Problems for Learners in JapanLearners in Japan are confronted with two major problems when attempting to learn english as a foreign language. The first problem is the multitude of differences between their native language and english; the phonetics in japanese compared to the phonetics produces in english, as well as grammatical differences. The second major challenge is their learning environment and unique mentality in Japan, than can create issues in the classroom.
The japanese phonetic system makes no distinction between the “L” sound and the “R” sound, having only one sound between the english pronunciation of both those letters. This causes a problem phonetically when trying to distinguish between words that use those letters. A lack of the “V” sound also poses a problem, as japanese students often revert to the “B” sound in english instead (Shoebottom).
Japan also places a vowel after every hard consonant, creating a problem when saying multi-consonant words. For example, the english word “Practical” would be spoken as “Pu-ra-ki-ta-ru” by a typical japanese speaker. The final hurdle with phonetics from japanese students is that they also do not have the same range of vowels as is the case in english, and therefore have issues with diphthong in different words, such as the distinction between “bought” and “boat”, that can sound exactly the same to a japanese english learner (Shoebottom).
Grammatically, english and japanese are very far apart. The sentence construction is completely different, with the pattern “subject, object, verb”, as opposed to english’s sentence construction pattern of “subject, verb, object”. This can create issues for japanese english learners. japanese also lacks any kind of auxiliary verbs, which makes the construction of the negative form and certain conjugations in english a challenge for some students. There are also no articles, with some nouns even taking up the place of adjectives. This can lead to strange sentences that don’t always sound right to a native english speaker. japanese has no distinction between countable and uncountable objects, which makes it difficult to identify when to add “a” before a noun for countable objects and uncountable objects. Finally, the japanese language has no relative pronouns, which can be an issue for understanding them in english. Finally, japanese does not use possessive pronouns the same way (Shoebottom). Therefore, these are all areas that need particular attention when teaching english to japanese students.
The second problem japanese students have with english comes from their learning environment and unique cultural mentality. There is a popular japanese proverb that says, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. This can help understand some of the issues japanese learners will experience. In compulsory learning, “...japanese schools
suppress spontaneous behavior and enforce discipline...” (p. 142, Sugimoto). This leads to a general lack of participation in class and disrupts the model of teaching english as a foreign language where student speaking time is maximized.
At the same time, while the TEFL teacher would work hard to break away from the text book and adapt as much as possible, “It is standard routine in many subjects for the teacher to instruct an entire class to read a textbook aloud, in unison. This gives the class a sense of working together and makes it difficult to deviate from the set pattern.” (p. 132, Sugimoto). This makes “..students who are good at answering multiple-choice questions but who lack creativity and original thinking.” (p. 141, Sugimoto). This is not a good thing when trying to learn english, and makes certain activities and general participation very hard.
japanese learners also have an aversion to directness in japanese can also create a problem when forming english, as westerners tend to be more direct. This can create very general sentences in english that lose their meaning (Shoebottom).
Therefore, one can see that the overall differences in japanese students` mother tongue and english, as well as differences in their ideology can create many issues for japanese students learning english.
Shoebottom, Paul. "The differences between english and japanese." A guide to learning english. Frankfurt International School, 1996. Web. 22 Feb 2012.
Sugimoto, Yoshio. An Introduction To japanese Society. 2nd. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Pr, 2003. 132-42. Print.