Duolingo, Clozemaster, and Other Media: Effective Tools for Supplementation of Classroom Teaching?

by Fuad Olajuwon, MA


This paper focuses on how online applications can help L2 learners grasp language concepts at a faster and more efficient rate. Using various sources of “freeware”, students can continue to practice the target language outside of the L2 classroom and work on new concepts that build foundational learning. This paper provides an overview of those tools that might be useful in achieving measured learning objectives. Furthermore, explanations of self-study, examples of interactive media, as well as significance of the tools help to showcase the efficacy of these learning programs, as well as demonstrate the reaction of students who utilize such measures.


When measuring the ability of students to learn and process language, various factors need to be in place. Classroom instruction is an essential part of this process, as educators can observe the activities of students and calibrate lessons to fit the needs of learners. However, if teaching mostly takes place in classrooms, there is a risk students will not continue to practice and incorporate the material acquired to achieve language proficiency. It is important for students not only to practice as much as possible but also for educators to guide students through these practices. Therefore, the usage of online learning tools supports the ability to self-study, where students can continue to practice language study outside of the classroom. Before introducing some of the tools needed to facilitate learning, we must understand how to use online applications in a way that is most useful for the learner, as well as measure the effectiveness of self-study methods.

What is Self-Study?

To understand the efficacy of online language learning procedures, it is first important to understand self-study. Self-study methods can be used to learn information independently from an organized school setting. While its usage is mostly intended for independent study, it complements structured or “formal” education found in school settings (Cooper, 2003). In more traditional environments, responsibility rests among educators to create a series of plans, dates, and structures to facilitate the learning process. Self-study seeks to place more responsibility on the students, having educators attempt a more “hands-off” approach to learning ability (Armstrong, 2012).

Another common form of language study that focuses on more of a self-directed approach is self-accessed language learning (SALL). SALL practitioners create a learning environment where students have access to various materials while maintaining a high rate of autonomy. Through the usage of predetermined lesson content, educator based counseling, and online resources, students have the ability to individually configure the course curriculum (Klassen, et al. 1998). This idea is different from pure self-study, where learners are required to find material to study. Instead, SALL gives students a more traditional rubric to follow, while providing levels of individualistic autonomy. Like constructing a skyscraper, learners are given foundational tools to create learning modules tailored to their needs as long as the integrity of the course rubric remains. This educational strategy utilizes key concepts of pacing, repetition and frequency of material, time management techniques, as well as personalized feedback from educators.

What is the significance of using these tools? SALL helps to create new patterns of learning. By using predetermined content from teachers while giving students more leeway to go about studying freely, it presents a new set of skills necessary for learners to create a personalized learning plan. This model strengthens the decision-making ability of students rather than allocating most choices to educators (Cotterall, et al. 1995). Having individuals study in a way that matches their learning style while following a predetermined rubric, can lead to more productive learning results. As long as there are sets of guidelines, growth in scholastic ability, regardless of field, is very likely (Cotterall, et al. 1995). This concept holds true in language instruction as well, giving the student the liberty to acquire proficiency using any strategy that works with their distinct learning style.

Lastly, the combination of independent study imperatives with SALL methodology can lead to measured results with motivated students. Both self-study and SALL have advantages and disadvantages that can complement each other if combined in a learning environment. For example, it is necessary to mention here that some students may not adapt well to these methodologies. For example, in some cultures, traditional educational methods are considered the gold standard in terms of instruction (Scollon and Scollon,1994). Relying exclusively on self-access language learning tools may prove to be cumbersome to learners who are used to traditional classroom settings.

Autodidact Approach: Interactive Media

When students initially approach the task of learning a language, traditional forms of study are common. These methods often come from textbooks and classroom instruction. While those tools can be effective, it’s important to address other means of study outside of the classroom (i.e. the capacity to use online-based programs). With the rise of the Internet, students have the ability to study the target language without having to rely on traditional methods. This concept works great within the framework of the autodidactic approach, as motivated students create lessons to their needs. Still, this system has drawbacks, as beginner-level students may have a tough time discerning what materials to use. Hence, it is important for educators to choose materials that can be measured, while at the same time fulfilling the SALL objectives. Programs such as Duolingo have the ability to do so.

Example of Duolingo online classroom

Duolingo is an online language-learning module that is designed to educate students through the Internet. With over dozens of languages available to study, it has the option to learn English using a Japanese or Korean interface. This gives students and educators tools to keep the learning process fresh and new. Through online classrooms, educators have the ability to evaluate students outside of the classroom, ensuring that the assigned work gets finished promptly. While more traditional methods are effective in teaching languages, using systems that oversee the progress of students without physically setting foot in the classroom can create a higher level of learning efficacy.

One of the features of the software is the ability to conduct an online classroom. Teachers can use an assortment of different language lessons, with varying difficulty (Duolingo, 2011). Although learners are considered a part of the same online class, Duolingo provides a feeling of individuality and direct mentoring. Another strength is the diversity of material. Students have the opportunity to practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking through PC or smartphone. Most learners who commute by train or bus can make use of the software during those intervals. Educators can issue homework by individual lessons or by timeframe (i.e. 10 minutes of work). This setup works well for students, and so it can potentially prevent feelings of being overwhelmed.

This program has both advantages and disadvantages associated with the language-learning interface. The benefits of using such a system include the ability to practice daily. Duolingo keeps track of all progress made in the system and rewards users with streaks that monitor consecutive days of practice. This system works well within the learning process, as research supports the idea of absorbing small amounts of information consistently (Cepeda, et al. 2008). Referred to as the spacing effect, Duolingo encourages users to practice for less than an hour a day, while maintaining a daily regimen of language exposure. This type of regimented practice creates longer retention of material, as well as an increase in memory recall (Cepeda, et al. 2008). The program masks this idea through creating a game-like atmosphere, where users acquire points and can buy extra lessons through in-game currency. This paradigm creates an element of fun, which entices learners to keep practicing the target language.

Educators have the ability to issue daily assignments.

While the program contains many positive attributes that can help students, there are a few shortcomings. One flaw involves the level of difficulty. Duolingo benefits beginners and students with limited knowledge of the target language. Therefore, using this program for more advanced students isn’t feasible, except for perhaps solidifying basic foundational knowledge. More adept learners may lose interest in material that isn’t challenging enough. Translation miscues are also another factor to consider, as some of the L1 translations don’t always match. This situation causes frustration with some students, as they cannot understand the translated sentences effectively. The inability to connect with an actual language speaker is another disadvantage since the lack of live practice robs users of the ability to experience pitch, intonation, and a variety of speaking styles and forms of speech.

Another online program that is useful to students is Clozemaster. It helps learners grasp meaning and vocabulary through context, evaluating students on the ability to comprehend an array of different sentence patterns. Referred to as cloze testing, this method is used to help learners sift through language patterns and create a foundational understanding of the English lexicon (Hanzeli, 1977). This style of testing occurs when parts of sentences are removed, and students are asked to fill in the missing words or phrases.

The utilization of cloze testing requires students to understand meaning through a contextual framework, which is effective in evaluating the overall ability of L2 language knowledge (Taylor, 1953). Although Clozemaster boasts a large number of languages, this study only focuses on Japanese and Korean students looking to learn English. Practicing with sentences is the way Clozemaster works, providing the user with multiple-choice questions to help guide the learning process. More advanced students have the opportunity to write the correct answer instead, increasing the challenge factor (Clozemaster, 2017).

The program has measurable barometers, as each section is broken down into sets of ten questions. After answering, then it is the end of a section. With over 100,000 sentences, students have the ability to practice with many different sentence patterns.  Like Duolingo, this program is freeware, so it is easy for learners to register with the site and get started immediately.

Clozemaster interface: notice the cloze technique at work.

Clozemaster requires students to understand how to read sentences within the appropriate context. This format aims to help students to build a solid vocabulary base. However, this program also has some drawbacks which educators need to be aware of should they choose to implement it. The next section will cover some of the aspects that help to showcase the efficacy of Clozemaster and how it applies to student language proficiency, as well as some of the shortcomings associated with the program.

Clozemaster also has several advantages and disadvantages that educators need to be aware of when administering this program to students. One positive aspect of Clozemaster is how well it supplements other materials. If students are looking to get extra reading and vocabulary practice, creating the habit of sifting through the higher-level material can be essential in building up skills in proficiency. Accessing both English content as well as L1 translations helps students link together words and patterns that solidify memory retention. Furthermore, another advantage of using this software is the measurability of progress. After students complete several rounds in the program, a percentage of overall completion appears at the end of the session, allowing learners to set goals and timed tasks to motivate the learning process. This feature ensures that students have a clear idea as to how much of the program they have completed, as well as how many words in context they have retained. By having quantifiable data at hand, learners may get a sense of extra motivation.

Despite having some desirable characteristics, it’s important to recognize where the program needs to improve. Similar to other online initiatives, users should get real-world practice. Learners who rely solely on Clozemaster and other online forms may miss out on organic trial-and-error, which is an essential skill in expressing oneself adequately. While this program is a great tool for students, it isn’t as ergonomic for educators. Clozemaster is designed to be a standalone activity. Since there is no online classroom setting, teachers who want to utilize this software will have to trust that students are in fact practicing with the program, or manually take a record of progression by comparing the completion percentages between each class visit. While the task isn’t difficult, it can take up valuable class time.

Screenshot of the Clozemaster completion interface

Additionally, another shortcoming when using this software is the lack of clear and concise translations. While translation miscues seldom occur, some students may find some of the language content to be confusing. Nuance, syntax (whether the language is subject-prominent or topic-prominent), and grammatical structures are a few examples as to how translations may become confusing. Certain scenarios are common in online-based content, especially if the program in question teaches an array of languages. When mistranslations occur it is important to notify the students that mishaps may occur, and that it is an anomaly in the software itself, rather than an error made by the student. Consequently, this will help learners mitigate the language curriculum with less apprehension, focusing on understanding the content as a whole.

Overall, programs such as Duolingo and Clozemaster are tools that aid learner retention and proficiency. These programs benefit students by giving them frequent practice. Regardless, students need to be made aware of the shortcomings of these programs. Students can strengthen their learning by availing themselves of these tools. The next section will cover some of the components that make up these online systems, as well as the significance of using such methods in language instruction.  In addition, the paper will cover some key educational processes in place that help scholars maximize the effectiveness of interactive media.  By understanding these processes, learners and educators can craft effective strategies to ensure language ability and understanding of vocabulary.

Educational Significance

Online tools can facilitate language growth in the following ways: they help students learn outside the classroom, utilizing different learning methods, measuring the amount of material used, as well as increasing student confidence and enjoyment. Self-accessed language learning (SALL), cloze techniques, and the spaced repetition system are effective methods in creating new forms of language learning. As mentioned before, self-accessed language learning assists in creating higher learner autonomy. These are scalable objectives, as SALL promotes and encourages independence study initiatives by allowing students to be active receivers of information (Klassen, et al. 1998). Through this system, students have more control over their lesson arrangements as well as overall linguistic goals. This notion creates a sense of freedom in the learning approach, which is a more efficient way to study (Cotterall, 1995).

Not only do students have the ability to control variables within online tools like Duolingo and Clozemaster, the learning methods are also fully customizable. Within the SALL paradigm, learners can choose the level, content, and overall speed of their work, as long as educators approve it. This approach is beneficial to students since the initiative takes individual learning preferences into consideration (Gremmo & Riley, 1995; O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1990; Wenden, 1991.)

Furthermore, incorporating such imperatives also increases student motivation. According to (Carter, 1999), using SALL methods helps to mitigate negative feelings towards language learning, bolsters autonomous achievement and promotes motivation. Educators need to have an understanding of SALL techniques, as well as an understanding of the levels of their students to ensure the programs work efficiently. Having a grasp of learner anxieties helps teachers create a more productive learning environment.  A combination of traditional classroom instruction and systems of interactive media is essential to learning a language. Although the role of the educator is just as important in this system, learners have to take more responsibility in the overall learning process.

Another factor is the role of spaced repetition, involving a spacing effect, which states that learning is more effective when spaced out at longer study intervals. This contrasts with binge-studying or cramming, ineffective compared to slowly memorizing material over an adequate timeframe (Greene, 1989). By spacing out learned content, students have a higher chance of recalling information. (Caple, 1996).

