Translating Man’yōshū Poems into Modern English: The Ishibumi no Michi Project

By Kirsten M. Snipp

It was the second week since April first, the official start date of my new job at the Takasaki University of Commerce. I was just beginning to settle down in my unfamiliar and very barren office when Professor Takuo Maeda, head of the Community Partnership Center (CPC), rapped upon my door, early on a Wednesday afternoon. He dove headlong into a discussion about Takasaki City’s treasured Kozukesanpi (上野三碑) (The Three Cherished Stelae of Ancient Kozuke).

Historical significance

These large and historic stones, erected some 1300 years ago, had just recently been inscribed as a UNESCO Memory of the World (2017). The stelae are 3 of the 18 still-standing monuments created and erected in the 7th to 11th centuries and are the oldest of these. The Yamanoue Stela, erected in 681, is the oldest of them all. The Tago Stela was erected in 711; the Kanaizawa Stela in 726. Considered as a whole, the inscriptions on the stelae offer evidence of Korean immigrants settling in the region and are considered to be important sources of information regarding cultural interaction and exchange happening in East Asia at the time. For example, the language used on the Yamanoue Stela is the oldest existing example of the Chinese writing system used with Japanese grammar. The sum of the contents of the three demonstrate the emulation of a Chinese-like political system and an acceptance of Buddhism in the eastern areas of Japan. They form an invaluable resource for understanding the ancient history of the region, as well as that of the whole country.

Research group formation

In celebration of the stelae’s inscription to the UNESCO Memory of the World, the university, by way of the CPC, sought to draw attention and interest in the three stelae. Professor Maeda then told me about the Ishibumi no Michi (石碑の路), a series of inscribed stone tablets placed along mountain trails very near the stelae and also near the university. He explained that the university was convening a team to work on a project to promote these monuments by creating English versions of their inscriptions. The team was to be called the Takasaki University of Commerce Ishibumi no Michi research group.

At the time, I listened with only half an ear, as I already had so much on my mind with my new position. I also worried about the idea of contributing to a translation. In the past when asked to participate in such endeavors, I had found that the only reason for my membership was to provide my “gaijin seal of approval.” On occasion, I had agreed to provide my assistance as a native speaker, putting in a great deal of time and effort. After this, I would discover that my input was ignored or over-written, sometimes with errors so glaring that I was embarrassed to have my name on the outcome. I was distressed by the possibility that I was yet again stepping into such a trap. This time, having just started my new role under a three-year tenure probation period, I was not in a position to refuse.    

Memorializing nature’s beauty

I soon learned that the Ishibumi no Michi stone tablets were commissioned, created and erected in the early 1970’s by Nobusawa Tatsumi. Nobusawa, known as a doyen in the area for his homebuilding and furnishings company, was born and raised in the Nekoya area of Takasaki. He was fond of the Takasaki Shizen Hodou (高崎自然法道), a 22-kilometer path in Takasaki that runs from Yoshii to Kannon Yama, and wanted to protect the beautiful vistas in their natural state. This area is also home to the Kozukesanpi stelae.

In creating the Ishibumi no Michi, Nobusawa looked to the Man’yōshū (万葉集), a collection of poems written during the Nara Period, roughly 1300 years ago. The bulk of these poems refer to various places in the area of Kyoto and Nara. Nobusawa chose a number of poems from the Man’yōshū to reflect the beauty and resonance of the Takasaki Shizen Hodou. He commissioned these poems to be engraved onto stones and then placed at various locations along the path.

The mission of the Ishibumi no Michi research group was to create modern Japanese versions of the ancient texts, write music to set the poems to and provide English versions that above all captured the feeling and nuance of the original text. The university engaged a classical Japanese scholar to help in the creation of the modern Japanese texts, along with a musical artist and lyricist to create musical scores for the poetry and to record the musical and vocal tracks. A bilingual Japanese colleague and I were tasked with creating the English translations.

Painstaking translations

The team met once a month on a Tuesday evening and generally followed the same procedure. First, the Japanese language scholar would discuss an individual poem with a rich and nuanced understanding. The rest of us would take copious notes and ask clarifying questions. My colleague and I would meet at a later date to discuss the poem and try to create a credible English version. I am not a translator; I have never even formally studied Japanese. However, I have lived in Japan for more than 30 years. My colleague and I managed somehow to create the English versions — and had a great time doing it. The challenges were legion, of course. The grammatical austerity of Japanese often left us struggling to work without an obvious subject. Deducing the subtle distinctions such as who is speaking to whom, and what is the speakers’ mood or intent were also stimulating tasks. Many of the pieces were love poems filled with innuendo and ambiguity, which created a very narrow path between saying too much and conveying too little in English. Oftentimes, we opted for rather difficult English vocabulary in order to capture a brief whiff of nuance. It would often take us more than an hour to translate what would become about 20 words in English. At the next meeting, my colleague and I would present our translations and explain them in detail. These were often tense moments as the scholar would frequently pick apart our work and, just as often as not, send us back to the drawing board. Sometimes, we misunderstood the initial discussion, which would send us in the wrong direction from the beginning. At other times, the scholar didn’t feel that our word choices accurately captured the overall thrust of the original. Occasionally, we would get it just right.

Interpreting challenges

Teasing out a few of the remarkable poem translating experiences, I recall the classical Japanese scholar explaining that one of the poems in question was comprised of the exhortations of one member of a pair of lovers, frustrated with his or her partner’s seeming unwillingness to commit to the relationship. The sense was that everyone around the couple thought it was a foregone conclusion that the two would marry. However, the frustrated partner recognized that the reticent partner was perhaps unreliable and likened that partner’s heart to a cloud bumping against a mountaintop. As always, while we digested the interpretations of the scholar, I would try to create a mental picture of the metaphors as a way of having more to work with when my colleague and I would actually sit down to hammer out the English version. I imagined a cloud, bumping into a mountain. Was this a floaty bit of cirrus mist? A heavy-with-rain nimbostratus, threatening deluge? A thunderhead with lightning in its heart? I asked about the physical attributes of the cloud. After a long pause, during which I began to suspect that the other members of the team were coming to the same sort of cloud-as-phallus allusions that I was, the scholar answered: “Just a regular-sized cloud. Regular.” I managed to reserve my laughter until later. Ultimately, the accepted English translation of that poem reads as follows: “While everyone is saying ‘those two are bound together,’ your capricious heart is like a cloud, adrift, nestled near the peak of a mountain.” I wanted the last phrase to read; “…nestled near the peak of a distantmountain,” but the scholar disagreed.

Another of the poems mentioned the 鶯 (uguisu), a Japanese bush warbler. One of the difficulties in translating that particular poem was the shared cultural experience of what that bird is: a harbinger of spring. The bird itself, largely heard and rarely seen, creates a haunting and beautiful song that is a familiar poetic trope to the Japanese. However, outside of a few enthusiastic bird watchers, the name “Japanese bush warbler” simply does not engender any significant shared cultural understanding among non-Japanese. We had to manipulate the following with a great deal of finesse in order to communicate to the bush warbler novice the significance of the reference without being didactic. “Yearning from the shadows in the fields of spring, a song bird warbles a mating call to you.” This poem is one of my favorites from the project.


Aside from the translation challenges, the work also caused me to reflect upon my own experiences. A number of the poems chosen by Tatsumi Nobusawa reflect a sense of undertaking a journey from which one is just as likely as not to return. Relating to the feeling of the ancient traveler is challenging for us in the world we live in now, with modern modes of travel available. Yet, after having lived here as an expatriate for such an extended period of time, I find myself reflecting on the nature of my own journey; a journey with which I believe many of my fellow educators in Japan can well relate. There is a profundity to the choices I have made, and some of the poems recall the distinct melancholy of the traveler. There is the ineffability of not being able to exist in two places at one time, or embracing that which is in front of you to the exclusion of that which has been left behind. The following poem, my favorite from that theme, captures the feeling deftly; “As each step of my journey takes me farther from my hearthside, my soul grows ever colder. If only I could meet a return traveler to carry my heart back home…No man crosses my path.”

Timeless emotions

Never having been much of a poetry reader, one of the most striking aspects of these poems was the portrayal of the universality of human emotion. It was revelatory to me to think about how the loves, fears, frustrations and desires written over a millennium ago are the same ones we all still encounter today.

A common theme is love gone wrong. “Being ghosted” might be a 21st-century term, but the sentiment is timeless: “Is your absence a message to me? I’m waiting for you; you won’t come.” It seems the anguish experienced at love’s end is nothing new: “Immersed in despair of her prolonged absence, I cannot decipher: is the susurration of the bamboo leaves a subtle whisper or a banshee’s shriek?” Or feelings of regret: “We believed our embrace free and endless, until the river stopped flowing. If only we had known…”

Difficulties with other people make appearances, too. Here is a problem with the potential in-laws: “I came to see her only for a moment and yet I was dashed out like vermin.” Consider the troublesome chin-waggers: “It doesn’t matter if we continue our assignations in some distant place or not at all: our affairs are the subject of others’ gossip.”

Another common theme is simply the wonder and glory (and humor) of love. Love at first sight, for example: “With only a glimpse of your face in the moonlight, I fell for you in that instant. You came to me in my dreams.” The beauty of a long-term relationship: “The grass of Inara marsh in Kozuke, when cut, dried and woven, becomes works of art. Our yearning, once requited, becomes exquisite.” Even a miniature lover’s spat, with irritation expressed and a snappy, sexually nuanced response. She: “So long did I wait for you to come along that night, I became soaked in the mountain mist.” He: “While you waited for me, you got soaked? Would that I were that mountain mist …”

During our translating sessions, we engaged in lengthy, philosophical discussions about the nature of love and relationships in Japan versus those in Western countries. I joked that while I found the poems were elegant, they felt too austere and indirect to my Western way of thinking. I often suggested to my colleague that I wished the poet would just tell her what he really wanted to say! We discussed in detail the immensely popular 1991 serial television drama Tokyo Love Story, prompting my colleague to go back and re-watch the entire series. I found it interesting that the fact that the two star-crossed lovers of the television drama did not end up together was somehow a happy ending to a Japanese way of thinking. This would have been interpreted as a tragedy to a Western mind. Indeed, it was for me when I saw it all those years ago.

Successful completion

The project was a painstaking task and it took us two and-a-half years. In the end, we created English versions of 22 poems. My bilingual colleague and I had a fun and informative experience. In the end, I think I gained a more nuanced understanding of both languages and the challenges of molding one into the shape of the other.

I need not have worried about my work being merely a “gaijin seal of approval.” The team was a cooperative, inclusive organization, dedicated to creating quality work. I am proud of what we accomplished on the project. And I am honored to be a productive and international part of Gunma.

Kirsten M. Snipp is a 30+ year veteran of university teaching in Japan and a recent transplant to Gunma, currently teaching at Takasaki University of Commerce. She is especially interested in working with lower-level students to help them gain confidence, especially by coaching them on how to employ logic and analysis to improve their overall communicative ability and comprehension. 


All data regarding the stelae were taken from the site, The Three Stelae of Kozuke( There is a great deal of other information about Takasaki’s stelae. Readers are encouraged to visit the site to learn more about them and their historical significance.

Another Technical Clerk, Third Class: Japan Snapshot – Teaching

By DM Zoutis

He is fat and sweaty. He smells like a bit of old fish left in the sun. He is an otaku before they were cool. He wears his hair Koshien-style and has glasses so thick he looks like Mickey Rooney playing the racist stereotype in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

When we first met we were sitting in the teachers’ break room. While I sipped rancid coffee, he smoked up the small place (in the days before such things were stopped). I figured another boring guy. His first words to me, “So, how is your first day at Zoo Hell?” He meant, of course, one of the six junior high schools I was assigned to visit on a rotating basis.

Zoo Hell would become one of my favorite places, both for its Hell aspects and for the oddball Mr. S and a few other such teachers.

A few weeks after our first meeting we had another trauma. Some “bad boys,” extorters of other kids’ lunch money, had attacked a teacher, hitting him with brooms, their fists, umbrellas and a garden hose…a door was ripped off the broom locker and sent dancing down the hall. The men teachers stood around and did nothing much; the women tried to hold back some of the boys. The principal came eventually and contributed some nervous laughter and smiles. The ruckus soon fizzled out and we cleaned the debris from the hall and went back into the teachers’ main room to have our break between classes. Just another day where a few lost boys (and some girls) get to tweak the creaking system. While some foreigners (and not a few Japanese) were writing in awe and love of “The Japanese Educational Challenge,” part of the reality was this rage and anguish, this howling from these kids who refused to be doomed to the grinding boredom.

“Where were you, by the way, the other day when the fight was happening?” I later tweaked Mr. S. “Well…I was, uh, busy,” he said. “Oh, yeah? Where exactly?” I asked, though I already knew the answer. “Well, I was having a smoke,” he smirked.

As a contract teacher there for a year or so he had felt under no obligation to get hit with sharp metal objects by the Zoo Hell denizens. I couldn’t help liking him.

