Integrating Intercultural Communication into the Language Classroom Appendix: Explanations of the Critical Incidents

By Tomoko Yoshida, Bipin Indurkhya, John Larson, Jon Dujmovich, Barry Keith

A ride to the airport (Theme: politeness)

    1. This is probably not the best explanation. Ricky was used to people being “polite” to him but he just did not see Naomi’s action as “polite.” 
    2. This is probably not the best explanation. Ricky was used to people thanking him for a ride. 
    3. This is a good explanation. In many cultures, most people will thank you for a ride but may not stand there and wave until you drive away. Ricky saw Naomi’s action as “strange” and “unusual” instead of “polite.”
    4. This is not the best explanation. While it is possible that Ricky wanted Naomi to hug him, it does not explain why he was puzzled by her action.

A drive down the coast (Theme: politeness)

    1. This is a good answer. While complimenting a friend about their looks is appropriate, telling them they have gained weight or they look old can be considered rude in some cultures.
    2. This is a good answer too. People from certain countries are very sensitive about the way they smell and spend much time on personal hygiene. 
    3. While giggling is not rude, the Japanese habit of “waratte gomakasou” often puzzles people outside of Japan.
    4. This is a good answer too. When this happened, Dan asked Cindy if Rina disliked her. Later that night, Rina confided in Cindy that she had a crush on Dan. Confused, Cindy asked her why she did what she did. Rina explained that kappuku ga ii is not necessarily a bad thing in Japan and she was just trying to say that the beef jerky smelled good (oishiso). 

One night in Tokyo (Themes: gift-giving, politeness)

    1. Although this is possible, it does not explain why she was embarrassed. 
    2. This is a good explanation. Professor Jones’s wife might be worried that the proprietor felt pressured to give her a gift because she complimented the dishes too much. 
    3. This is a good explanation. Gift-giving differs greatly from culture to culture. Expensive gifts are exchanged regularly in some cultures while not in others. For those who are not used to this custom, it might make them feel uncomfortable or suspicious about an ulterior motive.
    4. This is not the best explanation. There is no indication of this in the story. 

Thank you for waiting (Themes: politeness, business manners)

    1. This is not a good explanation. Karen was used to people being polite, just in a different way. 
    2. This is not a good explanation. Karen was used to being thanked for things she did. 
    3. This is a good explanation. In many cultures, service personnel may say “Thank you for waiting” only after customers have been waiting for a while. Additionally, what is considered “a while” or what is considered “good service” differs from one culture to another. 
    4. This is probably not the best explanation. If Karen had been waiting for a few minutes, she would not have questioned the greeting. 

Toilet paper etiquette (Theme: common sense)

    1. Although this is possible, this is not a good explanation. 
    2. This is probably not a good explanation. If this were true, then the toilet papers would not all hang in the same direction. 
    3. This is probably not the best explanation. 
    4. This is a good answer. While we often assume that there is a “correct” way to do things, often these customs vary from country to country or even from family to family. 

The difficult landlord (Theme: communication styles)

    1. This is a good answer. It may be that Jack interpreted the Japanese word for difficult literally, when in this case the landlord may have used it to mean impossible.
    2. This is a good answer. The landlord may have avoided strong words like “can’t” or “impossible” because of a cultural indirectness. It is important however, to be careful of words like vague when describing other cultures, as they can carry a negative connotation.
    3. This is probably not the answer. Jack made it clear that he would bear any costs, so it is more likely there was a breakdown in communication here.
    4. This is probably not the answer. To some the landlord’s actions may seem suspicious, but a communication breakdown is far more likely.

The doctor’s diagnosis (Themes: role expectations, communication styles)

    1. This is possible, but there is no way to be sure. Lito’s symptoms were the same, but that doesn’t guarantee it is the same sickness as the one he got at home.
    2. This is possible, but there is no way to be sure. The doctor’s exam was quick and not enough for a certain diagnosis.
    3. This is a good answer. Lito was only trying to be nice, but the doctor may have seen this as an imposition on his authority.
    4. This is possible, but there is no way to be sure. This doctor might treat all his patients like this.

The on-time arrival (Themes: time, business manners, common sense)

    1. This is possible, but it only raises important questions such as what the teachers were saying.
    2. This is a good answer. Ian arrived at the time appointed, but concepts such as early and late are often viewed differently in different cultures.
    3. This is possible, but it is more likely that Ian mistook two concepts: 1) the nominal arrival time and 2) the time which culture dictates he should have arrived. If this sounds illogical, remember that in some cultures it is perfectly natural.
    4. This is a good answer. If the teachers were aware of cultural differences regarding time between Ian’s culture and their own, perhaps they should have anticipated his misunderstanding as to what time he should arrive.

The pet-trimming student (Theme: confrontation with one’s prejudices)

    1. This is probably not the answer. However, it is also not wise to assume that a popular job in your culture is also popular in another culture.
    2. This is probably not the answer. The student is probably upset because being a pet-trimmer *is* her dream job and Sean couldn’t comprehend that.
    3. This is a good answer. Being a pet-trimmer may be an unusual dream job in Japan. It is always important to remember that there are unique individuals in any culture, and that not everyone in a culture corresponds to that culture’s norms.
    4. This is a good answer. Sean probably thinks that a pet-trimmer is not a very important job, and this is a value judgement. It may be a valid judgement in his culture, but not all cultures necessarily share those values.

Irrashaimase (Theme: business customs, common sense)

    1. This could be partially true, but it is not the best answer. 
    2. This is a good answer. In North America, storekeepers usually say, “Hello, may I help you?” and the customer usually responds by saying “Hello.”
    3. This is probably not the answer. The fact that he has stopped repeating it indicates he has some idea of its meaning and/or usage.
    4. This is a possible answer as many non-Japanese are often surprised and sometimes annoyed by the strong, high-pitched tone used by shopkeepers in Japan.

You look tired (Theme: cultural awareness about small talk)

    1. This answer could be partially true. Makoto could have been concerned about narrator’s condition, or well-being. But it’s not the best answer.
    2. This is incorrect. We don’t know whether Makoto did his homework or not.
    3. This is the correct answer. In the narrator’s culture, to make negative comments about another person’s physical appearance is considered impolite or rude – unless you are very, very close friends. It is rude to say “you gained weight” or “you have pimples” or “you look tired” or “your hair is thin”. Even though it may be a sign of concern in Japanese culture, it unacceptable in many other cultures.
    4. This answer is incorrect. The author was definitely not tired.

Correspondence from Aya

Dear Members of Gunma JALT,

High is 86, low is 57, sunrise at 6:19, and sunset at 4:46. This is what my second hometown is like this time of the year—San Diego, California. Being born and raised in Gunma, Japan, I never expected that I would call this place my second hometown. Although I truly love and enjoy living here, I always miss my true hometown.

My first JALT meeting was back in 2015, after coming back from the exchange program at San Diego State University. At the time, I vaguely started thinking about applying for Master’s programs in the U.S. I’d always wanted to become an English teacher at the secondary level in Japan, but the experience at State and the time at the JALT meetings have had a major impact on my life. During the exchange program, I learned the value of teachers who understand the relationship between linguistics and language teaching. JALT meetings and the knowledgeable members also gave me opportunities to think about practical issues in EFL teaching which could relate to theoretical aspects in linguistics. After attending some of the meetings, I became interested in teaching at the higher education level as many of the Gunma JALT members.

In 2016, after graduating from Gunma University with a BA in education, I got back in San Diego and started the MA program in linguistics at San Diego State. As I had known some professors and graduate students since the exchange program, that was a simple choice to come back here and continue my education. Now, while working on my third semester as a graduate student, I’m teaching Japanese to undergraduate students. Although my major interests are language acquisition and teaching in EFL settings, I have learned so much from the teaching experience at State.

In next spring semester, I’m finishing all of the requirements. I originally wanted to stay in the States after the program, but I decided to go back and get working experience in EFL teaching. In summer, I will take the teacher’s license exam in my hometown. Although I will leave here for a while, if I keep dreaming, I can always come back to the States and resume studying, I believe.

I’d like to express my special thanks to Mr. John Larson and Mr. Raymond Hoogenboom for giving me this great opportunity to contribute to the Speakeasy. I’m also grateful to Gunma JALT for having a major impact on my life. I wish the Speakeasy another successful year ahead and hopefully I will be back to Gunma JALT soon in the near future!


