Teach English in Xinfeng Zhen - Yancheng Shi

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From late 2013 to present I have been working in Japan as a missionary, instructor to EFL students, and a tutor to ESL students. I’ve always wanted to pursue a line of work that would allow me to connect with the community I’m living in. This was influenced by my personal experiences throughout my high school and college years, during which my family hosted exchange students from Japan and France. Being home schooled, I took as many opportunities as possible to shadow along with these exchange students and helped where I could as an instructor’s aid and cultural liaison to the students. It was something I really enjoyed and found myself wanting to pursue a job where I could continue to be a bridge between different cultures. It was at these times with the Japanese students when I first began to notice some points of contention. Now that I’ve been in Japan for over six years, I’m at a point where I expect certain issues and have come up with solutions. Today I want to look at three of these issues in particular and what I’ve been able to do to overcome these difficulties. The first and perhaps the most outstanding issue is that many of my students are initially hesitant to model a lesson point so as to avoid potential embarrassment or undesired attention to themselves. In the past, after going through the lesson material I would often ask students to perform a model conversation after I had read through it, explaining any difficult words and answering any questions they had. I would then allot them a period of time to practice it with their partner while I listened to their work or gave feedback. I’ve observed time after time that while most students did quite well, when the time was up and I asked them to preform the exercise in front of their peers they would do as much as they could to avoid it. That said, this problem is not limited to just the model conversations but to many other facets including reading aloud, creative writing, and discussing personal interests to name a few. As a result I’ve found it important to initially offer to take on one of the roles in the model conversation, being purposefully expressive when needed. Japanese children are in general more quiet than children in other cultures and need to be reminded that it’s not wrong to enjoy time in the classroom, and encourage them that making mistakes is okay and can serve as a great lesson if handled properly. Second, as I’ve been here in Japan I’ve become more and more aware of the difficulties that individuals have when learning English phonics. One of the biggest challenges is that Japanese is filled with loanwords borrowed from many different languages. This is not an issue that Japan faces alone, but if one takes a quick look at the Japanese phonetic alphabet or syllabary, one will see that the English equivalent of a consonant is followed immediately by a vowel. As a result, you will hear the word “cato” instead of “cat” and “aporu” instead of apple. This here is the problem. Most individuals will speak English in this way and seemingly be deaf to or ignorant of the difference. I’ve had many students take the initiative and write the best approximation of the word in the syllabary called katakana, used primarily for foreign words, underneath their vocabulary to study at a later time. From early on it is important to make it clear that this method should be avoided and explain how relying on this can and will limit the individual to what they have the potential to learn. Lastly I want to look at the difficulty of the culture in the after-school system here in Japan. Japan is full of after-school programs that cater to a wide range of different disciplines, with many children involved in multiple programs at once. As a result, children are often fatigued. I’ve had some of my students enter the classroom clearly showing signs of exhaustion. It’s common for the parents of elementary, middle, and high school students to enroll their children in extracurricular programs that expose them to native English speakers. As a result these children have a hard time focusing their energies on language study and need time to acclimate to their new setting, though this is not the case for all students. All the same, I recommend that teachers build rapport and know that this can take some time. Play games, be open, and encourage the students to ask any and all questions.