Duolingo uses the spaced repetition system, yielding positive results (Vesselinov, 2012; Ye, 2014). After students used the program for several weeks, Duolingo demonstrated the efficacy of implementing such a methodology, as well as maintaining motivation. This system was especially effective for beginning level learners, as the interactive software tends to focus on establishing a basic understanding of grammar and vocabulary within a language (Vesselinov, 2012). Vesselinov further reported that the effectiveness of supplementing study with online tools in preparation to take the TOEFL examination. First, students would take the Duolingo English test and determine language proficiency scores. The findings from the study indicated the following: students who used Duolingo to supplement studying for the test had significantly higher TOEIC scores than before (Ye, 2014). Therefore, spaced repetition and increased motivation were two important factors in increasing test performance.

Furthermore, such measures assist in developing the vocabulary and reading skills of students, suggesting that learners use prior knowledge to answer questions (Hanzeli, 1977). Although cloze testing is a useful tool in the development of language capability, students need to have a certain level of experience in the language. Therefore, such testing strategies work well with intermediate and advanced level students, since the pool of linguistic knowledge is much higher. Still, beginners have the ability to use this software significantly but have to rely mostly on context clues (McCray, Gareth; Brunfaut, Tineke, 2016).

Research concludes that advanced students engage in “higher-level processing,” using a broad range of contextual information and techniques to solve sets of linguistic questions (McCray, Gareth; Brunfaut, Tineke, 2016). Creating content based on mental modeling, incorporating new material, as well as implementing inference-based strategies are a few examples of how higher-level students decode language questions. This is in contrast to lower-level students, who use strategies such as word recognition, lexicology, and process of elimination to uncover solutions. This is observable by tracking the eye movements of learners. For example, lower-level students regularly glance at the word bank provided with the examination.  Secondly, lower-level students focus more on words immediately surrounding the blank, while higher-level students read the entire sentence. These observations demonstrate the different learning patterns both sets of students used to locate the answers.

Lastly, cloze testing helps formulate language patterns and sequences through context. These methods of evaluation provide learners with an increased sense of linguistic competency, enabling them to understand more obscure concepts behind language learning. Instead of teaching static parts of a language, such as memorizing grammatical tables and rules, cloze testing directs students to approach learning organically, relying on critical thinking procedures to interpret essential concepts (Hanzeli, 1977). Overall, cloze testing is an essential tool for learners to develop the necessary skills for learning a language. Furthermore, if such methods are supplemented by educators, as well as used on a consistent basis, there is a high chance for growth to occur.


As shown in this paper, a consistent and incremental program of language study is more effective than cramming. Studying both inside and outside the classroom provides the most practical way to achieve that aim. Practice outside the classroom can be accomplished through online programs that are measurable, motivating, and fun. By utilizing such programs, students have the opportunity to customize their lessons, thus addressing their personal needs and goals. This in turn incentivizes learning, creating a higher chance for students to continue practicing independently.

Online-based study materials use a series of different learning approaches to aid learners in gaining proficiency. This case study explored a few of those methods to analyze the efficiency of using such tools. Self-accessed language learning (SALL) initiatives help students to modify lessons, catering to their specific needs and creating a holistic approach to language learning. Educators have the ability to monitor the progress of students using online media and digital classroom applications. These tools give learners the ability to improve language proficiency as well as more responsibility in the learning process. This idea contrasts with traditional systems like eikaiwa, where some students have less concrete reasons to study languages (Kubota, 2011). According to Kubota, class surveys found that some students engaged in eikaiwa were content with studying once a week, while others wanted to practice more outside the classroom. Therefore, incorporating SALL could serve students wanting extra instruction. When combined with other initiatives such as the spaced-repetition system and cloze testing, online tools can play a critical role in student language development.


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Correspondence from Terry

Dear Members of Gunma JALT,

As I write this letter from Wisconsin, America, the maple trees are turning yellow and red. Whenever October arrives, I think back to the time I somehow, impossibly, got sunburned at Tsukasawa Chugakko’s sports festival in Takasaki. This carries me to thoughts of Gunma and my life as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT).

I joined JALT in 2012, eager to develop a broader understanding of foreign language education systems in Japan. Sessions on cooperative learning strategies and peace education in language teaching kept drawing me back to our monthly JALT sessions. Despite holding an Adolescent English Language Arts teaching certification from the state of Wisconsin, it was truly my time exploring ELL teaching with JALT that developed my confidence. Before I knew it, I was moving beyond the typical role of an ALT.

In 2013, I joined Barry and Harry in managing the Speakeasy. As the Web & Design Editor, I flung the Journal into cyberspace where archived editions can now be found. I also drafted proofs and spearheaded negotiation to establish style norms, resulting in the succinct, modern format you now see. We exchanged many emails to determine sequencing, copy placement, formatting, column usage, and color integration, among other details. Writing author bios was the easy part of editing the Speakeasy!

After the release of Volume 26 of the Speakeasy in 2014, I returned to the States and began working as a high school College Writing teacher at a school for Hmong students. I might have retained, even built my writing skills while editing the Speakeasy and participating in Nanowrimo, but my ability to communicate at a quick pace in a culture where the speaker bears the burden of creating clarity had definitely waned. Struggling to explain classical rhetoric to kids, I realized I needed to retire from editing. I’m glad to see the Speakeasy continuing on strong.

Recently, I have moved into the field of copy editing. It is a bit of a surprise to me that my one-year stint as Web & Design Editor turned into something much larger. As it turns out, learning Japanese was much more fun and considerably tougher than memorizing the style and formatting rules I now use in my new position. Hyphens still trip me up, though.

I’m grateful to Gunma JALT for supporting my growth. I’d like to send a warm osewa ni narimashita to John Larson, Barry Keith, and Harry Meyer. May the Speakeasy continue on, creating connection and bringing vibrancy to the English Language Educator community in and around Gunma.


Terry Dassow
Copy Editing Consultant

The Wagtail

By John Larson

My name is John. I’m a high school English teacher here in Japan. I’ve been in Japan for more than fifteen years. This is a true story, or it was when it happened anyway. It was years ago now, so god only knows what has happened to my memories meantime.

So anyway, I was teaching when the wagtail flew past my class. It was fifth period in late January, and class seven was a moist, smelly pocket of warmth. The oblique afternoon sun slashed through the curtains tinting everything orange. The kerosene heater ticked as its heat bled off. We were all warm and sleepy, the students and I. None of our hearts were really in it, which was fine for them as they had other classes.

The wagtail was a black smudge streaking past the white-frosted glass which separated the classroom from the hallway. As I saw it then it could have been anything, but somehow I knew what it was. Of course I knew it was a bird, but I think I might have even known it was a wagtail. Or maybe I didn’t know know, but later maybe, when I did know, it solidified my previous suspicions. How strange the way memory works when we’re doing other things.

Pied WagtailWagtails are small, and look a little like sparrows in shape, except for their long tails. They bob their tails up and down pretty much constantly when on the ground, hence their name. They spend a lot of their time on the ground, running here and there in search of whatever they are searching for. Most are brave enough to let people get close  and see their stark black and white markings. I watch wagtails sometimes, when I see them.

I stopped teaching, dropped the chalk in the tray, and walked out into the hall without a word. Some things are more important. The crisp air hit my face and eyes. Most schools here, and for that matter most homes, don’t have central heating, instead heating only the rooms where people are. Not enough warmth to go around. I slid the door shut, turned left and saw the wagtail.

How’d you get in here, little guy? (All animals speak English in my book, even ones in Japan.) Someone had left a window open, or more likely a door, and the wagtail had no doubt just hopped his way inside. Inside: a place the wagtail didn’t even have a context for. He was here now though, and he knew it, and he wanted to get back to the somewhere else he was before, which I thought quite understandable.

I watched as he took a running, jumping start and bounded towards the trees, the sky, towards the distance he could see above and in front of him. Again and again he jumped, flew, and crashed into the window. Back on the floor, he looked confused, even a little embarrassed that there was something there, something he didn’t see or know about. How cruel a thing that glass was for him; showed him clearly where he wanted to go, and at the same time stopped him from getting there.

He had obviously been at this for a while in other parts of the school. He’d had this battle before and he was growing desperate, his mouth open, tongue out. He was tiring, and I didn’t know how much more fight was left in him. At the end of the hallway was an emergency exit, a sliding door. I would have to sneak past him twice; once to open it, and once again to get back behind to scare him out. I started to approach the wagtail, and he stopped his suicidal jumping game. He hopped and turned and stood there looking at me, tail bobbing.

Hey little guy, I’m trying to get you out of here. I gestured, my hands pressing down, calm down. He didn’t understand though. It’s okay. He hopped away as I advanced, one step, one hop, black eyes always meeting mine. Shhhh. Finger over pursed lips, I pressed myself against the windows of class eight like a fugitive in a prison break. Step, hop.

What the students must have thought I have no idea, but no one poked their head out the door to see. Was that strange? I don’t really know from strange anymore. Why was it me here, and not someone else? Out of all the hundreds in this hall, at least a few must have seen him fly by their classrooms. Was it strange then that the only stranger there was the only one trying to help another who didn’t belong?

Now there was nowhere for the wagtail to run, he was right up against the door. Once again he resumed launching himself at the windows, this time to escape me. Intent, I strode the last three steps and threw open the emergency exit, but as I slid the door wide, I felt the wagtail shoot past my shoulder the other way down the hall. I turned and watched him disappear up the stairwell. I sighed.

Up was easy for the wagtail, less so for me. I sprinted up flights, two stairs at a time, checking quickly left and right at each floor. I figured that after being denied the sky here at school for so long, he would fly as far and as fast as he could in that direction. When I reached the top of the stairs on the fourth floor my lungs and legs were burning and I was trembling from fatigue and excitement. I found the wagtail perched on a doorjamb at the end of the hall. I started opening windows. He watched.

Look, you can get out here. I stuck my hand out and felt the cold, dry air. See? I opened the windows while the wagtail watched. The hallway was otherwise silent. There were no classes going on up here right now. Don’t go bashing your head again. The winter wind blew in through each window as I opened them. The wind knew a way out somewhere. Just go out one of these windows. Soon, they were all open and I backed slowly to the top of the stairs. Trust me, okay? With comic timing the wagtail cocked his head. I smiled. Did he understand? that I was a friend come to help? or was it the other way around after all? What in the hell am I doing here whispering to myself? The wagtail just waited.

I spread my arms wide. Ready?

My clap rang through the silent hallway, raced down the stairs, echoed down each floor, past the classrooms. The sound, like the wind, knew the way out. The wagtail took flight and everything slowed dramatically, or my memory slowed it down after. Funny how it doesn’t matter which. I saw the wagtail start to fly towards me. I raised my hands like a magical invocation, willing him to stop and turn. He did. The wagtail wheeled around in a perfect moment, right in front of one of the open windows. He saw. And I saw him see it. I can see him there still, frozen in the instant before his headlong plunge into emptiness and freedom.

willy-wagtail-take-off-editedI ran to the window to watch him fly, streaking out and up, swooping in reckless delight. I stood there leaning out, watching until the wagtail was gone, after he was gone. I stayed there leaning through the empty  window with eyes closed, feeling the cold outside air rush past my face.




Mead, Ann (2011). Pied Wagtail (edited). Retrieved Dec. 13, 2016. https://www.flickr.com/ photos/15494309@N00/5347125122

Wenniger, Sascha (2009). Willy Wagtail Take-Off (edited). Retrieved Dec. 3, 2006. https:// http://www.flickr.com/photos/sufw/3485171819

John Larson teaches English at Isesaki High School and serves various roles in Gunma JALT. As a student, he wrote for fun and as a columnist for his high school and college campus newspapers. He loves helping his students express themselves through their own words, written and spoken.