He is intensely shy and yet full of confidence in the classroom. He once told me he wrote songs and went to Tokyo to try to sell them. No agent was interested. He spent time in hospital once after he suddenly went deaf. He can’t hear out of one ear to this day and constantly says “Pardon?” to me.

I asked to listen to one of his songs and told him he should sing it in class. We had a particularly rough group. Surprisingly, he did it. The students were amazed and amused – though one girl, perhaps having read the Board of Education manual, wondered why “we have to learn this crap.” The love song he wrote as a 14-year-old was a great success. I felt like I was one of those Blues researchers in 1960s Mississippi who discovers some long-lost Skip James character. After his mini-concert and the English class ended we retreated to the smoking room where we joined six other cancer-seekers. I egged him on again to share his work with his colleagues, and he rushed to his desk to get copies of the lyrics. When he was done singing and playing guitar for his new audience, there were hoots and wild clapping and the teachers asked him to sign their lyrics sheets.

One day I had to go back to the Board of Education early for some reason, and Mr. S. quickly volunteered to drive me. I thanked him as we got into his tiny Kei car that smelled of tobacco and something sour. “No, thank you. I get a chance to escape early,” he said. He told me he planned to skip the rest of the workday to “do some banking.”

After learning that I had to go back to NYC for a short trip, he asked me to bring him some omiyage. “Sure, what would you like?” I asked this 220-pound love-song crooner.

“Anything about George Michael.”

Six Valuable and Applicable Lessons I Have Learned as a Preschool Teacher in Six Years

By Duangsamorn Haruyama


Standing at a preschool classroom’s afterschool program door are many kinds of students. Some children come to school with smiles on their faces. Some come with swollen ears because of a bee sting. Some cry from separation anxiety (distress when separated from home or parents) and kick things around, including teachers. Some cannot stop talking about the events of the day. Some still need more nap time, and some are totally quiet. On the other side, preschool teachers are the people who need to be calm, greet the children and try to welcome them into the class in a way that makes them excited to be there and okay with saying goodbye to their parents. After everything gets ready and settled, we can start the lessons.

It has been 6 years since I first became a preschool teacher at an English immersion preschool (after school program) in Japan. In general, I assist children in getting along in their circumstances and socializing in English through activities such as art, music, physical activities and crafts. My students and I have had a very good time together in our English lessons and cultural learning activities. We have had a cooking class, a sport’s day, a Halloween party and a Christmas party. At the same time, since I am putting on a preschool teacher’s hat, I am not only teaching English, but also teaching them how to behave and what proper manners should be taken into consideration.

As an Elementary School Education and English Education major graduate, I had previously thought of preschool children as being very innocent, naïve, and unable at times to solve problems or decide things by themselves. But in reality, I was wrong. Based on my experience, they are awe-inspiring. They have helped me develop as a language teacher in every aspect and have also changed my attitude towards young language learners. For this reason, I would like to share six valuable lessons that I have learned from my experiences as a preschool teacher. In addition, I will explain how each lesson can be applied to teaching students of all age groups and in turn elaborate on the similarities and differences of teaching preschoolers compared to teens and adults.

Preschoolers are adept

Children are different to teens and adults in physical and emotional characteristics as well as other aspects. For example, they have shorter attention spans and a relative lack of self-control. They also learn languages differently. Adults are found to have more varying levels of difficulty in learning languages than children do in that they consciously learn languages by studying grammatical structure, vocabulary and so on. They need age appropriate activities which relate to their real lives and detailed and encouraging feedback to promote their confidence. Teenagers are at the age where they are figuring out things for themselves. To understand them and their interests is the key in teaching them a foreign language and in creating a comfortable language classroom. On the other hand, small children tend to naturally acquire language just like they learned their native tongue through experience, interaction and play. The key aspects in teaching English to children are activities, songs and movement without over-corrections (Moran, 2013).

What I have learned is that even though preschoolers have been in this world for less than 6 years, their physical, mental and even spiritual capacities have already been developing. It is easy for an adult to assume that they do not know anything yet. But actually, they are experiencing and learning how to work with things around them constantly. They have marvelous memories, the ability to catch the sounds in languages, enormous energy and are full of pure love. They can do their age-appropriate tasks without help from an adult if we let them. For example, cleaning up toys, working in groups, solving problems or choosing what they like. Adults need to be patient, trust in them, respect them and believe in them. Preschool children are still small, but they know what they are doing and they also have the right to choose as well as take responsibility for their actions.

However, we need to remember that children and indeed students of all age groups are different in characteristics, aptitudes and even learning styles when compared with their peers. It is important for the teacher to understand their differences, strengths and weaknesses. Even though children and adults learn second languages differently, teachers of all age groups should focus on assisting their students in learning languages effectively and promoting their strengths as well as respecting their opinions and their choices.

 A well-organized classroom and routines are needed

In classes for teens or adults, teachers can talk about classroom rules, routines, tasks or even how to grade scores with students from the beginning of the year. Instead of being concerned about safety or space like in classes for younger learners, teachers can focus more on creating a language learning atmosphere. It can include setting chairs in a circle to engage in group discussion, building a collegial atmosphere, creating an informal learning environment and so forth.

However, in preschool, the classroom needs to be well-organized. Equipment is checked, organized, cleaned and prepared before the class starts. Prepared lesson plans and an organized classroom make teaching and learning go smoothly from start to finish. A neat, clean and orderly classroom also promotes a better learning atmosphere and makes it safe for preschoolers who like moving around. Dr. Maria Montessori suggests that the equipment, care and management of the environment is supposed to fit the natural physiological and psychological development of the child in three areas: motor skills, sensory and language (Montessori, 2011: 11). Teachers should provide a child-friendly environment to support learning and working. Moreover, Carson-Dellosa (2011) suggests that teachers can control some of the behavior by arranging furniture or moving some supplies out of sight because children are quite naturally going to be interested in them. Seating should also be considered. Problems can be avoided by seating children who have a difficult time paying attention next to the teacher or next to children who are better in that area of learning. Classroom rules should be discussed between the teacher and students or even parents from the beginning of the school year. Rules can be set in simple and clear English so that preschoolers are able to understand and follow them well. Similarly, routines and consistency are important (pp.101-106).

The tone of a teacher’s voice is vital

For preschoolers, teachers tend to use a more animated and active voice to grab their students’ attention and to have them enjoy the lessons. The tone of a teacher’s voice is especially influential in a language class for young learners. In my first year as a preschool teacher I tried to shout and yell against the children’s voices, but it was completely ineffective. There are many healthy techniques to calm children down or to get their attention instead of shouting at them. Techniques such as using a cue like a bell, clapping or even switching off the lights can be affective in calming children down. Then, the teacher may use a calm and quiet voice to grab their attention before talking about the main idea or the next task. Another method is using a call-and-response. For example, when a teacher says firmly, “1, 2, 3, eyes on me,” the students will reply immediately, “1, 2, eyes on you.” Then the classroom will be quiet enough, and the children will be ready to listen to your instructions. Furthermore, as previously mentioned above, preschoolers are more perceptive than we think they are. My students can easily understand my emotions. They know when I am serious, joking, or becoming angry from the way I speak, especially from my tone of voice. Therefore, the tone of your voice and the feelings you express through it must be considered.

Indeed, in classes of all age groups, the tone of a teacher’s voice and even their body language can reveal their thinking and attitude which all students can see. All teachers should therefore have patience as well as humility and respect towards their students.

A sense of humor brightens up the classroom

One year, I had the opportunity to translate the parents’ survey from Japanese into English. There were some parents who mentioned that my teaching method and style did not fit well with small children. After reading that comment, I was crestfallen. I looked back and replayed all the aspects of my teaching style. The parents were right. Some children got sleepy, yawned or even cried during my lessons. Since then, I have tried to overcome my shyness and to be myself. I started acting silly, playing with words or even making mistakes sometimes to make them laugh. In addition, I researched what kind of animation or cartoons they liked and made jokes about them. The result was that my students enjoyed my class a lot. I could even see the sparkle in their eyes while they were laughing and learning.

I agree with Stephen Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis (AFH) in learning language, in that a low filter makes learners feel relaxed and able to learn language (Krashen, 1982, pp.30-32). Humor is one of the tools that teachers of all levels can choose to use in order to brighten up their classroom atmosphere as well as create a more friendly and relaxed teaching-learning environment. For preschoolers, teachers should be more animated, active and energetic than they would be in teaching older age classes. Preschoolers usually find humor in something fantastical (a cow with high-heels, a chicken with sunglasses and others).

Humor can also be used in English lessons for older age groups. Indeed, Deiter (2000) points out that for college students, “dullness in the classroom can kill student intellectual interest in any subject and destroy all student desire to pursue additional study in the subject matter area” (p.20). Moreover, I have found that the sense of humor of older students is much different from preschoolers. Teens and adults are more likely to find humor in jokes, puns or cartoon stories.

The use of humor is effective in breaking down communication barriers between teachers and students of all age groups. However, the age level, culture, gender and even the target language level of learners should be considered. One must also remember that humor in the classroom should not include sensitive issues, sexual content or joking about/putting down any nationality, race or religion. Also, as all teachers have different teaching styles, using humor should be seen as optional and not a must.

Using positive discipline to deal with misbehavior

Using positive classroom management techniques is both effective and healthy. Working with young learners is very enjoyable but sometimes I have to deal with behavioral challenges. These misbehaviors include not following directions, non-participation, backtalk or incessant talking, playing with materials, mimicking teachers, talking out of turn or making strange sounds. It is difficult for me to avoid using traditional punishment techniques in the classroom such as calling students out by name, using commanding language or raising my voice. But I remind myself that such punishments can have long-term negative effects on children. For example, it causes children to feel shame, guilt, anxiety, aggression and so on. After trying various ways to stop misbehavior, the best method I have found is positive discipline. Positive discipline is a program designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities. It teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults (Positive Discipline Association, 2019). Examples of applying positive discipline include telling the children what they can do rather than what they cannot (e.g. saying “walk” instead of “no running”); giving them compliments for what they have done right instead of reinforcing the things they did that are against the rules; and explaining how they can make better choices in the future.

Also, I have learned that a good relationship between the teacher and the students is key. Teachers should understand that misbehavior is a part of a child’s learning development, and all behaviors have a reason behind them. Also understanding the children’s backgrounds and learning abilities can build a sense of empathy that all teachers should have. From these points, I have learned that teachers should prevent misbehavior before it begins. One can do this by setting clear and easy-to-understand rules, dealing with challenges in a firm and kind manner, encouraging students and promoting cooperative learning. This will help decrease problems related to behavior in the language classroom (UNESCO, 2006).

In older classes teachers do not usually have to deal with discipline issues as much as their preschool counterparts. However, they still need to be concerned about building a good relationship with students and they should maintain a positive classroom environment. Disturbing habits, talking out of turn, unrelated use of smartphones and so on can all happen in older classes. To deal with misbehavior in a language class, the teacher and the students can talk about behavioral expectations from day one. For example, turn off or silence smartphones, raise a hand to speak or ask a question, stay on topic, be on time and others. When the disruptions occur the teacher may try some tactics such as making eye contact with the disruptive student, reminding them of the classroom rules, moving closer towards the disruptive person, being silent and waiting for the disruption to end, calling for a break or speaking with the student privately. Finally, in all class levels, the teacher should avoid sarcasm and publicly embarrassing students. The teacher should use a kind, respectful but firm manner and target the misbehaviors and not the student personally.

Letting children play supports their development

We need to remember that for the teacher it is a job or a vocation, but for the students, especially preschoolers, it is “play.” According to Rudolf Steiner, on whose ideas Waldolf Education was based, “Play and playfulness lie at the heart of childhood and any form of education should take this into account if it seriously wishes to meet the needs of the child” (Steiner, 2003, p.60). The opportunity to play with their peers makes preschoolers enjoy coming to school. Play supports their muscle development, social skills, problem solving and so forth. However, at school, play should be in a safe and friendly environment without any aggression. Toys should be educational and support language learning. And through limiting choices, children can learn how to wait and take turns. Teachers should let children play without disruption. Instead, teachers should take the role of observer, helper, facilitator or even play with them. Additionally, letting children play outside especially in nature-rich places or in schoolyards positively benefits their bodies and minds. Studies show that children who play outside especially in natural environments are healthier, have higher levels of vitamin D and have more advanced motor skills. They also develop stronger awareness, reasoning, observational skills and so on. (McGurk, 2013).

Although teens and adults tend to focus on grades and achievements, they still need the variety of activity and fun time. “Play” in terms of teaching language to older students tends to focus on creative activities besides textbook learning. This can include games, quizzes, role plays, giving directions, interviewing, show and tell, competition activities and others. These activities should be added to the lesson to make it more stimulating and to keep students engaged in learning a foreign language. Furthermore, students will be also more comfortable with other students or with the teacher during the “play” time.


