Having spent 10 years teaching in Japan, I can tell you so much about why Japanese speakers have a larger mountain to climb than our European cousins when it comes to speaking performance.
There are many, many things that can inhibit a Japanese speaker form speaking within a group class. I have had situations where a young person will actually be quite loquacious when on their own in a class but when joined by someone older immediately reduces their own speech practically down to nothing. When this happened the first time, after asking the previously chatty student what happened, why hadn't they continued questioning the other student as they had been doing with me just five minutes earlier, the reply was because the other student was older. She just waited until she was asked a question, and then answered it. Nothing more, nothing less. It is rude to freely and openly quiz someone much older. In the classroom, this provides very challenging scenarios for teachers, not to mention and more importantly for the development of students' English as well.
When Japanese students come to OISE London to join group classes, the real challenge begins.
Our classes here have students predominantly from Europe. Western society does not have “the hang ups”, if you pardon the parlance, where hierarchy within a group stops you from voicing your opinion. There is very little room to be reticent. Understanding the cultural motives behind a Japanese speakers inactivity in a class has been vital to my planning and classroom management.
Maybe because there will always be a large part of Japan left within my heart, I am so conscious of the Japanese speaker's dilemma that I almost want to take them under my wing and guide them through the discussion or debate, showing them how to fend off disagreements from the French, Spanish and German student; how not to agree so quickly, nor give in; question the older person!
This is just one of the many hurdles that I know exists for Japanese speakers. But I am proud that my decade of experience is proving to be of great service to our Japanese students.
Written by Brian, an experienced EFL teacher at OISE London. To find out more about our other teachers read the blog by our spoken performance teacher, Ian: Acting and Teaching - What do they have in common?