Aya Horigome
Graduate Student at San Diego State University

Za Katakana-English

By Antonija Cavcic


Is it “Katakana-English” or “Katakana English”? Whichever way one frames it and perceives it, it is unquestionably both liked and loathed and is one of the commonly debated subjects in ESL discourse in Japan, particularly with regard to acquisition of the English sound system. Indeed, the prevalence and practice of Katakana-English pronunciation is often held in a negative light and is frequently criticized for impeding students’ learning. While criticism of this nature tends to come from so-called native speakers, English instructors, or learners concerned about the accuracy or authenticity of their pronunciation, there are also advocates for its use and a distinct market for it in the Japanese publishing industry. Perhaps simply responding to market demands, the publishing industry has arguably played a significant role in perpetuating and encouraging the use of Katakana-English. This paper explores this phenomenon by first tracing the use of Katakana-English in Meiji period school textbooks which are then compared and contrasted with a recent publication from 2016 entitled 怖いくらい通じるカタカナ英語の法則 (Uncannily effective rules of getting by with Katakana-English). Essentially, I attempt to demonstrate how the English language-learning publishing industry in Japan has played a major role in perpetuating pronunciation problems among Japanese ESL learners.


 Just what is Katakana-English? While some people may confuse Katakana-English with 外来語 (gairaigo) or so-called loan words such as インターネット (internet) or トマト (tomato), in this paper I use the term “Katakana-English” to refer to the use of katakana inside the Japanese L2 classroom. In a context of IT inundation and increased internationalization, it is little wonder that loan words comprise 10 to 15% of everyday Japanese vocabulary and 80 to 90% of IT-related vocabulary (Olah, 2007). Assuming that the presence and ongoing adoption of loan words is unlikely to cease, it is thus perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that the adoption of loan words is partly accountable for the perpetuation of Katakana-English. While loan words might be part of the problem, what is more concerning is the ongoing practice of using ふりがな (furigana; i.e. kana characters printed beside words) rather than phonetic spellings as a pronunciation key in texts and social contexts. This custom dates back to the Meiji periodwhen katakana syllabary without a clear purpose after being superseded by hiragana for kanji pronunciationwas pressed into service to represent written Western loan-words (外来語). In ancient Japan, imported Chinese characters formed the foundation of written language, but by the 19th century the Japanese writing system was firmly established and katakana was chosen to replace all written gairaigo (Walker, 2010, p.109). According to Walker, this single decision resulted in three serious consequences: first, the original English word has been removed from cognitive recognition; second, the katakanized word has been branded “forever foreign”; third (and perhaps most damaging communicatively), the katakana script has been used as a pronunciation guide (Walker, 2009, pp.82-85).

Perhaps the use of katakana script as a pronunciation guide is partly related to the lack of emphasis on teaching IPA (International Phonetic Alphabetic system) in Japan. As Wang, et al (2005) pointed out:

In Japan, teaching English pronunciation is not a compulsory subject in schools. It is up to individual schools and English teachers to decide when, if, or how to teach pronunciation. English teachers with good pronunciation and adequate knowledge about how to teach English pronunciation may teach students IPA (International Phonetic Alphabetic system) or some other pronunciation system, while other teachers just use katakana to read and write English pronunciation and many junior high school texts and dictionaries only have katakana pronunciation guides. Also English pronunciation is seldom required in the entrance exam to colleges, so that students do not have the motivation to study English pronunciation. (Wang et al., 2005, p.39)

Wang, Higgins and Shima go on to argue that, “The English of many Japanese learners cannot be understood by non-Japanese speakers because of either poor or Katakana pronunciation,” adding that “Even though a few university English teachers are trying very hard to improve their students’ English pronunciation, many times, the effects are limited,” (Wang et al., 2005, p.39). The reasons for this, according to the authors, are that Japanese students who are corrected more frequently than others tend to lose interest in learning pronunciation, private one–to-one pronunciation training is costly, and “pronunciation training is currently delayed beyond the age when children’s tongues and mouth muscles are flexible” (Wang et al., 2005, pp.39-40). If we accept that these circumstances are still valid, then what are the options to learn or improve one’s pronunciation? If we take into account that: 1) schools and institutions do not have a standard or universal method of teaching pronunciation; 2) private lessons are expensive; and 3) the suggestion that Japanese students generally dislike being corrected in front of others, then perhaps one of the major alternative options of learning pronunciation is through self-study—and self-study involves books, software or other applications. More importantly, however, self-study requires tremendous amounts of motivation. For that reason, players in the self-study industry in Japan have tried to address this problem by marketing self-study as something fun, easy and effortless.

Take for example, Everyday English ( Upon accessing the website, the first thing one sees on the top page is a large banner which boasts that Everyday English has been providing “Japan’s leading English Education Materials for Seven Consecutive Years.” It also makes claims such as, “一日たった5分聞くだけ英語が聞き取れる・話が通じる“(Just listen for five minutes a day and your listening comprehension and ability to express yourself in English will improve.) The focus is on the learning process being easy, relaxing, and seemingly passive. This is reinforced by one of the customer testaments made on the YouTube video embedded on Everyday English’s website: “One of the important things is the easiness […] Many Japanese people make effort to study English very ‘stuffly’ […] The most important thing is the easiness of learning” (エブリデイイングリッシュ,2012).

Thus, in order to respond to this and various other consumer concerns/demands, Everyday English has provided the following solutions or selling points on its website (see source text in Figure 1):

Everyday English

Figure 1: Everyday English Selling Points (Everyday English, 2017)

  • I can’t pick up what people are saying à You’ll listen to two individual voices in a short conversation and you’ll start to pick up what they’re saying. You’ll increase your vocabulary, too!
  • I can’t speak à You’ll pick up expressions frequently used by foreigners in no time!
  • People can’t understand what I’m saying à You’ll be able to produce clear and authentic pronunciation—just like a native speaker!
  • I can’t make conversation à You’ll learn simple and useful expressions applicable to many situations.
  • I’ll end up forgetting everything I learned à Don’t worry! Because you’ll be listening every day, you’ll maintain your English skills.

In addition, Everyday English notes reveals its three secrets to success—that is, just listen and learn, no texts necessary; listen to native speakers speaking at natural speeds; use frequently used English in situations where you are most likely to use English such as for travelling purposes, omotenashi purposes, business, passing tests, listening to Western music, and so on (Everyday English, 2017).

Everyday secrets

Figure 2: Everyday English Secrets (Everyday English, 2017)

Although it sounds rather ideal and attractive, it is certainly a questionable method in terms of its effectiveness. Needless to say, this is not a stand-alone case. This is simply one example of a self-study service in a publishing industry such services and products.

While these kinds of products are readily available online or in bookstores that are simply responding to market demands, universities also provide a number of such texts. For an example, I chose the most recently published from over 20 listening and pronunciation-related books available at Asia University’s library. Published in 2016, 発音とスペルの法則: 英語の教師・学習者のために (The rules for spelling and pronunciation: For English instructors and learners) seems to be a reasonable title on the premise that there are certain rules and patterns which pertain to spelling and pronunciation. However, opening the text reveals quite a number of chapters and pages that rely heavily on kana pronunciation guides. Considering that this text was found in a university library, I anticipated that major bookstore chains would stock such items to a greater extent. To ascertain this, I visited one of the most prevalent secondhand bookstores in Japan, Book Off. A quick glance at the English textbook shelf revealed that the same kind of fare was available at popular book vendors.

However, the emphasis on ease of study and effortless improvement seems to be reinforced more extremely by titles such as: 先端脳科学者による一ヶ月簡単英会話脳トレ (Easy English conversation brain training in a month according to a leading neuroscientist), 3単語ですぐ話せる (Learn how to speak immediately using just three words), 中学レベルの英単語でネイティブとペラペラ話せる本 (Speak fluently with native speakers using Junior High School-level vocabulary) or 絵で見てパッ!と言う英会話トレーニング  (Speak everyday English instantly through pictures). Easy, quickly, and fluently. That seems to be the emphasis in the self-study industry, but how is it relevant to the use of ever-present Katakana-English? Simply put, Katakana-English is easy and comfortable for Japanese learners. , when reading a beginner’s Japanese textbook for the first time, most European learners of Japanese will probably encounter ローマ字 (Romanized Japanese characters) in the textbook and/or a large chunk of the textbook might be written in Japanese, but there are vital issues such as accuracy and authenticity which accompany Japanese textbooks written in ロマー字. In the initial stages of language learning, it might be acceptable as a transition tool, but as students develop, I argue that authentic L2 pronunciation training and textual input should be emphasized. While the use of ローマ字 Japanese textbooks or Katakana-English in contemporary English textbooks is not uncommon, what was the situation like over 100 years ago when Katakana-English flourished in Meiji period English textbooks and language learning resources?

