Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
Learning a new language can be a difficult challenge. From completely different sentence structures, alphabets that work on different principles and strange new ways to produce sounds, the list of challenges is almost endless. This is especially true for Japanese students trying to learn English. With different rules regarding sounds, pronunciation and phonics, the transition can be difficult. However, with these exercises, educators can ease the transition and improve their students' comprehension.
Problems with R & L
A large problem for Japanese students is differentiating between the sound made by the letters R and L. In Japanese, there is no specific "L" sound, and when used with foreign words, it usually comes out as a hybrid of R and L. This fundamental problem is one of the first stumbling blocks that needs to be addressed.
According to Tim Greer of Kobe University, a good start begins with pair work. Separate students into pairs and have them attempt to apply their current English skills in communication. Listen for any mispronunciations, like the use of "lock" instead of "rock." Once the activity is over, inform the class that some time is going to be spent on pronunciation. For this example, the words "rock" and "lock" should be written down on the board, one above the other. Pronounce the words clearly, pointing upward for the upper word, and downward for the lower word. Differentiate the two with referential gestures to insure everyone understands their individual meanings.
From there, explain the similarity of the word rock to the Japanese "rokku," and to take the Japanese U sound---an "oo" to English listeners---and mentally place it before saying "rock." This places their mouth in the appropriate position to form an R sound instead of an L. Have them practice this concept a few times, and then use the up and down pointing motions once more, allowing the students to say the associated word with them. Then split them into pairs again, to practice the words once more. Listen in to some of the pairs and offer individual advice as necessary. This exercise can be applied to various other similar sounding words, like "rake" and "lake," "raw and law" and others.
Differentiating Vowel Sounds
Write a series of words on the board with the same first and last consonants. Each word should have a different vowel sound, but still be relatively similar. Assign numbers to each word, and then read one of the words. Ask students to write down the number which corresponds to what they heard. Offer feedback and correction, and then repeat the procedure to gain practice. Over time, build to more than one word at a time, continuing to practice the recognition and dissemination skills. Make a game of it to make it more accessible and fun for students.