A preschool English teacher is a parent, a nurse, a psychologist, an artist, a dancer, a singer and an English teacher all rolled up into one who helps children learn language through various kinds of activities in order to have them enjoy acquiring a foreign language. I look back at myself 6 years ago as a language teacher and see that I have learned and changed a lot in many aspects. I have evolved from a shy, strict and unorganized language teacher into a kinder, more patient, well-organized, friendly and playful teacher. The six lessons I have discussed can be applied to preschool language classes as well as to all levels of students. I will keep learning alongside my students both in preschool and in the higher education levels. At the same time, I will also learn from other teachers and listen to feedback from others to improve as a teaching professional. Finally, this article shows my gratitude towards my beloved preschoolers and also to my four year-old daughter. They all deserve unconditional love, respect, trust and encouragement from the adults in their lives, especially their parents and teachers.

Duangsamorn Haruyama is a preschool teacher at GKA Pre-School and a part-time teacher at Gunma University. Her interests include elementary school English education, teaching English for young learners, educational psychology, and positive discipline in the classroom.


Carson-Dellosa Publishing Staff (2011). Preschool ABC’s: Assessment, Behavior and Classroom Management. USA: Carson-Dellosa Publishing LLC.

Deiter, R. (2000). The use of humor as a teaching tool in the college classroom. NACTA Journal, 6(1), 20-28.

Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition Internet Edition 2009. Retrieved 2018/11/02 from

McGurk, L. (2013). 13 Benefits of Outside Play That are Backed by Science. Retrieved 2019/08/30 from

Montessori, M. (2011). Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook. USA: Createspace Independent Pub. Ret.

Moran, A. (2013). How to Teach ESL: Differences for Children and Adults. Retrieved 2019/09/29 from

Positive Discipline Association (2019). What is Positive Discipline? Retrieved 2019/08/30 from

Steiner. R. (2003). Rudolf Steiner Education: An Introductory Reader. Great Britain: Rudolf Steiner Press.

UNESCO. (2006). Positive Discipline in the Inclusive, Learning-friendly Classroom: A Guide for Teachers and Teacher Educators. Bangkok: UNESCO.

Empathy in Team Teaching: Practical Advice for Elementary School ALTs

By Matthew Potter

“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” – Former U.S President Barack Obama

While ALTs may not be able to change the world, empathizing with our co-teachers and seeing things from their perspective can enable us to change our own behaviors in the classroom, as well as the lives of our students through the quality and efficacy of our team-taught lessons. I had never experienced team teaching growing up in the New Zealand school system. It was a concept I was entirely unaware of until I dropped myself into the deep end of the Japanese public education system in April 2011. That year I began working for an assistant language teacher (ALT) dispatch company who, in their race to fulfill their contracts, rushed us into the mountains of Fukushima for an “intensive” three-day training seminar. This included wake-up calls at half-past six for radio taiso and writing self-introductions in Nihongo. Our role, we were told, was to create games and communicative activities for classes and generally to do as we were directed by the school. The subtleties of working closely with Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) or elementary school homeroom teachers (HRTs) was not on the list of training priorities. As far as I was aware, my primary role in the classroom would be to facilitate internationalization of Japanese students through cultural exchange, as well as provide a native-speaker model to assist with communicative activities.

My initial placement consisted of four days a week at a junior high, with one day teaching at the nearby elementary school. In the junior high school setting, my lack of experience didn’t create too many issues. The JTEs I worked with were trained and experienced professional EFL teachers who were proficient in English and were used to working with and directing new ALTs for the best classroom outcomes. This was in stark contrast to the situation at the elementary school where I seemed to be expected to teach lessons essentially on my own. During lessons, many homeroom teachers (HRTs) preferred to loiter at the edges or even at the back of class. Some would sit at their desk and grade papers, occasionally popping their head up to discipline the students while others sometimes wouldn’t turn up at all. In 2020 the Japan Ministry of Education (MEXT) intends to make English an official subject in elementary schools, and while the situation has improved over time I still notice a great deal of nervousness, apprehension and reluctance on the part of elementary school HRTs who are required to team-teach EFL.

The purpose behind this article is to provide elementary school ALTs with some essential background information that I think will allow individuals to make informed choices, thereby improving the quality of team-taught lessons. Firstly, this article will assess how team teaching positively influences students learning and benefits teachers. ALTs can thus better understand the impact of their presence in the classroom. I will then address some of the major issues hampering team teaching by investigating the perspectives of HRTs towards EFL to identify reasons why coordinated and balanced team teaching can be so difficult to achieve. Finally, this article will offer some practical advice that ALTs can implement to try and overcome these issues in order to cultivate a positive team teaching environment.          

The impact of team teaching

Before identifying how we might improve our team teaching, it is valuable to understand the impact of an ALT’s presence in the EFL classroom. The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) highlights the role of ALTs in “promoting grass-roots internationalization at the local level” through cultural exchange by “helping to improve foreign language education” (JET, n.d). But what factors facilitate this improvement?

As native (or near native) speakers, ALTs reduce the reliance of non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) on textbooks and teaching aids by employing their wide, active vocabulary and native intuition of language usage. An ALT’s presence in the classroom promotes development of students’ communicative competence by providing learners with a reason to use language authentically (Barratt & Kontra, as cited in Carless & Walker, 2006). Some evidence also suggests that students find team-taught lessons more beneficial for language learning because the cultural knowledge the ALT brings into the classroom makes for a more interesting and motivating lesson (Johannes, 2012).

Successful team-taught lessons can facilitate the development of students’ critical thinking skills when teachers are able to model the acceptance of divergent viewpoints during lessons (Gladman, 2015). Aside from modeling the English language itself, team-taught lessons also allow the HRTs and JTEs to model effective communication strategies such as negotiating for meaning, turn taking and clarification requests. They also provide opportunities for natural pragmatic language use and pushed output. Team-taught lessons in which there is a balanced partnership allow HRTs to serve as role models of non-native speakers, demonstrating that native fluency is not a prerequisite to foreign language use (Johannes, 2012). Furthermore, the contrast between a single-teacher-led lesson and a more interactive team-taught lesson can lead students to take a more proactive role in the class, particularly in reducing anxiety levels when asking questions (Gladman, 2015).

ALTs act as a valuable resource to promote English language acquisition, facilitating HRTs’ professional development. Conversely, working with experienced HRTs can allow ALTs to expand their teaching skill set. Some of my most valuable teaching strategies and activity ideas have been copied directly from the more knowledgeable HRTs that I have worked with. ALTs are also typically rotated through different schools at a faster rate compared to Japanese teachers, therefore encountering many different HRTs and JTEs. This offers a wealth of opportunities for ALTs to learn new pedagogical techniques and strategies. Additionally, this high rotation rate also means that ALTs can act as conduits, spreading good activities and lesson ideas as they move from school to school.

Issues in team teaching

The benefits of team teaching can be reaped by students and teachers alike. However, in my experience, the reticence of HRTs can often make it difficult to implement effective team-taught lessons in the elementary school classroom. The following sections will attempt to identify reasons for this by looking at team teaching from the HRT’s point of view, providing ALTs with greater insight into their co-teacher’s situation.

English activities have only been part of the elementary curriculum since 2009, with the Ministry of Education’s long-term goal being for Japanese youth to be able to use English in the workplace upon conclusion of tertiary studies (Hashimoto, 2011). These changes have been implemented in a “top-down” approach, with very little input from HRTs (Butler, as cited in Machida & Walsh, 2015). This has possibly led teachers to consider themselves as mere implementers of policy (Li, as cited in Machida & Walsh) as opposed to active participants in policy development. The rapid expansion of the English curriculum has put elementary school HRTs in a difficult position as unlike their junior high counterparts, elementary school teachers were never required to undergo specialist professional language education training to teach EFL (Machida, 2016). In my own experience, the majority of elementary HRTs with higher English proficiency are English literature graduates who have not undertaken specialist foreign language education training, although their own language learning experiences do appear to have a positive impact on classroom EFL pedagogy.

Arguably, the biggest hurdle currently facing EFL education in Japanese public schools is the low level of English proficiency among HRTs, with the rapid implementation of the EFL curriculum resulting in foreign language anxiety for many teachers (Machida, 2016). As students growing up, HRTs may have had negative language learning experiences within a school system that prioritized grammatical accuracy and native-like pronunciation over communicative competence. Teacher anxiety may also be compounded by the fact that the Ministry of Education policy has now placed a greater priority on the teaching of speaking and listening skills in English.

The stage of an HRT’s teaching career can also have an influence on their level of foreign language anxiety. I have worked with experienced teachers who, although having low spoken English ability, can be quite enthusiastic about using English in class. These teachers relish the opportunity for spoken practice and frequently seek out conversation. On the other hand, I have team-taught with several young HRTs who, despite being English majors while in teacher training college, appeared to be unable to use English in a communicative setting and preferred to let the ALT manage the English lessons. In fact, I was completely unaware that these teachers had any English language ability at all until being made aware of this by other members of staff. Machida (2016) sheds light on this situation by noting that as a teacher’s length of service increases, they become more confident in dealing with curriculum changes and instructing new subjects. In contrast, he also found that EFL experience does not necessarily reduce teacher levels of foreign language anxiety, suggesting that even teachers with a background in learning EFL may still experience significant levels of apprehension.

The amount and quality of in-service training also plays a role in shaping HRT attitudes towards EFL classes. As mentioned previously, HRTs have never been required to be formally trained in EFL instruction. Many HRTs acknowledge that to be effective EFL educators they must improve their communicative competence (Goto-Butler, 2004). However, a heavy workload combined with myriad administration duties may result in teachers feeling un-supported and un-prepared for teaching EFL (Machida & Walsh, 2015). For the HRTs I work with, optional EFL training seminars are held for every school term. Topics covered include instruction on how to use “classroom English”, changes to the curriculum and textbooks, advice on team teaching and integration between the elementary and junior high school curriculums. However, due to schedule restrictions many teachers may only attend this conference once per year while the only officially dedicated time allocated to collaborative professional development between HRTs and ALTs is the mid-year prefectural conference. As a result, although some HRTs may be open to developing their English proficiency and have a desire to instill in their students positive attitudes towards communication in English (Machida & Walsh, 2015), a lack of officially allocated time for professional development built in to teachers’ hectic work schedules can lead to a slower development of HRTs’ EFL teaching skills. This can in turn lead to foreign language anxiety in the classroom.

The Ministry of Education requires that English lessons must be team-taught by both the HRT and the ALT and subsequently the act of team teaching may cause stress and anxiety for HRTs. Additionally, the treatment of ALTs merely as a resource to be utilized in the classroom may prevent more experienced ALTs from playing a professional role in the development of an English curriculum (Hashimoto, 2011). As was my own case, ALTs often have very little teaching experience or formal training when they arrive on their first job placement in Japan and are usually unfamiliar with the nuances of how they fit into the Japanese public education system.

Low levels of experience and poor ALT training may lead HRTs to resent having to work with someone who they perceive to be unqualified for the job, holding opinions such as, “We need native speakers who understand the content of English language education in Japanese elementary schools,“ or “Native ALTs are just ordinary people from English-speaking countries. I think it is difficult for ordinary people to teach 40 students in a foreign school” (Machida & Walsh, 2015, p.226). The presence of an ALT in the classroom may also act to heighten foreign language anxiety as HRTs may be reluctant to make mistakes and consequently lose face in front of their students (Nishino & Watanabe, 2008). Time and scheduling constraints can make it difficult for both ALTs and HRTs to arrange meetings to discuss lessons, while language barriers may also hinder the efficacy and efficiency of lesson planning.

How can ALTs positively influence team teaching outcomes?

A gap between MEXT’s goals of communicative language teaching in Japanese classrooms and the reality of HRT foreign language abilities (Nishino & Watanabe, 2008) persists within the context of Japanese elementary schools. However, despite having a highly specialized role and limited influence within the scope of the Japanese public education system, ALTs can take action by at first understanding the HRT’s perspective and then modifying their own work habits to positively influence team-taught lessons.

ALTs can help improve HRTs’ levels of spoken English by understanding that, like themselves and their students, HRTs are also second language learners with varying levels of proficiency. HRTs may generally rate their productive L2 abilities lower than their receptive skills (Goto-Butler, 2004) so ALTs should strive to create low pressure situations during meetings or break times to provide HRTs with the opportunity to engage in simplified, low-stakes English conversation. Burri (2018) notes that allowing inexperienced HRTs the opportunity to conduct pre-planned, input-focused aspects of the lesson can reduce the stress of having to spontaneously produce spoken English during class. For younger grades, this includes reading simple picture books or teaching simple songs. I do this by inviting HRTs to help review vocabulary items that we have covered previously in class. Although they are usually initially hesitant, I explain that our goal is above all intelligibility and not native-level pronunciation. Teachers and students alike can then experience an increase in their confidence and reduced anxiety. Sato (2019) suggests that in addition to practicing L2 explanations in advance of lessons, encouraging NNESTs to express their own ideas and emotions can increase their willingness to communicate in English. In my classes with older students, we use short presentations or “small talks”. These are pre-planned dialogues between the ALT and the HRT that are designed to demonstrate to students the key elements of effective communication and the general flow of a conversation. Because the focus is on self-expression around topics that are familiar to the teachers, the HRT is more relaxed and less apprehensive, thereby creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom. Additionally, students are able to observe the HRT using English naturally, setting a positive example of foreign language use. I have also found that encouraging HRTs to acquire and use “classroom English” phrases can allow HRTs to take control of their classes in the foreign language. This also increases their confidence and encourages them to have greater agency and autonomy during lessons.

