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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Four Mistakes to Avoid in Teaching English Communication in Japan
By:Tom Aaron

Teaching is a learning process for both students and teachers. While teachers may make the most progress in the first years of their career, the learning should never stop. The learning stopping is a dangerous sign indicating that the teacher needs to be doing something new to continue becoming a better teacher. Reflecting on my first years of teaching, I would like to present four of the many mistakes I made when I first started teaching.

Presenting these mistakes here will not stop readers who become teachers from making these mistakes. Reading the mistakes can help teachers to become more aware and increase the learning curve. I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

1. Speaking too quickly

When I first started teaching, I spoke too quickly. My students could not understand me. While I spoke at a natural pace, it was quick for my students, too quick. If you speak any foreign language less than fluently, turn on the television or go to the Internet. Find something in that language; you will understand how your students feel. Slow down. Of course, for your higher level classes and better students, you will want to speak faster if they can understand. The key is not to speak too quickly if they are not ready.

2. Speaking too naturally

When I first started teaching, I did not enunciate clearly. I spoke as a native speaker would normally speak, running my words together. Again, turn on the television or go to the Internet. Find something in a language that you speak less than fluently so you will understand how your students feel. Enunciate more. Of course, for your higher level classes and better students, you will want to speak as naturally as you can, while still not overly exceeding your students's abilities. The key is to decrease your enunciation in tandem with your students' increasing ability.

3. Asking your students if they understand

I used to ask my students if they understood. Students often say yes, but this does not always mean what I think it does. Sometimes it just means that they hear me. Sometimes students say no, and I can explain. Far more often, however, students will reply affirmatively without having understood. When I first started teaching and asked this question, I though yes meant that they understood. Today, I understand that is only one possible meaning when they reply. To confirm my students have understood, I ask a student to repeat the main points.

4. Not waiting for your students to reply

When I first started teaching, I would ask my students something, and wait for someone to reply. Sometimes I asked the class in general and sometimes a specific student. I would wait for the students to reply, growing more and more uncomfortable. The time seemed like eternity doubled because there were two eternities. The first eternity was that Japanese are more comfortable with a longer silence between participants in a speech act, so you have to wait longer for a reply. The second eternity is due to the time it takes students to compose their replies in English, a foreign language to them. As I grew more uncomfortable, the more likely it was that I would speak before a student replied, creating a vicious circle. Instead, wait for students to reply, creating a virtuous circle. If they know you will wait, they are also far more likely to reply.

These are only four of the hundreds, if not thousands, of mistakes that I made when I first started teaching. I make them much less frequently, but I still make them today. After all, speaking is a natural act. Teaching English communication means to modify that act for the classroom to help your students to bridge the gap between the English they can use and the English they need to be able to use to communicate well.

Many of our students do not speak that well. They come to us to learn. Learning to speak a foreign language is a challenge, especially in a country where the target language is not part of the daily life and national fabric. Our job as teachers is to help them to communicate as well as they can. Two factors in that are our trying to make our speech more understandable and helping them to speak with us.

If you are an experienced editor specializing in medicine or the hard sciences, Aaron Language Services is interested in working with you. You can find us at on the web at http://www.aaronlanguage.com/personnel.html. We are a translation and editing business primarily serving a Japanese client base. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

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