| | |

Why is English Difficult For Japanese Speakers: Problems and Solutions

English is often considered one of the most complicated languages on Earth to learn, and Japanese is sometimes considered one of the easiest by speakers of languages other than English. Clearly, English and Japanese do not interchange very well. Teaching English to Japanese speakers comes with challenges but none of them are insurmountable.

While English uses words from around the world, Japanese influences are minute comparatively. People often wonder why English and Japanese do not go well together. Many things contribute to this, but let’s consider some of the most common complaints for native Japanese speakers learning to speak English.

Native Japanese speakers have difficulty in learning English due to a host of factors. Differences in Written forms from Alphabet to Kanji, A lack of exposure to the English, cultural importance on language learning, grammar structures and the fluid nature of English can all cause barriers to learning.

Just before we get into some of the problems Japanese speakers may have. We have a LOAD of free resources here to help with phonics and tricky sounds. So if you are a teacher who has found your way here you can check these out in our portfolio.

The Order of Words for Japanese Speakers

One of the most significant differences between English and Japanese is the sentence structure and syntax. Many Asian English Language Learners notice that this is an issue. Both Eastern and Western Asian languages may have different syntaxes than English. Japanese sentences tend to have their verbs at the end, whereas English places those right after the subject, most of the time.

Additionally, English word order also seems very challenging to grasp. Adjective order is often cited as a challenge. One college professor asked his class to put this set of adjectives together: fabulous, four, and French with the word girls.

Most people in the class said, “Four fabulous French girls.” However, when he asked them why they chose as they did, no one knew. They just went in that order. Surely there is a rule, but no one, even those studying English for decades, knew the name of the rule. ( if you want to know we have the order of adjectives rules in this post!) This is not just a issue when teaching English to Japanese speakers it is difficult for everyone!

English has a different order of words to JapaneseThis can take some getting used to, but it’s not that bad. As you progress with Learning English these will be explained to you and here are a couple of things you can do are:
-Use a dictionary to see what the word means and how it’s used in context and example sentences so you can start to understand sentence order.
-If you’re reading something, try and spot where things like verbs are and what they follow.
Teaching English to Japanese Speakers

English Has Many Exceptions

Because English borrows from so many different languages, it has exceptions to nearly every grammar or spelling rule. Most other languages do not have this many exceptions.

English makes learning more challenging. All languages borrow from others sometimes, but they tend to create a space for those alongside their own words. They often borrow concepts instead of words.

Exceptions also extend beyond grammar and spelling rules. Sure, “i before e” and other grammar rules are frustrating, but other concepts sometimes have exceptions. For instance, a person trying to translate from their language into English may encounter a list of choices for one word.

Presumably, these are all synonyms. However, context and syntax often cloud these choices. Part of this is the sheer number of definitions a word has and how it is used. Take the word sheer. Looking up a synonym in a thesaurus might provide words like steep, perpendicular, or translucent.

If you have also used the word clear to talk about English words being clear, you might mistake sheer to be translucent. This word doesn’t mean the same thing. English language learners often choose the first definition or synonym they see because they do not know the nuances and differences. So sheer means translucent, except when it’s used to mean steep or pure.

English has so many Grammar exceptions compared to Japanese it makes it difficult to learn.This is unfortunately true, English has quite a few words that are spelt the same way, but mean different things, and words spelt differently that mean the same thing. It is confusing, but remember you don’t have to learn all these things in the first lesson. As you use the language you will develop background knowledge. A couple of things you can do is ask a native learner to explain it in more detail, or keep a record of the exceptions you find and look them up later.

It is hard when you are learning a new language, if the material doesn’t make sense it will be difficult for you to learn from it. You may have trouble understanding what they mean or how certain words should be used.

If this happens you could try looking on YouTube and see if there is an explanation video of your problem topic, or ask someone who speaks better English than yourself so they can help with explaining grammar points more clearly. There are also plenty of resources online about teaching English to Japanese speakers as well, which might just do the trick!

Teaching English to Japanese Speakers

Figurative Language And Japanese Speakers

Many languages use figurative language at least a little. However, many languages only use them in creative writing or concepts. English is full of them. Phrases like raining cats and dogs, biting the bullet (this one has logical roots), and an arm and a leg are often used to convey the severity of something.

These seem strange to hear. If you know the origins of some of them, they make more sense, but most nonnative speakers are not going to know the origins of these phrases.

Bite the bullet likely began on the battlefield before adequate medical care could be administered. Soldiers would sometimes bite down on a bullet or piece of wood when they could not be anesthetized. They were told just to bite the bullet and get it over with.

There are so many idioms and Figurative language in English it is hard to learn.There are a lot of idioms and figurative language in English. It can also vary from place to place. No one expects any second language learner to be able to just pick them up. Sometimes people in the same country have no idea what some of them mean! If you accept that sometimes things will need further explanation this become much more of a fun task than a worrying task. If you REALLY want to try to learn some to make your speech more natural you can go online to research some or buy a big book Of idioms from Amazon.
Learning should be fun, so have fun with some of these!

