How Teaching in Japan Redefined My Pedagogical Beliefs

By Stephanie Ortiz

As my teaching assignment in Japan comes to an end, I have been reflecting on how my teaching beliefs have shifted over the course of the last three years. Beliefs about language learning and pedagogy stem from life experiences, self-discovery, workplace experiences, and what “works” in a particular setting (Graves, 2000). The experiences that I have gathered have helped me improve as an educator and have helped me to further develop how I approach language teaching. The following is a basic set of teaching beliefs that have emerged and that offer me new ways to appreciate my journey as a language teacher.

My View of Teaching
I believe in my students. They come with life experiences that are as diverse as the languages of the world. In exchange for a communicative tool, they offer their stories and a part of their lives. I believe that being a good teacher means that I do my best to make information accessible to all my students, considering their varying cultural and economic backgrounds. In serving students, I want to remain passionate, actively pursuing learning opportunities within professional fields to learn current methods and implement these in the classroom. I want to help students to value diversity and ethnic differences by facilitating a community within the classroom.

My View of Learners
Good learners are actively engaged in the learning process and growing a capacity for autonomy is at the core of success in language teaching (McCarthy, 1998). A curriculum that includes training can extend students’ learning beyond the classroom with the knowledge to perform successful strategies and ways of expressing themselves (Brown, 2007). In order to do this, the goals should be discussed with the students in each lesson so that they have an understanding of the relevance of topics. Providing goals helps students focus on their talents and experiences which is a skill that they can carry beyond the classroom (Brown, 2007). Self-awareness creates opportunities for students to accomplish such tasks as generating input and using contextual cues to decipher information that moves the learner out of the comfort zone.

My View of Language Learning
Meaningful Learning expresses that new information is taken in by the learner and is built upon the foundation of existing, learned information (Brown, 2007). Capitalizing on students’ interests, academic goals, and career goals helps learners anchor everything possible to the foundation of existing knowledge and facilitates association and retention.

Motivation is a central variable in the success of acquisition (Brown, 2007). A motivated person can tap into goal-directed behaviour to accomplish tasks. Deci & Deci (1985) have argued that a learner’s motivation should be connected to the course or the teacher for the reward to bear significance (as cited in Kover &Worrell, 2010). Goal-directed behaviour does help in acquisition. Language learning is a tedious process and the ability to self-regulate is instrumental to success.

The Social Context of Language
Language is a dynamic system and a by-product of communication. Proficiency in a language is not measured by memorization of forms and structures but on information exchanges. How proficiency is determined becomes complicated by the native speaker debate; however, the validity of a “native speaker standard” should be questioned. It is not realistic to attempt this status or to compare the ability of an L2 user with a native speaker; this is simply a marker of one’s first language. Instead, the goal should be centred on an L2 user’s success in exchanging ideas, or communicative competence.

Learners are shaped by their social environments and depend on interaction in social spaces to become competent in communicative contexts (Zuengler & Miller, 2006). The sociocultural view of language learning states that language use in meaningful, authentic situations is the most important component of effective learning (Zuengler & Miller, 2006). Therefore, the teacher’s role is that of a facilitator, creating student-centred tasks which give learners genuine ways of using the target language.

I have learned that the students’ goals for language learning may not coincide with communicative goals. Some students need to acquire language for entrance into a university or to take a qualifying exam. In such cases, communication will not be relevant to the students and a structure-based approach to teach grammatical rules and vocabulary may be more appropriate. The teacher should operate in the best interest of the students.

Culture carries the behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, values, and perception of the world that a group filters into language. Social and psychological contact with the culture of the target language community is critical to acculturation. Adoption of the lifestyle and values of the community is not required, but attitude towards the target culture will directly affect success in acquisition. As a learner interacts, a new mode of thinking develops and a new identity emerges (Duff, 2007).

Learners coming from other countries bring with them new perspectives and are teachers themselves. Learners are an opportunity for teachers to re-examine their own perspectives and methods. Students from other cultures can challenge social constructs and provide new perspectives that can lead to important critical reflection (Smith, 2009).

Although these set of beliefs are not exhaustive, I have found it very therapeutic to revisit what informs my pedagogy and to discover how I have grown and what I understand. As I continue to work in the field of TESOL, I look forward to reflecting on my experiences and re-examining what makes the profession so meaningful to me.

Stephanie Ortiz has taught English in Japan since 2012 while simultaneously completing her M.A. in TESOL from Azusa Pacific University in California. She has over ten years of experience teaching in schools to learners of various levels and cultural backgrounds. As she prepares to return home, Stephanie is interested in pursuing a career in administration to assist international students and immigrants to the United States.


Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching by Principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. White Plains, NY; Pearson Education.

Duff, P. (2007). Second language socialization as sociocultural theory: Insights and issues. Language Teaching, 40, 309-319.

Graves, K. (2000). Designing language courses. New York, NY: Heinle & Heinle.

Kover, D. J., & Worrell, F. C. (2010). The influence of instrumentality beliefs on intrinsic motivation: A study of high achieving adolescents. Journal of Advanced Academics, 21(3), 473.

McCarthy, C. P. (1998). Learner training for learner autonomy on summer language courses. The Internet TESOL Journal, IV(7), 1-6.

Smith, D. I. (2009). Learning from the stranger: Christian faith and cultural diversity. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Zuengler, J., & Miller, E. (2006). Cognitive and sociocultural perspectives: Two parallel SLA worlds? TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 35-53.