By understanding the relationship between teacher service length and foreign language anxiety, ALTs can adapt their teaching style to best suit the individual needs of their HRTs. As noted previously, younger teachers may have a substantial amount of grammar and vocabulary knowledge but be highly anxious and may need to be gently coaxed into spoken production. In contrast, experienced teachers who are familiar with the curriculum can be enthusiastic about using spoken English. Furthermore, veteran teachers’ greater experience with team teaching may also lead them to be more open-minded to role-sharing in the classroom (Johannes, 2012). This idea of role-sharing and flexibility may contradict and blur the traditional roles of ALTs as a cultural and communicative resource and HRTs as the overseer and disciplinarian. However, it can allow both teachers to expand on their role in the classroom and further develop a wider repertoire of teaching skills. I have seen this happen in my own teaching context where, as the HRT gains confidence and takes a more active role in lessons, I am able to take a more supportive role by assisting students individually. Students have reacted well to this, having extra motivation and enthusiasm as a result of their homeroom teacher’s new-found confidence. An additional benefit I have found is that, particularly on days when I have a heavy class load with younger classes, switching to a supportive role can provide an element of variety to the workday and give me a chance to slow down and manage my own energy levels.

After class, post-lesson collaborative reflection with HRTs, even if only brief, can also help to increase the fluidity of future lessons. This helps team teachers to improve their working relationship by understanding the reasoning behind unfamiliar pedagogical techniques that either teacher might use. I find the ideal time to do this is at the end of the lesson when students are filling in their reflection worksheets and the lesson is fresh in both teachers’ minds. If time isn’t available for collaborative reflection, it can be valuable to self-reflect, critiquing the lesson and your own performance, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of not only the team teaching, but also the extent to which the students met the learning outcomes of the lesson.

Additionally, ALTs should also proactively seek to improve their own knowledge of EFL theory and practice. Compared with the junior high school context, elementary school ALTs may find their role is less that of an assistant language teacher and more that of a co-teacher, depending on the English proficiency and EFL experience of their HRT colleagues. Based on my own experiences, ALT training tends to be based around pragmatic issues such as improving the productivity of meetings or the exchange of ideas for communicative activities with little focus on EFL theory or instruction. Particularly for those that plan to extend their annual employment contract, investment in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) courses such as CELTA can help ALTs to improve their quality of instruction by acquiring a deeper understanding of EFL theory and practices. In turn, this can build trust between the HRT and ALT, as the ALT displays the aspects of professionalism expected of public-school educators. Having a wider knowledge base can also allow teachers to better align their classroom teaching practices. ALTs might also consider independently undertaking their own action research to further investigate any facets of team teaching found to be of interest or needing improvement (Chen & Cheng, 2010).

Ideally both teachers should be receiving some self-satisfaction from the team teaching partnership (Davis-Wiley, as cited in Carless & Walker, 2006). In addition to measuring the success of a lesson based on how closely students meet the learning outcomes of the lesson plan, I have found that setting personal targets for lessons enables me to identify what aspects of teaching I enjoy while allowing me to better identify exactly what I hope to learn from my co-workers.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, effective implementation of intercultural team-taught lessons requires cultural and interpersonal sensitivity, a willingness to compromise and the development of relationships inside and outside the classroom (Carless, 2006). By understanding that in Japan consensus is reached through group discussion, knowing key social discourse markers and actively cultivating a positive rapport with co-workers, it is possible to reduce tension and unease, allowing both parties to fully engage with the task of effectively educating the students.


The linguistic authenticity and cultural knowledge that the ALT brings to the language classroom adds an element of excitement and dynamism that captures the interest of students, motivating them to achieve their language learning goals. Effective team teaching not only benefits students but provides many opportunities for personal and professional development for both HRTs and ALTs. However, the rapid pace of change in the curriculum combined with low English proficiency, lack of training and being required to work with inexperienced ALTs can create high levels of anxiety for elementary school teachers in Japan who are required to teach EFL, resulting in ineffective team-taught lessons.

ALTs can address these issues by first understanding how MEXT’s implementation of the English curriculum has resulted in additional stress and pressure for homeroom teachers. By facilitating the development of HRT English language proficiency, creating low-pressure situations for HRTs to utilize English in the classroom and identifying how individual HRTs’ own teaching careers and experiences may have shaped their attitudes towards EFL, ALTs can strive to create a positive team teaching environment. Additionally, ALTs can look inward, reflect on their own teaching performance and look to expand their own knowledge of EFL theory and practice.

By empathizing, understanding and being informed about the perspectives of their co-workers, ALTs can become empowered by adjusting their own behaviors to better meet the needs of  individual HRTs. You may not be able to change the world with your actions, but you may be able to change your world and the world of the teachers and students around you.

Matthew Potter has taught EFL in Japan since 2011 and works for the Takasaki City Board of Education as an ALT. He is currently undertaking the University of Canterbury’s MATESOL program via distance learning. Matthew’s research interests include team teaching, minority language issues and family language policy. He can be contacted at


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The Not-So Dreaded Introvert

By Heather McCulloch


I was a university student sitting nervously in the office of my professor. She explained to me that she enjoyed having me in her classroom. I was doing well. I got good grades. I was present at every class. I sat right in front and took excellent notes. There was only one problem. I sat there and heard the words that I had heard my entire life. I could predict them. “You really need to participate more in class discussions. I wish that you would speak up more.” My reply, just as predictable: “I’ll try.” But as the words came out of my mouth I knew I was never going to try. I was going to continue to sit in class silently, just as I had for my entire life. I am an introvert. Just like all of my fellow introverts, I sit silently. I listen. I don’t speak. I soak in information. I am an observer, not a participant.

Charles Meisgeir’s research has found that the so-called ideal student is an extrovert (1994). This bias labels introverts as a ‘problem.’ However, a study done by Vernellia Randall (1995) found that introverts tend to get better grades. I was curious about how my own colleagues felt about their quiet students, so I decided to do my own research. I conveyed information about a quiet, presumably introverted, class to some teacher colleagues. I explained how I had a class of 28 quiet science students, but that they were hard working and gentle. The responses that I received included, “Oh, yuck. I’d die,” and, “Why can’t people just speak?” Even though these responses were foreseeable, they still broke my heart. Is that what my teachers said about me?

In this article, I would like to explain what an introvert is and to reflect on my own experiences of being an introverted language learner. Finally, I will detail some ways to adjust your lesson plans and teaching methodology in order to bring the best out of the introverts in your classroom.

The introverted mind

The Myers-Briggs Foundation explains how introverts think:

I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

Susan Cain further describes introverts by saying, “They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of conflict but enjoy deep discussions” (2012). Introverts also need time to reflect, think before they speak and choose who they open up to carefully. Introverts are overwhelmed by outside stimulus and need time alone, some more than others, to refresh.

Just as introverts recharge in a different way, they also learn in a different way. Introverts refer to information that is kept in their long-term memory (Laney, 2002). Consequently, they need more time to elicit and process information. Their responses are thoughtful and deliberate. In a second language classroom, they learn by listening and paying close attention to grammar. They prefer to practice one-on-one. They prefer to show their knowledge through writing. They are uncomfortable being singled out even for positive reinforcement. When in a foreign country, introverts are more aware of social norms and non-verbal communication since they are intense observers.

My language learning experiences as an introvert

As a life-long language learner I can draw on my very different experiences with learning. I have studied both Spanish and Japanese. I learned both in different ways, and therefore had very different results. First, I studied Spanish from junior high school and on into university in an extroverted American classroom. Over the course of 10 years my classes included group discussions, whole class discussions and presentations. I loved studying Spanish so much that I chose Spanish literature and culture as my undergraduate major. I started with a positive attitude. I only had a few classmates, so the small class size was comfortable for me, a shy introvert. But all that changed in my second year at university. I had a professor who destroyed my love for learning Spanish. I will refer to this professor as “Dr. Garcia.” I bounced into class on the first day expecting to be reading romantic poems from Spain or Argentina to my new handsome classmate from Panama. But that is not what happened. Dr. Garcia was apparently unaware of how introverts communicate. I still have nightmares of her towering over me saying, “You have to be able to answer questions just like this,” while snapping her fingers in front of my nose. According to the Myers-Briggs based test at, I am 90% introverted. The Big Five Personality Test at gives me an even more meager score of only 6% extroverted which means I cannot answer questions as quickly as snapping one’s fingers in my native language, much less my second. Fortunately, the assignments in my Spanish literature class were mostly written. This allowed me to demonstrate my knowledge in a quiet, comfortable way. On the other hand, my grades always suffered from a low participation score which made up 10% of my grade. Still, to this day, every time I try to speak Spanish I hear Dr. Garcia’s voice in my head. I shy away from speaking Spanish and that really saddens me since I once loved learning it so much.

Learning Japanese was a different experience. I learned on my own with textbooks quietly in my own apartment. I was able to choose what I wanted to learn and how I learned it. I was not in a classroom with social classmates who always wanted to be the first one to speak. Studying with classmates who were eager to contribute was both a gift and a curse. In some ways this saved me from having to speak. I needed more reflection time, and consequently I would have the perfect response several days later. In other ways, I felt this was a curse. Because I rarely spoke, I appeared as if I had nothing to say. I had something to say, but it needed to be thoroughly thought out. In contrast, I loved studying grammar and vocabulary on my own. I loved comparing similar words and understanding how to use them. I lived in Japan so I had a lot of opportunities to practice, and I was able to determine when I was ready to try out a new word or phrase. I am an observer, so I enjoyed seeing the nuances of both verbal and non-verbal communication. I relied on a textbook for knowledge, and I practiced by talking to myself in my apartment. Yes, introverts often talk to themselves. When I felt confident enough, I would take my new skills out to a restaurant or supermarket to try them out. Therefore, I had more confidence in Japanese because of my positive learning experience.


The San Jose Mercury News (1998) reported that teachers and professors in the United States were perplexed by the silence of their Asian students. Preferring thinking to talking seems to apply to most of Asia as seen in an article by Heejung Kim, a cultural psychologist at Stanford University. In her article, she discusses the trouble American teachers have with quiet Asian students. She concludes that “…perhaps making students speak up in class might not be the only way to make them better thinkers for the colleges who are concerned about East Asian students’ silence. Another way might be for the colleges to realize that the meaning of students’ silence can be the engagement in thoughts, not the absence of ideas. Perhaps instead of trying to change their ways, colleges can learn to listen to their sound of silence” (2002). Personally, I would also make this same argument for western introverts like myself. I wish that someone had told Dr. Garcia about this article. It might be advantageous for teachers to see silence as fruitful. Being quiet and reserved might be cultural for some and a preference for others. Either way, introspection allows us to look with and find our creative minds.

The question is how does one reach a student who is, on the outside, silent and seemingly emotionless? How can a teacher instill a love for English in their introverted students? The most important thing to remember is that you will not get the best from an introvert by forcing them to participate in large group settings. When asking a question in class, allow students time to reflect before answering. Introverts need time to recall information stored deep in their long-term memories. A short pause before answering a question gives students enough time to construct an answer that clearly displays their thoughts and feelings. As much as possible, give students questions or discussion topics ahead of time.

Be mindful of how you do group work. Whenever possible, allow students to work alone or in pairs. I do this with my science majors. Some students feel comfortable working alone. The silence gives them the space to be creative and come up with new ideas. Research shows that brainstorming is more beneficial when done alone than in a group. An early study conducted by Marvin Dunnette in 1963 at the University of Minnesota discovered that the best, most creative ideas came when participants did brainstorming alone and later combined their ideas with their peers. One of the most heart-stopping things an introvert could hear in class is, “Find a partner.” If pair work is necessary, it is a good idea to assign partners, number students, or keep the same partner every time. This takes the stress out of having to find new partners for every activity.

If students are not getting enough speaking practice in class, assign conversation buddies. Ask them to practice in pairs weekly outside of class. By speaking to only one person, your introverted student will feel more comfortable and confident to practice new language that they might have picked up in your class.

As a student, I lost so many points for my lack of participation. When grading our students, keep in mind that quality is as important as quantity. The most talkative student does not always have the most creative ideas. There are various ways to think about what participation means. I consider whether a student appears engaged, listens intently, takes notes and talks to a partner when requested. The student might possibly be so interested in what the teacher is saying that they are trying desperately to remember every word. I regularly circle around the class talking to each student individually to get a sense of each students’ thoughts, feelings and concerns. At this time, students can demonstrate how much they are absorbing in the class without the fear of speaking to the entire class.