Peer Assessment for Testing Classroom Chinese Speaking in a Japanese University: Correlations and Attitudes

By Ming Qu and Margit Krause-Ono


According to Falchikov (1995), peer assessment is a process in which a group of individuals grades their peers and which may or may not involve a set of criteria by teachers and students. In recent years, peer assessment has been increasingly used as an alternative method of assessment in language learning classrooms. Most researchers believe that it is not only an effective tool for encouraging students’ learner independence and autonomy, but also allows teachers to shift their teaching methodology to more students-centered activities. Numerous studies have been conducted on peer assessment, but only a few studies have focused on Japanese language learners. The question therefore remains as to whether peer assessment is really an effective tool for language learning in Japan, particularly in the field of teaching Chinese as a second foreign language. In order to answer this question, this paper will focus on two points associated with peer assessment: the first one is how reliable is the correlation between peer ratings and teacher ratings, and the second one is the Japanese students’ attitude towards peer assessment.

Problems with previous studies

Issues of correlation between peer and teacher ratings
A number of studies have been conducted with regard to the correlation between peer and teacher ratings, with some of them indicating that there is a high correlation between the two (e.g. Hughes & Large, 1993; Brammer & Taylor, 2001; ALfallay, 2004; Shimura,2006; Fukazawa, 2009). However, some studies also indicated that there is no strong correlation between peer and teacher ratings (e.g., Jafapur, 1991, Freeman, 1995).

Hirai (2011) indicated that the reasons for the conflicting results involve differences in assessment conditions and students’ characteristics among these studies. She compared the results from nine previous studies on the correlation between peer and teacher ratings, and showed that there appeared to be three points related to the correlation. The first one is that there is a tendency toward higher correlations when students rated a peer’s performance after discussion rather than when students assigned a rating without engaging in prior discussion. The second is that the correlation is higher when using mean score (averaging all the scores of the participants) than when using a single score. The third point is that correlation appears to be related to anonymity. Under anonymous conditions the correlation between peer and teacher ratings is higher. This is because anonymity helped reduce the anxiety felt by raters regarding potential accusations of excess severity by their peers. With regard to the prior discussion, Hirai (2011) used a rating scale which was developed by teachers, and a detailed explanation which was given to students. In this study, the students collaborated with the teacher in making a rating scale in order for them to understand the rating scale more thoroughly.

Beside the above three points, the kind of rating scale used is also expected to be related to the correlation between teacher and peer ratings. A study which was conducted by Shimura (2006) used a rating scale which included 8 categories. They were: good posture, clear voice, good eye contact, good gestures, clear explanation, good visuals, good analysis, and good organization. She focused on the contents of the presentation and body languages. This differs from Fukazawa (2009) and Hirai (2011) who focused more on linguistic aspects, such as grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and fluency. These studies used different rating categories, therefore the results on the correlations between the students and the teacher were also different. The previous studies didn’t shed light on every category, and only calculated the whole score for the rating scale. When considering the correlation between the students and teacher ratings, we need to clarify which of these categories have a high correlation and which categories have a low correlation. Therefore, in this study, the rating scale used was divided into three sections: body language, presentation content, and linguistic aspects. The correlation of each category between the students and teacher ratings was calculated.

Issues of Japanese students’ attitudes towards to peer assessment
Peer assessment has received much attention in the field of language teaching in recent years, but in Japan, this idea is still novel, especially in the field of teaching Chinese as a second foreign language. Traditional testing, such as paper tests, is still dominant. Alternative assessment methods, such as portfolios, peer / group oral test, and peer assessment are not widely used in language teaching classrooms in Japan. Some previous studies addressed the attitude of students to peer assessment (e.g. Azarnoosh, 2013; Wen, 2006; Peng, 2010, White, 2009), but they did not focus on Japanese students. Simon (2014) focused on the attitude of Japanese students, and conducted an online survey of first year students enrolled in oral communication classes at a private Japanese university. Students were asked to answer 10 questions related to peer assessment. The results revealed that Japanese students were broadly accepting of peer assessment, which was perceived as being a valuable language-learning tool. Simon (2014) only performed the survey once, after students had experienced peer assessment activities, and only quantitative data was used in his study. In order to gain a more complete picture of the attitude of Japanese students, an understanding of their attitude both before and after experiencing peer assessment is needed. Furthermore, in order to clarify what the students think about peer assessment, qualitative data should be used. Therefore in this study, a survey of student attitude was performed twice, both before and after experiencing the peer assessment activities in their language class, and the significance of any changes in attitude between the pre-survey and post-survey were analyzed Furthermore, a semi-structured group interview was conducted for collecting qualitative data on the students’ attitudes towards the peer assessment activities.

The purpose of this study
This study aims to broaden the knowledge of peer assessment by exploring which categories in the rating scale have high correlation coefficients and which categories have low correlation coefficients between the student and teacher ratings. By performing the survey twice, before and after the students experienced peer assessment, it was hoped that the students’ attitudes towards to peer assessment would be clarified, and the changes of the students’ perceptions would be revealed. This study answers the following questions and sub-questions:

RQ1: To what degree does peer assessment correlate with the teacher’s assessment? Which categories have high correlation coefficients and which categories have low correlation
RQ2: To what extent do students change their perceptions after experiencing peer assessment? What are the reasons for their changes in attitude?


The university
This study was conducted at a university in Hokkaido, Japan, which consists of only one faculty – the Faculty of Technology. Every year there are over 600 freshmen, 90% of whom are male. The study of a second foreign language, from Chinese, German or Russian, is compulsory for first-year students. There are around 25 students in each class, with 12 classes each for Chinese and German, and 2 classes for Russian. All foreign languages must be taught according to the CEFR A1 level. For second-year students, the study of a second foreign language is an optional subject, and it is taught according to the CEFR A2 level. This study was conducted among second year students.

Participants – Students
Eighty-Two Japanese students participated in this study. They belonged to three classes taught by the researcher. The participants’ majors included information technology, engineering, and science. The class met once a week for 90 minutes.

Participants – Teacher
M is female, with about 15 years of teaching Chinese as a foreign language experience at the time of the study.

The presentation
The students were asked to give a presentation on introducing his or her hometown, family members, and himself or herself by PowerPoint. The presentation was assessed by the teacher and his or her peers at the same time in the class. Students were asked to fill out the score sheet which included seven rating categories, scored from 1 to 5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent, by circling the appropriate number for each category. A sample of the score sheet is shown in Table 1.


In the next stage, the students were asked to discuss the points to be rated within each category. For example, in order to clarity the rating points for pronunciation, they were asked to discuss what good and bad pronunciation of Chinese is, particularly for Japanese students. And are these points operable when the assessment is conducted. The final rating points for each category are shown in Table 2.


Instruments and procedures – Five-point Likert scale survey
A five-point Likert scale survey was used to investigate the attitude of Japanese students to peer assessment. The survey was created by the researcher based on Wen, Tsai & Chang (2006) and Peng (2010). It contains six statements about peer assessment. Students were given five choices for each statement, 1) strongly agree, 2) agree, 3) neutral, 4) disagree, 5) strongly disagree, and they were asked to choose one of the choices. Furthermore, the participants were asked to fill out the five-point Likert scale twice to allow comparisons to be made. The pre-survey was conducted two weeks before the speaking test. And after experiencing peer assessment activities, the students were asked to do the same survey again, we will call it the post-survey. The five-point Likert scale used in this study is shown in Table 3.


Instruments and procedures – Semi-structured group interview
Semi-structured group interviews were used to explore the reasons for the changes, or lack thereof, in student attitudes to peer assessment and other points related to this assessment form. Students were divided into five groups, with each group consisting of 4~5 students. They were asked to discuss the positive and negative points of peer assessment first, and then answer the questions from the teacher. There were 2 questions: the first one was, “What do you think of peer assessment? What are the good points and bad points? ” The second one was “Did you change your attitude before and after experiencing peer assessment? If you changed your attitude, what is the reason? ”

Instruments and procedures – Analysis
Microsoft Excel (2000) was used for analyzing the data. Descriptive statistics were calculated first, and then a Spearman’s correlation analysis was conducted to explore the correlation between the peer ratings and teacher ratings. Finally a t-test was conducted to explore the significance of changes in attitude pre-survey and post- survey.


The correlation between students and teacher’s rating
Table 4 presents the descriptive statistics for the peer and teacher assessments. Other than pronunciation and body language, the mean score of peer rating for each category was slightly higher than those of the teacher’s. This indicated that, compared with the teacher’s rating, the ratings of the students for those rating categories tended to be lenient, while those for pronunciation and body language, the students’ ratings tended to be strict. The standard deviation (SD) for vocabulary, grammar, and fluency were slightly lower than those of the teacher’s, this indicated that the teacher rated the presentations across a wider range, while students rate their peers within a narrower range in these categories.


In order to investigate what degree peer assessment correlated with the teacher’s assessment, the Spearman’s correlations analysis between peer and teacher’s assessment was conducted. The results are shown in Table 5. The results revealed that, there were high correlation coefficients for pronunciation, presentation content, design of the PPT file, and body language, while the correlation coefficients for vocabulary, grammar, and fluency were low. Body language had the highest correlation coefficients (r = .42), while vocabulary had the lowest correlation coefficients (r = .17).



Creating the rating scale
In this study, the students were involved in developing the rating scale together with the teacher. The students were asked to imagine if they were teacher, what type of analytic rating scale they would use to evaluate the speaking ability of their students. The students suggested more than ten rating categories including facial expression, voice quality, interesting content, fluency, design of the PowerPoint file, organization of the content, pronunciation, accuracy of the grammar and vocabulary, natural expression, posture, and so on. Students were told that too many rating categories would be burdensome for the raters, so they needed to choose five or six categories. However, as this study sought to focus not only on linguistic aspects, but also body language and the presentation content, so at last, seven categories were eventually decided upon: pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, fluency, presentation content, design of PPT file, and body language.

Japanese students’ attitudes towards to peer assessment – To what extent did students change their perceptions after experiencing peer assessment activities?
In order to investigate the Japanese students’ attitudes towards peer assessment, especially the extent to which students change their perceptions after experiencing peer assessment activities, a t-test analysis was conducted. Table 6 gives the descriptive information and scale score differences between the students’ ratings pre-survey and post-survey.


The results of the t -test revealed that students’ responses were higher than the neutral score (3.00) both pre-survey and post-survey. In the pre-survey, the mean score was 3.41, while the mean score in the post-survey was 4.06. Thus, it can be said that, the students reacted positively both before and after experiencing the peer assessment activities. The standard deviation for the pre-survey was much higher than that for the post-survey, indicating that the range in student attitude was wider before experiencing peer assessment than after. The mean score increased from 3.41 to 4.06 (t (81) = 6.41, P < .01), showing that the Japanese students’ attitude towards peer assessment became significantly more positive after experiencing the assessment activities. The effect size was calculated to examine the significance of the score differences between the pre- and post- surveys, the value of the effect size was 0.96, which is considered to be large enough according to Cohen’s (1988) definition.

Japanese students’ attitudes towards to peer assessment – Reasons for changes in students’ attitudes
In order to explore why students changed their attitudes to peer assessment and other points related to this assessment form, semi-structured group interviews were conducted. The students were asked two questions. One is “what do you think peer assessment?” The other one is, “did you change your attitudes before and after experiencing peer assessment? If your attitude changed, what is the reason?” Students were divided into small groups, one group consisting of 4~5 students.

The students’ answers were divided into two categories: positive responses and negative responses. Responses were given in Japanese and translated into English by the author. The content of responses for each group is shown below. More than 80% of the students gave positive responses, with less than 20% of students giving negative responses.

Positive responses
Peer assessment is helpful
・Peer assessment is helpful to learn about speaking ability, before experiencing the speaking test peer assessment , I never considered what speaking ability is, how should we assess speaking. It is very helpful for learning to speak.
・Peer assessment helps make me understand the criteria more fully.

Peer assessment is motivating
・When I give other students a high score: for example, he has a good posture, good eye contact, or good design for the PPT file, I get the feeling that I should learn from this student, and should do as well as him.
・Peer assessment encouraged my autonomy, I know what next step I should make to improve my Chinese speaking.
・I practiced the presentation many times before the test, because I wanted to get good scores from my peers.

Peer assessment is useful
・When assessing other students’ presentations, we could identify our own weaknesses.
・Through assessing other students’ presentations, I could identify their strengths and weaknesses, then I could improve myself.

Peer assessment is interesting
・This is the first time for me to do a peer assessment, it is interesting, I felt that I was acting like a teacher, and had a strong sense of participation.
・Peer assessment helps me understand what teachers think of us, it is a very interesting experience. I started to consider teachers’ (or other people’s) feeling even outside of the class.

