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Thread: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

  1. #1

    Default ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    Hi guys, shortlisted from Sydney here.

    I have a question to all ALTs who are functionally fluent in Japanese. At the school(s) you teach, are you allowed to speak Japanese in class to explain the meaning of words, grammar points, etc to your students or is there an unofficial policy in place that forbids you to do that (seeing you're the English native speaker in class, your JTE may want to make full use of your English language skills). My impression is that this may be the favoured approach in Japan, the so-called language immersion - though it would largely depend on the school and the teacher you are working with.

    If you're allowed to speak Japanese, do you think your teaching becomes more effective and the students are more likely to pay attention or is it the other way around?

    So to summarise: are foreign ALTs in Japan allowed to use Japanese or not, to what extent, and how does that affect your teaching experience. Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Comrade therealwindycity's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    In elementary school, it's hard to do class without using Japanese at all unless the homeroom teacher is very on board and good at communicating about lesson plans beforehand. The English isn't particularly complicated, though, so I think most ALTs use Japanese to explain activities and give feedback. In junior high, I usually don't speak Japanese unless I'm correcting a student individually and they didn't understand my English first.

  3. #3
    Crustacean Sensation Ebi's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    Like anything, it depends on your schools and the individual JTEs that you work with. My school wants me to use as much English as possible and leave the Japanese up to the JTEs, but they don't seem to mind if I use Japanese as a tool to support English learning.

    I use Japanese in the classroom, but I try to limit it to these situations and keep the rest in English:
    - Explaining grammar (since I don't think the kids need to know "past-tense", "plural", etc. in English and I know those terms in Japanese)
    - Translating specific words or phrases if I think there's no other way I can get the students to figure out the definition on their own
    - Encouraging/giving hints to slower kids in the language they understand so they don't tune out entirely
    - Managing the classroom, particularly elementary school classes, if I don't think English will be understood or effective (especially if we don't have rapport or established patterns I can rely on yet)

    Basically, if I think I can communicate my point in English, even if it's not the easiest route, I'll try to use English. But sometimes Japanese does a better job to give the students the tools they need to discover things about English on their own.

    Example: Students are working on a writing prompt so I'm walking around the class checking their work and answering questions. I notice a student has written, "I'm run after school every day." I say something encouraging, but note there's a small mistake there. Sometimes that's enough to get kids to notice the error. If you get blank stares, then I try level 2: point at the sentence and/or read it out loud, emphasizing the area that sounds strange. If the kid still doesn't see what the issue is, I can try giving a few more hints in English but I might also use Japanese to remind them about the grammar rule ("Can you use a be-動詞 in the same sentence as an 一般動詞?") or give them a direct translation of the sentence in Japanese so they can hear why it's strange (毎日放課後に走るです。) Generally at some point they'll figure out the trouble area and fix it without me directly telling them what to put down as the correct answer.

    I will also usually try to point them to the definition written in the textbook by opening to the page or the dictionary in the back of the book whenever possible, rather than just saying it, so that they are taught how to look up info on their own. But if there's really no way they would know the answer and it's not something the textbook eventually teaches (like writing "The sun is bright" vs. "A sun is bright") then I'll probably skip the hints and give them a brief explanation in Japanese about the grammar rule.

    But that's just my take on it. I'm sure people have different opinions!
    Last edited by Ebi; May 18th, 2014 at 21:30.

  4. #4

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    You're not supposed to, no. Frankly there's little reason to if you're in JHS/HS since you are team teaching with a JTE. You should either be in a situation where they're expected to understand you speaking English and the JTE will (in theory) be speaking mostly in English too or your JTE will translate for you. MEXT are trying to create classrooms that are English speaking environments and you are the main tool for doing so. Letting the kids know you speak Japanese can easily lead to them not bothering to use English, whereas if they think you won't understand Japanese they'll try and talk to you in English because they still want to know about you.

    I speak Japanese in class pretty much only with my 3nen class since they already lost all interest in me and speaking English.

    Also please don't be that douchebag who just wants to flash his Japanese around and cares more about him learning Japanese than the kids learning English. Honestly in every single tokyo orientation presentation my year there was at least one jackass asking this question for the millionth time thinking he was a real cool dude.

  5. #5
    keepin' it real ihatefall's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    @Jiggit I think it's a pretty valid question. My Japanese classes weren't in 100% Japanese either.


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  6. #6

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    I think the question OP asked is fine, I just hate the attention whores at tokyo orientation.

    Classes shouldn't be 100% in English but that's what the JTE is for. I quite often ask "yamada sensei how do you say blabla in Japanese" when I already know the answer. Although with some teachers you have to explain beforehand that you want them to say it to the whole class not just for your personal benefit...

