Japanese Language Instruction Q&A

Note: Throughout this document, “instructor” refers to the person in charge of Japanese language instruction.

1.Japanese for Lectures

Q1.The first month of classes in the two-month lecture will be conducted in the students’ home country, and the second month in Japan. What matters should be paid attention to in creating the curriculum?

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A. In creating the curriculum, it is a good idea to separate content that can be studied in the students’ home country from that which is better done in Japan. Some people who teach Japanese in their home countries are not familiar with Japan’s society or living situations. In studies in their home countries, it would be a good idea to cover content that does not require special knowledge about Japan.

For example, it will be rather difficult for teachers who have no knowledge of shopping and transportation facilities in Japan, or of sorting garbage, to teach the Japanese necessary for making use of such facilities and services. Besides, the students can learn about these situations hands-on when they are in Japan. Out and about in Japan, they can actually try using the words and phrases they learned in the classroom, and they can learn by actually viewing billboards, signs, and the like.

The lectures in Japan should include many hands-on aspects, such as going to the supermarket, walking in the park, and interacting with local people. Actually being exposed to and using Japanese in a variety of settings is the fastest way to learn.

Q2. We try to make classes enjoyable, but they tend to be monotonous. How can we make the classes more varied?

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A. Perhaps the classes are proceeding in patterns where the instructor just asks questions or gives instructions and the technical intern trainees respond, or where the students only read from the textbook. Even using the same textbook, small innovations can change these patterns. Here are some examples.

  • [Example 1]
    Check answers to practice problems, or practice asking and answering questions in pairs or groups. The technical intern trainees advance the activity amongst each other, rather than the instructor asking questions or giving instructions. This will increase their chances to speak, and encourage them to study autonomously.
  • [Example 2]
    It is not interesting just reading the conversations in the textbook as is. After adequately practicing the conversations in the textbook in pairs, it is more fun if they practice by reciting the conversations with their own names or actual place names substituted in, or otherwise create their own original conversations with content of their choosing, or present them to the class. This will increase the technical intern trainees’ chances to “think and then speak.”

Q3. As the classes proceed, the students chat amongst themselves more and more, and they stop listening to what the instructor is saying. What could be causing this?

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A. I think the causes are generally of the following two types.

  • (1) The students do not comprehend the content, nor do they understand even after hearing the explanation, so they are asking each other about what they do not understand.
  • (2) The classes are boring. They are tired of the class, so they talk about other things.

If the problem is (1), some innovative tricks are needed to make the class more comprehensible. Oral “explanations” many times do not lead to understanding, whereas showing them photos, drawings, diagrams, or other concrete items often lets them understand with little difficulty. Giving them a lot of examples also encourages understanding.

The instructor also must be careful to speak in an easily understandable way, using simple Japanese to succinctly express the main points only.

If (2) is the issue, it is often the case that the instructor is the only one speaking during the class. Classes where students only listen are boring for them, and after all, the point of language classes is to have the students speak a lot, not the instructor. Minimize explanations, make plenty of time for the technical intern trainees to speak and listen, and use innovative tricks to ensure that classes do not become monotonous. Note: See the answer to Q2.

Q4. There are many students in the class, so it takes a long time for all of them to answer any questions that are asked. They seem to be bored by waiting patiently for their turn. Is there a good way to avoid this?

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A. It’s true that even if you intend to give the technical intern trainees a lot of talking time, it hardly seems to go that way when there are many students in the class. One way to give them more opportunities to speak is pair or group work. Students read conversations to each other as a pair, or ask and answer each other’s questions in groups of two or three to four. Such forms of interaction can be included in a variety of aspects of the class, which makes it lively. Give it a try.

Q5. The Japanese language instructor is fluent in Chinese, and perhaps for that reason gives many explanations in Chinese. The technical intern trainees almost all ask questions in Chinese as well. From perspective on an observer, it seems there is little Japanese being used. Is this acceptable?

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A. You have described a class where the technical intern trainees only speak Japanese when they are reading conversations from the textbook and answering practice questions. If that is how classes are, it would be a good idea to reconsider the teaching methods used. Even if the grammar explanations are in Chinese, it would be best to minimize this and to switch the focus to having the technical intern trainees use Japanese to speak, and to listen to Japanese being spoken.