There were also some negative answers about peer assessment.
Negative responses:
Peer assessment is difficult
・Peer assessment is difficult. Sometimes, I really don’t know how to assess the other students, especially when assessing vocabulary and grammar, as I couldn’t, in fact, catch everything said by the presenters.
・It is difficult to assess the other students, so I think the students’ ratings are not reliable, I also don’t like an arbitrary grading.

Peer assessment is boring
・At first, it was interesting, but there are too many students in one class, I soon felt bored
・I just wrote 3 for all the categories, because it was boring.

Peer assessment is troublesome
・I think peer assessment is troublesome and a waste of time, I ‘d rather learn something from the textbook instead of assessing other students.


Correlation between the students’ and teacher ratings
In this study, seven rating categories were included in the rating scale, and the correlation coefficients were calculated for every category between the students’ and teacher ratings. The results revealed that four rating categories (pronunciation, presentation content, design of the PPT file, and body language) had high correlations coefficients, while three rating categories (vocabulary, grammar, and fluency) had low correlations coefficients.

Except pronunciation, the rating categories with high correlations coefficients were all categories related to the content of the presentation and body language. The rating points were very clear; for example, there were three rating points for body language- eye contact, posture, and gestures, so a decision was easily made. There was only one point for presentation content and the design of the PPT file, so it was also clear enough to make a judgment. It is assumed that the content, design of the presentation and body language were easy to judge by the students, hence these categories had high correlations coefficients. Pronunciation is a rating category that focuses on linguistic elements of the presentation, with the rating points involving the use of Japanese-influenced sounds, and ease of understanding. It appears the students were able to distinguish between good and bad pronunciation very well, even though their own pronunciation of Chinese may not be adequate. When creating the rating scale together with the students, a lot of examples of what is good Chinese pronunciation were given, for example, the blade-palatal sounds, such as “zh” , “ch”, “sh”, and “r”, bilabial sounds, such as “b” and “p”, and compound finals, such as “ang”, “eng”, “ing”, and “ong”. It is difficult for Japanese learners to pronounce these sounds, but they can understand good pronunciation when listening. Therefore the pronunciation category also had a high correlations coefficient.

On the contrary, the data indicates that it was difficult to judge the rating categories related to vocabulary, grammar, and fluency. These three categories had low correlation coefficients. Vocabulary and grammar focus on linguistic elements, and it is possible that the students are incapable of identifying errors because they lack the language knowledge necessary to identify them. Vocabulary had the lowest correlation coefficients (r = .17). The results of the semi-structured group interviews also revealed that some students felt it was very difficult for them to make judgments regarding vocabulary and grammar. In this study, the participants were in their second year of Chinese classes, and they were taught according to the CEFR A2 level, so it is possible that the students’ language proficiency was not high enough to assess a wide range of vocabulary and structures, accuracy of the grammar or words choices. Nelson & Carson (1998) conducted a study on peer assessment of English writing, and pointed out that a lack of language proficiency in a second language affects peer review, as learners cannot review their peers’ writing appropriately because of their low proficiency. The same problem appears to exist in peer assessment of second language speaking. Language proficiency level is an important factor that influences the correlation between the students and teacher ratings, particularly in those rating categories which are related to linguistic elements. In Japan, there are a limited number of advanced students in second foreign language classes, and low level students cannot give presentations using a second foreign language. Therefore, in this study, only the data for intermediate level students were analyzed, and which is a limitation to the study that needs to be resolved in the future.

Japanese students’ attitudes towards to peer assessment
This study clearly showed that Japanese students held a positive attitude towards peer assessment both before and after experiencing peer assessment activities. With the mean score increasing significantly after experiencing the peer assessment activities. Furthermore, the standard deviation for the pre-survey was much higher than that for the post-survey, indicating that the students’ attitudes ranged widely before experiencing the peer assessment, but narrowed after experiencing the peer assessment activities. The results of the semi-structured group interviews showed that more than 80% of the students responded positively regarding the peer assessment. The positive answers included comments that peer assessment is helpful, motivating, useful, and interesting, while the negative comments suggested peer assessment is difficult, boring, and troublesome. Both quantitative and qualitative data showed the Japanese students had generally positive attitudes towards to peer assessment.

With regard to the negative comments regarding peer assessment, the students possibly felt it was difficult as they lacked sufficient language knowledge to make judgments using the rating scale. While there were some students who felt it was boring and troublesome, this may have resulted from the procedure used in this study. The students were asked to assess more than 20 peers in one class, and this may have left them feeling bored and burdened. Hirai (2011) asked students to record their speaking on tape in a language lab, and assess the student next to them only. This procedure may result in the students having less negative feelings toward to the assessment task.


The results of peer assessment are often influenced by the contexts and circumstances in which peer assessment is administered. Therefore, it is necessary to pay great attention to explaining the procedure. Language proficiency level is an important factor that influences the correlation between the students’ and teacher ratings, particularly in those rating categories which are related to linguistic elements, so for the students whose language proficiency is low, the peer assessment for linguistic elements maybe should be avoided. The teachers should know that not every student likes peer assessment, so peer assessment activities should be short and easy everytime. If students demonstrate an enjoyment and a willingness to observe and assess their peers, the peer assessment can be a useful tool in students’ language learning.


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Peng, Jui-ching. (2010). Peer Assessment in an EFL Context: Attitudes and Correlations. In Selected Proceedings of the 2008 Second Language Research Forum, ed. Matthew T. Prior et al., 89-107.

Simon, C. (2014) Students Attitudes towards Self and Peer Assessment in Japanese University First Year EFL Classes. 外国語教育フォーラム, 13号, 1-10.

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Ming Qu is an Associate Professor of Muroran Institute of Technology, Japan. Her interests include language testing, CEFR based language teaching, and Sinology (China’s cultural diplomacy).

Margit Krause-Ono is Professor of German, European Culture, and Intercultural Communication at Muroran Institute of Technology, Japan. She holds degrees from France and Australia, and a Certificate as intercultural trainer/coach from Friedrich Schiller University, Germany.

My Experiences as a Non-Native Speaker Teacher in Japan

By Johan Saputra Muljadi

Who are non-native speakers?

According to the Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2010, p.397), a non-native speaker (NNS) is “a language user for whom a language is not their first language.” The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “someone who has learned a particular language as a child or adult rather than as a baby.” I was raised in Indonesia until I was 10, then moved to New Zealand for the next 10 years of my life. Am I a non-native speaker? Taken from the definitions above, the answer would be yes. But from my possibly prejudiced point of view, I consider myself a native speaker. Although I only spent the last three years of elementary school in New Zealand, I completed both secondary and tertiary education there. If a person such as myself who has spent most of his or her formative years in an English speaking country is still regarded as a NNS, it begs the question of whether the title Native Speaker matters in the classroom.

In an interview with Dr. DeKeyser (2016) on the topic of age and its effects, he put great emphasis on the importance of native speakers’ roles in teaching children.

“This is because, given that what children have to learn and can learn very well is pronunciation, that’s precisely the time you need a native speaker. Then, once people are really advanced and they learn more sophisticated aspects of grammar and pronunciation, you don’t need a native speaker; you need somebody who knows the language well and who knows how to teach it.”

I definitely agree with this statement. If I had not spent my childhood in New Zealand, my pronunciation would not be as clear as an Indonesian who had never lived in an English speaking country. However, there are millions of non-native speakers who can speak English just as well as I. One article I found, written by Wilson from reallyenglish.com, was about a Polish teacher whose colleagues were surprised at how proficient her English was and mistook her for being British. Even this blog post, which is very sympathetic to the plights of NNS teaching English, erroneously conflates fluency with nativeness. Where this teacher is from is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that, “a good language teacher, by definition, will be proficient in the language they are teaching.” (Wilson, 2016).

My 8 years working experiences in Japan as a non-native speaker

My first employment was in 2009 as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) 3 days a week in a small town called Tokigawa, Saitama prefecture. I was there for one academic year through a dispatch company called Heart. ALT work is more lenient than eikaiwa (English conversation schools) and juku (cram schools) in their requirements: usually requiring a non-specific university degree, but no teaching experience. The catch is that prospective ALTs usually need to own a car. I accepted the position in order to change my student visa to a working one and bought myself a car. In 2010, I landed a full-time ALT job in Takasaki City in Gunma prefecture, this time through a different dispatch company called RCS. In 2011-2014, I worked as a full-time direct-hire ALT for Maebashi City before moving back to Takasaki City to work as a full-time direct-hire ALT for another year. One of the main differences between working for a dispatch and a direct hire is the workload. A direct-hire ALT communicates with all levels of municipal government and may have duties above and beyond that of a dispatch ALT. When I was a direct-hire ALT in a Junior High School in Maebashi City, I had such responsibilities as assisting with the annual English speech contest, assisting with the annual summer events and attending monthly confabulation meetings with other ALTs. Other benefits of being a direct-hired include higher salary, paid holidays, and being included in the insurance and pension systems. Susatyo (2015), who is also an Indonesian ALT, had written an inspiring message to NNS teachers, “If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in teaching English, just do it. I know it won’t be easy and will be challenging, but think about the impact you will make on others: your students and fellow educators.” This was taken from the TEFL equity advocates blog; a blog that focuses on creating equal employment opportunities for native and non-native English speakers in ELT. I truly recommend reading the “teachers’ success stories”, they are very motivational to remind ourselves to never give up.

The importance of having qualifications

Qualifications are one way to overcome the prejudice against non-native speakers. Fortunately, many programs like the Trinity College TESOL Certificate and Diploma are available in Japan through a various providers such as Shane English School in Tokyo. In my circumstance, finding quality work was very difficult. This was because job advertisements in Japan often use the terms “native speaker” or “native English speaker”. This requirement creates frustration to people like me whose first language is not English. The majority of private institutions such as eikawa or juku are usually very strict on their hiring policies. On the website ohayosensei.com (retrieved September 16, 2016), there are employers such as the Sakura English Conversation School in Hyogo Prefecture that use the phrase “teach American English”, GEM school in Kagawa Prefecture preferably requires a “North American” and Berlitz strictly desires a “native fluent English speaker.” The first two are specifically searching for teachers who are American or Canadian, and the third one could be interpreted as looking for a teacher in which English is his or her first language. After completing a bachelor’s program in TESOL, I was offered an interview with Shane English School as an eikaiwa teacher and the British Council Tokyo as an elementary school teacher. Surprisingly, for an NNS, both employers were happy with my performance in each interview. I chose the British Council Tokyo position because of better career prospects in the years ahead. This experience shows that while I do not have what my peers certainly have, an automatic recognition that my English is good enough, my qualifications somehow compensated for that.

Employers’ preferences in Japan

Even in present-day Japan, non-native speakers are still treated as second-class citizens in English teaching. Holliday (cited in Houghton and Rivers) defines this trend saying

“in English language education, racism is revealed increasingly where the discrimination against “non-native speakers” is connected to skin colour. Hence, non-White teachers are taken for ‘non-native speakers’ even if they were born and brought up with English as a first or only language; and white teachers who do not have this background can pass easily as ‘native speakers’” (2013:20).

However, some jobs advertisements I found on the JALT website are more flexible and open. Rikkyo University for example, uses the phrase “applicants of any nationality are welcome to apply” (English Instructor – Rikkyo University, Tokyo, 2016) and Tokyo University of Science uses the phrase “native speaker proficiency preferred” (English Instructor, Tokyo University of Science, Kagurazaka Campus, Tokyo, 2016). Tamagawa Academy and University is also committed to provide equal opportunities to non-native English teachers according to the TEFL equity advocates. From these observations, such postings seem to be more common, and it is very relieving to see. Nevertheless, the frustration continues. Native speakers still have more choices compared to non-native speaker teachers. I find though, more companies are changing their recruiting requirements such as Shane English School Japan which used to recruit only speakers from Australia, Canada New Zealand, South Africa, UK or USA. Now, it only requires an honours degree taught in English from an accredited university. This shows that race is no longer the major issue that some teachers may perceive it to be. This is a great development because according to Wikipedia, only about 5.52% of the world’s population are native English speakers. Therefore, non-native speakers can fill gaps in the job market in Japan. I certainly hope that this trend will continue. Employers should realize that experience and professionalism are more important than the employee’s L1.

