Problems for learners in japan
In the following article I describe some problems for native japanese
learners of english
. The natures of the presented problems are linguistic and cultural.
Through interview of native japanese
students, I discovered that the japanese
find it hard to speak only english
in classes due to their poor english
levels, and even more advanced students with good grammar knowledge have the same problem as well.
According to the most recent TOEFL (Test of english
as a Foreigner Language) data (2010), Japan ranks 135th in the world with a score below average. Among the 30 Asian nations with reported average scores, Japan ranks higher only than Laos, Tajikistan and Cambodia.
In grammar, in spite of there are structures that exist only in english
students tend to absorb it relatively well, however "model auxiliaries are one of the most difficult grammatical concepts to learn by the japanese
" (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman).
About speaking speed, the japanese
language is a really fast-paced language and as a result the japanese
also tend to speak the english
language fast, leaving no time for organized thought and speak more clearly.
Regarding pronunciation, there are many common problems shared by the japanese
which they find difficult to overcome. The english
phonemic inventory has many sounds absent from japanese
which presents an extra problem for learning the english
language. For example the sound of 'C' isn't part of the japanese
phonetic inventory and is often substituted by the 'she' sound. There is also confusion when the japanese
want to pronounce 'L' and 'R', as they cannot clearly understand the difference between one and the other ('L' is often substituted by 'R' and vice-versa).
Comparing pitching systems, the u.s.
and downs are completely different. This can make it harder for the japanese
student to express the right intonation.
But the major kind of problems for learners in Japan seems to be the cultural ones. The japanese
live in a really hierarchical society where they always have to be aware of the social level of the persons they have to deal with. According to a British teacher teaching japanese
students in Japan for several years:
must constantly remember who they’re talking to, what is the pecking order in the group, when should they speak and who they should let speak first, plus of course the possible repercussions of whatever they say on their future relations with their colleagues. They must be constantly on their guard, careful of what they say, and watching their colleagues' faces and body language for clues as to how they are thinking. Displeasure will rarely be expressed verbally." (Sheffner)
Along with the general low english
levels, this is why that most japanese
are afraid to make mistakes in the classroom, refraining students from speaking.
Some of these problems could be overcome if there was enough confidence to speak english
. The existent lack of confidence to speak the english
language can be explained by the fact that english
is rarely used, seem or heard in the japanese
daily life, for example, lack of people to practice, lack of information in english
, no english
language on TV (as english
content is dubbed to their language).
These situations above lead to a lack of motivation for the japanese
to learn english
. In fact, there are more cultural reasons for the lack of motivation. Students can hardly arrange time as their free time is lost by tight deadlines, examination wars and determinated scores to achieve (standard japanese
student lifestyle). Employees also have tight deadlines, lots of overtime sometimes chained to their desks at weekends, and very few chances for their family (standard japanese
seems to be the last thing that they want do in their free time, thus feeling that it is a waste of their time.
To help to overcome these problems, a comfortable atmosphere should be created to encourage students to speak and gain more confidence, interesting topics should be used for motivation, lessons that will expose them more to the language should be planned and a lot of pronunciation practice and mouth diagrams study should be use to correct pronunciation problems.
Interview with native japanese
students and former students of english
Marianne Celce-Murcia & Diane Larsen-Freeman, 2003 grammar book;
TOEFL data: "http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/TOEFL-SUM-2010.pdf"