Teach English in GuAndiping Zhen - Zhangjiajie Shi

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Japanese students face a variety of challenges when learning English. These issues stem not only from the language itself such as the grammar and pronunciation, but also in Japanese cultural norms as well as the English learning environment in Japan. There are a numerous differences between the Japanese language and English that present a multitude of issues for Japanese learners including but not limited to: different alphabets, pronunciation problems, highly differing sentence structure, as well as lack of articles and plurals. Japanese culture’s emphasis on age, status, and formality directly affects how Japanese people use language. Their culture can also make learning English troublesome, as the tendency to save face can be a barrier to practicing English and making mistakes in the process. Lastly, English education practices in Japanese schools do not help many Japanese students master and use English proficiently. Japanese learners of English must overcome many obstacles in their studies. English presents a whole new alphabet of vowels and consonants, several of which do not exist at all in Japanese (e.g. r and v), and they combine ways to create sounds Japanese speakers struggle to pronounce such as th and will often pronounce it as sa as in sahnk you for thank you. Japanese has open consonants such as ya or mi. This leads to pronunciation issues as the speaker might add a vowel sound to the end of the word, for example, and will be pronounced ando. Japanese sentences are ordered subject, object, verb and many times only a verb is necessary as Japanese is a context-based language with the subject implied. Particles are used in Japanese to signal what function the following word serves in the sentence. This difference in sentence structure is a barrier to learning English. Lastly, Japanese does not use plurals or articles, so numbering objects in English as well as subject verb agreement can be troublesome for Japanese learners. Cultural norms in Japan may also contribute to students struggles with English. Japan’s society places great value on conveying the proper level of formality as a particular situation dictates. These concepts are not very common in everyday English. Conversation activities can also prove challenging, especially in my experience with junior high students. They will agree when asked a question even if they do not understand what was asked. The students are nervous to speak, either due to the group setting, not feeling confident in their skills, or both, and they do get flustered when they make a mistake. It is important to remind the students that mistakes are good and acceptable. Silence is a technique used by Japanese people to save face, so a teacher must be prepared for long pauses during speaking activities. Japanese people will acknowledge a speaker both verbally and non verbally while they are pausing, so in a lesson it is helpful to nod the head or say yes during the students’ pauses to show interest, acceptance, and encouragement. Understanding the cultural differences is essential to effective teaching. Finally, the Japanese school system contributes to the students’ struggle to learn English as it does not provide enough learning hours for mastery, is often taught by non-native English speakers, and does not place enough emphasis on the productive language skills (writing and speaking). English language classes do not start until junior high which does allow adequate time before high school graduation to gain competence, and it is well-known that younger children learn languages easier than older students. Classes are taught in Japanese, usually by non- native English speakers, who can lack proper pronunciation skills. Additionally, lessons are grammar focused with the goal to prepare students for standardized exams. Grammar lessons can be boring leading to lack of motivation to learn. Conversational skills as well as writing skills need to be incorporated into the curriculum to truly create a well-rounded English student. In my experience, students are most comfortable reading English but least comfortable with speaking. While ESL teachers cannot change the Japanese school curriculum and policies, a knowledge of that system can help them create lessons that will fill in the gaps. Japanese students of English face many unique challenges in their study of the language. As a teacher, knowledge and preparation is key. By understanding the basics of the Japanese language, ESL teachers can develop more effective lessons and provide targeted assistance to our students. ITTT courses stress the importance of familiarizing oneself in the culture of one’s students, for it is not only essential to avoid embarrassment or social faux pas but can be absolutely critical to conveying meaning to the students. Ultimately, the Japanese school system might not change, but teachers should strive to keep these students motivated by providing fun and useful lessons in English conversation.