Overview of texts employing Katakana-English in the Meiji Period

To see how Katakana-English has influenced the publishing industry in present day Japan, it is essential to track back to the days when English education in Japan was in its infancy – in the Meiji period. Even at that time, quite a number of texts were available not only to instructors, school, college or university students, but some books were also available to the average consumer. In any case, the first of the texts I selected, 英語発音秘訣 (English pronunciation tips) was written and published by Kikuchi Takenobu and published in 1886.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Oral Diagram II


Figure 4

Figure 4: Kana Pronunciation Notes

Figure 3 is one of the excerpts from the text which seems to indicate that the text might have some linguistic merit, or at least suggest that the text is encouraging learners to produce authentic or intelligible pronunciation of English sounds. However, the kana pronunciation guides which start to appear further into the text seem to nullify any attempts to encourage students to strive for accuracy or produce a variety of sounds (see Figure 4).

The second text in my sample, 和英発音原理 (The principles of English pronunciation) was written and published by Ikeda Tomoyasu in 1888. At first glance, the title seems to imply that the text is possibly based on linguistic theory or empirical studies in the field. Furthermore, much like the former text, the oral diagrams at the beginning of the text seem promising and useful, however the inclusion of pinyin-like diacritical marks, as well as katakana further into the text, just seem to complicate things on the learner’s part (see Figures 5 to 7). Needless to say, Chinese was learned long before English was introduced in Japan and Sino-Japanese relations were significant in the late 19th century, so it is understandable why a pinyin-like guide to pronunciation might have been applied.

Figure 5 edit

Figure 5: Ikeda’s Oral Diagram I


Figure 6 edit

Figure 6: Ikeda’s Oral Diagram II


Figure 7 edit

Figure 7: Ikeda’s Oral Diagram III

While the texts introduced thus far seemed to market themselves on their scientific foundations, Imamura Gentarou’s Practical English Conversation (1899) appears to have targeted a more general market. However, upon reading the text, the results reveal otherwise. First and foremost, the Japanese title (英和実用会話: 簡易速成) is somewhat different from the English translated title, as it suggests that the reader can learn practical English quickly and easily. The introduction to the text further emphasizes the need to study “easy and practical” English in the late 19th century (see Figure 8).

Figure 15

Figure 8: Imamura’s Introduction


Figure 16

Figure 9: Katakana Chart


Figure 10

Figure 10: Spelling Chart

Essentially, the book starts by introducing a Romanized katakana chart followed by a spelling guide featuring some phonics, which are all complemented with katakana pronunciation guides (see Figure 9 and 10).

After several pages of these pronunciation guides, the book then introduces basic vocabulary sets such as numbers, pronouns, prepositions, and greetings. This is then followed by more specific vocabulary sets such as terms of address and vocabulary used specifically for business and trade purposes. Unsurprisingly, katakana and errors are everywhere to be seen (see Figure 11).

Figure 19

Figure 11: Vocabulary Set


Figure 20

Figure 12: Short Phrases


About soldier.png

Figure 13: Dialogues

Aside from the use of kana in vocabulary sets, there are also sentences in the “short phrases” section written entirely in katakana (see Figure 12). Themes and contexts include talking about the weather, shopping, illness, telling the time, and making future plans, and so on. The overt reliance on kana and the lack of explanations of either grammar or form arguably imply that the focus is not on mastering the basics of the language for sustainable language acquisition. Rather, the focus is simply on rote learning and reproducing.

Further into the text there is a dialogues section. Once again, the example sentences are supplemented with full sentences of kana for pronunciation guidance. Dialogue contexts include at the hatter’s, at the tailor’s, at a shipping broker, at a play-things shop, at a fruit shop, asking a way (asking for directions), and similar situations one might encounter when travelling or living abroad. While not all contexts may have been relevant, many of them were fairly plausible situations, considering that the book was published at a time when a number of students and scholars were studying abroad in England or serving in the military between the Sino-Japanese war and the Boxer Rebellion. To cater for the latter type of students, less general dialogue contexts include talking about a soldier (Figure 13) or a police man. Evidently some dialogues were rather lengthy and arguably impractical—reinforcing that the emphasis is on simply rote learning the katakana pronunciations.

Towards the end of the book, a guide for letter writing is included. Rather surprisingly, even the template for writing letters placed katakana above every lexical item. The purpose of this seems a little unclear since letter writing generally does not involve articulation. In any case, after this section, the text ends abruptly with the Romanized forms of common Japanese names, names of prefectures, towns, and currencies.

Perhaps the author and publisher had legitimate reasons to select the specific content I noted and present it in an arbitrary fashion, but rather than being concerned about the content or structure of the text, I am concerned about the overwhelming use of katakana, the simplified spelling chart, and the assumption that one can drastically improve one’s speaking and pronunciation skills through rote learning of katakana-ized phrases. Although not entirely impossible, self-study is arguably not the best way to improve one’s conversation and pronunciation skills. Having said that, if we take into account the context, specifically, the fact that many students in pre-war Japan were learning English for military or trade purposes (and quickly at that), then this text may well have been a valuable resource for them. In addition, given that Japanese education has roots in Confucian culture, rote learning is still emphasized and practiced in many learning contexts even to this day. Due to these reasons, I argue that the supply and demand of these simplified speed-learning texts has probably been consistent for over the last 150 years or so.

Contemporary self-study pronunciation texts

Having considered several texts from the Meiji period, let us now turn to the current situation in the self-study publishing scene in Japan. Have texts or people’s attitudes towards language learning changed? At least we can acknowledge there are a great variety of texts and learning tools available now, but as I will demonstrate, there are the exceptional few authors whose attitudes have not changed. These are the people who perpetuate speed-learning culture and even take pride in maintaining the Katakana-English tradition. One of these authors and one of these texts is the aforementioned怖いくらい通じるカタカナ英語 (Uncannily effective rules of getting by with Katakana-English) written by Ikegaya Yuji and published by Kodansha in late 2016. However, prior to examining the text itself, it is necessary to briefly consider the author’s background. Believe it or not, Ikegaya holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology and is currently employed as a professor in the same field at Tokyo University. He studied abroad in New York for two and a half years and his experience of being unable to both comprehend and produce naturally-spoken English was the inspiration for this book.

Also, there is a disclaimer section in the introduction where Ikegaya claims three things: 1) That being born and raised in Japan, it is too late for him to cultivate and produce authentic English pronunciation (a belief based on scientific evidence), so he can only produce a katakana accent; 2) Due to the reasons in 1), his pronunciation is beyond repair and incomprehensible; and 3) Despite 1) and 2), he found that when he changed the katakana characters slightly, his English apparently became more intelligible (2016, p.7). He goes on to admit that he is not an English professor, nor did he receive any special English education. Therefore, the methods of pronouncing Katakana-English introduced in his book are, by his admission, not perfect and the book itself is not suitable as an English textbook or for students taking English exams. Nevertheless, Ikegaya still believes that it is a suitable resource for Japanese EFL learners who want to be understood by Americans and/or communicate and sound like near-native speakers, even if they are not perfect (2016, p.7; p.37). He understands that linguists believe that Katakana-English is a terrible way to learn pronunciation, but defends his stance by stating that he is not aiming for perfection – he is merely “giving a gift” to absolute beginners of English or people like him, who have simply given up hope on being able to converse smoothly and accurately (2016, p.8). He believes it is futile to strive for perfection, therefore using Katakana-English is apparently acceptable. In fact, Ikegaya even claims, without providing any references, that the neural circuits of Japanese brains were not built for English pronunciation. In all honesty, Ikegaya knows that his methods will be criticized and “made fun of,” but he insists that it is simply because people who are good at English do not understand the feelings of those who are not (2016, p.31).

Ikegaya then starts the book by offering advice to his readers. First, in order for these absolute beginners and hopeless learners to overcome their issues with communicating in English, Ikegaya argues that they have to reset everything they have been taught about English and deeply consider the notion that Katakana-English might actually be a good thing. Once learners grasp this, according to Ikegaya, they will maintain their motivation levels and continue practicing enthusiastically. But how long can one practice enthusiastically or maintain these levels of motivation? According to Ikegaya, readers should practice the same example sentences 70 times (2016, p.9).  He does so without justifying why. Although subject to debate, I find this boot camp-like approach to language learning hardly sustainable for most learners.

