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Many times, inexperienced Assistant Language teachers (ALTs) for english in japan face difficulties in and out of class because no one gives them a warning that says, “Hey, here are the problems that japanese learners have to deal with when studying english.” The most apparent problem for japanese learners is the Romanized alphabet and english pronunciation. Most students have trouble transitioning from japanese characters (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) to romanji, or Romanized letters. Because english isn't the first language in japan,
students have less exposure to the Romanized alphabet than their counterparts in a Western or multilingual country. english pronunciation is also difficult for japanese learners. Many letters in english sound the same, but most learners have trouble with deciphering the letter “r” from the letter “l”. In japanese, there is no “l” letter in the alphabet. Instead, a “r” is substituted. For instance, the word “black” can be written in japanese as “burakku”, but the pronunciation of “r” is “l”, making the work sound as “bulakku”. Though these two problems—the Romanized alphabet and english pronunciation—are foreseen by japanese english
teachers (JTEs), there lies a bigger problem in teaching english in japan. The most troublesome yet more subtle problem teachers face in english class is the overall structure of english education in japanese schools. According to Barbara Bradford's “Teaching english Pronunciation to japanese learners”, “japanese students are used to learning rules and appreciate being given rules”[…], something I have noticed in my own experiences as an ALT in japan.
When students are not given a clear explanation, students either pay no attention to the lesson or ask the JTE for more details. It hinders the continuation of the lesson or activity and further forces the ALT into the “foreigner” category. Unfortunately, since most native speakers are from Western countries like the united states, where the Socratic method—questioning until one arrives at the truth—is often employed in the classroom, many ALTs find themselves in a rigid position. In many cases, the ALTs take students' attitudes as a sign of not caring. Another problem when teaching japanese learners is how the class is ran by the japanese teacher. Some teachers rely too much on the textbook, causing the students to become bored during class. I have noticed over the past two years of teaching in japan that the teachers
who rely heavily on the textbook are older teachers. Most of the teachers who I have worked with that have been teaching for twenty years have difficulty designing games and activities for students. The students either don't participate or go back to using their native language, curtailing the overall goal of the lesson. Though this is something that can be avoided by asking other teachers or assistants for games, many japanese teachers don't take the time to do so because they are busy. Unfortunately, news of teachers not providing adequate english education to students doesn't reach a city or prefectural office until students receive their grades. Although teaching japanese learners has it rewards, as it does for teaching any
kind of learner anywhere, teaching english has its problems that inexperienced teachers should learn before arriving in japan. Works Cited Bradford, Barbara. “Teaching english Pronunciation to japanese Learners”. The japanese Learner . 1994. Issue 4. http://www.brookes.ac.uk/schools/education/eal/jl-archive/jl-bestof/27.pdf
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