Q6. During the classes, when the instructor asks one trainee a question the others immediately throw them a lifeline, so it is hard to get the student to answer. How can this be remedied?

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A. Depending on the national character of the technical intern trainee’s country, they may take it for granted that those that understand should help those that don’t in order to be kind, so they may immediately throw them lifelines. Also, students that cannot wait patiently while others are being called on will try to participate in the class by helping others out.

To keep students from rescuing each other like that, try asking questions that only the intended student is able to answer, rather than questions straight out of the textbook, which anyone can answer.

For example, if the theme is “talking about what you will do next week,” indicate by your attitude that this student is the one being asked the question right now, and ask, “A-san, nichiyobi nani wo shimasu ka. Doko ka ikimasu ka.” (“Mr./Ms. A, what are you going to do on Sunday? Are you going somewhere?”) Then wait for that student to answer. Once the student answers, immediately ask another student, “B-san, A-san wa, nani wo shimasu ka.” (“Mr./Ms. B, what is Mr./Ms. A going to do?”). That way, it is not only the student called upon who is speaking, but those who are listening also answer.

Another advantage to questions that only the called-upon student can answer is that they may be of interest to other students. Not all questions can be phrased that way, but posing as many questions as possible in that way should encourage students to listen more intently.

Q7. It is hard to answer when students ask about the different between the particles wa and ga. How should this be explained?

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A. It is indeed difficult to explain the difference between wa and ga in an easily understandable way. Given that there are grammar points that are quite difficult to understand even if explained in one’s native language, it is that much more confusing to have them explained in a foreign language.

Instead of explaining grammar, how about handling it in ways such as the following?

  • (1)If the technical intern trainees say or write something unnatural, rephrase it or correct it for them so that they can learn by recognizing these instances. Rather than explaining the reasons, have them simply memorize it as a rule.
  • (2)Give them many examples.
    It is good to create as many example sentences as possible that contain expressions, particles, words, and so forth that the technical intern trainees do not understand, and to say and write these sentences for them. This will give them a degree of comprehension of grammar rules and word usage. This should be a lot more enjoyable for them than listening to “explanations.”

Q8. For the Japanese textbooks for the lectures, we are using the ones that the technical intern trainees studied in their home countries, but they are not making much progress in speaking. How should this be remedied?

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A. In the lectures, I think using the textbooks that they technical intern trainees used in their home countries is good, because it allows them to review those points that they could not commit to memory, and also to confirm whether they can make use of what they have learned in communicating with Japanese people.

However, they need to study material that will allow them to actually use what they learned when they are in Japan. The classes are not supposed to be focused on grammar explanations, but rather on learning to converse. To accomplish this, do the following.

  • (1) Set a goal as to what the students should be able to talk about for each lesson in the textbook.
    Set concrete goals, as exemplified below:
    〇Lesson: “Can introduce yourself simply” (they just need to be able to say their name and the name of the organization they are affiliated with)
    〇Lesson: “Ask the name of something you don’t know”
    (they just need to be able to ask the names of things around them and write them down)
    〇Lesson: “Know where something you are looking for is” (they are able to find what they need at the supermarket, etc.)
    〇Lesson: “Can use public transportation facilities” (they are able to ride the local bus or train by themselves)
  • (2) Use the Japanese in class, and practice it until they are able to apply it.
    Ask them the required expressions over and over, and have them speak them out loud. Practice by having the instructor ask questions and the technical intern trainees answer, or by having them ask each other in pairs. If the goal is for them to learn to introduce themselves, they should ultimately be able to say their name and the name of the organization they are affiliated with, in response to the instructor directing them, “A-san, apaato no ooyasan ni jikoshokai shite kudasai” (“Mr./Ms. A, please introduce yourself to the landlord of your apartment”). At that time, the more reticent students just need to be able to say their name and the organization they are affiliated with, whereas the enthusiastic ones may be able to even give detailed introductions of other people. The point is to clarify goals concerning what they need to be able to do at a minimum, and then to practice until each individual can do so.
  • (3) Review and repeat previously covered material.
    They will forget whatever expressions they do not say repeatedly. It is important, everyday, to review the previous day’s material, and to have them converse in a way that allows them to use previously studied points and repeat these on a daily basis.