In Part II and Part III of the book, Ikegaya covers what he calls a “Practical English course for beginners” in which phrases are arbitrarily introduced. There is very little structure, if any. Furthermore, the English introduced is largely casual and colloquial and localized to reflect various situations one might encounter in New York which. In regards to the slight alterations to the Katakana-English that Ikegaya makes, it is obvious that he has made the alterations based on a typical New York accent. While that may be resourceful for those living or moving to New York, it does not really cater for people who need to be able to understand a variety of English speakers. Take, for instance, the following excerpt (Figure 14) where you can see some examples of this particular variant of Katakana-English. For example, becomes ナラロウ(nararou). Furthermore, on each page, there is also a QR code that connects the reader to the MP3 recordings of the phrases being spoken by a Japanese learner and a so-called native speaker.

Figure 22

Figure 14: Beginner’s Course

After pages of these collections of arbitrary phrases, Part IV becomes even more problematic. In this section, Ikegaya introduces and explains 13 specific rules that must be learned and drilled. There are also four supplementary rules thatcover exceptions and irregular pronunciations. However, before covering the supplementary rules, I will provide a brief overview of the 13 rules, followed by the rather challenging practice questions (Figures 15 and 16).

Figure 23

Figure 15: Ikegaya’s 13 Rules


Figure 24

Figure 16: Practice Questions

In numerical order:

  1. The (L) at the end of a word should be pronounced as (ウ);
  2. (A) should be pronounced as (エア);
  3. (-ION) ending words should be pronounced as (シュン);
  4. (T) ending words should simply drop the (T);
  5. (O) is (ア);
  6. (I) should be pronounced as (エ);
  7. (T) sounds should borrow katakana from the (ラ/RA-RO group);
  8. (US) should be pronounced as (エス);
  9. (アー/ɜː) should be pronounced as (ウオア);
  10. (アー) at the end of a sentence should be pronounced as (オ);
  11. With words that end in (NT), drop the (T);
  12. (W) should be pronounced as (ウウ); and
  13. With words ending in (-TANT), only the (N) is slightly voiced.

After studying these rules, readers are then encouraged to attempt the “Practice Questions” (Figure 23). For example, instead of “ボストン” (Boston), the Ikegaya-recommended pronunciation is “バッスン.” Debatable to say the least, but as the disclaimer reminds us, this is not a work of linguistic merit.

Now aside from the 13 “standard” rules that Ikegaya provides, he also acknowledges that there are exceptions – four of them, to be precise. The first is the notorious /L/ and /R/problem. Ikegaya claims that the Japanese brain cannot differentiate between /L/ and /R/ very well, and he adds that to aim for perfection is simply impossible (2016, p.165). Again, he argues this without providing empirical evidence or studies to substantiate his claims. On a positive note, for the first time in the book, Ikegaya explains (without diagrams) how to produce the (L) and (R) sounds, respectively. (L), he says, can be produced by simply biting one’s tongue, whereas (R) can be produced by keeping one’s tongue suspended in one’s mouth, not touching anything at all. The second exception is the (B) and (V) problem. Ikegaya suggests that (B) is equivalent to the バ行 (ba, bi, bu, be, bo row) in Japanese, while (V) is produced by biting the lower lip. He further adds that it is understandable if learners cannot tell the difference between (B) and (V), but notes that ヴ is a better alternative when producing (V) sounds. For example, village =ヴエレッジ. The third exception to his rules is related to the trouble many Japanese learners of English have with distinguishing (F) from (H) sounds. For Ikegaya, (F) is simply produced by biting one’s lower lip, while (H) is equivalent to the ハ行 (ha, hi, fu, he, ho row) in Japanese. Rather simplistic considering the pronunciation of フ (fu) is quite different than (hʊ). For instance, the word “hook” would still be pronounced as “フック.” The final exception Ikegaya touches on is one of the most notoriously difficult to pronounce, the (TH) sound. This is probably the first time in the book that the phonetic symbols are introduced: namely, Θ and ð. In spite of this, Ikegaya suggests that the standardザ (“za”, the common katakanization of the word “the”) should be traded for ダ, and therefore using the タ orダ行 (‘ta’ and ‘da’ rows, respectively) will suffice to produce (TH) sounds as long as one bites their tongue. Considering the variety of Englishes one may be exposed to living or working in a globalized context, this is perhaps one of the more useful rules. Taking into account the difficulty that many learners of English with Asian language backgrounds have with (TH), I would argue that this rule is fairly reasonable, but not a standard by any means.

After the introduction of the aforementioned rules, in the last part of the book, Ikegaya discusses his various views on language acquisition, making a lot of commonsensical and also a lot of contentious claims along the way. As heavily biased and overly pessimistic his arguments are, it is, however, necessary to cover some of the major claims that Ikegaya makes. They are as follows:

  1. First, he argues that adult beginners give up on the idea of mastering English. For Ikegaya, English is just a tool (2016, p.184). While giving up on perfection is a reasonable suggestion, striving for excellence is not necessarily bad.
  2. Although the Katakana-English method may be considered an easy way out for people who are not particularly good at speaking English, Ikegaya argues that it does involve a lot of hard work. Namely, one has to repeat the phrases 70 times (2016, p.197). Again, no empirical evidence or reasoning behind this required number is outlined.
  3. Children should be exposed to English from a very young age if they have any hope in becoming better English speakers. For Ikegaya, once you get old, it is “too late.” (2016, pp.178-179, p.207) The former claim holds some validity, but the latter claim is certainly debatable. For some, it is never too late to learn a language—it just requires more effort.
  4. Japanese learners cannot differentiate between (R) and (L) sounds because there is no (L) in Japanese. Furthermore, due to a lack of exposure to (L) and contexts in which one can practice or use it, as an evolutionary phenomenon, Japanese people’s ability to pick up or distinguish (L) devolved (2016, p.165). Evidently, Ikegaya’s claims seem to be informed by evolutionary theory and biological determinism. The problem with this is that he denies the argument that newborns have the ability to pick up a variety of phonetic input and listen for phonetic detail (Werker and Tees, 2014, p.509). Everyone is arguably born with this capability, but exposure to linguistic input is necessary to develop these skills. It is quite problematic to assume that Japanese children are born with the ability to only hear Japanese sounds.


Without needlessly searching for, let alone reading contemporary speed-learning texts, it is evident that there is a market for them and that they continue to be published. In all fairness, would it not be nice to learn another language with little to no effort? While instructors might look down on rote learning and the use of Katakana-English, it is essential to take into account the learners’ needs, the English language learning environment in Japan, and the publishing industry’s response to its consumers needs. On this note, and in short, what I have tried to argue in this paper is that the publishing industry in Japan is partly responsible for perpetuating ザ ・カタカナ・イングリシュー. However, this is possibly due to the fact that there is a great demand for it and unfortunately, it seems like the respective supply of speed learning materials advocating the use of Katakana-English pronunciation seems to show no signs of slowing. While this is beyond the control of English instructors, what they can do is try to understand their students’ needs, maximize the time spent on pronunciation in class, and stress the importance of producing intelligible English. As futile as it may be to simply undo a tradition of Katakana-English pronunciation spanning over a century, striving to produce intelligible (if Katakanized) English is at least a feasible pursuit.

Originally from the state which boasts the happiest animal on earth – Western Australia, Antonija Cavcic is currently a visiting faculty member at Asia University. Although she finally completed her PhD in late 2017 (and is in desperate need of a break), Antonija remains involved in research concerning both Japanese popular culture and English language education in Japan.


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Ikeda, T. (1888). 和英発音原理 (The principles of English pronunciation). Tokyo: Hakubunsha.

Ikegaya, Y. (2016). 怖いくらい通じるカタカナ英語の法則 (Uncannily effective rules of getting by with Katakana-English). Tokyo: Kodansha.

Imamura, G. (1899). Practical English conversation. Tokyo: Shobundo.

Kikuchi, T. (1886). 英語発音秘訣 (English pronunciation tips). (n.p.): Kikichi Takenobu.

Kosuke, J. (2004). スラスラ日常英会話 (Smooth everyday English conversation). Tokyo: Kirihara.

Masuda, K. (2016). 発音とスペルの法則: 英語の教師・学習者のために (The rules for spelling and pronunciation: For English instructors and learners). Tokyo: Parade Books.