Future challenges for non-native speaker teachers

Regardless of whether a teacher is a native or non-native speaker, there are always challenges ahead. Perhaps we non-native speaker teachers have to take a step back and continue with the basics. Mastering a language is a lifelong journey and I always motivate myself with a quote from Harmer (2007, p.423), “one of the best ways of reflecting upon our teaching practice is to become learners ourselves again.” If you are a non-native speaker but you are confident in your English proficiency, I would strongly recommend studying towards a qualification. For example, a certificate, a diploma or even an MA in TESOL. Just because we are non-native speaker teachers, does not mean that we are incapable of matching our fellow native speaker teachers. Always remember to keep on developing; it is important to you as well as for your students.


Cambridge Dictionary. Non-native speaker. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from <http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/non-native-speaker&gt;

Dunkley, D. (2016). Age Effects: An Interview With Robert DeKeyser, University of Maryland. The Language Teacher 40(3), p13-15

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Fourth Edition. Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education Limited.

Houghton, S. A. & Rivers, D. J. (2013). Native Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

JALT. JALT Job Info Center. (2016, September 16). English Instructor – Rikkyo University, Tokyo. Retrieved September 22, 2016. <http://jalt-publications.org/jobs/5471-english-instructor-rikkyo-university-tokyo&gt;

JALT. JALT Job Info Center. (2016, September 16). English Instructor, Tokyo University of Science, Kagurazaka Campus, Tokyo. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from <http://jalt-publications.org/jobs/5470-english-instructor-tokyo-university-science-kagurazaka-campus-tokyo&gt;

Ohayosensei. Current edition. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from <http://www.ohayosensei.com/current-edition.html&gt;

Richards, J. C. & Schmidt, R. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Fourth Edition. Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited.

Susatyo, N. (2015, February 12). Teaching English in Japan as a NNEST. Retrieved October 16, 2016 from <https://teflequityadvocates.com/2015/02/12/teaching-english-in-japan-as-a-nnest-by-nicholas-susatyo/&gt;

Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2016, October 8). List of Languages by number of native speakers. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers&gt;

Wilson, JJ. (2016, May 10). Native and Non-native Speaker Teachers: Prejudice, Privilege, and a Call to Action. ReallyEnglish blog. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from <https://blog.reallyenglish.com/2016/05/10/native-and-non-native-speaker-teachers-prejudice-privilege-and-a-call-to-action/&gt;

Johan Saputra Muljadi is the lead teacher of English at a private elementary school in Yokohama organised by British Council Tokyo. His research interests include assessment, motivation and team-teaching in Japan. He holds a Diploma in TESOL and a MA in TESOL. He can be contacted at jsaputra7@britishcouncil.or.jp

A Comparison Between a High-Tech Learning Environment and a Low-Tech Learning Environment

By Stephen Howes

The education landscape has always seen change. It is a constantly evolving profession that has an enormous number of influences, whether they are societal or individual, pedagogical or policy-driven. Perhaps there has not been as great an influence to change as the technological advances of the past ten years though. As Gonzales and Vodicka (2012) state, the disruptive innovation that has been thrust upon us now aims to cause non-traditional changes to improve the education system. This paper aims to contrast technological change and its effects within one school in Australia and the limited use of technology in another school in Japan. It will describe, as experienced by the author, the education technology that exists in each school and the implications of each environment on student potential.

Brisbane Grammar School is a private non-denominational school with approximately 1700 boys ranging from Years 5-12 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. It has prided itself on its outstanding academic outcomes, the extracurricular opportunities it provides for students and the student welfare program embedded in the curriculum. According to their website (Brisbane Grammar School, 2015), the academic vision of the school is to achieve “national leadership in innovative, research-driven teaching and learning practice”. A strong emphasis is placed on providing the students and teachers with the most up-to-date resources available and on an education that reflects the traditional 148-year history of the school, but which nevertheless prepares the students for 21st century thinking. The facilities reflect this vision. The historic Great Hall, built around 1880 and adorned with elaborate stained-glass windows sits next to The Lilley Centre, built in 2010, with its modern glass and steel-framed architecture. More examples of this coexistence are seen throughout the school, including inside the classrooms.


Brisbane Grammar School’s Great Hall reflected on The Lilley Centre

In the period between 2008 and 2015, the time period the author was teaching at the school, the classrooms transformed from whiteboards and projector screens fixed to the ceilings to almost every classroom containing interactive whiteboards, and in some cases wirelessly connected. The Lilley Centre contains larger learning spaces that were designed specifically for collaboration, with tables seating six and an LCD screen at the end of each table for a student to display work. Furthermore, these screens could be controlled by the teacher of that class to display work from specific tables on the main screen. This style clearly supports Hattie’s (2009) notion that the teaching should be visible to the student, just as the learning should be visible to the teacher. The entire campus is fitted with Wi-Fi connectivity and is managed by approximately 10 non-teaching staff in the Information Technology (I.T.) department.

Teaching using tablet computers.png

Author teaching using tablet computers

In the first term of their school experience in Grade 7, the school provides each student with a tablet PC pre-installed with up-to-date software, security and insurance. The cost of the device is factored into each student’s school fees. The tablet PC, with a detachable screen and keyboard, was specifically chosen for its ability to maintain the traditional skills of writing (on a touch screen) and flexibility of switching to keyboard input. In addition, the stylus pen was specifically chosen to mimic a non-digital pen. All departments of the school were consulted on their desires, whether they be structural or digital, before the mass purchase and rollout of machines. The students were given a detailed orientation session when given their machines, as well as numerous follow up induction lessons in the subsequent weeks on the use of specific software and general maintenance. In addition to this, explicit lessons on digital citizenship were given during their student wellbeing class.

The rapid introduction of technology greatly influenced the pedagogical approach of teachers. Nevertheless, technology was not always used simply because it was available. The direction given by the leadership team was to use technology in an innovative way that benefits the learner, or do not feel compelled to use it at all. As per Senge (1999), learning to change is not the objective; changing to learn is the key mindset necessary. In most cases, teachers chose to adopt an innovative approach because of the unforeseen levels of motivation, creativity and enthusiasm from the learners.

On top of the existing framework for teaching that had existed pre-tablet introduction, the teachers developed new approaches to their teaching and learning, such as flipped and blended learning and design thinking. The software installed in the machines as well as beneficial sites discovered by the teachers (and students) enabled students to learn synchronously, at the same time as the teacher using the software, or asynchronously (e.g. at home). The result was an increase in connectedness within the class and with the global community at large, and an increase in personalised and self-directed learning. However, the depth to which the students understood and wanted to extend themselves further was the most encouraging outcome for teachers. With the ease of access to overwhelming sources of information, the path of their learning was seeing a greater emphasis in critical thinking and other complex reasoning processes such as justification, inductive and deductive reasoning, and analysing perspectives. Likewise, the formative and summative assessment instruments created by teachers were evolving creatively within the new landscape, such as book trailers instead of book reports, and video presentations via green screens instead of oral presentations.


BGS students using the collaborative spaces

Currently, the flow of technological integration has yielded the senior year students with an unexpected surprise. School policy dictated that students were to refrain from using their mobile phones at school. However to improve the Wi-Fi compatibility and robustness, it was decided that senior students would be permitted to use them on campus as a “Bring Your Own Other Device” (B.Y.O.O.D.). This has once again expanded the pedagogical implications of having another tool to utilize.

With the introduction of anything new, in particular technology-related, there is scepticism. Changing what has been deemed successful practise for an extended period of time can produce feelings of disillusionment with many parents, teachers and in some cases students, as they struggle to maintain normality (Senge, 1999). However, the exit results of the 2014 cohort defied the sceptics and provided evidence in support of a learning environment that has successfully integrated technology. The 2014 cohort of students were the first group to experience their entire high school curriculum using tablet PCs. As seen in Figure 1, the “Overall Position” (OP) scores for the cohort were the highest achieved by the school in its 147-year history (until 2014). The OP is the rank given to the students based on their individual subject results relative to state benchmarks combined with their score in the mandatory Queensland Core Skills Test (QCST). A ranking score of 1 is the highest and 24 is the lowest, and these scores are used to gain entry into specific courses at Queensland universities. Of the 250 students in the cohort, 29.7% achieved a score of 1 or 2. Furthermore, 57.4% of the students achieved a score of “A” in the QCST (Figure 2). Both of these scores were well above the state average and BGS average.


Figure 1: Brisbane Grammar School “Overall Position” (OP) scores in 2014 (source)


Figure 2: Brisbane Grammar School’s Queensland Core Skills Test (QCST) results in 2014 (source)

A common misconception amongst Australian students is that anything and everything in Japan uses the latest technology. However, the situation of technology-integration in most schools in Japan has not kept up with the image perceived overseas. This common misconception is perhaps fuelled by their exposure to Japanese exports such as the brand of their electronics, the maker of their automobiles, or the adolescent hobbies of anime or video games. As Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Education for Microsoft Corporation’s Worldwide Public Sector organization states, “What intrigues me about Japan is that the country has a very technology rich society, but the school systems are technology resistant” (2010).

Tokyo Seitoku University Fukaya High School and Junior High School are private co-educational schools with roughly 800 students in total, on the same campus in Saitama Prefecture. There is limited use of modern technology within the school, with the school maintaining the traditional blackboard and chalk classrooms. There are two computer rooms with desktop machines running on outdated operating systems, and a couple of other larger rooms capable of using DVDs on larger screens. However, as of August 2015, there seems to be little discussion about whether to implement any 21st century educational tools in the classrooms and little to no consultation with the educational trends outside the walls of the campus. Furthermore, as a symptom of this environment, teachers are not encouraged to investigate or seek professional development in the area of education technology.


A familiar sight to most Japanese secondary school teachers

This school’s situation may not be considered an anomaly though. At a recent conference for the International Symposium on Learning Sciences, Professor Yuichiro Anzai (2015) honestly portrayed the current situation and issued a dire warning that the education system needs to change. Anzai (2015) was critical of the over-emphasis on rote learning, both in instruction and its effect on the validity and reliability of assessment. In general, it is feared that students are not being prepared for 21st century learning, and interaction in the future global and local society (Anzai, 2015). Encouragingly, there are reforms being put in place to change the assessment instruments, which will hopefully inspire a pedagogical shift.

The difference between the Australian school and Japanese school’s learning environments are quite noticeable. The Australian school is at the forefront of integrating technology in education and preparing their students for a 21st century society. The Japanese school has not reached that stage yet and moreover, will not change suddenly. The Australian school made incremental changes that integrated with the ordinary school experience. These incremental changes were made by a team that was willing to experiment and report its failures and successes honestly. The educators have to be learners along with the students. This situation offers the perfect opportunity to model the process of learning itself. However, above all, the leadership team of the school has to have a clear purpose for changing, and that purpose is to improve the education for students in order to prepare them for the future.

Anzai, Y. (2015). Education at the turning point: Opportunities for cognitive and learning sciences. Paper presented at International Symposium on Learning Sciences: What matters most, University of Tokyo, Japan, 26 July, 2015.

Brisbane Grammar School (2015). Academic results. Retrieved August 7, 2015 from https://www.brisbanegrammar.com/About/AcademicResults/Pages/default.aspx

Brisbane Grammar School (2015). Our learning priorities. Retrieved August 7, 2015 from https://www.brisbanegrammar.com/AGrammarEducation/AcademicLearning/Pages/Our-Learning-Priorities.aspx

Gonzales, L. & Vodicka, D. (2012). Blended learning: A disruption that has found its time. Leadership, 42(2), 8 – 10. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ989773.pdf

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. London; Routledge.

Salcito, A. (2010, December 31). Japan’s progress on infusing technology into the classroom. [Web log post]. Retrieved from here

Senge, P. (1999). The dance of change: the challenges of sustaining momentum in learning. New York: Currency/Doubleday.

Stephen Howes works at Tokyo Seitoku University Fukaya High School (東京成徳大学深谷高等学校). He presented this topic at the 26th Annual JALT-Gunma Summer Workshop at Kusatsu. Howes volunteers for Gunma JALT as Publicity Chair. He lives with his family in Takasaki City and enjoys blogging about his experiences in Japan. Find more of Stephen at his blog.