Allow students to show their personality through writing. This could be done through essays, journals or blogs. Some teachers have found that the use of Twitter and social media is a good way to let their introverts show who they really are. As an assignment, I ask my students to email me during the semester. I also assign journals. These assignments allow introverted students to correspond in a way that is more comfortable for them. I am always amazed at how much students open up when using this method.

Above all, when teaching an introvert, we must be careful with what tone and atmosphere we set in our class. If you constantly try to turn your introvert into an extrovert, you will never be able to see the immense power that an introvert brings to a classroom. It is important to have an attitude of acceptance. When teachers view their students as being lazy or having nothing to say based solely on participation and amount spoken in class, this can have negative consequences in the classroom. If there is a bias held by the teacher that only good students speak, students’ grades could be affected. Furthermore, if the teacher views these students as not performing up to standard, the teachers’ negative attitude will come across to students, pushing introverted students further into their shells.

If your classroom activities are varied, you are more likely to reach all learning styles in the class. Collaborative learning has its place in the classroom, and it is beneficial for both introverts and extroverts. But be careful to plan lessons judiciously and inclusively. By doing this, everyone has a chance to learn and shine.


Our goals as teachers should be to recognize the unique talents of each student and to develop those capabilities. When we focus only on extroverts, the hidden talents of introverts could possibly go unseen. When all students, both introverts and extroverts alike, are allowed and even encouraged to learn and communicate in their own unique style, everyone can benefit. As a teacher, I am grateful for the quick answers given by extroverts. This can shorten the awkward silence teachers sometimes feel while standing in front of a class. On the other hand, introverts offer us deep thought and reflection. Teachers can also appreciate an idea that has been mulled over and crafted into something creative that we have never thought of ourselves.

Next time you come across an introvert in one of your classes, think about some introverts who have been successful in science, entertainment and a host of other areas. They  include: Albert Einstein, J.K. Rowling, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, Alfred Hitchcock, Dr. Seuss, Helen Hunt and countless others. These people prove that when an introvert is allowed time and space to contemplate, amazing creativity can flourish.

Heather McCulloch was born in Crossville, Tennessee, U.S.A. and received her MA TESOL from Biola University. She has been living and teaching English in Japan for the past 17 years. Her research interests include personality science and language learning styles relating to personality type.


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Lubman, S. (1998, February 23). Some students must learn to question. In San Jose Mercury News, A1, A12.

Meisgeier, Charles (1994). Implications and applications of psychological type to education reform and renewal. In Proceedings of the First Biennial International Conference on Education of the Center of Applications of Psychological Type, 263-271. Gainesville, FL: Center of Applications of Psychological Type.

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Gyakuten no Ryuugaku (Studying Abroad to Start Over)

A book review of Gyakuten no Ryuugaku by Takano Mikio
IBC Publishing (2018) ISBN: 978-4-79460-5214

By Antonija Cavcic

This book presents the intriguing stance that studying abroad can be used as an opportunity to “make a comeback” or turn an unfavorable situation around and start over. In fact, the brief introduction to the book on the publisher’s website suggests that study abroad is not merely for outstanding or elite students. It can also be for mid-career level employees, middle-aged individuals or people in unfavorable circumstances looking for solutions (IBC Publishing, 2018). In order to demonstrate such, certified study abroad counselor Takano Mikio primarily draws on case studies and a variety of study abroad alternatives. After initially defining what is meant by gyakuten no ryuugaku in the introduction, the book is divided into three chapters with the first addressing all the apprehensions one might have about studying abroad and answering all the frequently asked questions. The second chapter then explores a variety of study abroad options and introduces relevant case studies. The third chapter offers advice and outlines the mental preparation necessary for studying abroad. Then, to end on a profound and personal note, the book closes with additional contributor Nakao Yuri’s inspiring account of her own comeback experience as a struggling student with Asperger syndrome who managed to make a complete turnaround by studying abroad. Given that Gyakuten no Ryuugaku has only been published in Japanese and exclusively highlights the struggles of individuals in contemporary Japanese society, it is ideal for readers of all walks of life who are both living in Japan and seeking a little push or motivation to study abroad.

Defining gyakuten no ryuugaku and addressing the main issues

As noted, the introduction clarifies the overall meaning of gyakuten no ryuugaku. Takano essentially sees studying abroad as a means to turn the tables or get back on track per se. One’s age, background or circumstances are irrelevant. What is interesting, however, is his argument that Japanese society is rather inflexible and not everyone can adapt or fit in, but studying abroad can open doors and help people realize their potential (2018, p. 4). Takano particularly criticizes the conventional styles of lifetime employment in Japan or at least the obligation to be chained to a company or work under horrible conditions for the sake of stability because it is simply “comfortable” (p. 6). This is reinforced later in Chapter 3 when Takano states that one of the greatest problems of Japanese society is the fear of straying from a stable path, and thus praises the West’s positive attitudes towards failure, tendency to embrace diversity and overall open-mindedness (pp.162-163). While studying abroad can be perceived as an escape from the rigid structures and circumstances in Japan, Takano argues that it is nevertheless a second chance or “game changer” (pp. 5-6). In a culture where changing jobs is not unheard of but not overly encouraged, this perspective may be enlightening and inspiring for individuals who are at their wits’ ends or have simply burned out.

Following on from what seems at times like a counseling session in the introduction, Chapter 1 addresses most of the major concerns or qualms about studying abroad one might still have even after being convinced that it is worthwhile. Topics in this chapter include: English proficiency issues, what one can gain from studying abroad, how even individuals in the most negative of circumstances can benefit from studying abroad, the importance of being flexible about one’s choices and paths, why one’s experiences abroad are essential in a globalized society, the lack/existence of programs to suit everyone’s needs, the role of the study abroad guidance counselor, the price of tuition and the cost- performance of studying abroad. By remaining ever positive in tone and providing solid statistics and persuasive anecdotes and arguments, Takano illustrates the overwhelming number of advantages over the financial burden of studying abroad, which, he adds, can be equivalent to the costs of studying in Japan in some cases (p. 37). To reinforce this, on page 39 he ends the chapter by drawing in findings from research by Yokota (2016) demonstrating that the average salary of Japanese employees is higher for graduates of foreign rather than domestic universities (see Figure 1). In a rather indisputable fashion, Takano proves the long-term benefits of studying abroad are worth the investment.

Figure 1: Comparing average salaries of graduates from domestic and foreign universities (Yokota, 2016)

The case for case studies

While providing solid facts and quantitative data lends Takano’s arguments credibility, to really reach the book’s target reader and effectively make the case for studying abroad, the inclusion of case studies in Chapter 2 is particularly commendable. Giving a voice to or personalizing study abroad experiences is arguably one of the most effective means of influencing readers as it encourages reader empathy and greater reader investment. However, while case studies can be convincing and/or capture the reader’s attention, “they are not generalizable; a case—no matter how well done—cannot tell you whether it is the only such instance or whether the problem (or success) is widespread” (Morra & Friedlander, 1999, p. 3). In any case, given that Gyakuten no Ryuugaku provides a number of generic yet relatable case studies, it caters to a range of readers with different backgrounds and needs. The case studies include: studying at a language school, studying at a foreign university, studying at a high school abroad, studying at a sports academy, getting a diploma or certificate abroad, going to graduate school abroad, and joining a short-term study abroad program or summer camp. Evidently, a wide range of age groups are covered in these case studies—from junior high school students (summer camp or short-term study abroad programs) through to middle-aged or mid-career level workers needing a change of scenery or looking for a career change. Every one of the case studies involves an individual who is having trouble or feels out of place in their current school, workplace, or life in Japan. They are generally concerned about their future and seem to be at a loss as to what to do with their lives or current situations. To address these issues, Takano introduces a wide variety of options while ensuring that he also covers any associated concerns one might typically have regarding cost, length, and language proficiency.

One of his strategies in this chapter is to highlight what he sees as the major flaws in Japanese institutions and society and then proceed to demonstrate how things are done differently, if not better, abroad. One of the notable points is his criticism of the reputation of Japanese universities for being difficult to enter but easy to graduate from (p. 64). Adding onto that, Takano highlights the fact that although some Japanese universities are listed high in the World University Rankings, most are so lowly ranked (between 600-800 of a total of 1103 universities) that one is better off studying at the University of Manchester or Sydney. That way, Takano argues, students can essentially kill two birds with one stone by both gaining skills and knowledge necessary for their careers and improving their English (p. 67). In his case for studying at a high school abroad, Takano brings to attention the phenomenon of futoukou (a Japanese word meaning students who refuse or stop going to school). Acknowledging that each student’s reasons may vary, he nevertheless notes that even if some of these students decide to go to another school in the hope that things will be different, many fall back into the same rut (p. 86). Part of the problem, he suggests, is Japanese society and its way of thinking. Therefore, studying in a new environment in which the culture, ways of thinking, and relationships with others are completely different is refreshing, eye-opening, and highly recommended (p. 86). Overall, the content and tone of this chapter is critical and encouraging but never condescending. As a result, readers might feel reassured that they are not alone and that there is a range of options available to them. Making that big step to study abroad or hop on the road to recovery just involves getting out of one’s comfort zone.

Mental preparation and a personal account

As mentioned earlier, Chapter 3 discusses the mental preparation necessary for studying abroad. Needless to say, learning and living in another environment is not exactly a walk in the park and for anyone uncertain about their future or suffering from anxiety; it is an incredible leap to make. While acknowledging this, Takano dedicates this chapter to offering honest advice to his readers.

First of all, he constantly stresses that without great motivation or effort, nothing will be achieved and nothing will change (p. 152). Interestingly, he also adds that crime or danger should not be considered an issue or hold anyone back since Japan is just as dangerous if the frequency of natural disasters and political tensions with North Korea are taken into account (p. 153). Furthermore, with Japan’s rapidly ageing society, the growing presence of foreign employees working in Japanese companies and Japanese firms expanding their businesses abroad is inevitable. Thus, in this context, being open-minded and being able to communicate with a greater number of people is critical (pp. 154-155). Coming to terms with this situation is, according to Takano, part of the mental preparation process. Another issue that Takano considers is the fear of failure, or the fear of not being able to redeem oneself, that are both so prevalent in Japanese society (p. 163). For Takano, experiencing life in a tolerant society that embraces diversity and sees failure as growth can lead one to their recovery or help one make their comeback.

The final chapter, as noted, is a personal account of a young student, who, in spite of her struggle in Japanese schools, managed to make a complete turnaround by studying abroad. Until she was diagnosed in her late teens, Nakao Yuri struggled for most of her life with Asperger Syndrome and eventually stopped attending school. Her account in this chapter centers on the discovery of her illness, her eventual graduation from high school, and her aspiration thereafter to enroll in the University of York’s Psychology in Education course. Rather than the ends, it is the means (or the process) that is emphasized in this chapter. If anything, this chapter follows on from the previous chapter in reinforcing that effort and motivation are essential if one has any hope in making a comeback. While the cases in Chapter 2 were anonymized, the personal touch in Nakao’s account is honest, real, and inspiring. Nakao is an atypical study abroad student, and in the face of adversity and in a society that encourages conformity, this chapter demonstrates that sometimes the only way to make a comeback is to both think and venture outside the box.

The verdict

All things considered, perhaps this book does not present any groundbreaking information, but it does offer sound advice and general insight on study abroad options for Japanese people who are struggling or seeking options or solutions to turn their lives around.

If there are any shortcomings, it is perhaps the Anglo-centric angle. While studying English and/or other subjects in English-speaking countries is the primary goal for most Japanese people considering a study abroad program, one cannot discount the importance of learning Asian languages and/or other European languages. In addition, the assumption that people in the West are generally open-minded or flexible is, needless to say, problematic. Another issue is perhaps the fact that Takano seems to insist that the way society works and the unfavorable circumstances for some people in Japan is unlikely to change and that going abroad is the ultimate option or solution. Disregarding the root cause and going elsewhere (rather than perhaps confronting the problem and trying to make positive changes) is neither proactive nor is it a sustainable strategy.

Nevertheless, both easy to read and packed into a neat little manga-length book, Gyakuten no Ryuugaku is digestible and informative. Rather than regurgitating the information already available in most study abroad handbooks, the balance of case studies, social criticism, and factual data is insightful and inspiring. While I suggested that it is ideal for readers who are both living in Japan and need a little push or motivation to study abroad, Gyakuten no Ryuugaku is a useful resource for not only study abroad counselors, but for counselors in general, too. Rather than focusing on language acquisition and global human resource development, the emphasis on more personal reasons to study abroad is commendable. As for English instructors in Japan who might interact with the target readers of this book, this book not only offers insight into gyakuten no ryuugaku as a concept and phenomenon, but it is a valuable tool in making anxious students aware of the various options that are available to them.