  7. #7
    keepin' it real ihatefall's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    This is really an ESID when I was in SHS I didn't have to use Japanese (except at my really bad school) but in ES I had to use it all the time. With grades 1-3 I focused on pronunciation a lot because it was easy for them and it felt it would help prevent a lifetime of errors


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  8. #8
    Gizmoduck - blatherskite Gizmotech's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    I tend to be of the opinion that the less English in the class the better. I have a rule where for the first three/four months the first years don't hear a word of Japanese out of me. I gradually release this restriction so I can do things more productively in class, and get the students accustomed to it so it's not all BIG SHOKU!

    In the team teaching environment, the only times I break it are specifically to deal with student issues. If i have to use it while teaching at the front of the class, then well... bad news bears.
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  9. #9

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    It's a huge ESID, I agree. You have to know your kids and think about how they'll react. At my visit school I realised none of them are ever going to talk English ever so I might as well speak Japanese because the alternative is to just not communicate with them at all. On the other hand you might have some kids who are keen enough to speak English that even if they know you can speak Japanese they'll still try. But I'd say the majority of HS kids will be very reluctant to speak English and if they think/know you can speak Japanese they won't bother.

  10. #10
    chill yo coop52's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    I don't speak Japanese to the kids but I don't really try to hide the fact that I can from them either. I usually end up doing the Han Solo-Chewbacca thing with the kids, so at least they're getting listening practice.

  11. #11
    Senior Member zombiekelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    I kind of had to, the English level of my 1st and 2nd year kids wasn't quite there enough to use only English. The JTE had some tricks for remembering different rules that I would occasionally repeat to individual students if they were struggling (the big one being "'I am', 'you are', fukusuu 'are', so no hoka no baai wa subete 'is'" sung to a little jingle).
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  12. #12

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    Thanks guys for the insights, specially Ebi. Though my background is not in education (like almost everyone) I have been doing some research on this topic (and other topics too) as I want to arrive somewhat prepared for the job.

  13. #13

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    Quote Originally Posted by zombiekelly View Post
    I kind of had to, the English level of my 1st and 2nd year kids wasn't quite there enough to use only English. The JTE had some tricks for remembering different rules that I would occasionally repeat to individual students if they were struggling (the big one being "'I am', 'you are', fukusuu 'are', so no hoka no baai wa subete 'is'" sung to a little jingle).
    I'm glad my JTE isn't alone in this...

    I speak as little Japanese as possible, unless I'm scolding a student or correcting their grammar (過去形 複数形...) Usually my JTEs translate pretty much everything I say, even when they know they shouldn't, like in the middle of quizzing the students on words. Its a bad habit on their part. The first years also have quite a bit more, due to being at a very low level coming in with a new teacher.

    Mostly I just try to get them talking, especially about things other than what the textbook says. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. These 80% of these inaka kids don't study, and it shows.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    I will be the odd one out here. I use Japanese in my classes a lot (probably 70:30 favouring Japanese, not counting the target English of the day) and not because I'm fluent - I've only been studying since I arrived last year. I work at SHS, at a very low level school. The kids aren't motivated at all to study English and when I use a lot of English they shut down and go to sleep or do something else. I often use Japanese to give them instructions (of course the JTE could translate my instructions but it wastes a lot of time to say it in English and then translate it each time) and almost all the time when I interact with the kids one-on-one in class. If they have to say a speech in English and they forget it, I will prompt them with the Japanese.

    I understand the logic behind immersion and I've been exposed to that style of teaching myself. Because the kids feel that they can only speak English with you, they will use more English. But this assumes this kids are motivated to speak to you at all. Mine aren't. Every time they hear English and don't understand it, it chips away at their confidence and will to study the language, reinforcing the stereotype they have that Japanese people just aren't good at English and making them feel dumb. Using Japanese is definitely a crutch - if your kids can do without it, by all means don't speak Japanese. But if your students are like mine, it's a case of when you take away the crutch they give up on trying to walk altogether. So my first priority is making them comfortable and getting them to like English, not view it as an insurmountable obstacle.

    Of course not everyone is like this. I have some brighter kids who are motivated to study English but I have to pitch my classes at the aggregate who are unmotivated and academically struggling.
    Last edited by mcaravey; May 20th, 2014 at 15:55.

  15. #15

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    Can I just say, though, that I really hate the:
    "This is the foreigner. You must speak English to the foreigner" mentality that the JTEs constantly spout off to the kids (and indirectly/sometimes directly toward me).

    I think that it builds a wall between me and my students just to communicate freely.
    It makes me uncomfortable and it makes many of the students uncomfortable.

    When a JTE notices somebody asked me a question in Japanese, they scold them saying, "Say it in English!" Many times, that makes the students shut down for talking to me. They will then ask their friends or the JTE instead.

    This goes for conversations too. I can't just have a normal conversation with the students. I mean think about it this way: Does the history teacher go to the cafeteria and then start trivia about history during lunch? No? Well, than why do ALTs always have to "be" a homework assignment for students? If anything, it's a bit dehumanizing which is not good.

    Lastly, if I were teaching Japanese in a school in America, and the students were speaking English to the teacher after class, I would NEVER say,
    "HEY! You need to say that in Japanese!"
    I would just be happy that they were communicating. I think, especially for the Japanese people, that learning through any communication that people from overseas are not that different and building a relationship is just as important as learning English.


