Seeing English Language Teaching and Learning through the Eyes of Japanese EFL and ESL Students

Article excerpt


To uncover possible barriers to effective communication and learning, this study explored how college-level Japanese English language learners in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) and English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) contexts viewed their English teachers and classroom activities. Analysis of 100 questionnaires incorporating quantitative and qualitative questions revealed that most Japanese students positively viewed teachers who were open, respectful of other cultures, and willing to adjust classroom content to meet students' needs. Among the differences between ESL and EFL students were ESL students' greater comfort with active participation in class, more time spent in class, physical proximity to teachers, and appreciation of student-centered behavior. On the other hand, EFL students appreciated teachers who provided native language support and avoided possible loss of face entailed by challenging and unexpected questions.


As English use continues to grow worldwide, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) teaching and teacher education are expanding. In 2000 and 2001, over 85,000 foreign students studied in intensive English programs in U.S. colleges. Japanese students made up 23% of this population and Japan continues to be the top country of origin for international college students (Open Doors, 2001). Concurrently, many native English-speaking teachers are being hired from the United States to teach English in Japan (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 2002).

Many U.S. teachers who teach English at home or in Japanese colleges encounter difficulties in dealing with their Japanese students, due in part to the gap between culturally influenced teacher-held expectations and student participation patterns (Cogan, 1995, 1996; Hadley & Evans, 2001; Sato, 1990; Stern, 1992). Japanese students are often criticized as being passive, lacking initiative, and rarely volunteering answers (Cohen, 1995; Hadley & Evans, 2001; Paul, 1996). These behaviors are frequently interpreted by teachers as a lack of motivation (Rohlen, 1996; Wadden, 1993). At the same time, Japanese students who are learning in both EFE and ESE contexts express frustration with English teachers (Kobayashi, 1991; Miyoshi, 1996). A common complaint is that the teachers impose uncomfortable practices such as soliciting original ideas through active verbal participation in class (Call, 1998; Nelson, 1995; Reid, 1998).

This reflects American teachers' beliefs that class participation is necessary for L2 success (Call, 1998; Matsumoto, 1996).

Such lack of congruity between student and teacher views presents a serious challenge because it may cause tension and hamper language learning. Depending upon accepted culture-specific beliefs and values, individuals think and behave quite differently (Triandis, 1997) and express intentions in pragmatically distinct ways (Thomas, 1993; Ebsworth & Eisenstein Ebsworth, 2000; Eisenstein Ebsworth, Bodman, & Carpenter, 1996). When the intentions of people from different discourse communities are misinterpreted, communication breakdown can result. Language classrooms reflecting divergent sociocultural norms and values typically demonstrate such dissonance (Sasaki, 1996). Thorp (1991) argued that if the meaning underlying students' classroom interaction patterns is different from that perceived by the teacher, the teacher is likely to make inappropriate negative assessments of the students.

In addition, some studies have suggested that Japanese students in the United States differ from their peers in Japan, contrasting in their perceptions of pragmatic acts and strategies (Rockelman, 1995; Takahashi & Beebe, 1993). A better knowledge of what Japanese students in the United States and in Japan expect of their teachers and how they interpret classroom activities has the potential to improve student-teacher interactions and result in a more favorable learning experience (Reid, 1998). …


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