Are you one of those people who wonder why English is hard for the Japanese? Well, learning a new language is extremely difficult for anybody. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how good you are in other subjects, or what language you are learning. Completely altering what language you routinely speak, write, and read in is hard. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, nor anything wrong with asking for help.
Why is English so hard for the Japanese? The main reason that Japanese students have such a difficult time with learning English is because of how profoundly different the languages are. Aside from the different vocabularies, these two languages have quite different alphabets, vowels, and grammatical structures.
Clearly there are a lot of challenges for Japanese students learning English. But, there are also plenty of solutions to these problems.
Top Reasons Why English is Hard For the Japanese Students
Japanese students spend almost six years learning English in school. Compared to the average American student that usually takes a language course for about two years, you spend more than double that amount of time learning English.
But just because you spend a longer period of time learning it, that doesn’t mean you were learning it correctly. There are multiple factors that play into the incorrect teaching of English in Japanese schools. The first few reasons are because of the languages themselves.
There are many differences between English and Japanese that are challenging to learn. These differences include:
- Sentence Structure
- Vowel Sounds
When you add these difficulties to learning an entirely new vocabulary and culture, it can be overwhelming. The way it’s taught to students in traditional Japanese schools doesn’t help much either. The main problems with how Japanese teachers teach English are:
- Teachers focus too much on grammar, rather than conversation
- Instructors teach their students how to memorize material for tests rather than for actual world use
- Inadequate teachers that were trained incorrectly
- Students being afraid of making mistakes
- It’s usually only taught because it looks good on resumes
1. Grammar Rather Than Conversation
The Japanese education system tends to place theory over practice. Essentially, this means they are learning how to pass tests with English, rather than speak English. Things like grammar are easier for teachers to teach.
Grammar can be used to create worksheets, test material, and requirements to achieve higher grades. And while grammar is an important aspect of learning a language, it is not the only aspect of the language that matters.
2. No Real World Practice
Chances are, the only time a student has been exposed to English is when they are in their English classroom. Outside of that, it’s not heard often.
Teachers probably do not let students listen to and speak the language. Repeating after the teacher isn’t the same as speaking it; You’re only just repeating what is said, rather than responding to it. Because of the lack of practice outside the classroom, they’ll have trouble speaking it in an actual conversation.
The difference of environments doesn’t help much either. A classroom is different from the real world. It is somewhere that is:
- Dedicated to learning English for a specific amount of time
But when you’re in a natural, conversational situation in the real world, no amount of written tests can really prepare you. With tests, you can know ahead of time what you should study and see what you need to focus on. But in the real world, it’s on-the-spot and you can’t prepare ahead of time.
3. Inadequate Teachers
Japanese teachers usually teach the grammar of English in Japanese. They also see if their students can follow the textbook by translating the English into Japanese. Of course, this probably does not help in learning the language.
It also probably doesn’t help that the teachers who are teaching English this way were also taught English in this way. It creates this cycle of students not receiving adequate teachers, and nothing constructive is really taught.
4. Students Being Afraid of Making Mistakes
Japanese cultural norms instill a fear of speaking up about having questions or making a mistake in students. Because of this, Japanese students feel they must speak perfect english and not make any errors. In a way, they impose silence on themselves out of a fear of messing up.
Of course, this is not very constructive, nor is it realistic. Learning a new language requires you to change the way you:
It is fairly close to a lifestyle change. It takes time and effort to improve and refine that skill. It’s almost expected of you to make mistakes along the way, and that’s totally ok.
Making mistakes is how you learn, so you should never be afraid to make some mistakes. As long as you learn something from them, and use that lesson to build your skills.
5. It’s Usually Only Taught Because it Looks Good on Resumes
Using English in daily Japanese life tends to be more for “decorative” purposes. That is, you may just be learning English to include it as a skill on your future resume. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you can use your education how you want, of course. The issue comes into play when teachers are teaching you English only for these purposes.
Teaching students things so they can add them as extra skills on resumes is the main focus of the Japanese education system. This is primarily to prepare students for finding a higher paying and more successful job. This isn’t a bad thing in theory, but in practice, it can make learning feel forced.
How English Teachers Can Help
Learning English from a native speaker can help you improve significantly. There are a few things a good English teacher should do in order to make an impact.
- They should familiarize themselves with your language
- Facilitating communicative activities for communication and practice
- Establishing a good relationship to improve your experience
- Using Japanese/English Related Examples
1. Familiarizing Themselves With Your Language
A teacher is usually not expected to speak Japanese fluently. But when you are interacting with each other, they should be able to understand some of what you are saying.
It would be impossible for you to speak English for an hour straight. You are just learning, and that is asking way too much of you. You should also feel comfortable with speaking a language you know well in their classroom, and by extension asking them questions and communicating with your peers.
Teachers will also be able to formulate their lessons better if they know some basic Japanese. If you aren’t able to understand them, it would be much more difficult for them to teach you. The whole purpose of you being there to learn and enrich your mind would be defeated.
2. Facilitating Communicative Activities
As stated before, you might be having trouble with learning English because of the lack of opportunities you have to practice what you’ve learned. A good English teacher should be able to help you with that.
It may be uncomfortable and a bit awkward at first but practicing as much as possible will help you build your confidence with speaking the language. But your teacher should attempt to make the communicative activities as natural as possible.
Communicative activities can be:
- Interviewing each other
- Playing interactive games to help prepare for tests
- Imagining different scenarios and acting them out in English
Or anything else your teacher creates to help you build your confidence with the English language.
3. Establishing a Good Relationship
The dynamic between a student and a teacher can make or break the experience for both of them. If you feel not confident enough to participate actively or express your ideas, a good teacher can bring you out of your shell.
It will be a big cultural difference, but it will help strengthen the relationship between you and your teacher. A strong teacher-student relationship can help in the future with questions you may have, struggles with your lessons, and overall make the experience more enjoyable. Learning should be enriching, not just something you do for a letter grade.
4. Using Japanese/ English Related Examples
One of the cool things about learning a new language is that you get to learn about another culture as well. If your teacher integrates cultural aspects from their homeland with your lessons, take it as an opportunity to broaden your mind and increase your knowledge of the world. It could also help you win a trivia question or two.
However, the lessons shouldn’t be too one-sided. Your teacher should also use Japanese examples while teaching, such as:
- Japanese Media they enjoy
- Travel Spots
- Cultural Traditions
- Traditional Dishes
- Japanese Fashion
This can help bridge the gap between English and Japanese, making it easier for you to learn and easier for your teacher to teach.
The fact you are learning a new language, whether of your own accord or because your education system requires it, is impressive and admirable. Having the right teacher will help you a lot, so don’t be afraid to seek out the right assistance for your needs.