I think it’s easy to pigeonhole students and say they don’t care about English — or that they lack any ability to communicate. But don’t students have the same basic needs as anyone else? The need to connect with people and feel connected; the desire to understand and be understood. The desire to be validated and feel validated? As such, I think that before we go saying what kind of people Japanese students are, we have to remember what kind of people we are asking them to be.
The English classroom and school in general is sometimes a bad nesting ground where students learn to undermine themselves by ignoring their needs to connect and care. Often without even noticing it ourselves, we English teachers tell students to read, repeat and memorize the grammar explanations without acknowledging a single student’s wants or needs. We teach them a pattern of “don’t question”, “don’t engage” and “don’t care” and we skip on to the next chapter or the next test as if there were no consequences. So, is it any wonder we get students who are apathetic or afraid of speaking or have low communication skills…?
We have to realize that there is a whole system of teach-and-test, teach-and-test, which is set-up to churn out graduates as quickly and efficiently as possible. The goal of the system is not necessarily to churn out good communicators, and it can nurture a pattern in students of being unable to care, connect or listen…
The system is huge, so it may seem like it’s impossible to do anything about it. However, I think that reversing this pattern may be as simple as stopping it whenever we can. We can emphasize the change by designing a classroom flow which allows students to speak to their classmates and share their ideas and concerns. It can be as simple as showing ONE student what it feels like to connect with somebody.
I think our students can be so much more if we just let them fulfill their basic needs of feeling connected, validated & understood. So, before we allow ourselves to fall into the old trap of thinking that Japanese students are flawed or incapable of something, why not try listening to them more and see just how connected, caring and fluent they can be?