W Japanese University Students'
              Attitudes in Class (2)
 by YAMAGISHI, K.

   I have seen or heard too many "native" English teachers complaining about their Japanese students. Many of them said that Japanese university students were spoiled and undisciplined. Others said that Japanese students didn't respond, speak up, or even raise their hands in class. As I wrote in the previous article, nearly all foreign teachers complain about this sort of thing.

How to Captivate Japanese Students

   A most important thing for non-Japanese teachers' successful teaching (as well as for Japanese teachers) is, I think, good relations with their students. Good human relations are really important in class. The reader might say that it doesn't need any explanation and everyone knows that.
   Certainly, there seems to be no point in mentioning it here. Then, are all the teachers doing well in their classes without any trouble or problem? I don't think so.
   For the last 30 years of teaching at the university (and several more years of teaching at junior and senior high schools), I have seen too many "native" English speakers ending up talking badly of their Japanese students and hating them. Through my long teaching experience as a Japanese university (and a high school) teacher, I clearly say that those people who haven't succeeded in teaching Japanese students haven't succeeded in forming good relations with them.
   Some of them talked down to their students in class, not trying t speak with them as equals. Other teachers were habitually late for class. And some other teachers made a bad impression on their students by sitting on the teacher's desk or students' desks while talking to the class (which may be a common thing in, say, American universities; however that's not part of Japanese custom). Others made a negative impression by taking their coffee to the class every week and drinking it while teaching (that's not part of Japanese custom, either). And some of them were shunned by their students after bawling them out in class, saying like "Why don't you look at me when I'm talking to you!" (There seems to be two problems: one is that the student might have felt he or she was put to shame in class, and the other is that he or she must have felt quite uneasy when the teacher gave him or her a reprimand by saying "Why don't you look at me when I'm talking to you!" Japanese students aren't good at maintaining eye contact with the person scolding or reprimanding them, so they would probably drop their eyes or cast their eyes downward. That's the way they are supposed to do when being scolded or reprimanded.

Importance of Understanding Each Other

   Who is to blame, then? The non-Japanese or the Japanese? Both have been to blame, I think. In most cases the actions and attitudes of the non-Japanese were misinterpreted by the Japanese students. To put it another way, "native" speakers' cultural point of view, values, and communication styles weren't properly understood.
   Although there is individual difference, each culture has a shared framework of ideas and expectations about how to act or what to say. So, both sides should have studied more about differences of communication style.

   James Kirkup, in his Essays on Japanese Culture (Kirihara Shoten, 1991) writes:

   Every class is different. But remember that every student is different, too, everyone is an individual. Some are shy, some are bold, some behave well, others behave badly. So you must first of all learn to accept each pupil as he or she is. Only then can you understand that student, and perhaps help him or her to change for the better. Simple human psychology is necessary here. But always try to remember your own childhood, and what it was like to have a good teacher. Your attitude in class influences the attitudes of the pupils, so show interest in all they do or say. (Chapter 6, p.41)

   Kirkup correctly points out. Although Japanese values, actions, and attitudes are different from those of the people from the Western culture, if non-Japanese teachers gain cultural flexibilities and adjustabilities, they probably would succeed in gaining Japanese students' attention and succeed in teaching.

Successful Non-Japanese Teachers

   I have found that "native" English teachers who have been so successful at teaching Japanese students have some things in common. For instance, they are very skillful at encouraging Japanese students to speak up in class, study and pride themselves on their own language and culture. They tell Japanese students, for example, that foreigners don't come to Japan to learn something about Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Hemingway; they come to Japan because they want to know about Izumi Shikibu, Natsume Soseki or Mori Ogai; they come here to see things, visit places they can't see or visit in their own country, and they come here to know more about Japan; so Japanese students should study more about Japan and show them as many wonderful things as possible; English is a useful language to carry out that task now or in the future.
   Also, they don't overlook students' tardiness; they tell latecomers that they mustn't be late and miss class, because coming in late disrupts the class and robs other students of valuable class time and if they miss too many classes, they might find it difficult or impossible to catch up.
   Lastly, I have to add, hesitantly, that Japanese students sometimes complain about non-Japanese teachers' going home too soon after class. I know very well that when the job is done, it's O.K.. for them to go home; they would most probably say that if Japanese students had questions they should have raised their hands during class; it's strange that Japanese students want to see teachers after class. The problem here is the difference of teaching style and custom in class. As long as it is an English class, Japanese students should follow the English style, and "native" English teachers should encourage them to follow the English style. Here also, however, we badly need patience and cultural flexibility.