Teaching Japanese people
Teaching Japanese people

Teaching Japanese people

However teaching is an occupation where one supposed teach, but it also serves as an opportunity learn about the mentality of the people you teach.

However teaching is an occupation where one supposed teach, but it also serves as an opportunity learn about the mentality of the people you teach.

Japanese people are well-known for their loyal attitude towards the hierarchy which is often represented and strongly connected to the bushi (or samurai) culture during the Edo era. However, this legacy of the hierarchy does not only transpire at work, but also in school when they are students and even as adults when taking any sort of lessons. In fact, their relationship to their instructor is a reflection of their attachment to discipline, deference and loyalty which are a logical corollary ofthis hierarchy.

As an English instructor, I noticed immediately this relationship of trust built with the students. It seems that as learners Japanese people will trust their teacher has the knowledge and the method required to teach them. Hence, the deference since the student, looking to improve, needs to be open to the transmission. That also explains why they seek their instructor’s guidance during the learning process on how to study and ultimately enhancetheir skills. Coming up with a comprehensive progress plan was always very comforting and more particularly for students who had very specific goals. I suppose there are some negative sides to such complaisance in a sense that being proactive during a lesson rather than just following your instructor’s advice and decisions will most definitely boost any student’s learning curve.

Furthermore, for adult learners, an instructor is not just someone who teaches you against financial compensation. In other words, it can turn into more than a professional relationship as the instructor can quickly become a confidant or even a friend which can come across as paradoxicalwhen we keep relating how introverted Japanese people are.If not a confidant, an instructor can grow into someone they have built a relationship of trust with. Then, taking English lessons suddenly turns into a habitual weekly appointment taken more for sharing than learning as such. A Japanese TV channel once broadcasted a short documentary on a well-known Japanese eikawa (language conversation school) and detailed the various reasons why people decided to take lessons even when in their job or daily life they were not required to use that language. Surprisingly, many clients explained that these lessons were an opportunity to share and socialize with a foreigner or with someone who did not belong to their usual professional, family and social circles. That would shed some light on the reasons why some students would form a strong attachment to their instructors.

Another aspect that characterizes the way Japanese people learn is their dread of making mistakes. Even though they take lessons precisely because they do not master the subject in the first place, the focus on accuracy occupies a big part in their approach to learning. 
This translates also through their obsession with grammar. When in some countries people emphasize their need to just be able to express themselves clearly and understand others, in Japan, I very often come upon students whose purpose is to make zero mistakes before even learning to speak smoothly. This also comes from the manner they have studied languages their entire life. Indeed, Japanese schools used to put the emphasis on grammar so much that they might have missed the actual purpose of learning a language which is interacting. I would like to underline the phrase “used to” as things are changing in Japan. Nowadays, a lot of schools invite foreign ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) into their classrooms so that pupils are exposed to the language more intensively and get to practice some activities which involve communicating with their classmates in the language while their regular English teacher (a Japanese teacher) carries on with their grammar lessons in their native language the old-fashioned way.

This constant preoccupation with making sentences that are perfectly grammatically correct lead to a fear of errors. In fact, making mistakes is the biggest obstacle that holds them back. Therefore, to people sensitive to corrections it is primordial to reiterate the fact that mistakes are not a big deal and there is always room for improvement.

Finally, homework has a very big place especially in the children and teenagers’ educational life when it comes to learning progress. A heavy workload seems to reflect on how much knowledge they will absorb. Unfortunately, learning a language is not that straightforward. The amount of teaching does not necessarily equal to learning and quality is more important than quantity.

Ouarda Guellou

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