Nagamura, K. (2007). 3単語ですぐ話せる (Learn how to speak immediately using just three words). Tokyo: Kanki Publishing Co.

Ōgane, M. (1999). 中学英語で英会話を一週間攻略する本 (Conquer Junior High School-level English conversations in a week). Kyoto: PHP.

Olah, B. (2007). English loanwords in Japanese: Effects, attitudes and usage as a means of improving spoken English ability. Bunkyo Gakuin Daigaku Ningen-Gakubu Kenkyuu Kiyo, 9 (1), 177-188.

Walker, R. (2009). Barrier to communication? The use of Katakana-English by Japanese students. Essays and Studies, Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, 60(1).

Walker, R. (2010). Katakana-English in a world of Englishes: Identification and recognition. Essays and Studies, Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, 60(1).

Wang, S., Higgins, M., & Shima, Y. (2005) Training English pronunciation for Japanese learners of English online. The JALT CALL Journal, 2005, 1(1), 39-47.

Werker, J. and Tees, R. (1999). Influences on infant speech processing: Toward a new synthesis. Annual Review of Psychology, 50(1), 509-535.

Williams, N. (2010). 中学レベルの英単語でネイティブとペラペラ話せる本 (Speak fluently with native speakers using Junior High School-level vocabulary). Tokyo: Daiyamondosha.

Yamada, N. (2011). 絵で見てパッ!と言う英会話トレーニング (Speak everyday English instantly through pictures). Tokyo: Gakken.

The Takasaki Plan: Homeroom Teachers’ Perceptions

By Steve Ferrier


When foreign language activities became compulsory for fifth and sixth grade elementary school students across Japan in 2011, MEXT emphasized communication, not grammar or skills such as reading or writing (Kambaru, 2016). The MEXT Course of Study stated that the objective was:

To form the foundation of pupils’ communication abilities through foreign languages while developing the understanding of languages and cultures through various experiences, fostering a positive attitude toward communication, and familiarizing pupils with the sounds and basic expressions of foreign languages. (MEXT, 2010, as cited in Kambaru, 2016, p. 11)

Therefore, the main focus was on giving fifth and sixth graders a chance to become familiar with English in a casual environment, such as by singing or playing games (Aoki, 2016). The annual number of 45-minute lessons for both fifth and sixth grades was set at 35. Since 2009, English textbooks have been distributed to elementary school students in the fifth and sixth grade. The first textbook, Eigo Note, was used from 2009-2011. In 2012, it was replaced by Hi Friends. Both textbooks supplied teacher manuals, together with DVD-ROMs.

Following this, MEXT published its “Execution Plan for the Reform of English Education in Response to Globalization” in December, 2013 (Kambaru, 2016). Under the proposal, MEXT will upgrade English to an official subject in the fifth and sixth grades from 2020, after a two-year transition period. Students will study all the English skills – namely speaking, listening, reading, and writing – as well as grammar. The number of classes will increase to three per week. Along with that, foreign language activity classes will become mandatory for third and fourth graders (Aoki, 2016). Therefore, at the present time, whilst fifth and sixth graders are given official lessons in foreign language activities, there exists no official or standardized curriculum for English classes for grades one to four. It is left to each local Board of Education, and by extension, to each school, to design and implement their own curriculums and lesson plans for those lower grades.

The Takasaki Plan

English has been taught as an unofficial subject or as a foreign language in Takasaki elementary schools for a number of years. The classes were usually team-taught by an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) and a homeroom teacher (HRT). However, the frequency and content of the lessons varied according to both the school and the grade. Before 2009, most ALTs worked at junior high schools and were sent to elementary schools a handful of times every year, for a period of one or two weeks each time. Therefore, students in many elementary schools in Takasaki had few chances to be consistently exposed to English or to interact with ALTs. Therefore, students graduating from different elementary schools would attend the same junior high school with different levels of English ability. This was a problem that was experienced by both teachers and students across Japan (Ikegashira, Matsumoto & Morita, 2009).

From 2009 however, most elementary schools in Takasaki were visited by an ALT at least once a week, with English being taught to fifth and sixth graders for 35 lessons a year using the Eigo Note textbook. Therefore, fifth and sixth graders were now learning English from a standardized curriculum. Grades one to four also had English lessons (at a much lower frequency than grades five and six) but there was still no standardized curriculum for these lower grades. Instead, each school had its own lesson plans.

In 2015, the Takasaki Board of Education announced that it would implement a standardized English curriculum for all grades in Takasaki elementary schools from April 2016. First to fourth graders would have one English lesson per week. Fifth and sixth graders would have two English lessons per week. The curriculum became known as the “Takasaki Plan”. Whilst almost all elementary schools in Takasaki would use the Takasaki Plan it was not compulsory for them to do so. Rather, the Takasaki Plan was seen as a sample curriculum that could be adjusted depending on the level of the students in each school. In addition to this, Takasaki also greatly increased their number of ALTs to a current total of 84, one for each elementary, junior high and high school under the auspices of the Takasaki Board of Education.  Indeed, some elementary schools at present have two ALTs, who divide the workload of teaching English to all the grades in the school.

The lesson plans for grades one to four were based on the Jonan Elementary School English syllabus. Jonan was seen as a benchmark for elementary school English classes in Takasaki, and ALTs visited once a year to observe, participate in, and discuss lessons. After adopting the Jonan elementary school English syllabus, the Takasaki Board of Education stated that the goal for first to fourth grade students was to become familiar with English as a foreign language. For example, students should be able to understand the differences between Japanese and English sounds and be able to feel foreign cultures and have an understanding of them. First and second graders should try to imitate the pronunciation of certain words that they hear in everyday life and should be able to understand the name in English of certain things around them when they hear them. Third and fourth graders should be able to have a conversation about simple topics and should try to actively connect with each other through simple interaction (Takasaki Board of Education, 2016, p. 7).

The lesson plans for grades five and six were based on the Hi Friends textbook, which was issued by MEXT. A DVD-ROM was also provided that includes chants and alphabet puzzles, along with “jingles” in which students can practice saying the phonetic sounds of each alphabet letter. Fifth and sixth graders would focus on all four English skills. The goals for these upper-grade students included being able to convey their own thoughts and ideas about familiar things using simple expressions, being able to understand simple content by analogy, and being able to read familiar phrases or sentences with the help of pictures, scenes, or speech models. In addition, students should be able to recognize and write all small and capital letters of the alphabet by the end of the sixth grade (Takasaki Board of Education, 2016, p. 7).

The introductory segment for each grade’s lesson plan guide recommended that individual teachers make adjustments to the lesson plans and activities in order to match their students’ level of learning, particularly in grades one to four:

When the content of the plan does not match the actual conditions and/or level of your students’ learning, it is recommended to adjust the activities to suit, either by repeating easier lessons or developing students with a higher level of learning, etc. This will depend on individual students’ abilities. (Takasaki Board of Education, 2016, p. 2)

However, the Takasaki Board of Education also advised that lesson plans for grades five and six should not be adjusted too much because, “If students in each elementary school are not taught in a similar manner, teachers will develop problems with students of the same grade having varying abilities leading to difficulty in teaching English to a common age group” (p.2). Worksheets were also provided for many activities, which could be adjusted by homeroom teachers or ALTs. A song or chant was provided for each lesson in grades one to four and at least one lesson for the lower grades would involve the ALT reading a picture book. As per the Jonan elementary school English syllabus, many of the topics covered were repeated from grades one to four so that students could become increasingly familiar with English expressions and vocabulary. However, whilst the topics were repeated across the grades, the vocabulary and expressions were expanded. Thus, a spiral approach to learning English was used. On the other hand, as stated above, the lesson plans for grades five and six were largely based on the Hi Friends textbook. This created a slight disconnect in that some fifth and sixth grade lesson plans covered material or expressions that students had already been exposed to in the lower grades, such as numbers. However, the Takasaki Board of Education explained that,

Some activities in the 5th and 6th grade may appear easier than the ones in 4th grade, this is because 5th and 6th grade students are required to be able to speak or understand the language and its expressions, and these exercises are used to verify this. 1st to 4th grade students are required to be familiar with the expressions, but not necessarily have a full understanding.” (Takasaki Board of Education, 2016, p. 2)

Therefore, whilst grades one to four would become increasingly familiar with various vocabulary and expressions, grades five to six would be able to use those vocabulary and expressions to communicate with each other in activities such as interviewing and group presentations.