Currently based in Tokyo as an English professor at Asia University, Antonija Cavcic belongs to the growing body of scholars interested in manga studies. While her main research interests include dōjinshi publishing practices and manga as a pedagogical tool, her recent research interests concern the branding of ESL in postwar Japan through to Japan’s current post-bubble economic climate.


IBC Publishing. (2018). Gyakuten no ryuugaku [Studying abroad to start over]. Retrieved from

Morra, L. G. & Friedlander, A. C. (1999). Case study evaluations. Washington D.C.: World Bank, Operations Evaluation Department.

Takano, M. (2018). Gyakuten no ryuugaku [Studying abroad to start over]. Tokyo: IBC Publishing.

Yokota, M. (2016). Survey of global personnel development and long-term impact of study abroad. Meiji University, School of Global Japanese Studies. Retrieved from


My Language Learning History for Reading in a Second Language

By Akiko Fujii

I have always been a bookworm; I have loved reading since childhood. I have constantly surrounded myself with books, and it has never been difficult for me to read anything in Japanese, which is my native tongue. However, learning how to read fluently in English has been a very different story. Although I have always wished to be able to read comfortably and smoothly in English, and am close to believing I will achieve that dream someday, I have not had a clear plan to reach that goal. I sometimes feel like a butterfly flying around without a map or destination.

In this paper, I will discuss part of the story of my language learning process, focusing on my ideal L2 self for reading as well as my motivation to reach this optimal endpoint. The first question I need to ask is, however, can anyone have a clear plan to become a fluent reader at an advanced level in a second language? Indeed, Larsen- Freeman and Cameron (2008) suggest that although we can write about a learning process, we cannot predict it. With that in mind, this is a story of my learning history on the way to becoming a comfortable reader in English, but not a story to show how other L2 learners can achieve that goal.

Learning English

Like many Japanese, when I entered junior high school I began to study English. Yet, I must admit that I struggled with this subject throughout my secondary schooling. I hated English classes, and simply stopped learning it in college. However, my life took a new turn when I visited New York, and I realized that I would need to know English. As a result, I once again started to learn English in my twenties. I listened to an NHK radio program for a decade and studied English speaking skills at a language school for a few years. At the same time, I studied English reading with a private tutor for a year, and I always practiced reading English on my own. I recollect that I wanted to read a book in English for pleasure and asked some ESL experts at a conference how to improve my reading skills. Some told me to engage in reading repeatedly, which sounded rather boring to me. I never practice reading repeatedly. Others suggested doing speed-reading, in which I should hold a stopwatch while reading a given text. I never did speed-reading. I seldom read graded readers. Instead, I just read as much as possible without stopping. It took me a decade to become a comfortable English reader. These days, I enjoy reading newspapers and love reading paperbacks in English.

A role model closer to home 

I read an entire English paperback for the first time in my thirties. I had to force myself to continue to read the book. In fact, it was a painful journey to read that book, which was written by Anne Tyler. I chose that particular book because i) I got a cheap used book; ii) I had read Anne Tyler’s works in Japanese before, and; iii) I wanted to be a person who could read a paperback with pleasure. I had access to a book that I was interested in, and I had motivation and time. Still, reading a book in English was very hard for me at the time, and I was not sure whether I could say I read “an English book.”

When we were students, we were encouraged to look up words in a dictionary as often as possible. Japanese people often mention that they have read some books in a second language while using a dictionary. These days, even adult Japanese learners understand extensive reading, and they enjoy reading graded readers. However, many Japanese people still seem to believe that reading a book in a second language requires looking words up in a dictionary hundreds or thousands of times. I have found hardly any stories of learners who have become fluent readers in a second language.

Thus, I have not found a role model for reading English fluently. However, as I mentioned before, I am a good reader in my native tongue and I love reading books. Therefore, I know what it means to be a comfortable reader, and I could imagine being a fluent reader in English just as I am a fluent reader in Japanese.

Ideal L2 self

When we look at essays written by Japanese adults, we realize that most of them mention a desire to be able to speak English fluently. Even though the essay writers have studied English in school for six to eight years, few actually speak English. Many Japanese adult learners work hard to become fluent speakers in English. For instance, in her book, Chusonji (2005) mentions that she tried hard to learn English in her thirties and experienced several failures, and it took her ten years to be able to communicate in English accurately and comfortably (pp. 54-64). She has achieved her goal, which she dreamed about for a decade. However, one wonders if she has actually always had a clear achievable goal and worked hard to achieve that goal.

I am not sure that speaking English fluently is “a real goal” for language learners. It does not seem realistic. And dreaming of becoming a fluent English speaker does not sound like having an achievable ideal L2 self. Henry (2016) mentions that “changes in the ideal L2 self are likely to be taking place all the time” (p. 84). Meanwhile, many adult Japanese learners always mention that they wish to speak English fluently and that is their only goal. Only when one can speak English fluently can they say they have succeeded in learning English. Even in this situation, one might still say that they have an ideal L2 self to learn English. In this sense, I have always had an ideal L2 self for reading in English. After I finished completely reading my first paperback, I continued to read paperbacks to become a fluent reader in English. I read Jane Austin and Time magazine, Bridget Jones and Harry Potter. I have not had a clear plan of how to achieve the goal or known what to do to reach it, although I have asked many people about how to study reading in a second language.


Since language learning comes with successes and failures, it is hard to say that high motivations lead to language learning. For instance, Sataporn and Lamb (2004) reported how two learners struggled to take a distance course for learning English, though they were highly motivated at the beginning. Meanwhile, some adult learners have continued to learn a language and achieved their goals. Chusonji (2005) mentions that she studied grammar books for two years and perfectly memorized all of the English phrases in these books (p. 73). Kiyokawa (2006) notes that learning English was her priority in her daily life while she took private English lessons for a decade (pp. 20-23).

I do not know why I was able to continue to read books in English. One private tutor at a language school told me that I should read a Readers’ Digest, because my English then was not good enough to read a proper paperback. I changed tutors and continued reading. The new private tutor assigned me a lot of reading materials, and I focused on reading. In fact, at that time, learning English was my main priority. I studied reading English with that teacher for a year and I was greatly encouraged. However, I do not think that their encouragement alone kept me reading English for another decade. I continued reading books and newspapers in English, and one day I found myself reading English without effort. Somehow, reading English has become natural for me.


I have just continued to read as many English paperbacks as possible, never stopping. I have had opportunities to keep practicing and to choose interesting books that I wanted to read. I never had a clear plan to achieve my goal, and it took me a decade to become a comfortable English reader.

I feel as if I am a butterfly in the wind that has accidentally been sent far away. This is my language learning history for reading in a second language.

I would like to thank the editor of Speakeasy, Dr. Sampson, for his useful suggestions about the article. I would also like ti thank Editage ( for English language editing.

Akiko Fujii is a part-time lecturer at the University of Tokyo and Sophia University. She teaches Japanese as a second language. Her current interests include the development of second language reading and teaching Japanese literature as JSL.


Chusonji, Y. (2005). I Want to Speak English! [Yappari eigo wo syaberitai!]. Tokyo; Shoudensha

Henry, A. (2016). The dynamics of possible selves. In Dornyei, Z. Maclntyre, P.D. & Henry, A. (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 83-94). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Kiyokawa, T. (2006). 84 Years Old, English Language, UK, a Solo Traveler. [84 sai. eigo, Igirisu, hitori-tabi]. Tokyo: Shougakukan.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sataporn, S. & Lamb, M. (2004). Accommodation zone: Two learners’ struggles to cope with a distance learning English course. In Benson, P. & Nunan, D. (Eds.), Learners’ stories: Difference and diversity in language learning (pp.119-133). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Too Close for Comfort: Eikaiwa and Stigma in Japanese ELT

By Daniel Hooper

Private English conversation (eikaiwa) schools cover the entirety of Japan employing thousands of teachers and representing a multibillion-yen industry (METI, 2017). These schools lie outside of formal educational institutions and are often viewed as an entry-level position for new teachers (Kubota, 2011; Nagatomo, 2016). In this article, I wish to examine eikaiwa’s stigmatized position in our field and explore some of the pejorative images that are attached to this sector. I think at this point it is important to clarify what I do not intend to say. Firstly, I have no intention of claiming that the eikaiwa industry is not deeply troubling in many ways – eikaiwa schools are often exploitative and the way that many schools handle issues of race, native-speakerism, and gender is a major concern (Appleby, 2013; Kubota, 2011). Secondly, this should not by any means be interpreted as an attack on secondary or tertiary education. I currently feel satisfied and well-supported in my position as a university lecturer and believe that I am providing a worthwhile educational experience to my students. I merely hope that through this article I can foster a more nuanced take on eikaiwa teaching and relate my own discoveries on some problematic issues running through our entire field.

At this stage, I feel that it is necessary to clarify my claim that eikaiwa is stigmatized in Japan. Rather than relying purely on anecdote and relating derogatory comments I have heard (and made) about eikaiwa, it is important that we also look to popular culture and formal research in order to get a more well-rounded take on this topic.

As I mentioned previously, eikaiwa is seen as an entry-level job with few qualifications required and, as such, is regarded as the “bottom rung” of a hierarchically structured field (Nagatomo, 2016). Furthermore, while Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in secondary education are largely comparable in terms of qualifications and teaching experience, some argue that eikaiwa is “seen as crasser because it is private enterprise” (Makino, 2015, p.3). Also, in popular culture a number of negative stereotypes ascribed to eikaiwa teachers exist that ensure they remain deprofessionalized and on the periphery. One enduring image known by many in the expatriate community is the “Charisma Man” (Rodney & Garscadden, 2002). Originally from a satirical comic strip, this image of the unprofessional, unqualified Caucasian male eikaiwa teacher, largely playing games in class and more concerned about sexual escapades with Japanese women than teaching, is arguably central to the prevailing view of eikaiwa (Appleby, 2013; Bailey, 2007).

In reality the sexualization of Caucasian male teachers is often promoted by the eikaiwa schools themselves (Bailey, 2007; Kubota, 2011), and this can have a demotivational effect on teachers as they feel they have been deprofessionalized and reduced to “language hosts” or “entertainers” (Appleby, 2013; Hooper & Snyder, 2017).

Another prevalent negative stereotype leveled at eikaiwa teachers is that their role is more akin to a fast food restaurant worker than an educator. This comparison is also alluded to in the “Charisma Man” comic in Figure 1 as the male applicant with his unskilled fast food experience beats out the professionally trained female educators for the eikaiwa position. Eikaiwa is therefore positioned as a setting where teachers are not only unskilled but, in fact, low-skilled workers (defined purely by race, nationality, or gender) are actually viewed as preferable to trained or experienced teachers.

Figure 1. Charisma Man applying for eikaiwa work (Rodney & Garscadden, 2002) (Retrieved from

In McNeill’s (2004) Japan Times article, he raises the idea of eikaiwa being an example of George Ritzer’s (2000) concept of “McDonaldization” because he claims that many schools produce a low quality product within a highly-controlled system manned by unskilled easily replaceable labor. In this view of eikaiwa, teachers are reduced to the role of pedagogical “burger flippers” teaching lessons that are “about as nutritious as a bag of salty fries” (McNeill, 2004). This pejorative eikaiwa/fast food analogy has caught on with books such as English to Go (Currie-Robson, 2015) (see Figure 2) railing against “McEnglish” and online message boards referring to teachers as “Eikaiwa Mcmonkeys (sic)” (Reddit).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, eikaiwa has received scant attention in academia (Nagatomo, 2013, 2016) with most of the studies that do exist on the context focusing on eikaiwa schools as “socio-cultural curiosities rather than educational institutions” (Makino, 2016, p. 4). From my own research on former eikaiwa teachers who had transitioned into university teaching, some participants revealed their own awareness of a professional stigma in the field attached to eikaiwa. One teacher admitted that he saw eikaiwa as a “black cloud” over his resumé whereas another teacher stated that: “I think that kind of, um, stereotype or something about eikaiwa, um, in some ways makes it difficult to say, to put your hand up with vigour, “Yes, I did the eikaiwa thing” (Hooper, 2017).

Figure 2: Eikaiwa as “McEnglish” (Currie-Robson, 2015)

In essence then, we have two dominant themes that permeate stereotypes of eikaiwa: 1) the notion of eikaiwa teachers being tokenistic – entertainers or hosts rather than authoritative teachers and 2) a conflict existing between commercial and educational interests – eikaiwa selling a product in response to market forces. I will argue that both of these points when applied to eikaiwa are problematic and by no means limited to the eikaiwa industry. Furthermore I will show how we are able to observe evidence of these issues in many sectors of Japanese ELT and even in the “holy grail” (Nagatomo, 2015) of university education.

