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Teaching English in Japan: Bridging the Cultural Gap for English Teachers

Admin - Aug 03 2015

Teaching in Japan comes with many unique opportunities and challenges. Japan offers teachers the chance to develop their skills in one of the most highly diverse and advanced countries in the world. The cultural divide between you and your Japanese students could prove to be the most challenging aspect of your stay in the country.

It is important to note that the generalizations in this article are just “generalizations” and should not be used to stereotype the students but to help the students learn English more effectively. Not every student is the same and you will likely encounter individuals who will buck the trend. However, it might be helpful to learn at least some general characteristics about Japanese students that will give you some idea of what to expect and help you get the most out of the learning encounters you will facilitate.

Most of the younger generation in Japan have taken English classes in junior high school as well as in higher academic levels. However, teaching methods emphasized writing, reading and listening to English and lack support for spoken English. As a result, Japanese students are strong in grammar and reading but fall short in listening, speaking and pronunciation. You need to be aware of this point and give assistance to the students in these areas of weakness.

esl_japanJapanese students are very well behaved and polite. Their culture teaches them to respect the teacher and obey whatever the teacher tells them to do. This ethic could make things very easy for you but it also leads to a certain passivity that could negatively affect the learning process. Since Japanese students do not want to disturb the class, they might not ask the questions they should have. Instead, they ask their peers and check the books after class. You might not be able to gauge if they have understood the lesson. You need to pay special attention and assist the students by calling on them in class and encouraging them to participate more freely.

Teachers should focus on pronunciation and speaking and help students realize that English has more sounds than Japanese. They must realize that there is a difference between close-sounding Japanese sounds and new English sounds. They need to learn how to correctly pronounce the sounds in conversations.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to keep Japanese students speaking as much English as possible. The chances are your class period is the only time they will be able to practice speaking English so you might as well make the most of it. Persuade them to elaborate on their answers and make sure they reciprocate with questions of their own. Don’t forget to give them positive reinforcement as it is important to build their confidence as individuals as well as a group.


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