The Survey

Twelve homeroom teachers at one elementary school in Takasaki were chosen to answer a survey about the Takasaki Plan. The participants’ teaching experience ranged from 3 years to 32 years. All questions except one and three were open ended so that teachers were encouraged to write their own thoughts and opinions. The questions were as follows:

  1. How many years’ experience do you have teaching at the elementary school level?
  2. Do you think it is necessary for students to learn English in elementary school?
  3. What do you think of the Takasaki Plan?
    • Is it easy to understand? (Options: very easy, easy, a little difficult, very difficult)
    • Is it easy to teach? (Options: very easy, easy, a little difficult, very difficult)
    • Is it a suitable level for your students? (Options: very easy, easy, suitable, a little difficult, very difficult)
    • Have your students improved in English? (Options: yes, not really, not at all)
  4. Have you made any adjustments to the lesson plans?
  5. Has your role as a homeroom teacher in English class changed?
  6. What changes would you like to see made to the Takasaki Plan in the future?

The participating teachers wrote their answers in Japanese. Their surveys were then collected and translated into English.

Survey Results and Discussion

The following section provides details of the homeroom teachers’ answers to the survey questions together with the author’s own opinions and suggestions regarding the results.

Q2: Do you think it is necessary for students to learn English in elementary school?
Eleven out of the twelve participants thought that students should learn English in elementary school. One of the reasons given was that elementary school students are more accepting of English than junior high school students and are more motivated to learn. Harmer (2015) states that younger children, from five years upwards, “are enthusiastic about learning (if it happens in the right way),” and “learn best through play and other enjoyable activities” (p.82). Elementary school lessons involve a lot of communicative games and songs in which students can enjoy talking or singing in English. Some teachers also commented that English was a global language and thus Japanese children should start learning and becoming familiar with English from an early age. In this way they could become participants in a global society. If Japanese children are exposed to English at an early age and their interest in foreign languages and cultures is stimulated, there is a strong possibility that they will continue to be interested and motivated to learn English and to travel abroad as well as interact with foreigners in Japan. In this way, Japan can have increasingly strong connections with a global society.

Only one participant answered that they did not think it was necessary for elementary school students to learn English. This homeroom teacher believed that students should focus more on Japanese, including writing Kanji and expressing themselves in their native language. According to Aoki (2016), “[…] discussions on the issue through the 1990s found many people opposed to teaching English in elementary school because they thought it would confuse children who hadn’t even learned their mother tongue yet.” It must be recognized that learning how to communicate in one’s mother tongue is crucial to a young person’s development. However, it must also be noted that homeroom teachers spend most of the day with their students and a strong bond develops between them. The classroom atmosphere or the students’ motivation may be affected if the homeroom teacher is not motivated to use English or fails to see any reasons to teach it. There is little option but to respect the opinions of all teachers and to have open dialogues with them on the topic of teaching English in elementary school.

Q3: What do you think of the Takasaki Plan?
Eleven out of the twelve participants answered that the syllabus was both easy to teach and easy to understand. One teacher responded that the syllabus was difficult to understand and another teacher stated that it was difficult to teach. All lesson plans for each grade have detailed explanations of activities, together with vocabulary and expressions to be taught. The structure of most lessons is consistent in that a song or chant is followed by a warm-up activity, introduction or review of vocabulary or expressions, and finally one or two main activities. The aim of the lesson is highlighted, which allows HRTs to write it on the blackboard at the beginning of the lesson so that students can understand what they will be focusing on. In turn, students also write the aim of the lesson on their reflection cards, called furikaeri, and at the end of the lesson they write what they learnt or enjoyed doing. However, there are some lesson plans in which the activity is too detailed or difficult to understand in both the Japanese and English versions of the syllabus. If teachers are confused as to how to do an activity then the students may in turn be at a loss which can lead to frustration or loss of confidence and motivation. Therefore, it is necessary for HRTs and ALTs to have regular meetings to discuss the lesson plans and to make adjustments if necessary. What must be stressed is the great benefit of having a standardized curriculum. ALTs and HRTs from different schools can now meet to discuss the same lesson plans or share adjustments they made, either in person, or in online discussion groups. Both ALTs and HRTs can improve their classes with feedback from their peers. In addition, the Takasaki Plan should be edited on a regular basis with input from both HRTs and ALTs to amend the details of some lesson plans.

There was less agreement on whether the level of the syllabus was suitable for the students. One participant said that the level was easy; six others stated that the level was suitable; and five teachers answered that the level was difficult. In public elementary schools, ability can vary a great deal between classes and individual students. What one student finds too easy may leave another student frustrated because he or she cannot understand. Therefore, it should be left to each HRT’s discretion (in consultation with the ALT) whether to adjust the vocabulary, expressions or activities in each lesson plan since they know their students much better than the ALT who only visits each class once or twice a week.

There was also no real consensus on whether the students had improved in English since the implementation of the Takasaki Plan. Seven teachers said that their students had improved, whilst four teachers said they had not really improved. One teacher did not answer. The Takasaki Plan is only in its second year of use and therefore more time is needed to ascertain if students have improved their English skills. Without doubt, elementary school students in Takasaki have much more exposure to English than previously, and this should lead to a greater familiarity with English and a greater confidence to use the language to communicate with others, even with very simple greetings and phrases. Moreover, with a standardised curriculum, sixth graders across Takasaki should be able to write and read both small and capital letters of the alphabet, as well as understand the phonetic sound of each letter. This should make them better prepared for the first grade of junior high school compared to previous years when a wide discrepancy in the amount of English taught in each school resulted in elementary school graduates with considerable variances in their English abilities.

Q4: Have you made any adjustments to the lesson plans?
Some teachers have been making adjustments to the lesson plans detailed in the syllabus. Four teachers stated that they select some activities that their students particularly enjoy and use them on multiple occasions. For example, activities such as the missing game and karuta can be used for many sets of vocabulary. One teacher commented that they sometimes change some details or steps in an activity if they think their students would find it too difficult to understand. Two more teachers stated that they consult with the ALT and other homeroom teachers in the grade before making any adjustments to the lesson plan such as changing some vocabulary or adjusting a worksheet. In the elementary school where the survey was conducted, the homeroom teachers of each grade have weekly meetings with the ALT to discuss the upcoming lessons. The Takasaki Plan does allow for some flexibility in its lesson plans. What is important is that HRTs and ALTs have regular meetings to discuss what adjustments are to be made. However, as the Takasaki Board of Education advised, fifth and sixth grade lesson plans should not be adjusted too much since the aim should be to have sixth graders graduating from elementary school with similar abilities in English.

Q5: Has your role as a homeroom teacher in English class changed?
There were a range of answers to this question. One teacher stated that they were using more English in class such as “Good job,” “Listen carefully,” “Stand up” and “Sit down.” One teacher thought that the HRT’s role is to support the ALT and that it was important that the ALT be an effective teacher. Another teacher commented that the ALT should be the main teacher (T1), but that the HRT should gradually assume the role over time. In addition, one teacher thought that it would be difficult for the HRT to be the T1, but that they should try to lead some lessons or activities. Finally, one teacher stated that the HRT should be the main teacher, with the ALT acting in a supporting role (T2). Many HRTs have very little training in teaching English. According to an education ministry survey in 2015, only 4.9 percent of elementary school teachers were licensed to teach English (Aoki, 2016). In addition, many teachers do not have confidence in speaking English or pronouncing English words since, according to Kambaru (2016), “They learned English through direct deductive explanations of grammar and remembering words one by one in a junior and a senior high school” (p.15). Therefore, it is understandable that some HRTs are anxious about teaching English to their students. However, with the implementation of a detailed syllabus, together with a large increase in the number of lessons, elementary school teachers can become gradually more knowledgeable of simple English vocabulary and expressions. Also, they can become more confident in teaching English, or at least participating more in the lessons. The role of the HRT may change dramatically when English becomes an official subject for fifth and sixth graders from 2020. The HRT may be required to lead the class or specialist teachers of English may teach the classes with an ALT. Until that time, it should be left to each homeroom teacher to define their role in the classroom in relation to the ALT and to discuss this with the ALT.

