Teach English in ChenjiAhe Zhen - Zhangjiajie Shi

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I have been teaching at a senior high school as an assistant language teacher in Japan for the past year and a half. Here are some of the problems faced by my students and by myself in the classroom and some ways I have found to resolve them. The problem in every school in every country in the world is, of course, motivation, and this is a problem that can certainly be seen in many classes in Japan as well. English is a mandatory course for all students in the school, from age sixteen to eighteen. Japan being the isolated country that it is and with the city I teach in being relatively small, motivation is sparse. Many students will go on to graduate and never use English again. However learning can be encouraged by finding something that is enjoyed by the students and is based in English. For example presentations, art, scavenger hunts and games. If the students are interested in the activity they will do it and learn some English through it, even without enthusiasm for English. The problem of class sizes is another that crops up in many countries. However in Japan the class sizes seem far larger than in other countries. The largest class that I teach is forty five students and is rather unmanageable if only a handful of students decide that they no longer want to pay attention. As an assistant teacher I have no control over punishments, but even those given by the teacher I am in the classroom with are mild and have no real impact. Therefore the challenge of continuation of attention and motivation is only further exhibited. This can be made a little easier by utilizing the second teacher in the classroom, splitting the class in two. Another option is group activities, then assessing the work of each group. It gives personal feedback, without needing for it to be one on one. Students also end up forcing those in their groups to participate, so that all of them are doing equal amounts of work. Another problem with mentality is that of the Japanese culture as a whole. There is a famous saying in Japanese culture which states that ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered down’. This is still a mentality which is held in many classrooms in Japan. This creates a challenge when attempting student participation in any activity, especially if that activity is an individual one; for example, when asking a question for an answer on the worksheet. Even if you do the activity, go around the classroom and know that almost all the students know the answer, it is still a massive challenge to get a single one of them to raise their hands. I have found that group feedback is a good way to get over this. The students must answer at least one question in their group and they can prepare themselves for that, as well as deciding who it is that will speak. Additionally giving out points that can be traded for candy is another good motivator. Moving away from behavioral issues there are several language challenges faced by not only Japanese native speakers but also Chines and Korean ones as well. The first and probably the most well know is the distinction between L and R. The pronunciation of these two letters are very difficult for Japanese speakers, even ones who have lived in an English speaking country. Both letters sound the same in the Japanese language. So when trying to say the word ‘rabbit’ or ‘rice’, the sound of the R is somewhere between an L and an R. This is due to the position of the tongue in Japanese. It never touches the teeth. It is said that you can speak Japanese without really opening your mouth, hence a lot of the pronunciation problems. Sounds that are also problems are the TH sound, as well as V. The former is never used in Japanese and the latter has a completely different pronunciation that sounds closer to ‘bui’. A good solution to help counter this problem is to practice pronunciation using diagrams of the correct mouth shape. For example you can show the tongue position for R and L, and the difference between them. Then you can have the students practice saying words that have the focus on these sounds and try to distinguish between them. Another problem when learning English is the way in which consonants and vowels are used in that Japanese language. All consonants, except N are connected to a vowel in Japanese. For example ma, not m and wa not w. This means that Japanese people often end up talking in a similar way to how their alphabet is constructed. This is especially the case for words that are taken from English but are given a Japanese pronunciation in the Japanese language. For example, the word ‘opera’ is said ‘o-pu-ra’ in Japanese. Or the word ‘project’ is said ‘po-ro-ji-ku-ta’. This is a challenge when trying to speak in English, or to read and say words that are loan ones from English. This is a more challenging one to solve than the R and L distinction. However the only real solution is practice. Drilling the English version of a word is helpful. Additionally watching native use of a word also helps. For example listening to the teacher, music or videos can help in cementing the correct pronunciation in a student’s mind. There are a large range of problems that are faced in a Japanese classroom, however there are also solutions that can be implemented to help and negate them. So overall I think the most important part of being in a Japanese classroom is adaptability.