Explore More

The Japanese Classroom – What I Learned Teaching English in Japan

This post was written by Laura Greenwood – Guest post by: Marisa Brooks

As I prepared for my very first trip to Japan right after college, I tried to do as much research as I could. I learned about the food, a bit about the language, and some of the customs and culture of my host country. Mind you, this was before the internet existed, so it wasn’t easy!

However, one thing I didn’t even think to consider was what my classroom was going to be like. I assumed that because I had taught sophomore English in my practice teaching term at college, I was all prepared to teach English as a foreign langauge in a high school in Japan.

Well, that was my first shock! However, after nine years in classrooms ranging from high schools to companies to community language schools to jukus (after-school cram schools), I can say I learned a thing or two about what to expect when you step into a Japanese classroom. Here are a few examples:

➢ Structure. Desks were set neatly in rows that were not to be moved.
➢ Silence. My high school girls, the businessmen, even the community classes were very quiet. The most outgoing classes I had were housewives who took English to have fun and get out of the house for a while.
➢ Expectations. Students were there to receive knowledge from the teacher – not necessarily to “do” anything other than “learn.” This was the basis of their education system and it was a challenge getting them to speak English.

I also learned a few things not to do:

➢ Never sit on or lean against furniture that was not built for that purpose. Tables and desks are to hold papers and books, not people.
➢ Never blow your nose in front of your students (or anywhere else in public). Always go into a restroom or other deserted place before doing this!
➢ Never rely on open group “discussions.” Because of the ingrained idea that “the nail that sticks up gets pounded down,” students do not want to stand out or draw attention to themselves. Shyness will keep them from speaking up in a discussion, other than to contribute thoughts like “I agree.”

Some ideas to help:

➢ Use pair and small group work where students will feel more comfortable talking.
➢ Work on pronunciation with the whole group – again, calling on individuals with something as challenging as pronouncing English can be agonizing for your students.
➢ Students have already studied lots of grammar. Let them work together to figure out how the language flows, and focus on communicative, student-centered tasks and activities.
No matter who your students are, you will learn just as much from them as they learn from you, if not more! If you always remember to listen more than you speak (after all, we have two ears and only one mouth), your classroom will be a great learning environment for both you and your students.

Our diverse, global community of contributors includes experts in the field, Bridge course graduates, online and classroom-based teachers worldwide, and Bridge faculty and staff.