What is very important is that the HRT be motivated and enthusiastic during the English lesson. As noted above, elementary school students spend the majority of each day with their HRT and are heavily influenced by them. If the HRT is reluctant to participate in the class they can have an adverse effect on their students’ motivation. On the other hand, if the HRT tries to speak English and is not afraid to make mistakes then their students will also likely feel less shy or nervous about using English. MEXT has asserted that homeroom teachers are important in the English classroom as,

Even if they do not speak English fluently, their positive attitude towards interaction through English will serve as an extremely important catalyst to enhance pupils’ interest in foreign languages. (MEXT, 2010, as cited in Kambaru, 2016, p. 17)

Another reason for HRTs not participating fully in the English lesson is that they may feel they have to monitor students’ behaviour and in turn discipline some unruly students so that their class remains focused. This can be a difficult problem to overcome. One suggestion is to have another member of staff monitor the students with behavioural problems so that the HRT can participate more fully in the English activities.

Q6: What changes would you like to see made to the Takasaki Plan in the future?
In response to the last question on the survey, some teachers suggested changes or adjustments to the syllabus. One teacher thought that there should be more listening exercises so that students could improve their comprehension skills. Another teacher commented that there should be more visual aids and more listening resources. The use of visual aids (flashcards or actual physical objects) in the elementary school classroom in any subject is crucial since younger learners are stimulated and motivated by visual materials. Harmer (2015) states that younger children, “use everything in the physical world (what they see, do, hear and touch, etc.) for learning and understanding things” (p. 82). ALTs should be responsible for making flashcards that are both colourful and easy to comprehend. Moreover, some of the worksheets included in the Takasaki Plan can be improved upon by making them more eye-catching with better pictures to capture the students’ interest. Again, this should be the responsibility of the ALT.

Another teacher commented that the ALT should be a trained teacher. There should be more discussion or debate on whether ALTs should be experienced, trained teachers or merely native English speakers keen to introduce their countries’ cultures. No matter how experienced or motivated an ALT is, they should be given opportunities to improve their teaching skills. New ALTs should attend seminars and have regular discussions with more experienced ALTs who can share ideas and teaching methods, either in person or online. Without doubt, a standardized curriculum gives them more opportunities to do this.

Finally, one teacher observed that while students had become used to regular English classes, they were not sure how much English the students were learning or acquiring. This comment brings into question how much English students in Japanese elementary schools should learn or acquire. Certainly, students should be able to read and write the alphabet and understand the phonetic sounds of most letters by the time they enter junior high school. This would give JHS teachers more time to focus on more advanced English in the first grade. Students should also be able to communicate with each other using simple phrases, such as talking about favourite things and daily schedules. Above all, students should be familiar with regular English lessons and feel uninhibited in trying to use English. Finally, it remains to be seen what the effects will be of making English an official subject for fifth and sixth graders from 2020. Specialist Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) may be employed, and there is also the question of how the students will be graded and whether this will affect their motivation and enthusiasm to learn English. Above all, there should be a continuing dialogue between junior high schools and elementary schools, so that students can have a smooth transition in their English learning between the sixth grade and their first year in junior high school.

Concluding remarks

The survey was useful in giving homeroom teachers from one elementary school in Takasaki an opportunity to express their thoughts on the Takasaki Plan and for providing suggestions for the future use of the syllabus. Almost all the teachers thought that students should be learning or becoming familiar with English in elementary school and that the Takasaki Plan was easy to understand and teach. Some teachers thought that the syllabus was not set at a suitable level for their students and therefore they made adjustments to some lesson plans. There were differing viewpoints on the HRT’s role in the English classroom, such as thinking that the ALT should be the main teacher or, on the other hand, commenting that the HRT should be the T1. Finally, some teachers thought that more visual aids and listening resources should be provided so that students are more exposed to the English language and in turn increasingly stimulated and motivated.

A limiting factor of this research was that only twelve participants were selected to answer the survey. In the future, a greater number of homeroom teachers across a range of elementary schools in Takasaki should be interviewed about the Takasaki Plan in order to get a greater consensus or range of opinions.

It is unclear how long the Takasaki Plan will be in use given that MEXT has stated its intention of making English an official subject for fifth and sixth graders (and foreign language activities mandatory for third and fourth graders) from 2020. If an elementary school English curriculum becomes standardized across Japan, the Takasaki Plan may be discontinued. However, it can be strongly argued that the Takasaki Plan, with its easy to follow but flexible lesson plans, has made for smoother English classes in elementary schools. Moreover, with a standardized curriculum, both ALTs and HRTs can discuss the same lesson plans with teachers from different schools across Takasaki.  Mutual feedback amongst teachers can only lead to better lessons for their students. No syllabus is ever perfect and every syllabus should be constantly evaluated and revised in order to make it better for both teachers and students. This should be the case for the Takasaki Plan for as long as it is in use.


Aoki, M. (2016). English Heads for Elementary School in 2020 but Hurdles Abound. The Japan Times, 5 September 2016.

Harmer, J. (2015).  The Practice of English Language Teaching (5th ed.). Pearson.

Ikegashira A., Matsumoto, Y. & Yoshiko M. (2009). English Education in Japan – From Kindergarten to University. In: Reinelt, R. (Ed.) (2009). Into the Next Decade with (2nd) FL Teaching. Rudolft Reinelt Research Laboratory EU Matsuyama, Japan, pp. 16-40.

Kambaru, A. (2016). Japanese Elementary School Teachers’ Perceptions About English Teaching. The Tsuru University Review, no.83 (March, 2016), pp. 11-18.

Takasaki Board of Education (2016). Elementary School English & Foreign Language Activities Teaching Plan (高崎市小学校英語科・外国活動指導計画). 

Steve Ferrier is an ALT working for the Takasaki Board of Education.  He will be starting work as a lecturer at Gunma Women’s University from April 2018. His research interests include motivation, critical thinking, and the use of visual media in the English classroom. He holds a Master of Arts in Screen and Media. He can be contacted at

The Nitty-Gritty of English Phonetics for Japanese Learners of English

By Hideto D. Harashima


English and Japanese are two languages that are quite different from each other in regard to the speech sounds. There are a number of small differences Japanese learners of English should pay attention to as they study the sounds of English. However, the key elements peculiar to the English sound system are not numerous. In what follows, the author will introduce the nitty-gritty of English phonetics—the essential, yet often neglected points in English instruction in Japan.


The aspiration added to word-initial voiceless plosive consonants in English are often ignored by Japanese speakers. It is not a phonemic factor in that it doesn’t make a difference in meaning, but it is an important element of native-like articulation of English.

Alveolar–coronal configuration
Japanese speakers are usually not aware of the existence of the alveolar ridge in the upper jaw, nor do they consciously utilize the tip of the tongue when they are speaking Japanese. However, they need to be fully aware of the connection between the tongue apex and the alveolar ridge when speaking English. For example, when pronouncing the Japanese [t̪], the tongue blade roughly touches the back of the upper teeth and the alveolar ridge, but the English [t] requires the tongue apex to be pressed precisely against the alveolar ridge. This fact is not recognized by many Japanese speakers.

Word-final consonants
Word-final obstruent consonants such as the [t] in “night” are pronounced as naught [nai], or with a redundant vowel [naito] by most Japanese speakers, but the coda consonants play an important role in identifying the words. They also gleam when we appreciate songs and poems with rhymes. This is one area Japanese speakers must work harder on.


It is vaguely taken for granted that English has more vowel phonemes than Japanese, but ordinary Japanese speakers do not know exactly how many and what kind of phonemes there are in English unless they take a formal lesson in English phonetics. English has 11 to 13 (depending on regional varieties and individuals) vowel phonemes compared to the Japanese five, so English has more than double the number. It is therefore important for Japanese speakers to consciously make efforts to double their vowel inventory.

Uncultivated areas
Another fact to note is that there are certain areas in the oral cavity that Japanese speakers do not normally use when they speak only Japanese. Figure 1 shows the English and Japanese vowels mapped on the vowel square. As we can see, the three circled corners are the areas that have no counterparts in Japanese. Therefore, Japanese speakers must intentionally move their tongue into these areas to enunciate the target English vowels.

Figure 1: English and Japanese vowels in the vowel square

Lip rounding
Among the three corner vowels mentioned above is a high-back vowel, [u]. There are few Japanese speakers who are aware of the difference between the Japanese ウ [ɨ] (or [ɯ]) and the English [u]. The Japanese [ɨ] is a “flat-lip” /u/, whereas the English [u] is a “rounded-lip” /u/. The sound quality difference between the two vowels is more striking than we may think. Look at Figure 2 for a sound spectrogram of the two vowels pronounced by the author.

Figure 2: The sound spectrogram of Japanese [ɨ] (left) and English [u] (right).