Success closer to home: Utilizing near peer role models to empower English conversation school students

By Daniel Hooper


Within a range of learning theories from situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991) to the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and scaffolding (Vygotsky, 1978), social situatedness and self identity within a particular setting have been claimed to have a profound effect on students’ cognitive development. Furthermore, identity and self-conceptualization have been posited to lie behind the maintenance of student motivation (Dörnyei, 2005), potentially supplying the affective robustness required to endure the marathon of language learning. Bandura (1977) claims that vicarious modelling, or showing through the actions of others that something can be achieved, increases the chances that people will envision their own success and stay the course in whatever challenges they face. The notion of near peer role models (NPRMs) (Murphey, 1998) can be viewed as a by-product of these theories. NPRMs are figures who, through being similar in some manner to the learner, act as successful figures that provide encouragement, advice, and proof that success is possible. In an ELT context, NPRMs provide students with examples of successful L2 users sharing similar backgrounds to themselves, separate from the unattainable, and often daunting, native speaker construct (Cook, 1999). In Japan, native speaker English still rules (Honna & Takeshita, 1998), and nowhere more so than in the private conversation school (eikaiwa) industry (Kubota, 2011).

This study aims to investigate how eikaiwa teachers can, through presenting students with examples of Japanese NPRMs, provide attainable goals that empower learners rather than setting them up for failure.

Review of Literature:

The utilization of NPRMs in the ELT classroom is grounded in a number of theoretical standpoints. The work of Bandura on self-efficacy and efficacy expectations greatly informs the approach as it rests on the idea of vicarious modelling affecting people’s beliefs and the notion that seeing others succeed in a task encourages us to persevere even in the face of hardship (Bandura, 1977). Showing gains made by others through “effortful coping behavior” (Bandura , 1977) demonstrates that downturns and stress are just temporary and that through perseverance people can eventually succeed in their goals. Vygotskian theory is also tied into the concept of NPRMs in that students are given models that are closer in level linguistically than the native speaker (NS) teacher to their zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Murphey & Murakami, 1998; Vygotsky, 1978). Furthermore, an ethnically or linguistically similar role model can arguably improve scaffolding within learning as barriers created by the daunting and distant figure of the native speaker fall away, allowing students to “step into each other’s shoes” (Murphey & Murakami, 1998). Lave and Wenger’s (1991) community of practice (COP) model is also relevant in as far as NPRMs are successful and established members of a COP, i.e. Japanese English language learners that guide peripheral participants towards greater competence and inclusion in the group. A final important perspective is Dörnyei’s (2005) concept of the ‘L2 motivational self system’ and the notion of the ‘ideal self’ or ‘ought-to self’ being a powerful motivator for continued language study. This concept is tied into NPRMs as they provide real-life examples of how L2 proficiency could feature in their ‘ideal’ or ‘ought to’ selves. NPRMs are at the same time proving that these identities are realistic and achievable in contrast to an unattainable native speaker standard.

Cook (1998) claims that a reliance on the NS model sets students up to fail as even highly advanced bilinguals fell short when their grammaticality judgement was measured against a monolingual NS model (Coppieters, 1987). He also argues that variations in pronunciation or grammar should be viewed as “differences, not deficits” (Cook, 1998, p. 194). ELT in Japan is arguably dominated by the native speaker construct. Honna and Takeshita (1998) claim that NS English is held up as the linguistic model by which English is judged in almost every Japanese teaching context, with non-native speaker (NNS) varieties being seen as substandard and flawed. According to Honna and Takeshita, students are led to believe that producing anything less than native level English represents failure and shame, and that communication in English is directed towards an extremely limited group of American or British speakers who ‘own’ the language. In their study, however, it was also found that sessions highlighting L2 users from NNS contexts and the communicative role of Japanese English produced encouraging reactions from Japanese student teachers such an increasing awareness of, and respect for, non-native varieties of English.

Arguably more than in any other educational setting in Japan, the image of the native speaker is idolized in the eikaiwa (English conversation school) industry. Kubota (2011) analyses the motivation behind students entering eikaiwa schools and claimed that much of the business model and motivation behind attending classes was based on a kind of ‘akogare’ or longing for the escapism provided by an exotic, i.e. mostly Caucasian NS teacher rather than any real concern for language acquisition. Based on this study, in order to provide a more educational focus to those who are actually interested in learning a language, eikaiwa teachers may need to work on changing the beliefs and values within the institutions that they work in.

The use of NPRMs can also be linked to practices in therapy and counselling for drug addiction recovery, where a counsellor will call in someone of a similar age to the client and a history of similar problems as an ‘expert consultant’. This approach has been found to be successful because the similarities between the two convince the client that success is possible (Murphey & Murakami, 1998). By presenting students with a role model of the same ethnic background successfully communicating in English, students feel that if it is possible for the NPRM, then it is possible for them also. Murphey (1998a) also refers to a project involving NPRMs where students produced a video presenting ideas such as “Making mistakes in English is OK.” and “Japanese can become good speakers of English.” (Kushida, 1995). Student questionnaires distributed by the researcher show that the video was successful in changing ingrained student beliefs. A further study by Murphey and Arao (2001) showed the student produced video to 115 Japanese university students. In a qualitative section of the study, where participants were asked to give their impressions of the video, 95% of comments received were positive. It was also found that the participants’ statements of surprise or envy at the NPRMs performances often “went from ‘they’ descriptions of the video speakers abilities and beliefs to ‘I’ statements of desire to be like them or behave like them” (Murphey & Arao, 2001, p7).


Context and Participants
This study was conducted in a small private conversation school located in Gunma Prefecture, north-west of Tokyo. The participants in this study numbered 10 Japanese adult students attending one of three separate evening conversation classes that meet for one hour-long lesson per week. Participants ranged in age from early twenties to late fifties, 6 females and 4 males. The students had studied at the school from a period of six months to three years. Their estimated proficiency levels ranged from beginner to intermediate. This estimate is based on the set textbook being used in each case and the level of graded reader the participants felt comfortable with during their extensive reading homework. However, it should be noted that, due to the lack of formal assessment and the school’s internal policy of placing students in mixed level classes, this estimation was largely based on the researcher’s subjective impressions.

There were six NPRMs whose interviews were filmed for participants to watch. Four videos were made featuring both students and NNS (Japanese) English teachers from the school. They agreed to film the videos on the understanding that they would not be uploaded to any online video sites and that they would be only shown to students and used for this study anonymously (pseudonyms were used for this study). Two more NPRM videos were kindly provided by Harumi Ogawa from Iwate University.

NPRM videos
Mari and Kimiko –  Japanese English conversation school teachers
Tetsuo and Haru – Japanese English conversation school students
Rie – a Japanese EFL student at Iwate University
Liz – a Canadian student studying Japanese and Law at Iwate University (talked in Japanese about her own Japanese study)
Total: 5 Japanese learners of English, 1 Canadian learner of Japanese

Data Collection:

The video participants were asked to relate their experiences or opinions on different areas of their own language study. Their responses were recorded using the researcher’s smart phone and then saved onto a laptop for ease of display in class.

Over a three-week period, students were shown two short videos per class as a listening and then discussion activity. After viewing the final two videos, students were given a questionnaire to complete focusing on their impressions of the video participants. The questionnaire was written and completed anonymously in Japanese and later collected and submitted for professional translation into English. The rationale for this decision was that use of Japanese was likely to provide richer and more authentic responses from the respondents than having them complete the questionnaire in English. The questionnaire included the following questions as well as a section for unsolicited student responses to the videos:

1. What were your impressions of the videos we watched?

2. What from the videos could you apply to your own learning?

3. What did you learn about making mistakes in English?

4. What do you think about Japanese people’s ability to use English?

5. Which person was most impressive to you, and why?


Question 1. What were your impressions of the videos we watched?

The responses to this more general question were divided into two main themes. The majority of students expressed admiration towards both the NPRMs’ linguistic proficiency and their confidence when using English.

“They all look so amazing just because they can speak English.”

“I was jealous that everyone enjoyed talking.”

“I was impressed that Japanese people looked very confident when they talked and they had no preconception that they couldn’t speak English. They were good role models.”

The second theme observable from several students’ responses was a questioning of the idea that English needs to be spoken perfectly or to an NS standard in order to be a communicative tool.

“No one speaks fluently when they start learning a new language. But I’ve realized that if you use it every day, you get better.”

“It doesn’t really matter if the sentence is perfectly correct or not. People understand you. I think it is the same thing as foreigners speaking Japanese.”

Question 2. What from the videos could you apply to your own learning?

In terms of practical ideas for learning English, several responses displayed an interest in engaging in diary writing in the future, an idea provided by Mari in her video when she stated how much it had helped her improve in the past.

“I want to write a diary like Mari said. And I want to express what I want to say only with the words that I use.”

“I listen to music and watch movies almost every day, but I want to try to write a diary in English next.”

Many respondents also claimed that they intended to alter the way they thought about language learning in the future. This included adjusting their attitude towards mistakes and perfection, the need for perseverance or daily study, or trying to enjoy their language learning more.

“I want to try to focus on having people understand me rather than trying to use perfect grammar to talk. And also it’s important that we talk, listen and read in English on a daily basis.”

“Regardless of age or experience, I think it’s important to enjoy learning and continue doing it. Taking the initiative is the key.”

Question 3. What did you learn about making mistakes in English?

The majority of respondents stated that they learned that mistakes are not something to be afraid of, that other people don’t really care about second language speakers making mistakes, or that mistakes could be used as learning opportunities.

“I learned that the important things are to learn from mistakes and that I should not worry so much.”

“We don’t have to worry about making mistakes so much. We should not be too afraid when we talk. We are not a native speaker; it is normal that we make mistakes.”

“Making mistakes makes me strong. No one really cares when you make mistakes, just like I don’t.”

“Most people said that ’you should not be afraid to make mistakes’ and ‘there is no problem when you make mistakes.’ I want to use it as a chance to learn more when I make a mistake next time.”

However, one student displayed some hesitation regarding the idea, exhibited in most of the NPRM videos, that we should stop caring about making mistakes when we speak. The student stated that this would be a difficult thing for them to do.

“They tell me ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!’, but it is not easy.”

Question 4. What do you think about Japanese people’s ability to use English?

A key theme that emerged from the responses to this question was a reexamination of the belief that those studying EFL need to have perfect grammar or resemble an NS in order to be effective English users. An over-emphasis on grammar by Japanese students was also highlighted in Rie’s NPRM video and by one of the respondents.

“Everyone seems to be stuck with the idea that they have to speak English with perfect grammar, and lots of people think that they can’t speak English because of it. People in the video were great.”

“It is almost impossible to sound like a native speaker, but I can get close to that.”

“Like Rie said, they care about the details of grammar rules too much and that’s why they can’t speak fluently.”

Some respondents also emphasized the need for actual practice using the target language in order to improve and questioned the commonly held belief that Japanese people cannot become fluent English speakers.

“Lots of Japanese people think that they can’t speak English and they don’t want to try, but I think there is a potential that they can become fluent if they study hard.”

Question 5. Which person was the most impressive to you and why?

The NPRMs that were found to have been selected most by students were Liz (4 respondents), Kimiko (3 respondents) and Tetsuo (2 respondents) with one respondent stating that they found every NPRM to be impressive.  Liz offered students a counter-perspective in regards to learning a foreign language as they were able to see that, although her Japanese contained grammatical errors, she was able to communicate effectively.

“Her Japanese wasn’t perfect but I understood what she wanted to say. It makes me feel like my English is fine too.”

“It was Liz. It was a good opportunity in that I could see myself learning English from the opposite point of view.”

Kimiko was chosen by students because of her excellent pronunciation and the outgoing and positive attitude she exhibited towards studying and using English.

“It was Kimiko, because her pronunciation was great and easy to listen to.”

“Kimiko seemed to have fun in the video. Her facial expressions were like those of foreign people. If everyone thinks ‘I don’t care at all’, we can be more positive about speaking English.”

“I was impressed that Kimiko was quite adventurous as she started learning English because she wanted to talk to foreigners.” 

Finally, Tetsuo was highlighted as an impressive NPRM by respondents due to his persistence in working on his weak points in English and his personal drive and interest in learning the language.

“Tetsuo kept doing a listening lesson repeatedly because he was not good at it. It’s great that he knows his weakness and continues practicing.”

