Although many Japanese people study English for at least six years, it may be difficult for them to produce even a simple conversational sentence. This is because in the past, the emphasis had been mainly on memorizing vocabulary and grammar. Students had very little opportunity to use the English they had studied in a communicative context.


Fortunately the situation has changed. In most JHS classes, students regularly speak English and do communicative activities. Classes at SHS have been slow to change, but gradually teachers are beginning to adopt communication-based lessons. The introduction of AETs has created a real need for students to learn how to converse in English. The AET is proof that English is a 'living language' to be used, not just studied academically. 


Repetition and drills typically make up a large part of the speaking activities in the classroom. These types of activities can be useful for learning some skills (such as pronunciation), but should not be considered communicative activities.


Students need to practice using the English they have learned. For this, they need situations that provide a real need to use English. Producing original thoughts in English is a much better test of competence than simply reciting a memorized phrase.


Students should aim towards being able to have a simple conversation with a native speaker of English. To achieve this, they need regular practice at exchanging ideas and information with each other in a relaxed classroom environment. Communication activities should be a regular feature of your classes. As students improve, make the activities more challenging.




Attaining good pronunciation in English is not easy. In Japanese, there is a standard alphabet where pronunciation is always the same. The difficulty with English is that pronunciation does not always follow a set pattern. Also, English uses many sounds that do not exist in Japanese; however, it is important to remember that it is quite possible for Japanese speakers of English to achieve good pronunciation.


These days, there are a lot of audio-tapes and CD's available that give model pronunciation of teaching materials. By listening to the correct sound and mimicking what is heard, students can quickly improve the way they speak. This should in no way be the only form of pronunciation practice a student gets, but it can help. Please keep in mind that English is not Japanese, so it follows that Katakana pronunciation of English is not helpful. 

Help eliminate the use of ‘Katakana English’!


Problems with Using Katakana


  • It gives students the wrong pronunciation of English
  • It is Japanese, NOT English
  • Not all English sounds are available in Katakana
  • Students will rely on Katakana and not be able to recognize even easy words.
  • Students won't get used to reading real English.
  • Students won't be able to properly 'sound out' unfamiliar words.
  • Many native speakers would not understand Katakana pronunciation.



         COMPARE:    a)  My name is Clare.  I am from England.

                            b)  マイ ネム イズ クレア。 アイ アム フロム 


                            c)  Mai  nemu  izu  kurea. Ai amu  furomu  Ingurando.



Advice On Teaching Pronunciation


  • Tell your students that they CAN say all the English sounds (all people have the same mouths!)
  • Teach students to SOUND OUT a word they don't recognize. This is the way native speakers learn to read.
  • DON’T add Katakana to handouts or textbooks (students won't read the English)
  • DON'T let students answer questions in Katakana, or use it in bingo games.
  • Teach new words IN English, NOT Katakana.
  • DON’T let students say English words that are used in Japanese with the Japanese pronunciation (e.g., say "ice cream", not "aisukuriimu")
  • Show them the differences between Katakana English and real English pronunciation.




Intonation can only be learned my mimicking the sounds of others. It is one of the most important parts of verbal communication, but students are given very little guidance about it. In any language, the tone you use can change the whole meaning of a word or sentence. Therefore, non-native speakers need to be careful.


By giving students lots of exposure to natural English, they too will learn natural intonation. Textbooks provide little guidance as to correct intonation. It is essential for students to listen to, and imitate, the voice of a native speaker.


Look at the following list of noun-verb pairs. When the stress is on the first syllable, the word is a noun; on the second syllable it is a verb.


PREsent  preSENT    COMpress   compress   REFuse   reFUSE

REcord   reCORD    COMpound   compound   PROject  proJECT

CONtract conTRACT  COMbine    comBINE    OBject    object

CONtest  conTEST   COMbat    comBAT     SUBject   subJECT

Increase  inCREASE  DEcrease   deCREASE   REject    reJECT


[Exceptions: There are some words similar to the above that have no stress shift, e.g. CONtact, DIScount, FInance, INterest; also conSENT, conTROL, disGUISE, diVORCE. Note that each word does, nonetheless, have stress.]


