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A.J. - Japan said:
Problems for Learners in JapanEnglish is a compulsory subject in all japanese schools and is studied for a minimum of seven years if not longer. Very few of these students, however, will become proficient enough to be considered at an advanced and in many cases not even an intermediate level. Those few that do excel at English are students that are motivated from outside of the classroom and/or have spent time abroad in a country where English is commonly used. So why is it that most japanese learners of English remain at only a beginner or pre-intermediate level? Various factors account for this situation in Japan, however the three that will be addressed in this article include the japanese education system and their methods of teaching, the differences between the japanese syllabary and the English alphabet and the different sounds that they use, and the lack of opportunity the students have to actively use English. First of all, the japanese education system is a test score oriented system and favours the method of a very teacher centered classroom. The teacher gives the students the information and they memorize it for regurgitation on a test. The classroom methods do not encourage the students to analyze the information, nor think about it objectively. Having worked as an assistant teacher of English in Japan for the last 5 years I have had the opportunity to see how a number of japanese teachers of English conduct their classes. My observations lead me to believe that the teacher is more concerned about the students being able to pass a test rather than their ability to use a language. Information regarding what will be in a test will be given to students prior to testing. On top of that very little classroom English is used and instructions are always given in japanese. Most teachers stick to a textbook and workbook and in my experience the teacher does little to supplement the textbook with worksheets of their own or authentic texts. Even within the English classroom the students have very little opportunity to actively use, practice and gain confidence in the use of any of the language that they are. In recent years the japanese government has made alterations to their guidelines to English education, attempting to encourage a more communicative approach (exact wording can be found on the website.), however this is still in the early days. One area that is noticeably lacking in a majority of japanese English classes is that of phonics. The japanese and English syllabaries are very different. Since the introduction of foreign languages in Japan, Japan has created a script, katakana, to write foreign words in japanese. English words transformed into this script can become somewhat warped, for example milk becomes ?miruku?. Although japanese students begin studying English from Elementary school, the government?s new guidelines of English education emphasize that at this age English classes should promote ?fun? and that phonics or how to write should not be taught. students often do not begin to learn to write the alphabet until they reach middle school and furthermore they are not taught the sounds that the letters make. This is then impeded even more by the fact that often the teachers of English themselves have improper pronunciation. Finally, students often do not have the opportunity to put into use the English that they learn. Japan is still quite a homogenous society and outside of some of the major cities it is still rare for a school student to meet a foreigner, let alone have any need to use English outside of the classroom. Within the class as well these opportunities are few and far between. From my experience, japanese teachers of English do not often use ?activate? activities in their classes. These they usually save for the occasional visit from a native English speaking assistant teacher. Unfortunately, however, these ?assistant? teachers may have little knowledge of what the students have been studying and so the opportunity to practice target language that the students have been studying is missed. The above has only touched on a small number of problems that a japanese learner of English encounters. In order for the fluency level of japanese students English to improve these problems, as well as others, will need to be addressed by the japanese Ministry of Education and the japanese teachers of English. Sources ITTT tesol course, Unit 13: Teaching pronounciation and phonology Thompson, Heather, JET Program participant. Obsevations in Kunnepu Junior High School, Kunneppu Elementary School and Oromushi Elementary School in Kunneppu Town, Hokkaido, Japan from September 2010 till the time of writing this paper. Johnson, Alexandra, JET Program participant. Observations in Higashimakoto Junior high and assorted elementary schools in Ozora Town, Hokkaido, Japan from August 2006 till July 2011. Schaetzel, Kirsten ,Teaching Pronunciation to Adult English Language Learners Georgetown Law Center, Washington, DC Ee Ling Low, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore July 2009 http://www.cal.org/caelanetwork/resources/pronunciation.html Fachun Zhang and Pengpeng Yin, A Study of Pronunciation Problems of English Learners in china, accessed January 5, 2012 www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ass/article/download/2490/2336 Stewart, Tim. Tokyo University Will the new English Curriculum for 2013 work? I am using this as the source because it translates and quotes directly form the Mext website where the curriculum is only stated in japanese. Accessed January 5, 2012 http://jalt-publications.org/files/pdf-article/33.11-art2.pdf


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