“He was very driven. He taught me that it was very important to take the initiative and take action to learn English.”    


In examining the student responses to NPRM videos, the findings strongly support the potential value of peers, over a native speaker model, being utilized to inspire and advise students on their language learning. NPRMs served to facilitate a questioning of the validity and practicality of NS competence as a learning goal whilst also offering a more viable, achievable alternative for students to work towards. In relation to Lave and Wenger’s (1991) COP model, the speakers in the videos acted as ‘old timers’ that offered advice and encouragement to students acting as legitimate peripheral participants in a wider group of successful Japanese English speakers.

Liz, as a Japanese as a Foreign Language learner, was found to have had a significant impact on many of the respondents in the study by opening their eyes to an alternate perspective on the role of communication and mistakes when learning a language. They were able to see themselves in Liz and, in a position of power as native Japanese speakers, were able to experience first-hand how, even without perfect grammar, effective communication is achievable in an L2. Furthermore, hearing their Japanese peers, already proficient in English, reassuring them that mistakes were not something to be feared seemed to resonate with students as they heard the same message repeatedly from NPRMs of different ages and backgrounds.

Additionally, several of the respondents were able to take not only inspiration or motivational support, but also practical suggestions on how they could improve their English. Watching movies, using English on a daily basis, and diary writing were some of the NPRMs’ suggestions that respondents stated an intention to adopt in the future. There is arguably great value to students in these types of practical suggestions as they are able to see clear proof of success through the NPRMs’ English proficiency.

The major limitation of this study was the extremely limited number of participants. However, this was mainly due to the nature of eikaiwa classrooms being highly regulated, and it is perhaps unlikely that a much larger-scale study is possible due to institutional concerns such as requirements related to the minimum amount of textbook usage in class. Also, the participants were students taught regularly by the researcher and, to a certain extent, may have been indirectly swayed into stating what they thought the researcher wanted to hear despite the surveys being anonymous. Finally, this study provides only short-term reactions to NPRM videos and fails to investigate whether the positive effects found in the survey data would be present months or years later. Addressing these concerns in future studies would go some way to giving a fuller picture of the value NPRMs have, not only in university and eikaiwa classes, but in other areas as well.


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change. Psychological Review, 84(2), pp. 191-215.

Cook, V. (1999). Going Beyond the Native Speaker in Language Teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), pp. 185-209.

Coppieters, R. (1987). Competence differences between native and near-native speakers. Language, 63, 545-573.

Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The Psychology of the Language Learner. Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Honna, N. & Takeshita, Y. (1998). On Japan’s Propensity for Native Speaker English: A Change in Sight. Asian Englishes, 1(1), pp. 117-134.

Kubota, R. (2011). Learning a foreign language as leisure and consumption: enjoyment, desire, and the business of eikaiwa. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(4), pp. 473-488.

Kushida, Y. (1995). Near peer role models. Unpublished senior thesis, Nanzan University.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Murphey, T. (1998a). Motivating with Near Peer Role Models. In B. Visgatis (Ed.), On JALT’97: Trends and Transitions (pp. 205-209). Tokyo: JALT.

Murphey, T. M. & Murakami, K. (1998). Teacher Facilitated Near Peer Role Modeling for Awareness Raising within the Zone of Proximal Development. Academia. Literature and language, 65, pp. 1-29.

Murphey, T. & Arao, H. (2001). Reported Belief Changes through Near Peer Role Modeling. TESL-EJ, 5(3), pp. 1-15.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Appendix 1. Student questionnaire (Japanese version)

性別:男 女

年齢:20歳以下 20~30歳 30~40歳 40~50歳 50~60歳 60歳以上

  1. 私たちが見たビデオの感想は?
  2. ビデオを見て自分の学習のためにどういかしたいですか?
  3. 英会話で失敗をするということについて何を学びましたか?
  4. 日本人の英会話力についてどう思いますか?
  5. どの人が一番印象的でしたか?なぜそう思いましたか?


Daniel Hooper has taught in Japan for 10 years and at the time of publication was studying at the Kanda MA TESOL program. His research interests are vocabulary, learner autonomy, teacher cognition, and critical pedagogy.

Dungeons and Dragons for Children

By Mel Thompson

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was created by Gary Gygax (1974), out of his passion as a child of playing war-games and battleship. D&D is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game where participants play in a world created by the Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM). The players design their own characters by choosing the stats themselves, for example: height, weight, gender, job, weapon, clothes, etc. Once the characters are established the DM creates the story or background for the players and details what quest they embark on. Quests could be: investigate a robbery, defeat a dragon, etc. The DM and the players will roll the dice to decide how certain events will unfold in the story until the quest is completed. This is a brief summary of how D&D is played.

For my students (ages 4-8), D&D is a great game to play as it involves learning English through playing. I control the dialogue, scenarios, and story, while the students decide their characters` fate. This gives me great control without them realizing that English is being learned to play. The imagination is the limit with D&D, as long as you can make the encounters and story fun for children with a chance to fight monsters, win treasure, and save the day as a hero they will be enthusiastic to play while using English. Examples of my encounters to get my students to use certain speech or grammar such as verbs include the following prompts: do they “run at the goblin?”, “fight the goblin?”, or “wait for him?”


  • D20 Dice for Instructor and students
  • Whiteboard with Markers
  • Draw out a map, monsters, and squares
  • Stickers
  • Prep time: 3 minutes
  • To scale down D&D for the EFL classroom, the materials and rules need to be tailored depending on the age and level of your students.

Example D&D Game:

For my youngest students 4 to 8 years old, it begins they are a band of friends looking to find treasure, in a cave, where an “evil” troll lives. If they can make it to the end and defeat the troll they win the treasure, which in real life I give them a sticker, which they love.

To help them visualize this with English words, drawn on the whiteboard is the game board (around 20 to 30 squares), with spaces labeled: traps, monster, riddle, fool the monster, and are you…?, At the end of the tunnel (or last square) is a typical Japanese “Oni’ picture next to a chest of gold, which you tell the children is the troll/monster. The children`s characters can either be designed on magnets or drawn on the board. You teach them the words needed to play the game such as treasure, monster, cave, numbers, and etc.

D&D can be broken down to its simplest form the D20 system, in which the D20 (20 sided polyhedral dice) dice is used. To play, the DM rolls the D20 first. The students then roll, if they can get a higher number than the DM, they can advance together as a team. The children call out what number they roll to see if they rolled higher, which gets them to practice numeracy. An example would be if the DM rolls a 15, the students have to roll a 16 or higher to advance on the squares. If 3 students beat a 15, they get to move three squares through the cave. If one student beats the DM’s roll of 15, they move once space. If no student can beat the DM’s roll they move back one space. The rules don’t need to be explicitly explained, they will figure it out by playing and watching.

The squares that were used in this game are labeled below:

When they encounter the trap square, a trap is activated; everyone must act together to escape the trap. For this all the students perform Total Physical Response (TPR) such as swim, run, jump, hop, fly, skip, walk, jog, etc. to evade the trap. Have fun and over exaggerate the trap and tell them they have to escape. They excitedly perform the list of TPR, you say in order to evade the trap and continue the story.

This encounter is taken from the many folktales of the hero who answers a riddle to get past a monster, gate, or bridge. For your students’ level, adjust to what they can handle or what you have already taught them. An example, “It’s white and black, what animal is it?” They will respond with panda, penguin, or zebra. You congratulate them on passing the challenge and ask all the students in turn. The next could be, “It’s big and brown, what it is?” Answer is bear. This goes on until everyone has a turn and once everyone succeeds they can move on to the next square.

With this encounter the children see a glimpse of a monster and must scare it away by doing TPR actions such as yell, shout, clap your hands, stamp your feet, etc. You act as the monster. When the students have performed the actions (loud enough) you act as the monster running away. They feel they are stronger than the monster and revel in being the one to scare the monster away. After this they can move to the next square.

Fool the Monster
In this encounter the students come across a monster and he asks them questions about themselves but they must not answer correctly. This can be used in a variety of ways, what’s your name, how old are you, where are you from etc. They must come up with false answers such as “My name is Hanako, I am 33 years old, I am from China” and so on. It is fun to play and they relish in being able to fool the monster. Once every student has had a turn they get to move to the next square.

Are you…?
During this encounter the students come across an old monster, who can barely see and he ask them questions of “Are you….?” The first couple of questions should be created to ensure students` answer `no`, for example “Are you a panda?”, “Are you sleepy?” “Are you a girl/boy”, “Are you twenty years old?” They practice saying, “Yes I am” and “No I’m not.” They like the definite no answers as you pretend to be a blind old monster and when they all get a turn to answer `yes` they move on to the next square.

Boss Fight!
When the children get to the last square they must fight the evil troll, which turns out to be you the teacher! The young students will gasp in surprise that it was you the entire time. To defeat you they must roll a high number on the D20 dice, for example over 17. When a student rolls over the set high number, they must battle through `Rock, Paper, and Scissors` to see if they can attack the monster. This is a great way to battle and the children’s imagination will fill in the rest of the fight. If the `monster sensei` loses three battles of Rock, Paper, Scissors the battle is over and the monster sensei gives away his valuable treasure of stickers. Each student is allowed to choose one sticker. This gives them an incentive to want to play again in the future as it makes them feel that they won something special.

This is a template of the English used in D&D for my students; you can adapt the English or grammar to fit your kids or the lesson’s needs. Feel free to try new encounters and ways of getting the students to engage in English with this game.

As the instructor/DM, you can set or change the rules to help the students to progress while keeping the rules understandable to their respective levels of English. There are many benefits of D&D. You can make a continuous story with your students when you play. This is great as it will keep their interest and feel they are progressing through a story, which they are getting to make choices. For you as the instructor you get to craft a story that gets them to use the English you want them to practice. Dungeons and Dragons has given my students a wonderful way to play and use English instead of drills. It’s a great device to get them to practice English, while they are focused on playing a game.

Mel Thompson has been teaching in Japan since 2011, after teaching children in Gunma for 2 years earned a Diploma in Montessori Education and TESOL Certification for Children. He currently teaches children from ages 3 to 15 years old. He enjoys the Montessori philosophy of teaching children to learn through exploration and playing games. His interest include having fun, and finding ways of teaching children English outside the box.

Making Free Speaking Accessible to Everyone in Classroom Settings

By Amy Russo

Everyone (teachers, students, schools) wants students to speak. Not only to speak, but to communicate and express themselves in meaningful ways freely and with confidence. Despite this, free speaking in a classroom setting is not systematically included in most curriculums. It is often thought notoriously difficult to organize and evaluate, plus not achievable by all levels of students. A common concern is that adding a free speaking exercise will backfire: one-word answers, blank stares, unhappy faces, frustration, and shutting down. Thus free speaking seems to be a high (unattainable) ideal achieved only by “best students,” which renders it useless for the vast majority of classrooms. This is a situation the author has had many times, but over time has learned the problem was not due to a lack of grammar/vocabulary, not due to a bad attitude/disinterest and not too far above student level. It boiled down to this: students literally do not know what to do and teachers do not know how to evaluate or smoothly incorporate it. This leads to infrequent practice with topics not at student levels, and when students cannot smoothly do the activity it is treated as further evidence that free speaking is not doable. It then seems to teachers and students alike backfire is a given, which further entrenches the feeling that free speaking is a nice thing, but just not practical.

Free speaking (if scaled correctly) is not only accessible for all classrooms, but also deeply academically and individually beneficial. This paper will outline a method that has been successfully used at two high schools to make free speaking accessible to everyone. Free speaking skills can be acquired through a leveled series of non-threatening high return small victories, where everyone can see the visible progress. The first half of this paper will introduce goals for free speaking exercises, along with strategies to achieve these goals. By clearly delineating goals and strategies, bite-sizes chunks will be created. Those chunks make evaluating free speaking manageable for teachers and performing free speaking becomes a defined task for students with the opportunity for self-evaluation and improvement.