Look at how the meaning of the following sentence changes when different words are stressed:


"I don't like James Bond."

  a  b   c    d


When the stress is on…


a) The stress is on "I". The meaning is that everyone else likes James Bond, but the speaker doesn't.


b) The stress is on "don't". Everyone thinks that the speaker likes James bond, but that is not the case. The feeling of dislike is very strong.


c) The stress is on "like". The speaker implies that she doesn't merely like James Bond, but loves him, instead. Her feelings are stronger. Maybe she is answering, "I don't like James Bond, I LOVE him!"


d) The stress is on "James Bond". The speaker implies that she likes everyone except James Bond.


As you can see, by stressing different words, you can change the meaning of a sentence. Many times students will not even try to express any kind of emotion or feeling when they speak English. As a result, English often sounds dead and boring when they speak. By using teachers' manuals and native speakers to give you advice about the intonation of a passage, you can make English come alive for your students.


Encouraging Students to Speak More in Class


Most junior and senior high school students are not confident when speaking English. Teachers often say that their students are "shy", but most often the reason is because students have little practice speaking communicative—NOT MEMORIZED—English.  With practice and a positive attitude, every student can improve their speaking ability.  The following are some suggestions for encouraging your students to speak:


  • Use English as often as possible and don't respond to their Japanese.
  • Prepare posters of key classroom expressions: "Please Repeat that", "What's the English word for . . .", "I don't understand", etc. Put these posters at the front of the room. Teach the students these expressions and make them use them rather than Japanese. This is a very important first step that involves real communication.
  • Vary your classroom English and greetings. Avoid chorus responses like "How's the weather today . . . fine." Here are some ideas:


ü      Ask several students, individually, how they feel. Teach them several different ways of responding. Every student, every day, is not "fine"


ü      Ask students about their activities. Find out what they did during their vacation, free time, or weekends.


ü      Give your students a minute or two at the beginning of the lesson in order to have a conversation in pairs. The topic can be anything.


·        In Team-Teaching classes, spend several minutes talking with the AET at the beginning of class.  After the conversation, ask students some questions about the contents. Let students ask any questions that they may have.  Encourage students to speak to the AET directly. DON’T translate for them, but DO help them clarify their own expressions.

·        Make interesting and fun communication activities that give students a REASON for speaking English. Make classes student-centered (students do the activities on their own) so that they are active.

           Here are some ideas:  


ü      Pair Work:    dialogues with their partner, information gap                      activities, and interviews.


ü      Group Work: quizzes and contests, writing and                                      performing skits, group presentations,                               summarizing news articles into their own                            words, word games, discussing their                                  opinions about a topic.


ü      Class Work: scramble activities, interviews and surveys,                        games, question and answer.


ü      Ask your students "Why" questions. This makes them think more and form short sentences. When a student struggles with an answer to a "why" question, NEVER translate the question into Japanese, or they will never try to understand the English. Just ask the question in a slightly easier way.


ü      Make students answer multiple-choice by reading the whole sentence (especially for Oral Communication at SHS). Ask them a follow-up question to check their understanding.


ü      Try to avoid correcting your students when they are speaking. Natural communication is not possible if the speaker becomes self-conscious of making mistakes. Correct students after they have finished speaking, or point out the common mistakes of several speakers.


ü      Make student speeches a part of every class. Draw up a schedule, and have one or two students each lesson give a presentation about an assigned topic.  “Show and Tell” is a simple way to get students talking about something they’re interested in.  Also, encourage your students to take part in speech contests. Ask the AET for help.


ü      Assign students to make vocabulary tests or quizzes. Let them be the teacher. Choose a student to ask the comprehension questions or read a listening exercise.


ü      Try discussion and debate. Use controversial topics where each student will have an opinion.