Teaching English to Japanese Students Teaching English to Japanese students

Teaching English to Japanese students can be very difficult because of cultural and lingual differences. Japanese students are very different from American and European students. An advantage is their tendency to be more reserved and well behaved. However, they do not like to speak in class because they do not want to appear arrogant (Ikeda). This is a cultural custom and it will take extra encouragement to coax the students to talk. Also, students do not like to make eye contact and will become very embarrassed if they do not know an answer (Ikeda). Teachers must be sensitive to these manners in order to conduct a comfortable class for the students. A gradual progression toward a more English style class will be the most productive approach to classroom differences (Kawano).

One major problem with Japanese students is their lack of oral practice (Ikeda). This is due to the Japanese emphasis on grammar-translation methods of teaching (Kawano). Many students have a good knowledge of grammar but have not had ample practice speaking. It is important that the teacher stresses the importance or oral exercises and encourages the students to speak during class. It is wise for the teacher to ask questions to individuals, because volunteered answers will be rare (Kawano). Oral class drills and repetition exercises are good methods of introducing the students to this unfamiliar style of teaching.

Listening skills are also an important skill that is rather neglected. Students have a hard time understanding naturally spoken English because English speakers link their words together (Ikeda). Students should have practice understanding native English by listening to audio materials or watching clips from the television. The teacher must also speak a clear but natural sounding English so that the students learn to understand it.

English pronunciation is very difficult for Japanese students because many English sounds do not exist in the Japanese language. The students will naturally try to substitute similar native sounds for unfamiliar English sounds such as 'th' and 'l' (Ikeda). However, it is very important that the correct pronunciation be taught so that the correct words are produced. The students should be shown how to make the sounds with their mouths, not just have the sound repeated for them (Ikeda). Also, students must learn to pronounce adopted English words with an English accent instead of the Japanese accent that they are accustomed to.

Vowels are very difficult for Japanese students because there are more vowels sounds in English than in Japanese (Ikeda). Similar vowel sounds are hard to distinguish from one another. Also, in Japanese all words follow a consonant-vowel pattern and end in a vowel, so students tend to add vowels after consonants and at the end of words (Ikeda). Some other areas of difficulty are grammar rules. Articles and relative pronouns are extremely difficult for Japanese students because they do not exist in Japanese (Ikeda). Verb tense agreement is difficult because in Japanese verbs do not have to agree (Ikeda). The teacher must also keep in mind that reading is very difficult for students because they are used to reading characters that stand for a sound or a word. Another very important but neglected subject is English culture. It is necessary for the student to have an understanding of the culture of the language they are learning because they are entwined. A major factor in the difficulty for Japanese students to communicate in English is a lack of cultural understanding (Kawano). Even the best teaching job will not prepare Japanese students for English communication if they are not taught the culture that shapes the language.


Ikeda, Miki. 'Teaching English to Japanese Students'.

Kawano, Mikiko. 'Teaching Culture in English Class in Japan'. 1999. Pg 4.