population density, classes, at least within the public schooling system, often can suffer for overpopulation. Although this does typically affect those classes that adopt a more traditional lecture-style approach, language classes, which require a more collaborative environment, are limited in their effectiveness due to this reason. It follows that English language classes are most effective when teachers can provide individualized and specific feedback to students to overcome an individual’s specific language weakness. As such, given that teachers are limited in their effectiveness in assisting students on an individual level, Japanese students struggle to grasp more nuanced and complex uses of the English language which can hinder their development.
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It is evident, given the increasing integration of international markets, that learning English has become a top priority both socially and professionally. Notwithstanding this, Japan struggles with several multi-factorial and complex difficulties that limit the effectiveness of teachers when trying to teach English to Japanese students. It follows that teachers will need to adopt a more strategic, dynamic and flexible approach to teaching to overcome such difficulties and to increase engagement and overall English ability within the classroom.
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