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Teaching English to Japanese students

I have just returned from an “International Understanding of Teaching English “Course to promote understanding of how teaching English to students is different, depending on the part of the world they are from.

Everyone wants to speak English right across the World, but the way you teach the English language, especially in places such as Japan is varied. Japanese Education is very tough and you need to be disciplined to be an English Teacher in Japan.  Japanese Students, especially Japanese High School students are encouraged to learn a foreign Language.  The most popular language for them to learn is still English.  How cool is that if you are an English teacher?  So if you want to teach in Japan, read on!

Japanese teachers of English are encouraged and supported by the Japanese Government in many ways.  However, it should be noted that Japanese teachers teach English by rote. This means that their Japanese students are not encouraged to speak much and so often they can read English; write English and understand English but maybe not speak it with ease.  This is something we want to change.

We offer Japanese High School Exchange students the chance to learn how to communicate efficiently and effectively in English.

Japanese students have English most days so you would think that their knowledge and understanding of the English Language is pretty good.  Sadly, this is not the case.   Although they have English lessons daily, they are encouraged to listen to the Japanese teacher and not participate more than that.  The Japanese teacher of English has a “ main goal” and that is to get the students ready for their written Exams.  These exams can be TOEIC ; First Certificate and that level of English.  This means lots of practise for English Grammar and spelling but not a lot of actually speaking English naturally.   They use English native speakers as Japanese classroom assistants and this is where the native English speaker can use their knowledge to encourage Japanese students to speak English more easily and naturally.  Sometimes we play Games in the classroom.  This is very strange to Japanese students but its something that teaching assistants  or ESL teachers can do to encourage confidence.    If you press a Japanese student to give a more in depth response to a question they may be embarrassed.  This is their culture.  They don’t like to be challenged and even if you think you are helping, often it can have the opposite effect.   One game they do like to play, however, is “ The Mirror Game”.    I bring in a Mirror and some marbles.  I ask them to put the marbles in their mouth ( being careful they don’t swallow them, of course) and then look in the mirror and say certain words.  The way they pronounce certain words is, of course, different to native English speakers, but it allows them to watch the way their mouth forms the words.  So, I hear your ask, what is the purpose of the marbles?  Simple!  It makes them open their mouth more and form more of a circle when speaking.  This way their English is clearer and more concise.  Very important when you remember they are not allowed to speak much English in their classes.

Jackie Verrall MD of English Language Homestays
Written by :
Jackie Verrall,MD of English Language Homestays

What the Japanese Exchange Programme and the  and the Japanese Board of Education are keen to promote is the JET programme.  It’s a great programme and stands for Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme.  If you read more about this, you could apply to be a Japanese Teaching Assistant or an Assistant Language Teacher.   The course is very popular in Japan and often when applying for position in Japan, they will ask you if you have encountered any JET participants.  If not, be sure you will as this is one of the most popular English Language Programmes in Japan.

Japanese culture is complex and if you have taught English successful in Europe then be sure teaching English in Japan will be a whole new ball game. Japanese people are very respectful and friendly but you need to understand more than that before you set foot in a Japanese school as an English teacher or a classroom Assistant.  But if you love to teach English and are up for a challenge then you should ensure that you teach English to Japanese students just once in your life.

Next time I will talk more about teaching Japanese in their own environment; the pitfalls and the JET Programme.

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