My first issue regarding the stigmatization of eikaiwa can be addressed with a simple question: What do we mean by eikaiwa? When one attempts to answer this question, they may think of the huge chain eikaiwa companies such as NOVA, Aeon, or Gaba. Indeed, these schools are perhaps responsible for a lot of eikaiwa’s notoriety in Japan and represent the part of the industry most deeply embedded in the public consciousness. However, eikaiwa is a far more varied sector than that and incorporates small family-owned businesses, the cottage eikaiwa industry (Nagatomo, 2013), online eikaiwa, and amateur eikaiwa classes held in public venues like community centers (Makino, 2016). Each of these categories of eikaiwa have their own differences in terms of hiring practices, teaching methodology, standardization, and target students (Makino, 2016), and one could also expect to encounter a significant degree of diversity between individual schools in each category. If this is, in fact, the case, how can one assume that eikaiwa neatly fits the “McEnglish” mold of the chain eikaiwa companies? From my own personal experiences having worked both in NOVA and in a smaller family-run eikaiwa school, the differences in terms of hiring practices, teacher autonomy, and teachers’ qualifications/experience were dramatic. Rather than a slew of “Charisma Men”, some teachers in the smaller school actually possessed Master’s degrees in TESOL and others were regularly presenting at domestic ELT conferences. Makino (2016) claims that an insufficient understanding of what eikaiwa really is has led to it being seen as “pedagogically unimportant” and that this in turn has led to a gap in what we know about eikaiwa classroom practices. An additional point to be considered is that some eikaiwa schools are now outsourcing teachers and courses to secondary schools and universities (Breaden, 2016). This means that the boundary between eikaiwa and what is seen as “real” teaching is more blurred than ever.

It is the growing indistinctness of the boundaries between eikaiwa and other formal educational contexts that is the basis for my other point of contention with the stigmatization of eikaiwa. I was actually guilty of this myself in the past. When I worked in eikaiwa, I too thought that university teaching was the “holy grail” of English teaching and almost the antithesis of the deprofessionalization I was experiencing at the time. It wasn’t until I began to do research into the lives of other university English teachers in Japan that I realized that many of the problems ascribed to eikaiwa don’t stop at the university gates. As I mentioned before, two themes tied to the stigmatization of eikaiwa are 1) teacher as entertainer/host and 2) business vs. education. Through my reading on university English teaching I found a number of articles that examined the way in which university teachers feel they are viewed by both their institution and their students (Nagatomo, 2015; Whitsed & Wright, 2011). Nagatomo (2015) found that some university teachers felt they were viewed as replaceable foreign “warm bodies” by their institutions and that the misogynist and sexualized discourse of the “Charisma Man” was still very much alive and well in their workplaces. In a study into the lives of adjunct foreign English language teachers in university, Whitsed and Wright (2011) discovered that many of their participants believed they were still being commodified on the basis of race and physical appearance in order to create an international atmosphere for the university. One participant claimed: They needed a white face and I was a good one… They need the face for the brochure, for when they do the recruiting session for the parents when they bring their kids. They don’t give the face any power but they need [it]. (Whitsed & Wright, 2011, p.38)

This leads into the second theme of business vs. education. Due to the crisis of declining student numbers, Nagatomo (2016) claims that university education has become “a buyer’s market” (p.50) where the exoticism of foreign teachers is used as a tokenistic hook to draw in more students. Also, the increased power that students wield as “customers” has led to an increase in feelings of deprofessionalization in foreign university teachers on fixed-term contracts as they feel it necessary to keep their “customers” happy (Burrows, 2007). As I’m sure you have realized by now, this is all very familiar to the eikaiwa teacher in me.

As I have previously stated, this article is not an attempt to justify every facet of eikaiwa teaching, nor is it designed to delegitimize teaching in formal contexts. I have merely tried to show how eikaiwa is not a mere pejorative stereotype and is actually potentially just as representative of ELT in Japan as any other context. I feel it is important that we examine the intersection of ideology and pedagogy that takes place in different eikaiwa schools and look at what we can learn from other contexts. Even though we may feel we are “above” eikaiwa, it might be that “McEnglish” is closer to us than we would like to imagine.

Daniel Hooper has taught in Japan for 12 years and is a lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies. His research interests are learner/teacher identity, native-speakerism, and the eikaiwa industry.


Appleby, R. (2013). Desire in translation: White masculinity and TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 47(1), 122-147.

Bailey, K. (2007). Akogare, ideology, and ‘charisma man’ mythology: Reflections on ethnographic research in English language schools in Japan. Gender, Place & Culture, 14(5), 585-608.

Breaden, J. (2016). Education and training for the intercultural competence of Japanese university graduates: Policy, practice, and markets in informal education. In K. Okano (Ed.), Nonformal education and civil society in Japan (pp.133-154). Abingdon, Oxon: New York, NY: Routledge.

Burrows, C. (2007). The effect of limited-term contracts on teaching standards at tertiary- level education in Japan. OnCUE Journal, 1(1), 64-73.

Currie-Robson, C. (2015). English to go: Inside Japan’s English teaching sweatshops. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Hooper, D. (2017, November). From “McEnglish” to “the holy grail”: Eikaiwa and university through the eyes of educators. Paper presented at JALT2017: Language teaching in a global age, Tsukuba, Japan, November 18, 2017.

Hooper, D., & Snyder, W. (2017). Becoming a “real” teacher: A case study of professional development in eikaiwa. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 6(2), 183-201.

iza_kaiser. (2015, February 6th). Do you lie about your job? – The stigma against teaching English in Japan [Msg 49]. Message posted to

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Assessing and Reinforcing Values: The Transition from ALT to University Teacher

By Steve Ferrier

In April 2018 after 13 years of being an assistant language teacher (ALT), I made the transition to working at university as a part-time English lecturer. In this paper I will review the experiences and the challenges I have faced in my new position. I will also discuss the core teaching values and beliefs which informed my decisions in the classroom, along with the differences and similarities I perceived between the roles of ALT and university teacher.

Assistant language teacher 2005-2018

I arrived in Japan as a member of JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) in August 2005 after completing a Masters in Screen and Media studies. Like many JETs I wanted to live near Tokyo. To my surprise at the time, however, I was contracted to the Miyazaki Board of Education in Kyushu. I worked in a small city at a technical high school

for two years. I found the experience difficult at times as it was my first full-time job and my first overseas experience combined with being in a small town. Nevertheless, I learned as much as I could about Japanese culture and the practices of English teaching. In 2007, I decided to extend my experience in Japan and move closer to Tokyo. I gained another ALT position from a dispatch company and was sent to Takasaki, Gunma to work at a municipal high school. In a rare opportunity for an ALT, I was given my own oral communication class for first graders where I could decide the syllabus and grade the students. I focused on pair- and group-work such as conversation tests, how-to-do presentations, debating, and PowerPoint presentations on famous figures in history. In the five years I spent in this position I developed my core beliefs and values as an English teacher:

  • A teacher should know their subject and be well-prepared and passionate.
  • A teacher should encourage learner autonomy and where possible create student-centered activities in which students can make their own decisions and receive feedback from not only the teacher but also their classmates.
  • A teacher should be flexible and adapt classes to their students’ needs and abilities.
  • A teacher should be constantly self-evaluating their work and be continually evolving their style and methods.
  • Above all, a teacher should create a relaxed classroom environment where students feel comfortable in practicing English with their classmates. In other words, the teacher should develop a rapport with their students and be a motivator as well as a source of knowledge.

The Takasaki Board of Education (BOE) dispensed with dispatch companies in 2012. I was hence re-contracted, directly hired by the BOE. However, I was then transferred to a junior high school and for the next six years I worked at five different junior high and elementary schools in Takasaki. The Takasaki BOE was undergoing a period of transition at that time. Many experienced ALTs had to move schools to accommodate the increasing numbers of new ALTs and the introduction of the Takasaki Plan, a syllabus designed for use in almost every elementary school under the auspices of the Takasaki BOE (Ferrier, 2017). Whilst I enjoyed my time working at different schools and learning how to adapt to different classroom environments, I was beginning to feel restless and dissatisfied with my current situation. I had been an ALT for thirteen years and felt that I had experienced and learnt as much as the position had to offer, and that for my own career and personal development I needed a change and a new challenge.

Part-time university teacher 2018-present

In August 2017 I began having discussions with friends and other teachers about possible openings at universities in Gunma and Saitama. Over the next seven months, three teachers put me in contact with five universities and I was able to gain part-time positions at three of them, with eleven classes across the week. The three universities will henceforth be referred to as A, B, and C.

I was immediately challenged upon becoming a university teacher. As an ALT, I had a three-day orientation in Tokyo for the JET Programme, followed by numerous seminars over the years where I learnt from and shared ideas with my peers. In contrast to this, there was an hour-long meeting for English teachers at University A, a general orientation at University B, and no orientation at University C except the interview where I was given a textbook and shown my classroom. Naturally, this made me feel apprehensive but there was no solution other than to learn the different systems and procedures of the three universities and to ask many questions to my more experienced colleagues. Above all, I had to rely on the experiences I had gained as an ALT and my core beliefs as a teacher.

In four of my five classes at University A I was given a textbook and syllabus to follow. I taught two grammar classes, one listening class, and a reading class. The students in these classes were majoring in International Communication and there were eighteen students in each class, the classes being separated by ability. As the students were very motivated I wanted to give them as much opportunity as possible to practice the English they were learning with their classmates. Thus, I kept my explanation time to a minimum and allowed the students to practice or perform the language in pairs or groups. In the remaining class, a third-year selective entitled English in Drama, I had free license over what I wanted to teach. I selected five films to show the students. They then discussed them in pairs or groups and made PowerPoint group presentations on the films, together with individual presentations on their own favorite films. The students made their own decisions regarding the content and format of their presentations. Considering that it was my first planned syllabus at university level, I thought it went very well and the students gave me good feedback. Above all, at University A I was able to encourage student autonomy and allow students to practice English in a positive environment.

At university B, I had four classes on one day of the week, a total of 6 hours teaching time. I taught three Unified English classes and one Spoken English class. The first- year students in three of the four classes were majoring in Information Technology and Childhood Education, with the remaining first-year class consisting of English majors. I decided to use the same syllabi as the former teachers did the previous year. I realized all too late that it was a mistake to do this as the Unified English classes used three different syllabi with three different textbooks, all of them at a level much too high for my students, who all had a TOEIC score below 300. Moreover, the textbooks focused heavily on TOEIC testing, which I had no experience in teaching. As the level was too high, I also felt that the students were quickly losing motivation. I had a dilemma as to whether to continue with the syllabi, or to change the textbook and create my own syllabus which I could use across all three classes. As I was teaching a Unified English course, I wanted students to focus more on the essential skills for communicating in English. I also wanted to create a more positive environment where students were using English with their classmates, one of my core teaching values. After much deliberation and consultation with other teachers, I changed to a beginner level four-skills textbook a month into the semester. I had to make handouts for all the students across the three classes as the window to buy textbooks had passed and it would have been unfair to ask the students to buy another textbook. The effect of changing the syllabus was immediate. The students became re-motivated as they understood the content and they had many opportunities to practice speaking English with their classmates. As with University A, I focused a great deal on pair-work. I also had students make name cards which I would collect at the end of every class and distribute randomly at the beginning of the next class. Thus, students had a new partner for every week. This helped to create a good classroom environment where students became used to working with different partners. The decision to change the textbook was vindicated, but it was an experience I do not wish to repeat. It reinforced my belief that a teacher should be well-prepared and design a syllabus that is best suited to the needs and abilities of their students.

Finally, at University C I had two classes. The title of my class was Developmental English III, a course for second-year students majoring in Engineering. I was given a four- skills textbook for both classes. Similar to University B, the students had a low ability in English. The students were also very shy and had a low intrinsic motivation for learning English, a direct contrast to the students of University A. This was the biggest challenge to my core beliefs as a teacher. It was a struggle at times to develop a rapport with the students and to motivate them. My classes became more teacher-centered and I focused more on whole-class activities, such as having students listen to audio and practice pronunciation by repeating after me. However, I also used pair-work as much as possible, even though it was difficult to get students to practice with their classmates in English for any sustained amount of time. As with University B, I used my name card system to help students become used to working with different classmates. In addition, class one had 39 students but class two only had 13 students, so it was a lot easier to get class two students to communicate with each other and to monitor what all the students were doing at any given time.

At the end of the semester, I gave tests to all eleven classes at the three universities. During the semester, I had been grading students by their attendance and participation, having devised my own system that could be used in all classes. I was given sole responsibility for the content and difficulty of the tests and how they would be marked, together with how much weight I would assign to the tests for the overall grade. It was a great challenge and learning experience for me to make my own tests and set them at a suitable level for all the classes. In the end, I was able to achieve this and spent the two weeks after the semester ended marking the tests and submitting the final grades for each student.

Overall, I was satisfied with my first semester as a university teacher. I had taught at three different universities and encountered varied class sizes and students with a wide range of English ability. I had to adjust my teaching methods for each class and even change the syllabus at one university. However, I learnt from each problem and used my core teaching beliefs and values to inform my decisions. I resolved to continue evaluating and improving my teaching style and methods.

