Teflnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Teaching : Safety and Challenge for Japanese Learners of English

Safety and Challenge for Japanese Learners of English

Authors: Peta Gray and Sue Leather Publisher: Delta Publishing Components: Teacher’s Resource Book With a title that seems to take inspiration from the habit common among Japanese learners of English of over-using noun forms, I was a somewhat sceptical of how much this book would help me in the monolingual classroom environment. The writers purport […]
Reviewed for Teflnet by Stephen Lodziak

Authors: Peta Gray and Sue Leather
Publisher:
Delta Publishing
Components:
Teacher’s Resource Book

With a title that seems to take inspiration from the habit common among Japanese learners of English of over-using noun forms, I was a somewhat sceptical of how much this book would help me in the monolingual classroom environment. The writers purport to want “unlock the undoubted joys of teaching Japanese learners…” a noble and attractive aim in a market that, while well represented by the Passport series, does not have so much to offer teachers who wish to try activities specifically tailored to their Japanese students. Therefore I decided to give Safety and Challenge a go. Below are my general observations.

The authors start from the position that Japanese learners require instruction that differs somewhat from the methodology learnt and implemented in most other TEFL environments. They believe that some of the biggest differences include:

  • long pauses before answering
  • lack of eye contact
  • long silences
  • not initiating
  • very quiet voices that are very difficult to hear
  • consulting with other members of the group before answering
  • insistence on accuracy

In the following six sections of the book they outline a variety of activities that are intended to deal with these cultural idiosyncrasies. Each section has its individual target. For example, one section is dedicated entirely to “letting go of tension” and another to “developing discussion skills”. Each activity is graded as being high safety (good for all), safety and challenge equally balanced and high challenge. The activities vary from being recognisably generic (loanword brainstorming) to clearly unique to the Japanese context (interrupting game).
I believe that the authors generally succeed in creating lessons that are useful for Japanese students and offer some original ideas on how to deal with the learning environment in that country. Perhaps the best way to highlight how I believe they achieve this is to give a brief analysis of one of their activities.
Section: Developing Discussion Skills
Activity: Silent Discussion
Difficulty: High safety

The rationale of the activity is that the Japanese are uncomfortable with the rigorous debate style prevalent in the West. Giving personal opinions does not have the value we accord it in our culture. The writers also feel a lot of Japanese people are more comfortable writing than they are speaking (a fact that stems from their previous educational experience). Therefore in this activity students are encouraged to debate in writing. The teacher prepares several pieces of paper which are blank save for a heading that contains a controversial statement or question, e.g. ‘Discipline is the most important aspect of a school’ or ‘Did you enjoy school? Why/why not?’ The paper is then pushed towards students to read and, if they feel comfortable, to comment on. Over time all the students should get the confidence to add their opinion to one of the ‘debates’ and it may be possible to have quite  dynamic non-verbal dialogue(s) taking place between students. Such an activity could lead to a more focussed discussion on one particular topic, be the basis of an error feedback session or a regular class activity.

I tried this task with an intermediate level group of adult learners and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. Some of the quieter students clearly felt liberated, while the more verbal ones were forced to ‘listen’ and consider the opinions of others. While I do not have a class of seasoned debaters just yet, the issue of ‘opinion’ has been addressed and the atmosphere of the class feels more open.

Many of the activities in the book have been sensitively thought through and present the teacher with exciting ideas and an impetus to try something new.

My only gripe (besides the title) is with the overall presentation. Each activity really needs a brief statement of its aim, as this would save time having to read through each task to find exactly what it is getting at. The other problem could be, of course, that if you find yourself working in one of the many eikaiwa (conversation schools) that litter Japan you may not be in an environment that welcomes lessons that differ from the school methodology. If, however, you find yourself working in a more liberated environment this book is well worth a look.

I heartily recommend this book to new and experienced teachers of Japanese learners of English. It offers fresh ideas and will help to reinvigorate your classroom if things are getting a little staid. It will also be of use to teachers of Japanese in a multilingual environment where they can sometimes just disappear behind the more vociferous members of the class. The writers have clearly had a lot of experience with Japanese students and have spent time coming up with creative ideas to help them better communicate in English.

Reviewed by Stephen Lodziak for Teflnet December 2008

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Teflnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Teaching : Safety and Challenge for Japanese Learners of English