How to get your Students to Speak 100% English

Teaching English to Japanese

Teaching English to Japanese — How to get your students to speak 100% English

by David Martin

This paper is written primarily for teachers who have unmotivated to semi-motivated students and want (more than anything) for their students to communicate in English from the beginning of the lesson right through to the end. This would typically include most university, junior college and high school teachers in Japan.

Your first reaction may be that this is an unrealistic goal, one that you may have presented to your students before, but a goal they have always failed to achieve. You may be in a classroom situation where the students speak 20-50% Japanese. Or your students may not speak much at all.

Is a 100% English goal unrealistic? First let me explain that by setting a 100% goal this does not imply that Japanese will be outlawed in the classroom. You should in no way hint that Japanese is forbidden, wrong, or in any way inferior to English. At times using Japanese is advantageous to an English-only paradigm. Using Japanese to translate (rather then explain) difficult vocabulary is expedient. This shortens the explanation time and thus gives the learners more time to communicate in English. Another example where using Japanese is necessary is when a student asks the teacher (or another student), “How do you say…in English?” The thrust of this paper is that the bulk of conversation in class, especially when real communication is going on, should be done as much as possible in English.

Do the author’s students speak mostly English? Presently I have four college conversation classes of unmotivated to semi-motivated students. On average, I would say the students speak about 90-95% English. Recently there have been days when the students speak almost all English. These classes have been meeting for about four months now, and during the first month the students were generally unmotivated and spoke only about 70% in English.

What follows are some techniques that I have found to be successful in getting my students to speak mostly in English.

On Education in Japan

“The country`s education system creates a huge gap between the skills Japanese employees possess and the skills they need to succeed in today`s world.”

–Takumi Shibata COO of Nomura Holdings, p. 337 “Reimagining Japan” Viz Media, LLC

Establish your 100% goal from Day 1.

On the first day of class make your expectations clear to your students. It’s a good idea at this point to contrast the six years of jr/high school (non-communicative) English classes that they have experienced with what you expect of them. I usually have my students make a pact with both me and themselves. The students read the promises (see below) and I elaborate on each a bit. Next, the students sign their names in agreement.

English Grammar — My Promises

I promise to try to speak as much as possible.

I promise not to be afraid of making mistakes.

I promise not to speak any Japanese .

I promise to use English to communicate.

I promise to ask questions when I do not understand.

I promise to try to have fun!

*Copyright 2003 Talk a Lot, Book 1, EFL Press.

You can go back to these promises from time to time throughout the course as necessary.

2. Learn your students’ names.

You will not be able to control your class well if you don’t know your students’ names. If a student is speaking in Japanese you need to be able to quickly say, “Yuki–are you speaking English?” This should not be said in an angry tone, but rather in a friendly, almost joking tone. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to learn your students’ names. I make it my first priority, and usually commit all my students’ names to memory by the third class.

3. English Grammar — Teach Classroom English early on.

In the second or third lesson students should be taught useful classroom English. The students should thoroughly memorize and practice using these expressions. It is essential that you explain that these expressions are not just for use with the teacher, but for use with each other as well. Some examples of useful classroom English are:

Do you have a partner?

Let’s be partners.

How do you spell…? What does … mean?


4. English Grammar — Start (almost) every class with free conversation.

If I had to choose one technique that is the most effective for getting students motivated and speaking in English this would definitely be my choice. Have the students sit facing a partner and tell them they have to talk on a topic for a set time. They absolutely must not speak any Japanese during this time! Possible topics are yesterday, TV, movies, sports, etc. I usually do this for 2-3 minutes at the beginning of a course and build up to 10-15 minutes by the end (for false-beginners). Over the past few years I have noticed that whenever I fail to have the students do free conversation at the beginning of class, they often speak much more Japanese and the class generally is not as successful. Free conversation works because it warms the students up, and it gives them the sense that English can be used for real communication.

About kintaro63

Writer and teacher in Japan
This entry was posted in Teacher Training, Teaching Children and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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