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What problems do English Language learners in Japan have? I worked as an English teacher in Japan for three and a half years. It has been my experience that Japanese English learners have four major problems as they study English. Perhaps the largest problems they have are with grammar and vocabulary. Students also have problems with pronunciation and listening. In the following paragraphs, I will explore these issues in more detail. First, English students in Japan have difficulty with grammar. Many, if not all, Japanese students begin studying English in junior high school and many students will retain this knowledge throughout high school and college or university. However, Japanese teachers who teach English often explain grammar in Japanese and do not often speak English in the classroom. Oftentimes, students have no exposure to a native English speaker as they are learning. Another common issue is that, due to Japan’s testing methods, it seemed that students memorized grammar only to answer questions on a test. In other words, it is easier for students to explain the grammar than it is for them to use the grammar to make an English sentence. Generally speaking, students have a pretty good base of grammar knowledge. Although they may have a core understanding of English, they struggle to speak the language and have many difficulties with fluency. Students may know what they want to say and have the grammar and ability to do it, but they do not know the right words. In English, as in many languages, there is so much vocabulary to memorize. Add in the fact that some English words have multiple meanings (and sometimes those meanings are completely opposite) or that some words look the same but sound differently, or sound the same but look differently, there is no surprise that it is difficult to get a good handle on English vocabulary. Similarly, there are many Japanese-English words that can confuse students and limit their capability of being understood. Japanese English learners have difficulties with pronunciation. As with most students in Asian countries, Japanese students struggle with the /r/ and /l/ sounds. In the Japanese language, they simply do not have the hard /r/ sound like there is in English. Not only that, the Japanese language does not have the /v/ sound or hard /f/ sound. The /v/ sounds like /b/ and the /f/ sound is just a push of air from an open mouth. Some students also have great difficulty distinguishing between /ʊ/, /ɒ/, and /æ/. Finally, the perhaps the most difficult sounds for Japanese students are the two ‘th’ sounds, /θ/ and /ð/. As all Japanese sounds are produced inside the mouth, students find it especially difficult to use their teeth and tongue to make these sounds which are a little outside of the mouth. For beginner students, their mouth muscles have never made these shapes before and it takes a great deal of training for students to make these sounds easily. Even for more advanced students, these sounds can be difficult if they have bad pronunciation habits. This difficulty with pronunciation stems from the very limited number of sounds in the Japanese alphabet. To cope with this problem, some students resort to using katakana pronunciation. Katakana pronunciation leads to many extra vowel sounds within words and at the end of sentences. (For example, “start” is pronounced “su-ta-to” and “cheese” is pronounced “chee-zu”.) While this type of pronunciation does not always hinder the understanding of their spoken English, it does not sound natural, which is the goal for many Japanese students. Finally, stemming from their difficulties with pronunciation, Japanese students also struggle with listening exercises and listening to natural conversation. Because students find it difficult to make their pronunciation sound natural, it is more difficult for them to listen for the same sounds. For instance, students who cannot produce the /v/ sound often cannot hear that sound and mistake it for the /b/ sound as they are listening. (E.g. The speaker says “vote” but the students hears/writes “boat”.) This issue with poor pronunciation and listening can greatly confuse and frustrate any language learner. The students want to understand every part of an English sentence. So when they cannot hear or understand the word, they get stuck on that word and cannot listen to the rest of what is being said. This problem also links in with vocabulary. Poor vocabulary affects listening ability and vice versa. If they can memorize the vocabulary with the correct pronunciation, then they will not get stuck during listening activities. Similarly, students have difficulty listening for the typical intonation and sound joining techniques English speakers naturally use (but of which they are not always aware). Natural English also includes linking, elision or sound dropping, sound changes and added letters to make speech smoother and more comfortable for the speaker. In conclusion, young students in Japanese schools are getting more exposure to natural English with more ALT programs. However, in smaller schools in more rural areas, this isn’t usually the case. More adult students are studying English at conversation schools that employ native teachers. Learners who have the opportunity to speak and study with a native English speaker are more likely to improve in their grammar and vocabulary knowledge as well as their listening and pronunciation skills.