As may be obvious, the Japanese [ɨ] has more overtones, or harmonics, than the English [u]. These overtones are of a non-integral order. Overtones of non-integral order make the base note sound muggier, rougher, and softer (Nakamura, 2010, p. 24). The English [u], with fewer overtones, sounds purer and more ringing. Speakers of Japanese must consciously round their lips when they pronounce this sound.

Tense/lax vowels
The difference between [i] and [ɪ], as in “beat” and “bit,” is usually discerned by ordinary Japanese speakers as the difference in vowel length, with the former being longer than the latter. However, the author believes this is the result of a fault in Japanese English education. Japanese educational systems have traditionally adopted “quantitative transcription” of English sounds, where the word “beat” is transcribed as [bi:t] in which the [:] stands as a symbol for lengthening the preceding vowel. This is thought to be one of the root causes for Japanese speakers being unable to acquire good English vowel sounds (Lewis, 1972, 1975; Walsh, 1974). Adopting “qualitative transcription,” (Harashima, 1993) which assigns different symbols to the above-mentioned two vowels, is believed to be a better and more fundamental solution to the problem because learners will visually realize the two vowels are distinctly different (especially in American English).



Among all the prosodic features of English, rhythm is what Japanese learners of English need to practice more to acquire. English has a tendency to have a stronger and longer sound at the end of a phrase. This is known as Iambic Law (Hay & Diehl, 2007; Iversen, Patel, & Ogushi, 2008). This tendency is a legacy from traditional English poetry. It may also come from English syntactic structure as well, as English has a head-light syntactic structure. If a learner of English wishes to sound more native-like, he or she must acquire this Iambic (weak–strong patterned) rhythm of the language.

Conclusive remarks 

Although English is one of the most important subjects taught in Japanese schools, lessons on the basic phonetics of English are not given systematically. Teachers of English are expected to have sound knowledge of the nitty-gritty of English phonemes and prosody as well as the differences from those of Japanese. They are also expected to teach these skills better than ever given that the trend of English education in Japan, as it is symbolized by the current university entrance examination reform, is toward four-skill development, with the focus on the speaking skill.

Hideto D. Harashima is a professor at Maebashi Institute of Technology where he teaches English and Linguistics. He has been a pillar of Gunma JALT for 30 years and currently serves as Facilities Chair. He had also served as the President of Moodle Association of Japan for 6 years.



Harashima, H. D. (1993). Toward a better phonemic transcription for English language education: A call for the qualitative transcription of vowels (Eigo kyooiku-ni okeru hatsuonhyooki-no arikata: Boin-no shitsuhyooki-no juuyoosei-ni tsuite). Bulletin of Maebashi City College of Technology, 26, 1–6.

Hay, J. S. F., and Diehl, R. L. (2007). Perception of rhythmic grouping: Testing the iambic/trochaic law. Perception & Psychophysics, 69(1), 113–122.

Iversen, J. R., Patel, A. D., and Ogushi, K. (2008). Perception of rhythmic grouping depends on auditory experience. Acoustical Society of America, 124(4), 2263–2271.

Lewis, J. W. (1972). The notation of the general British English segments. JIPA, 2(2), 59–66.

Lewis, J. W. (1975). The undesirability of length marks in EFL phonemic transcription. JIPA, 5(2), 64–71.

Nakamura, A. (2010). Overtones (Baion). Shunjusha.

Walsh, G. (1974). Another note on RP Notation. JIPA, 4(1), 31–36.

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

by Fuad Olajuwon


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.

Figure 1: 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.

Figure 2: 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.

Figure 3: 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.

Figure 4: 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.


Armstrong, J. (2011). Natural Learning in Higher Education. UPENN Repository, 1-11.

Caple, C. (1996) The Effects of Spaced Practice and Spaced Review on Recall and Retention Using Computer Assisted Instruction. ERIC, 1-99. 

Carter, B. (1999). Begin with Beliefs: Exploring the Relationship between Beliefs and Learner Autonomy among Advanced Students. Texas Papers in Foreign Language, 1-20.

Cepeda, N. J., & al, E. (2008). Spacing Effects in Learning: A Temporal Ridgeline of Optimal Retention. Psychological, 1095-1102.

Clozemaster. Retrieved June 30, 2017,

Cooper, G. (2003). The Intelligent Student’s Guide to Learning at University. Common Ground. Google Books.

Cotterall, S. (1995). Readiness for Autonomy: Investigating Learner Beliefs. System, 195-205.

Duolingo. Retrieved June 30, 2017.

Greene, R. L. (1989). Spacing effects in memory: Evidence for a two-process account. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 371-377.

Gremmo, M. J., et al. (1995). Autonomy, Self-Direction and Self-Access in Language Teaching and Learning: The History of an Idea. System, 151-164.

Hanzeli, V. E. (1977). The Effectiveness of Cloze Tests in Measuring the Competence of Students of French in an Academic Setting. The French Review, 865-874.

Klassen, J., & al. (1998). Does Self-Access Language Learning at the Tertiary Level Really Work? Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, 55-80.

Kubota, R. (2011). Learning a foreign language as leisure and consumption: enjoyment, desire, and the business of eikaiwa. Research Gate. 473-488.

McCray, G., & Brunfaut, T. (2016). Investigating the construct measured by banked gap-fill items: Evidence from eye-tracking. Language Testing, 1-23.

Scollon, R., & Scollon, P. (1994). The Post Confucian. Research Report 37.

Taylor, W. (1953). Cloze procedure: A new tool for measuring readability. Journalism Quarterly, 415-433.

Vesselinov, R., & Greco, J. (2012). Duolingo Effectiveness Study: Final Report, 1-25.

Ye, F.. (2014). Validity, reliability, and concordance of the Duolingo English Test. University of Pittsburgh, 1-14.

Fuad Olajuwon is the Program Chair for Saitama JALT and presented this topic at the 4th Annual Saitama-Gunma MyShare. Working in Japan, he also writes about international relations, contributing to the Foreign Policy Project think-tank. When not involved in JALT activities, he is researching new methods on how to improve his teaching ability, studying East Asian politics or training in judo to one day fight in the Budokan.

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. photos/15494309@N00/5347125122

Wenniger, Sascha (2009). Willy Wagtail Take-Off (edited). Retrieved Dec. 3, 2006. https://

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.


Azarnoosh, M. (2013). Peer assessment in an EFL context: Attitudes and friendship bias. Language Testing in Asia 3, 1-10.

AlDallay, I. (2004). The role of some selected psychological and personality traits of the rater in the accuracy of self-and peer-assessment. System: An international Journal of Educational Technology and applied Linguistics, 32,407-425.

Brammer & Taylor. (2001). Peer versus self-assessment of oral business presentation performance. Business Communication Quarterly, 64, 23-42.

Cohen, Jacob (1998). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Falchikov, Nancy (1995). Peer feedback marking: Developing peer assessment. Innovations in Education and Training International, 32(2), 175-187.

Fukazawa, M. (2009). The validity of peer assessment in speech: Using item response theory. STEP Bulletin, 21, 31-47.

Freeman, M. (1995). Peer assessment by groups of group work. Assessment and Evaluation in higher education, 20,289-300.

Hirai Akiyo. (2011). Applicability of Peer Assessment for Classroom Oral Performance. 日本言語テスト学会誌 14, 41-59.

Hughes, I.E. & Large, B.J (1993). Staff and peer-group assessment of oral communication skill. Studies in higher Education, 5,145-157.

Jafapur, A. (1991) Can naïve EFL learners estimate their own proficiency? Evaluation and research in Education, 5, 145-157.

Nelson & Carson. (1998). ESL students’ perceptions of effectiveness in peer response groups. Journal of Second Language Writing. 7, 113-131.

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.

Shimura, Mika (2006). Peer- and Instructor Assessment of Oral Presentations in Japanese University EFL classrooms: A Pilot Study. Waseda global forum 3, 99-107.

Wen, Tsai & Chang (2006). Attitudes towards peer assessment: A comparison of the perspectives of pre-service and in- service teachers. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 43, 83-92.

White, E. (2009). Student perspectives of peer assessment for learning in a public speaking course. Asian EFL Journal- Professional Teaching Articles. 33, 1-29.

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, 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 (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 <;

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. <;

JALT. JALT Job Info Center. (2016, September 16). English Instructor, Tokyo University of Science, Kagurazaka Campus, Tokyo. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from <;

Ohayosensei. Current edition. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from <;

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 <;

Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2016, October 8). List of Languages by number of native speakers. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from <;

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 <;

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