Want to get your students comfortable in English? Here are English topics to discuss with Japanese students, along with the ones to avoid!
If you are an English teacher in Japan or an online teacher with Japanese students, you may well agree that even the brightest students can find it hard to hold a conversation in English. They can get the perfect spelling of words, use excellent construction of sentences, demonstrate impressive reading abilities, and more, but when it comes to talking with other people, they struggle to do it in English. They may seem to lack confidence, or be too afraid. But why?
Read on and find out why Japanese students struggle to converse in English and discover the topics you can use to help them get over their fear of speaking in English.
Great English Topics to Discuss with Japanese Students: Get Them Talking Non-stop!
According to several studies, there are many different reasons why the Japanese people find it hard to use the English language in a manner that is as conversationally fluent as other non-English speaking nations. However, the number one reason on the list is simply that English is not a priority in their education. The emphasis on this language in the curriculum is scarce, though upon initial appearance this may not seem to be the case. Time may be given over to the language, but resources and teacher training are often lacking. Furthermore, it is only in recent years that the Japanese government has given more attention to the teaching of English.
If you’ve been teaching English to Japanese students for some time, you will notice that you are in charge of the conversation most of the time. While this might appear natural since you’re the teacher, it can also be very alarming when no one wants to respond. It is much more so if you have to basically force them to talk back. Along the way, you may even realize that the topics Japanese people generally talk about are quite different.
As an English teacher, your goal is to enhance the students’ skills and abilities in four core skills – listening, reading, writing, and of course, speaking. Your Japanese students will most likely have some competency in the first three skills, sometimes to a surprising degree. However, try placing a fluent English speaker in front of them, aside from yourself, and you quickly notice the pressure they feel. Your students may become extremely nervous, quiet, and apologetic.
If you are stuck in this situation and are looking for ways to help them get comfortable speaking the language, check out the topics below. And while discussing the topics that are mostly close to their hearts, don’t forget to assure them that it’s not a sin to make mistakes.
It isn’t surprising, right? There are many things that people can discuss about foods. There are the most famous cuisines in the world and the most exotic. You can encourage your students to talk about their favorite food or the ones they do not like in your class. What are the cuisines they want to try, or if they’re going to learn cooking. Start from the local cuisines as every region in the country has its delectable specialty. After, you can encourage them to talk about the foods from other countries. Ask them if they are willing to try exotic foods and the likes. You might be surprised how enthusiastic Japanese people are when it comes to food.
There are several forms of entertainment that old and young generations can enjoy today. But arguably, one of the best forms of entertainment can be accessed from modern devices such as laptops, tablets, mobile phones, gaming PCs, and the likes. Younger students are keen on the latest apps, may it be for music, streaming, gaming, and more.
There is also a plethora of movies, television series, and trending videos. And if entertainment is the topic, you might quickly agree that there are millions of things to talk about –it seems never-ending. You can ask your students to share about their favorite movies, why they like them. Talk casually to them about famous online games. Or, how about the thing Japan is most known for –anime! No matter what level your students are, the good thing is that they would indeed never run out of things to discuss!
Students today tend to have more hobbies than those from the past decades. It’s also a good thing to talk about the things they love to do during their free time. Ask them what they dream of doing and provide some help if you can. Even if you are not familiar with the hobbies they are talking about, do your assignment and find exciting things related to their pursuits. Or, you could invite your students to enlighten you about the things they love. Show them that you are willing to listen, and in return, you’ll get them to talk more enthusiastically.
You would rarely meet a person in this lifetime who doesn’t want to travel both the famous and secluded destinations in the world. The Japanese people are no different. Getting them to talk about their dream destination will surely be worthwhile. In case they find it hard to start talking about their experience, encourage them to show some photos or videos. You can ask them to describe the place based on the pictures, or encourage them to let their imagination run free as if they are going back in time. You can also ask what they would do if they got the chance to visit the place again. And since your students are taking English lessons, there’s a high chance they want to travel to other countries, too.
Many citizens are proud of their countries, and you will find that many Japanese people are the same. Many people, particularly students, love to talk about their countries to foreigners. It is familiar, and easy to discuss in detail. You can, for instance, ask them about Japan’s notable culture, or about the country’s finest cuisines, best places to visit, about its history, and the like. Put them in the role of a tourist guide. You can level up the topic by encouraging them to discuss more complex subjects such as how the Japanese government works, the educational system, and economic status. But of course, you would always consider the students you are teaching as you progress on the topics.
Check out a summary of this article as a video!
Top Topics to Avoid (Particularly for Beginners)
Now that you have a list of English topics to discuss with Japanese students, let’s discuss the topics you might want to avoid. Especially, let’s look at topics for those who are just beginning to learn English as a foreign language.
Many ESL students, particularly Westerners, are open to engaging in debate or expressing their opinions about different subjects. However, Japanese students are unlikely to be so. According to some scholars, taking strong stances and individualism are not as valued in the country than as in other countries such as the United States. It is possible for your students to feel embarrassed when you push them about their views on specific issues.