    TLDR: Being forced to speak English all the time by JTEs is stupid.
    Last edited by smapattack; September 2nd, 2014 at 21:39.

  16. #16
    keepin' it real ihatefall's Avatar
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    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    So then don't!

    While I often respect the mindset that a lot if not most Japanese people have, "this is Japan, do it the Japanese way", I don't really understand the English study thing. Japanese are notoriously bad at English learning, you figure they would try to learn or copy what some country that is good at language does.
    Rant over.
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  17. #17

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    But the teachers want me to speak English all the time. I have been told passively/impassively that I need to speak English.
    When I try to explain everything I wrote before and how it's detrimental to everybody to try and make the foreigners only speak English I'm met with the Japanese nod and contemplating look. Seconds later it's business as usual.
    I do break the rules a lot, though (my students also seem to enjoy when we can talk freely).
    The schools' evaluations of me are not going to be good. Ah, well.

  18. #18

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    At any rate, in my school I made certain that the JTEs knew that I would speak Japanese with the kids outside of class and school, so long as I only used English in the classroom. (In reality, I only use Japanese with the kids that are really struggling to understand a grammar point because the JTEs have chosen to ignore a few of the slow kids - the kids get upset they can't follow along and then get disruptive - so I try to head it off and keep them up to speed with the class.) I also hate having the JTEs just stand there and translate everything I say as soon as I say it.

    One JTE in particular doesn't like that I use Japanese outside of the classroom, but she gets overruled by the VP and Principal, who want me to build trust with the students outside of the classroom.

  19. #19

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    Quote Originally Posted by smapattack View Post
    I think that it builds a wall between me and my students just to communicate freely.
    It makes me uncomfortable and it makes many of the students uncomfortable.
    Absolutely it does. Their thinking kinda makes sense for two reasons; They won't speak English otherwise and it shows them that English is a real thing that they might perceivably have a need for in the future. Otherwise it just remains this abstract thing that you study for the test. Of course this is largely the fault of the education system, but ALTs have always been a patch for those gaping holes.

    When a JTE notices somebody asked me a question in Japanese, they scold them saying, "Say it in English!" Many times, that makes the students shut down for talking to me. They will then ask their friends or the JTE instead.

    This goes for conversations too. I can't just have a normal conversation with the students. I mean think about it this way: Does the history teacher go to the cafeteria and then start trivia about history during lunch? No? Well, than why do ALTs always have to "be" a homework assignment for students? If anything, it's a bit dehumanizing which is not good.
    JHS is dumb.

    Basically they're depending on the notion that the kids will be so eager to find out about this strange new interesting person that they'll even suffer speaking English for it. And remember this is a country that tells kids to prepare English questions for going to Kyoto to talk to tourists and who'll break the sacred harmony of silence and sit next to a scary unknown foreigner on public transport just to practice their English. Foreigners are English practice; why would they go to the trouble of getting their own personal foreigner if they aren't even going to speak English?

    Lastly, if I were teaching Japanese in a school in America, and the students were speaking English to the teacher after class, I would NEVER say,
    "HEY! You need to say that in Japanese!"
    Sure, but English speakers are the absolute worst learners of a foreign language. I know for sure that 90% of students when I was at school had 0 interest in learning or trying to speak French or German and never even thought about using it outside of the classroom. Nobody ever spoke to the French student teacher we'd get every year unless they were hot. Assuming that schools in English speaking countries are the norm is pretty flawed.

    I would just be happy that they were communicating. I think, especially for the Japanese people, that learning through any communication that people from overseas are not that different and building a relationship is just as important as learning English.
    Yeah your teachers likely don't care about that. They probably teach students about the mysterious land of gaikoku and how different everyone there is on a daily basis.

    Seriously though I doubt your teachers care about the "international relations" goals of the JET programme, they just want you to teach English, and as far as they're concerned that's your job. And, to be frank, students will absolutely speak less English to you if they expect you to speak Japanese. I have students who would otherwise speak English quite eagerly speak to me entirely in Japanese these days. Students who actively want to learn and practice their English speak Japanese to me. I have, in a sense, deprived them of the English practice that is kind of the main point of me being here.

    Speaking Japanese to students is essentially selfish. You want to get along with them better and be more comfortable so you use it.

    TLDR: Being forced to speak English all the time by JTEs is stupid.
    It may be frustrating and alienating, but it isn't necessarily stupid.

  20. #20

    Default Re: ALTs who speak Japanese during classes

    Quote Originally Posted by webstaa View Post
    I also hate having the JTEs just stand there and translate everything I say as soon as I say it.
    Refuse to speak English if they do that. Try switching into Japanese the second she starts translating and give her a blank stare and say "oh I thought I'd save you time if you want them to hear Japanese".

    That's not the best way to handle it, but it'll probably be the most satisfying way.

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