Teach English in Donggang Zhen - Wuxi Shi

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As have been said by many foreigners who are teaching English in Japan, the cultural differences in the classroom can be a great challenge. Moreover, many of these foreigners are still, even after spending some years there already, discovering and learning about all the cultural matters in Japan. This essay attempts to reveal some of the most important cultural issues which foreign teachers should pay attention to while teaching their Japanese students. First of all, it is important to note that Japan is a country that takes politeness and formality very seriously in all kinds of social relation – including intimate relations between father and son, as well as wife and husband (1). Teachers are considered as the ones who educate and serve as a role model for the future generations and thus Japanese people expect teachers, no matter Japanese or foreigners, to behave in certain ways (manners and gestures), use certain words (use of tones and words), and dress in a certain way (dress code and grooming). In terms of manners and gestures, instead of waving hands to say hello or good morning to the students, teachers are expected to bow to their students (even when the students are only 5 years old, but in this case, teachers should bow with a happy cheerful smile). Teachers should also bow when they say “thank you” and “sorry”. If teachers fail to bow at the right time and at the right place, both students and parents will consider the teachers as bad-mannered or not being qualified to be an educator. Also, foreign teachers should bear in mind that there are gestures that are considered offensive by Japanese people. For example, raising one’s eyebrows to say hello is considered as very rude. Furthermore, thumbs down for bad, which is very common in many countries, however, means to “go to hell” in Japan (2). In terms of the use of tones and words, due to the emphasis on politeness and formality, teachers must not call their students their first names directly. Teachers must add “-san”, or “-chan” for young female students and “-kun” for young male students, to their names in order to show politeness. For example, the teacher must not call his student’s name “David” directly; instead, the teacher must call the student “David-san”, or “David-kun” if he is a young male student. In Japan, this social rule must also be followed in an English school or an international school. In terms of dress code and grooming, foreign teachers must bear in mind that t-shirts, tank tops, jeans, short pants and flip flops are taboos in Japanese classrooms. Although t-shirts, tank tops and jeans are common in many countries, in Japan teachers are not allowed to go inside the classroom if they wear these clothes. Therefore, instead of t-shirts, teachers can wear white shirts or polo shirts. If teachers wear tank tops, they must not forget to wear a long-sleeved cardigan on top so as to cover their skin. Instead of jeans, teachers can wear trousers. Furthermore, tattoos and piercings (except earrings on female teachers) are prohibited in classrooms. Colourful clothes are considered as inappropriate as well. All in all, teachers should always keep their appearance simple, clean and neat. Secondly, it is important to learn about the characteristics of Japanese students – who are famous of their shyness (it has been said that this is the characteristic of East Asian students, including Chinese, Japanese and South Korean students)(3). In the Japanese classroom, almost all of the students would answer “Yes, I understand” even though they actually understand nothing at all. This is because they are too shy or scared to ask questions. Some of them say “Yes, I understand” because they do not want to admit the fact that they do not understand, as not being able to understand will be considered as a failure by their peers. Therefore, foreign teachers must bear in mind that they should not ask their Japanese students “Do you understand?” or “Do you have any problems/questions?” as the answers will mostly not be reflecting the reality – students tend to say “I understand” even when they actually do not understand at all. As a result, instead of asking them “Do you understand?”, teachers should give them worksheets to fill in or do some whiteboard activities together to test their understanding. Finally, foreign teachers should pay attention to the contents of their English lessons as well. It is important to know that in Japan, teachers are not allowed to teach religion - be it Buddhism, Shintoism, Christianity, Islam or whatever (4). Therefore, the contents and teaching materials of lessons about Easter, Halloween and Christmas must be carefully designed so as not to mention anything religious. For Easter lessons, teachers can talk about Easter bunnies and the culture of eating chocolate eggs, rather than talking about the Christian origin of the festival. For Halloween lessons, teachers can simply enjoy dressing in costumes, sharing snacks and candies with the students and playing games together, while not mentioning anything about the Pagan festival of Sam Hein. For Christmas lessons, instead of introducing the history of Christmas to the students, it would be better for teachers to talk about Christmas food and drinks with the students, and play fun Christmas games or make Christmassy art and crafts together. This essay introduces some of the cultural and sensitive issues in Japan - politeness and formality in social relations, Japanese students’ shyness, and sensitive lesson contents - which foreign teachers should pay attention to before starting their teaching job there. Hopefully foreign teachers in Japan will overcome all the cultural shocks and cultural differences and enjoy their teaching there! -------------------------------------------------------- Bibliography 1. Larry A. Samovar, Richard E. Porter, and Edwin R. McDaniel, Communication Between Cultures (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009), 289. 2. “TEFL.net.” TEFLnet Cultural differences in the Japanese classroom Comments. Accessed February 29, 2020. https://www.tefl.net/elt/articles/home-abroad/cultural-differences-japan/. 3. Amanda J. Godley, "Intercultural Discourse and Communication in Education," in The Handbook of Intercultural Discourse and Communication, ed. by Christina Bratt Paulston, Scott F. Kiesling, and Elizabeth S. Rangel (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 465. 4. Carrigan, Liam. “Cultural Sensitivity for ALTs Giving Christmas Lessons.” GaijinPot Blog, September 12, 2019. https://blog.gaijinpot.com/cultural-sensitivity-for-alts-giving-christmas-lessons/.