The superiority of your country
As mentioned above, Japanese students are likely to converse more in English when talking about Japan than any other place in the world. Sure, you can speak to them about your country of origin, and about customs in general. But remember, do not go beyond what is acceptable by implying that your country is better than Japan, or that students are missing something because they are Japanese. It’s okay to talk about differences in culture, traditions, and other things, but keep in mind not appearing arrogant. Your Japanese students can get pretty annoyed or defensive, just as any nationality might, so be careful about your approach.
There are common questions that teachers can ask their students. “How old are you?” “What are your career goals?” “Why do you want to learn English?” Often, as you get close to your students, you become comfortable asking them personal questions such as whether they have a boyfriend or about their weight, beauty regimen, family issues, and more. However, many topics may be too personal or sensitive for Japanese students and can make them uncomfortable. If you push too much, they might end up annoyed and may eventually clam up or leave your class. Conversely, be ready to let students know when they have crossed a line. Questions regarding your love life, age, and even your “three-size” are likely to surprise you! Just let students know if they overstep a boundary.
This may be obvious, but may not be. Any discussion about money, the cost of living, salaries, and the likes can be too direct. You might think you’ve found a channel wherein you can share how expensive it is to stay in Japan. Or let’s say you are an online teacher; you might be tempted to tell them that you cannot go to Japan because of the costs. Complaining about these matters won’t take you far, even if you are talking to younger Japanese ESL students. If your students are economists of some kind, then perhaps you can push. Again, you may be surprised to find your students ask about YOUR salary, and it’s up to you how far you go in your answer!
Additional Tips on How to Handle Japanese Student’s Nervousness in English Conversation
You have probably observed that Japanese students often need encouragement to speak up their thoughts and ideas. Also, you probably notice that they are quieter than other classifications of students. They are less likely to let out their opinions during class; their confidence is withdrawn.
One big reason influencing Japanese students’ quiet behavior in class is their natural classroom setting in Japan. In a Japanese class, the students’ engagement to listen and learn is often the priority. But of course, as a teacher, you want to hear your student’s opinions as it is also a way to assess their skills. However, how can you start a valuable conversation if the students are drowned in nervousness? Since Japanese students are not used to speaking up, it is only natural for them to experience anxiety. So, how can you help them get comfortable in conversing? Well, you might want to check out the below tips.
Identify and know the underlying issue of each of your students.
Usually, the student’s communication difficulties are due to natural reluctance in speaking or shyness. However, some cases show that students present silent signs of the underlying issue of expressing themselves during class. Your help and attention are primarily needed in that situation.
One of the most common causes of a student’s reluctance to speak out is because the student is a victim of bullying. While it is heart-breaking to encounter such problems, it should not stop you from taking action and help manage the situation. Hopefully, after the problem is solved, the student can slowly start to speak up in class, especially if your class is entertaining and there is no reason not to be engaged in-class discussion.
Develop a positive and safe environment.
A classroom is a place to learn; that is why inaccurate answers and opinions are accepted. You can create a positive environment for your students by rewarding them with praises and encouraging every little thing they achieved in class. Also, you can never contribute to your student’s self-esteem and confidence if you are too harsh in correcting your students.
It is not recommended to stop your student’s development by noticing such minor errors during activities. What you need is patience and passion for seeing the positivity in a student’s learning development. A good teacher is the one who radiates positivity in the learning environment.
Give feedback with care.
You sure aim for significant development for your students, but creating such high standards and expectations can only hinder you from seeing your students’ hard work. Well, you can maintain your students’ interest in class by handling and relaying your feedback and corrections in a friendly and comforting way.
Moreover, you can avoid addressing the feedback individually; Japanese students tend to overthink if they are singled out from others. They should hear the collective comments about their progress.
Know your students by heart.
You can only plan your approach to your students if you make an effort to know them deeply. Every student is unique from one another. Even if you can’t speak Japanese fluently, it will be helpful for you to make casual conversations with your students outside the classroom. The little effort you invest in can go a long way and bring a fantastic result.
Gain support from your colleagues.
If you know well-experienced teachers, you can ask for some tips about handling shy and quiet students properly. Indeed, you can’t just hope that one day your shy students would suddenly speak up and be vibrant. It is your responsibility to help and guide your students. There will be no other experience that can match the tremendous satisfying feeling of seeing your students finally open up their thoughts and learning in class.
English lessons should be fun, enjoyable, and light-hearted, regardless of the nationality of your students and their age level. Of course, not every student would have the same interest. From this list of English topics to discuss with Japanese students, you will get ones they will love. You will also be aware of those that would put them off. However, the general rule is to start with the things mentioned above while keeping everything casual and light!
Free materials for English Discussion!
Here are some English conversation prompts you can use to encourage speaking in your EFL classroom!
How many cousins do you have?
Does your family get together for New Year?
Do you have a big family or small family?
Who is the youngest in your family?
Do you want to have children?
What do you know about your family history?
How many times a day do you eat?
What is your favourite healthy food?
How often do you skip lunch?
Did you eat out last week?
Have you ever been on a package tour?
What is the longest vacation you have been on?
Where would you like to visit in Asia?
If you could take a cruise anywhere, where would you go?
Do you prefer long vacations at home or short vacations abroad?
Where is a good place to travel for a school trip?
Do you enjoy trying new food when you travel overseas?
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