Having been to Japan and being able to experience their unique culture, it is easy to understand why they have barriers in learning the English language even after years of study.
Japanese Language is already complex in the formative years of Japanese students. They need to study their Japanese characters of Hiragana and Katakana and Kanji by level. Furthermore, there is also a need to study “Romaji” or the Roman Alphabet which is equally important and useful in learning the Japanese letters.
I taught English to Japanese students part time and found compelling observations among Japanese students and the common reasons why they have difficulty overcoming the learning barriers.
1. Lack of Speaking Practice
Japanese students are generally shy and are hesitant to strike a conversation with an English speaking person.
2. Mother Tongue Complex
As with any other ESL students, it is hard to dissociate native language from one’s way of thinking. The motto “Think in English, speak in English” is hard to practice.
3. Culture Bondage
While studying, instead of giving time to watch English movies and listen to English songs, they tend to watch and listen to Japanese artists most of the time. They read novels in Japanese translations.
Moreover, they immediately speak in their native language whenever they meet their fellow Japanese students.
4. The “R” complex
Japanese students have a hard time pronouncing words that emphasizes the letter “R” sound.
Words such as ‘journey’, ‘repeat’, are being pronounced with the “L” sound. Japanese speakers are limited in their mouth movements which results to specific letters in a word not being emphasized.
5. Grammar Consciousness
Japanese students study the English grammar seriously.
However, since the Japanese language may omit the use of grammar and still sound correct, the English language is entirely different as it mostly depends on grammar to understand its meaning and context.
For example, あなたは車を使っていますか？in English “Are you using a car?” may be translated into Japanese as just “車ですか?(Car?)”.
Hence, the conscious effort to use correct grammar which may hinder spontaneous flow of the conversation.
Generally, Japanese students are very eager to perfect the English language in the soonest possible time. However, as I have observed, there is also a barrier in exploring the culture that other languages may require of them.
Learning English is not only about grammar and diction and pronunciation. It also has something to do with their culture. I strongly recommend breaking the barrier by being more open to understanding the English Language and immerse oneself in the culture. Read Murakami’s books in English. Watch the news in English or on nhk.org in English and listen to indie artists too.
May I recommend Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit (Swedish), Laura Marling (British), or to Taylor Swift and Adele. Sing along with them and try to emulate the pronunciation. Most importantly, write about it in English. English is fun.