Sunday, January 01, 2006

Article - Five tips for teaching Japanese Students

Five tips for teaching Japanese students

By Peter Hanami.

As more and more schools seek international students, teachers face a more difficult job of conveying course information to a more diverse range of students. As a teacher myself, I was always wanting to know as much as I could about my students backgrounds and how I could communicate more effectively. To learn more I took myself to Japan, taught English and studied the language. Japanese students provide some unique challenges to teachers; here are a few tips that may help you in the classroom.

1. Role of the teacher in Japan

In Japan, teachers are afforded the same status as doctors and lawyers and share the honored title of sensei (teacher in Japanese). Students look up to and deeply respect teachers. This is good as you always get students attention, but the downsides are that you are fully responsible for the students learning, so what you say becomes very important, as does what you do and the implied link that you will take care, guide and direct the student. In return, students often won’t look at you directly in the eyes, and will prefer to look at your chin and upper neck, (its rude to stare directly at the eyes or face).

Tip: Always do what you say you will do, (Japanese students will hang on your every word), make it easy for students to approach you, for example: you may have a short 10 minute chat time after every class and give your email address so students can communicate with you directly, if they need to ask questions. Be sure to reply to it the same day if possible and to use clear and simple words.

2. English usage

Japanese students are very sensitive about their English language skills, whether it be written or spoken. In Japan, if students make a mistake, they are told immediately and are asked to repeat the sentence and correct the mistake. This may sound, overly harsh and strict, but it is the way they are taught and accept.

Tip: If you want to help your students, you can help by 1. identifying the mistake, 2. briefly explain meaning (for example, write up the sentence, phrase or word on the white board, highlight pronunciation, tone, etc) and ask the student to repeat and give feedback afterward, for spoken and written work. Do it quickly, calmly and professionally. Watch your facial expressions, for example, a simple scowl or a frown will be taken by the student as a negative. When you have an opportunity to give feedback, provide accurate information that will help the student, for example: “Yumiko, your presentation was very good, your pronunciation was clear, you had good tone, you projected your voice well and your research was very thorough, well done”.

3. Adjust the subject content to accommodate the student’s skills.

As an international student it is very daunting to study with local students.
Students always feel they are missing something, either what is said, meant or implied. Class time is the most challenging as they are called on to do many tasks simultaneously, for example, listening, writing, thinking, speaking and keeping up.

As Second language learners, they have to process all the above information into their own language and back to English, a very tiring job!. Japanese students learn English in Japan but they are not proficient in listening and speaking.

Tip: With this in mind, you can reduce students anxiety by structuring tasks to build on key their strengths, for example,  reading. By giving clear steps and using clear English in handouts, overheads and board work, your Japanese students will be able to keep up and get more from your classes. 

4. Get to know the student

Take time at the start of the course to get to know each student in detail, their background eg, family, mother, father, sister, brother, their education experiences in Japan, sports they played in Japan, eg, baseball, soccer, etc, things they like, eg, animals, sports, music, why they picked Australia for study and future plans after study, just to name a few. This could be done in the form of a questionnaire and used as a take home exercise for first class.

Tip: Use this information to get to know the student informally after class. Getting to know the student will build trust and get the student feeling comfortable and confident, allowing them over time to participate more in class.

5. Always provide plenty of guidance

In my experience, Japanese students can be frightfully shy. To overcome this shyness, you have to build their confidence. I have found the best way to do this is to set them up to succeed.

Tip: Take a task, break it into simple steps, provide a good example, get students to practice, informally and give individual feedback and give them time to learn the steps and practice. Try not to ask direct questions, instead get students into groups to discuss and report back. Japanese students are particularly scared of group discussions and oral presentations. If you have these formats in your class, give plenty of notice, provide detailed written information, plenty of chances for practice and provide encouraging positive feedback. I am sure you will see a big difference in their performances.                      

Peter’s Japanese Student research includes:

© Copyright, Peter Hanami, 2006. All Rights Reserved

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