great English topics for Japanese students

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 seem 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!

English topics to discuss with Japanese students

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 could also be alarming when no one wants to respond. Much more if you have to 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 would most likely master the first three skills. Try placing a native English speaker in front of them, aside from yourself, and you’d quickly notice the pressure they feel. Your students may become extremely nervous, quiet and shy. 

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.

Japan Itself

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.


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.

Personal Questions

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!

Key Takeaways

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!

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