The second half of this paper will introduce a fast, flexible, and fun free speaking exercise; AAA. This exercise fits the strategies and goals of part one, and is therefore also easy to use as an evaluation tool. A little bit of background, AAA (sometimes called QA+1R) is a junior high school conversation activity to promote impromptu speaking, reactions, and active listening in 2 minute rounds. This is a scalable activity that can be used from junior high school (JHS) 1st grade and up. After every few practices, you “level up” the activity to help students naturally develop conversation skills. (See Figure A) Students speak in complete sentences and aim to speak as smoothly and much as possible; students can use prompt cards. AAA is the high school version and stands for ANSWER, ADD and ASK, which starts roughly at the lesson 8 pattern. This paper will describe the version of AAA used by our schools, but we recommend other teachers to adjust AAA to their student current level. Russo Figure A

Free Speaking Goals
Communication = Sharing your ideas: if your partner understands then you are successful.
Fluency = Sharing your ideas smoothly and keep a conversation going with your partner.
Accuracy = Using easy, comfortable words and grammar your partner knows.

This order of importance is critical. A common student problem is an excessive focus on accuracy, which leads to one-word answers, long pauses, etc. When students have trouble doing a speaking task, it adds to their internal belief that speaking cannot be done. To combat this, students were instructed, “In free speaking, accuracy is something we like; it’s great, but it is our third goal and is only ‘times 1 or一倍’ important. Communication and Fluency are the top two goals and worth ‘times 3 or 三倍’ important. ” Students must periodically review these goals. All students at my both my mid-level and high-level academic high school could utilize these goals.

Strategies for the Free Speaking Goals
Communication: 1) reactions 2) gestures 3) facial expressions 4) voice tone 5) detailed sentences.
Strategy 1: Reactions are the signposts of language that show your partner that you hear and understand. Students have consistently sought these functions: happy, interested, surprised, sad, support, and agree/disagree (see Figure B). Mostly these functions are accomplished with short phrases using familiar words. This makes it perhaps the fastest way to improve speaking performance. To increase energy level and memorability, teaching gestures are closely tied with reactions. For example, teachers can pair “That’s great” with thumbs up or “I see” with touching your eye then pointing out. Teachers serve as models by reacting through class over the year, which shows good teamwork and correct timing for reactions. Having students practice the gestures/reactions combinations with a partner works well.

Russo Figure B

Strategy 2: Teachers show students that communication is far more than just words. Over 90% of communication is non-verbal, made up of body language and voice tone. Students use their whole bodies: eye contact, facial expression, voice tone, and gestures. For example, teachers demonstrate by doing a thumbs-up and say, “That’s great” twice, the first time in a bright, happy tone and the second in bored monotone. Students are asked to mimic and compare the different feelings.

Strategy 3: Good communicators volunteer information. Students should use complete sentences and aim to have at least two ideas. A simple sentence contains one idea, e.g. I like ice cream. A detailed sentence contains two ideas, e.g. I like baseball and I am in the baseball club (See Figure C). Detailed sentences require the speaker to produce more language and expand the field of conversation.

Russo Figure C

Fluency: 1) Ask follow-up questions 2) Talk around unknown words or change topic

Strategy 4: The ability to make questions is vitally important to conversation, but while students know how they rarely exercise the skill. This can make students slow at producing questions, so making question formation more automatic is key. A conversation partner has the responsibility to listen actively and seek information through asking follow-up questions. Teachers illustrate follow up questions by using a nested set of 4 questions (See Figure D), that the ALT asks the JTE. After each answer, the ALT quickly draws a picture on the board of what is known so far. Then the ALT says, “I understand some now, but not enough.” The ALT asks the next question and updates the drawing (See Figure E). After all questions have been asked, teachers will have illustrated through the drawing how everyone can finally understand clearly the what, who, where, and why of the JTE’s story. Students work in pairs and ask the prompt question followed by three original follow-up questions and ‘draw a picture in their heads.’

Russo Figure D and E

Strategy 5: Students have a tendency to stall, if they cannot think of the perfect thing to say or how to translate their desired phrase. Students should work on talking around unknown words using “It’s like ___” or using gestures to explain. Students should also try for good teamwork and help their partner find words by providing assistance, “Do you mean __?” or “You mean, __?” Students can always change topic as well by saying, “By the way, [New question]?” It is important that students do not see changing topics as failing, but rather as another way to make a conversation smooth.

Accuracy; 1) KISS: Keep it short and simple.
Strategy 6: Students should use grammar and words that are comfortable for them. A general rule of thumb is if you would need to check the dictionary for a word it’s too hard. Students should understand it is not cheating to use simple, clear English.

Thoughts on Scaling
Adding any number of the strategies will benefit your students (without or without AAA). For example, I start off my mid-level academic school by only introducing reactions + gestures (Strategy 1) and having them practice making chains of follow-up questions (Strategy 4) at first. Students practice a few lessons before I start slowing adding the other strategies in (takes about 1 semester) and build towards AAA (the following semester). The key point is to make free speaking look really doable to students, so they relax and engage with teachers praising all effort and so students can gain confidence and over time improve as number strategies in use goes up.

PART TWO: Using AAA Goal-Oriented Self-Evaluation
Now that the goals and the strategies used to achieve them are clear, free speaking become a known quantity and measureable. This section will detail the AAA used at my schools. Figure F is the version of AAA I use at my high level academic high school with more detailed requirements of students. For my mid-level academic school, I adjust the requirements, making them more open. For example, I write only ANSWER, ADD, and ASK on the board without listing requirements for a detailed sentence or follow-up question. Scaling AAA (or QA+1R) to your current students is recommended; starting with simpler instructions often produces best results.

Russo Figure F

Russo Figure G

Activity Procedure:

  1. Students play rock/paper/scissors. The winner is A, and the partner is B. Students aim to have good Communication and Fluency. (worth x3 )
  2. A introduces a topic (either given or original) by saying, “By the way [Question?]” At first, it is best to choose easy factual questions, “what did you do on Sunday?” or simple preference, “what kind of food do you like?”
  3. B ANSWERs using a detailed sentence and then ADDs a related second sentence (simple or detailed) and A reacts.
    B ASKs a follow-up question.
  4. A then ANSWERs, ADDs and ASKs in the same way, while B reacts. Students continue for 2 minutes. If necessary, students change topics by saying, “By the way [New Question].”
  5. Afterwards, stop and have students do a self-evaluation together. (See Figure G) They evaluate their performance on the scale 1 to 7 for the 3 goals and count their questions (average is 4, high is 10). Students should then consider how to improve during the second practice; what should they do differently?
  6. Repeat with a new partner. It is convenient if done in groups of 4 people; students work with the person in front first and next to them second.

To add a game element, simply find the pair with the most questions.  Start low and work high, asking the class “Who has one question?” then “Who has two questions?” and so on, praising students at each number.  It is also a good idea to challenge students to get more questions or improve their Communication or Fluency numbers the second practice.

Using the sheet below in Figure H, the first introductory lesson may take about 30-40 minutes to complete. (You can contact the author for related worksheet[1])  Students then can practice once a week doing two 2-mintue AAA conversations as warm-ups.  After 6 weeks, students can take a practice test during their regular team-teaching (TT) class.  Each teacher listens to 10 pairs in 45 minutes, giving about four minutes for each pair.  While others are being tested, the remaining students do active group work to create sufficient background white noise.  After the test, students receive comments on how to improve. The practice test helps both students and teachers get used to the grading system and become active participants. Students do 4 more weeks of AAA and then are given a real test during TT. This whole process can be done in one semester, but doing it continuously is recommended. Students can lose some gains if the skills are not exercised. The outcome in my classes was clear: students understood how to develop conversation on an abstract level, gained many positive experiences using English, learned to produce English more automatically, talk about themselves, and improve self/peer/teacher feedback over time.

Russo Figure H

Often students spend all their time building the tools of language (vocabulary, grammar etc.), but little time learning their proficient use; students are passive in their language development. However, this can be changed through systematic inclusion of leveled free speaking in curriculums. Free speaking (in combinations of strategies and/or AAA) can be made to fit all levels of classrooms and so give students a change to take an active role in their language learning. Our students excel at meeting expectations, if they can see how and why, teachers can utilize this by making free speaking a part of our expectations of what is possible. Bottom line, everyone can win: leveled free speaking not only fosters a sense of personal accomplishment and reinforces skills for all English classes but also provides both students and teachers a practical road map for advancement.

Amy Russo teaches structured writing and free speaking at Maebashi Girls High School and Maebashi Minami High School. She helped start and design a 2 year graded reading program for all first and second year students at Maebashi Girls. Her research interests include: L2 learning autonomy, long-term L2 retention and motivation, and fluency in speaking and writing in L2 classrooms. She can be contacted at russoae@gmail.com.


Dassow, T. How to Teach Speaking: Lesson Plan Guide. ALT Scene Retrieved May 30, 2015 from <https://altscene.wordpress.com/lesson-plan-guide/.>

ALT’s Thoughts on Teaching in Japan

By Johan Saputra Muljadi

In 2013, I decided to survey 20 junior high school ALTs of Maebashi City focusing on two particular focal points: what aspects of the current team-teaching situation are disliked and what makes a good team-teaching environment.

Muljadi Table 1

Table 1 illustrates team-teaching situations ALTs dislike. In “The English taught/used in activities is authentic”, 0 participants strongly agreed and only 3 participants agreed, and the remaining 9 slightly agreed, 5 slightly disagreed, and 3 disagreed. This could suggest that ALTs ideas are still heavily controlled by JTEs on what is allowed and disallowed in the classroom. In the additional space on my questionnaires for teachers to comment, a teacher wrote “some JTEs have very low-confidence in themselves and are afraid to ask for help from the ALTs or have an ALT in their class. This mentality should be changed”. Another teacher wrote, “I’m pretty lucky with my JTEs; they’re strong teachers, open to ideas and know how to get the best out of me and the class”. The common norm is JTEs advising ALTs to construct communicative activities from pages of the textbook students had learned in class. JTEs are often critical on the content as JTEs would advise the ALTs, “I think it is too difficult for the students because they have not learned it”. On a positive note, during my years of team-teaching with one JTE, where possible she would allow me to have a freer role where I could implement a series of communication activities reciting grammar patterns they learned in class. When she decided that the lesson must be on textbooks or worksheets, it naturally became livelier simply because there were two teachers in the classroom; the students could freely ask questions, work in small groups, and the teacher could tailor to individual needs. From this I would like address the importance of authenticity in language learning. Transforming textbook materials into communicative activities is always possible, but it requires improvisation and language input from the native speaker in order to achieve authenticity. Even without a concrete plan for communicative activities, in lessons where the ALT is present, authentic communication can be achieved through the reinforcement of classroom language such as, “excuse me, I don’t understand this question”, etc.

The other focal point that I would like to draw attention to is the sixth question of the survey, “My JTEs have the English skills needed to communicate clearly with me about lesson planning”. Three participants strongly agreed, 4 agreed, 6 slightly agreed, 1 slightly disagreed, and 6 disagreed. This evidence shows a drastic improvement from what McConnell (2000:211) referred to as “language skills road block”. McConnell concluded upon his findings between 1993 to 1999, “…deficiency in English conversational ability led many JTEs to fear loss of face in the classroom and in the teacher’s room”. Most JTEs found it difficult to convey what they really thought about the ALTs ideas, partially because JTEs resisted surrendering some autonomy in the classroom. It has become an exciting opportunity for the students because in general, present Japanese teachers have better English communication skills. This could suggest that team teaching lessons today are not largely spent on reading or translation.

Learner English (2001), Team Teaching (1990), Planet Eigo: Down To Earth Team Teaching (2007), Team Teaching: What, Why, and How (2000), Professional Development for Language Teachers (2005), are great resources that should be available in every public school in Japan or given during orientation. Brown (2014), Christmas (2014), Hahn (2013), Hamamoto (2012), Hiratsuka (2013), Macedo (2002), Ogawa (2011), Rapley (2010) and Tahira (2012) research articles are also worth reading, especially to JTEs more than ALTs. These articles should be translated into Japanese so JTEs can understand how ALTs really feel. In the near future, as I now live in Sagamihara city in Kanagawa prefecture, I am interested to know about the team-teaching situation and how they are different or similar to Maebashi City.

Johan Saputra Muljadi is currently working for the British Council in Tokyo. He is the lead teacher of English at a private elementary school in Yokohama. His research interests include: homework and testing for young learners and the development of team-teaching in public schools. He can be contacted at jsaputra7@hotmail.com


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