Teach English in Chisha Zhen - Baoji Shi

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We naturally feel nervous when doing something new. Our confidence can dip even further when that something new involves a foreign language. I will tackle three questions related to students here in Japan. First, what can we do to create an environment in which students feel confident speaking in English? Second, how can we help students stop being afraid of English grammar? Finally, how can we keep students from just giving up on English? I believe there are a few fairly simple things we can do to start solving these problems. First, how can we help students feel confident putting themselves out there and speaking English? When we ask students to speak English in front of their peers, many fears go through their mind: "What if they can't understand my pronunciation? What if I make a grammar mistake? What if I say the wrong word?" Japanese students spend a lot of time reading and writing, with little focus on listening and even less on speaking. As a result of this system, many students are more confident writing in English than speaking it. When a teacher asks for volunteers, she may keep getting the same two or three confident students raising their hands. To get the rest of the class to feel more confident, there are many things we can try. First, whenever a student speaks out in English, acknowledge it, even if it was meant as a sort of side comment. Praise the use of English. If a student repeats in Japanese what the teacher has said in English (and we understand it) tell him he is correct. Second, if a student makes a mistake when speaking, don't interrupt him with the correction. We can repeat back what the student said with the correction, which lets everyone hear it without any big embarrassment. Sometimes other students will point the error out nicely, but quite often they will laugh. In the case of the latter, impress upon the students that effort is more important than perfection when it comes to verbal communication. I often tell students, "It wasn't perfect, but I could understand you." Being able to get across what you want to say in another language is an accomplishment by itself. When students understand that, their confidence in speaking increases because they stop worrying so much about "Should this be 'a' or 'the?'" or "I can't say the 'th' sound!" Next, how can we help students feel more confident in terms of English grammar? In their elementary school years, Japanese students typically learn very simple present tense statements and questions. In junior high, they start to study past, future, progressive, and perfect tenses quite suddenly and quickly. Students often stick to simple present and past because they are not confident they can use the others correctly. In general, they neither encounter the different tenses interacting together nor have enough practice to understand how and when to use which. To remedy this, we need to give the students a clear explanation, multiple examples, and sufficient practice of new grammar. In addition to that, it is important to show students the language in context, alongside other tenses so they can see how they are all used. It is not the fun and exciting part of English class, so choosing the materials is key. Short stories with characters to whom students can relate or articles about relevant topics will engage students, who will learn without noticing it. When an activity is presented as a grammar exercise, students immediately lose confidence and often interest. Disguising grammar exercises as fun activities is an effective way to keep everyone positive and open to learning. Thus, given enough time, exposure, and practice, students will feel more confident branching out to use more complex grammatical structures. Finally, what can we do to keep our students from giving up? As English is a compulsory school subject, all students in Japan study it without choice. While some students see the value of learning a second language or simply enjoy it, others just don't see the point. If English is difficult for the latter group, those students may give up on it entirely. These students tend to be the ones who act out in class to look as if they just didn't care about their poor performance. Because classes at the junior and senior high school levels tend to be large, teachers often just plow on with each lesson, leaving those struggling students behind. They fall farther and farther behind as time goes on, feeling English is just something they will never need or be able to use. They don't build any vocabulary because their first reaction to anything new is, "This is going to be too hard for me." It is these students who most require our effort to get and keep them engaged. We need to appeal to the students' interests by varying topics and types of activities. Give them the attention and help they need. Be patient if they don't accept our help at first. Little by little, we can give these students the vocabulary to express themselves in subjects they are interested in. This will grow their confidence as they will no longer feel left out or left behind. In conclusion, building our students' confidence takes time and effort on both the students' and our parts. A positive attitude, plenty of practice time, patience, and care can go a long way to helping our students feel more confident in their English skills.