Differences and similarities between ALT and university teaching roles

Predictably, one of the main differences between being an ALT and teaching at university is the amount of responsibility and autonomy allocated to each role. Most ALTs at junior high school level visit one class per week and assist the Japanese teacher of English (JTE). The ALT practices pronunciation of words and sentences from the textbook with the students and occasionally plans activities for grammar points the JTE has been teaching. Very rarely does a junior high school ALT have responsibilities beyond this in the classroom, with the exception of extra-curricular coaching for regional speech contests. The role of a high school ALT is largely similar, the rare exception being when an ALT is given their own class to teach with the assistance of a JTE. With hindsight, I was very fortunate to have had this responsibility in Takasaki as it gave me experience in syllabus planning and grading which the majority of ALTs cannot gain.

On the other hand, ALTs at elementary school are often given the primary role in team-teaching, with the homeroom teachers (many of whom have no training in English teaching) taking the role of monitoring student behavior and assisting the ALT where possible. In some cases, homeroom teachers who have confidence in using and teaching English take the principal role or share the teaching of the class with the ALT. Most ALTs lead the activities in the classroom and make classroom materials to engage the students. It could be argued that elementary ALTs have more responsibility than their junior high or high school counterparts. However, almost all ALTs have little to no responsibility for classroom management, syllabus planning, or assessment.

The complete opposite applies for university English teachers. In all my university classes, I had to make my own decisions, such as which parts of the textbook I would focus the most on, how to teach difficult grammar points or reading passages, and how to evaluate the students. Such a sudden increase in responsibility from being an ALT brought its own pressures, but I grew in confidence and developed as a teacher because I was given much more autonomy than I had ever experienced as an ALT.

Another difference between being an ALT and a university teacher is the class sizes. The class size for elementary to high school level in Japan ranges from 20-40 students. In contrast, at university level class sizes may be as small as 10 students, or as large as 60. This calls for flexibility. A small class allows for some freedom in terms of lesson planning and flow and also allows the teacher to give detailed feedback to each student. A large class requires a great deal of classroom management, particularly for students who are not motivated and who may in turn affect the motivation of other students by their behavior. Small class sizes also allow for student-centered activities whilst large class sizes may lean towards being more teacher-centered, with more organization and planning required. In some cases, a teacher may have to establish routines and lesson structuring that a large class will instantly recognize (Harmer, 2015). Despite this, I used pair-work in all my classes, as I believe that pair-work enables students to use and practice the language with their peers, thus allowing them to share responsibility whilst also promoting learner independence (Harmer, 2015). In larger classes I had to be careful to monitor all pairs since some students tended to veer away from the task. Having students sit with a different partner every week at Universities B and C helped to avoid those issues.

I also realized that there are similarities between being an ALT and a university teacher in Japan, particularly in the areas of student motivation and classroom environments. Results from recent studies suggest that students begin disliking English in junior-high school because it becomes difficult for them. They may not understand the grammar or listening and they may get low test scores which reinforces their lack of confidence. Once students begin disliking English, they may continue to feel the same way at university level (see Matsuno, 2018). Thus, both ALTs and university teachers have to deal with different levels of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in their students. The role of the ALT is especially important in this case, as they provide an opportunity for students to converse in English outside the confines of learning grammar and taking tests. In other words, they give students a chance to see English as a living language and as a tool to communicate with the wider world. A native speaker of English working at university can also perform a similar role, whilst also encouraging students who may have lost motivation for studying English before entering university.

Both ALTs and university teachers of English should strive to create a relaxed, positive classroom environment in which students can feel comfortable learning and practicing a second language. This is necessary for any successful class no matter the age and/or ability of the students. The ALT at times performs songs and dances with the children and the university teacher often has students give presentations or short speeches which provide opportunities for positive feedback. In both cases, the students gain confidence in English and their motivation to continue using English will increase. ALTs, however, may have difficulty influencing the classroom atmosphere if they are restricted to a secondary role in the classroom. A university teacher, however, has sole responsibility for their classroom environment.

Therefore, despite the differences in the two roles, it is important for all second- language teachers to create an environment where students can not only raise their abilities, but also gain confidence in their abilities, which will hopefully lead to them being more motivated to acquire the second language (Ball & Edelman, 2018). Teachers who can do this will have a successful career no matter which level of students they are teaching.


My first semester teaching at University was an enjoyable and challenging experience. I relished the feeling of autonomy in the classroom but at the same time I felt the weight of responsibility in my new role. The experience forced me to assess and reinforce the core teaching beliefs and values that I had developed as an ALT. Above all, by the end of the semester I had come to the conclusion that all effective teachers of a second language share the unique quality of creating successful classroom environments where students feel at ease to learn and practice with their classmates. It is this quality that I want to continually improve upon in the years ahead.

Steve Ferrier was born in New Zealand but has been living in Japan since 2005. He began teaching at three universities in Gunma and Saitama in April 2018 having previously worked as an Assistant Language Teacher. His research interests include motivation, critical thinking, and the use of visual media in the EFL classroom. He holds a Master of Arts in Screen and Media Studies.


Ball, S., & Edelman, C. (2018). Self-efficacy, motivation, and perceived importance of English as an L2 among Japanese university students. The Language Teacher, 42(4), 13-18.

Ferrier, S. (2017). The Takasaki Plan: Homeroom teachers’ perceptions. Speakeasy, 29, 26-34.

Harmer, J. (2015). The practice of English language teaching (5th ed.). Harlow: Pearson.

Matsuno, S. (2018). Japanese learners’ consciousness toward English: When do they begin to like or dislike English? The Language Teacher, 42(4), 19-23.


The Permanent Guest

By Phillip Alixe Bennett

The stranger is…[unlike the wanderer who is here today and gone tomorrow] the person who comes today and stays tomorrow. He is, so to speak, the potential wanderer: although he has not moved on, he has not quite overcome the freedom of coming and going… [H]is position in this group is determined, essentially, by the fact that he has not belonged to it from the beginning, that he imports qualities into it, which do not and cannot stem from the group itself. (Simmel, 1908/1950, p. 1)

Stranger identity

What Simmel describes in The Stranger details my – and possibly many others’ – experience living as an immigrant in Japan, existing in perpetual flux between being a part of the local community while existing outside of it, that is, as a permanent guest. For many years, being a stranger was the defining factor of my personal identity. The concept of personal identity can be envisioned in a number of ways (e.g., Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004; Slay & Smith, 2011; Pennington & Richards, 2016), however, in the context of this paper I would like to confine it to “an answer to the recurrent question: ‘Who am I at this moment?” (Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004, p.108).

Starting from the time I arrived in Japan I comfortably identified as a stranger. The reason why I was comfortable with the stranger identity was because I am a black-Lantinx- first-generation American. My identity resulted in me being treated as, and thus feeling like, a stranger even within my home country (see Slay & Smith, 2011). I did, and still do, take issue with this. However, I didn’t take issue with it when I arrived in Japan because it was in fact the very reason why I was here: to import qualities which cannot stem from the group itself. What better way to summarize the official job description of a JET Programme assistant language teacher (ALT), that is, “to promote internationalisation in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education and developing international exchange at the community level” (JET Programme, n.d.). However, the longer I stayed and became involved in the community, the stranger identity shifted from being my main identity to one of a growing number of identities. Initially, this was a positive change for myself and those around me, yet, it would later result in conflict.

Assistant language teacher identity

As mentioned earlier, I came to Japan as an ALT through the JET Programme. The main job duties of an ALT are currently listed as, “team-teaching, or assisting with classes taught by JTEs/JTLs [Japanese teachers of English/Japanese language teachers]… [and] assisting in the preparation of teaching materials” (JET Programme, n.d.). However, the most prominent job description is “to interact with local communities to promote internationalisation at the local level” (JET Programme, n.d.). Therefore, my personal identity, the stranger, was also the foundation of my professional identity, i.e., the intersection of beliefs, values, and experiences an individual attributes to their person in their occupational context (Ibara, 1999; Slay & Smith, 2011). From a sociological perspective, my job as an ALT was also my social role, which is defined as “the behaviour expected of an individual who occupies a given social position or status. [It’s] a comprehensive pattern of behaviour that is socially recognized, providing a means of identifying and placing an individual in a society” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1998).

Day et. al (2006) state that “[there are] unavoidable interrelationships between professional and personal identities” (p. 603). The interrelationship of my personal identity, professional identity, and social role resulted in me being seen as and feeling like a stranger rather than an assistant teacher. This positioning resulted in no conflicts during my 5 years as a JET Programme ALT because I identified primarily as a stranger and secondarily as an ALT – this was also reinforced through the ways in which I was treated in the workplace and the community, that is, as a permanent guest. That being said, the experience provided me with an abundance of professional development such as receiving basic training via attending seminars and workshops, self-study of second language teaching, gaining valuable pedagogical insight from JTEs and other teaching staff, and learning how to communicate and function in the Japanese language and work environment. These acquired skills were influential, if not paramount, in my later direct employment as an ALT by a private high school.

Before beginning my master’s degree, the aim of the lessons I made was to create an environment where students felt comfortable using English, communicating opinions and interests, but not to teach English language overtly. In my first few years at the private high school, I was what Fujimoto-Anderson (2005) describes as a language specialist, a native speaker (a stranger). The JTE was the subject specialist, the language teacher. However, the role I fulfilled within the school broadened each year. These new demands required me to become more and more of a subject specialist and closer to a teacher rather than just a language specialist; in other words, the duties of an ALT were becoming just one facet of many other duties I fulfilled. The transformation of my role moved me to make a change towards what Smith (2003) calls, “teacher-learner autonomy” which is “a capacity for self- directed teacher-learning” (p.5).

Identity stress

It became apparent that I need further education in order to meet the growing demands of my job, so I pursued a Master’s degree in TESOL. Becoming a graduate student, I began to develop a disciplinary identity. In short, a disciplinary identity is an identity formed through the process of attaining a formal (language-teaching) education – i.e., “knowledge of such areas as: language learning theory, testing and assessment, curriculum and classroom management, applied research methods, and critical pedagogy” (Pennington & Richards, 2016, p. 14).

This development began to impact my lessons, mainly by my implementing the disciplinary knowledge I was learning. In addition, the teaching staff expressed an interest in what I was learning and welcomed the transformation I was experiencing. These changes also resulted in me struggling with my stranger identity being tied to my teacher identity because I started to identify professionally as a teacher. I experienced something along the lines of an internal conflict or identity-stress, which is when “a person feels unsure about her/his identity and questions who she/he is” (Pennington & Richards, 2016, p. 7). Within the community and in the workplace my stranger identity was now one of many identities and, professionally speaking, not that relevant. In regard to the JTEs, they wanted me to be both a stranger and a teacher but found much more value in the changes occurring due to my TESOL studies. Additionally, from my standpoint, I perceived that the students also felt and valued the change to a more autonomy-supportive learning environment, fewer teacher- fronted lessons, and an improved pedagogical praxis. I was hopeful that I would be able to secure a permanent position at the high school due to almost a decade of professional performance, my growing knowledge of TESOL, and the rapport that I had developed with my coworkers over the years. It seemed as if the stranger identity was becoming of less and less value to the position, yet, the administration felt otherwise. After signing the annual contract for my 8th year I was informed that I would not be offered a contract for a 9th year. I was never given a clear answer as to why, but it was expressed that the decision was bureaucratic and not based on my performance. Indeed, through consultation I learned that the JTEs and other teaching staff were surprised and unhappy with the decision. Nevertheless, the position is currently filled by a JET Programme ALT, that is, a stranger. What I found the most interesting about this experience was that I was contacted months later by the school to help the newly-arrived ALT to acclimate to the position. This request, in my opinion, was evidence that my professional identity was viewed by the school administration as more of a teacher than as a stranger. Further, I understood that the school placed much more value on the former than the latter.


Over my years living in Japan there are more identities – parent, spouse, family member, friend, mentor, student, teacher, and so on – which have superseded the stranger identity. Yet, it’s the stranger identity that still is, to some, the defining factor of my professional identity which can be problematic (e.g., Slay & Smith, 2011). As I begin my last semester of graduate school while working as an ALT, in a new but similar environment, it’s apparent that the ALT position itself has a kind of identity-stress. Perhaps better put, the position has applicant-identity-stress, as it asks for strangers, but its demands are best met by trained language teachers (Fujimoto-Anderson, 2005; Johannes, 2012). In fact, based on the yearly contract system, it employs ALTs as wanderers, someone who is here today and gone tomorrow. As I now look for EFL teaching positions in Japan outside of ALT work, it is not uncommon to see positions seeking a native English speaker, a stranger, with a substantial amount of expertise, such as publications, years of teaching experience, and so on. Yet, these positions oftentimes still involve a limited contract period with no chance of permanent employment – here today and gone tomorrow. It seems apparent that this applicant-identity- stress is systemic in language education extending beyond the ALT position.

Phillip A. Bennett is a graduate student in the MA TESOL Program at Kanda University of International Studies. He has been working in the English education field at the secondary-school level in Japan since 2004. His interests are advising in language learning and teacher and learner autonomy.


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