That means if you can hear how the words sound in your mind then you might be able to understand them better so try listening out for those! You can check out this page for some of the common idioms you may come across. to put your mind at rest, I am actually English and some Idon’t understand either!

Also, please PLEASE take heart that these terms, slang and phrases may be very local indeed. In fact the British often joke with each other about the different meanings and pronunciations of words and phrases between their two versions of English. If native English speakers get confused, then you shouldn’t if you are teaching English to Japanese speakers either.

Teaching English to Japanese Speakers

Teaching Phonics To Japanese Speakers

Each language has its own letter system and phonetics. English has a little more than forty. On the other hand, Japanese has less than thirty. While these numbers do not seem so far apart, when you consider the sounds required to make words, Japanese speakers are just not accustomed to making these sounds.

This doesn’t mean that they cannot learn, but some letter sounds do not exist in their current repertoire. It may sound simple, but consider that when people read, they tend to say the words. Also, speech is a significant part of communication.

When mispronouncing words, native Japanese speakers find communication difficult and frustrating. Their English-speaking counterparts may be left at a loss to assist because they do not understand. You should try to be aware of this when teaching English to Japanese speakers.

The alphabet, sounds and writing system is very different from JapaneseYou can make this no problem at all! With a little practice, you’ll find that reading the alphabet is just as easy and natural to read as Japanese kanji. We mention this below as well but … Practice, practice, and more practice! Look up the sounds in a dictionary if you’re unsure of how to pronounce them. You can also find translation sites that will read sounds out so you can follow. We have our Phonics and online games on this site to help.

Just like with English dialects, not all people will say words exactly the same way as one another — just because someone says “passed” doesn’t mean everyone else does too. In fact Native speakers often make fun ( nicely most of the time) of each other accents as a sign of friendship.

English is a world language now, it doesn’t belong to the UK, or the USA it belongs to the world. All you are doing is adding your spin on it to millions of others. However, it is important to make your spin understandable, so if really unsure you can pop words or sounds into google translate or similar and listen to the pronunciation and try to copy them, or at least practice them.

Teaching English to Japanese Speakers
Teaching English to Japanese Speakers

Importance of English In Japan

In many countries worldwide, English is emphasized in school and business. However, in Japan, this is not the case. Even business English isn’t required. You may be wondering why they learn it in school.

They only learn limited English concepts and do not speak fluently even after so many years of instruction. Consider US high schools that require two years of a foreign language or college majors that do the same. What do you really remember from Spanish 101 or French 212? Sure, some people become fluent, but most of it is for exam scores only.

There is not much exposure to English in JapanWatch movies, listen to the radio, or find a bilingual partner. Practice speaking English with friends and family members until you feel more confident. If nobody is around then try watching videos on YouTube where people are answering questions about their hobbies or how they spend their free time. If you look further you will see loads of videos made to help Japanese speakers from teachers on YouTube as well.
Teaching English to Japanese Speakers

English Alphabet and Japanese Kanji.

Alphabets and written symbols vary worldwide, though many use the current English alphabet. Asian languages tend to use a more symbol-derived system, and some languages write right to left rather than left to right. Japanese is one of these Asian languages that uses an entirely different written communication system.

This is not to say that speakers of Japanese can’t learn the English alphabet or vice versa. However, this requires some retraining of the brain to make the words make sense through written communication.

The alphabet and writing system is very different from JapaneseIt’s no problem at all! With a little practice, you’ll find that reading the alphabet is just as easy and natural to read as Japanese kanji. Putting it into practice, well that takes practice! But with just 26 letters and 44+ sounds the actual learning of the symbols and sounds is the relatively easy part. When to use them, well that comes in time. We have loads of phonics and English resources you can use on the site to help with teaching / learning the sounds of English. We also have English online games you can play to practice as well.
Teach English In Japan

Cultural differences

The culture of the Japanese makes learning English less likely. Japanese culture is very anti-mistake. This is sometimes a good thing. It means that they take everything into consideration when learning a new skill. However, with an incredibly challenging language such as English, many students do not want to fail.

They resist learning for fear of failure. Live Japan describes it as, “Japanese people grow up with the awareness that everyone’s eyes are constantly on them, and said shyness is coupled with the discomfort of speaking in front of others – and that also goes for classrooms.” The fear of mistakes as a culture makes English a lower priority.

I am worried about making mistakes when i learn EnglishPractice speaking in English with a partner, or just by yourself when you need to. The more you practice the less mistakes will happen naturally. Although making mistakes is actually welcomed, and is a good way to learn, we understand in some cultures it is not as welcome. Try to think of every mistake as a learning opportunity and embrace it. If you have real trouble with that then consider hiring a tutor or using a personal app or online tutor. For example, Memrise has free courses designed specifically with Japanese speakers who want more practice speaking English, and this can be done in a risk free environment.

Final Thoughts

Japanese and English couldn’t be more different, it seems. Both languages are challenging for the other to learn. Native Japanese speakers have much to overcome, from their own fears to the differences in spoken, written, and unwritten communication.

The nuances of each language are remarkably different. There is nothing more challenging than trying to learn to speak a new language while also relearning the alphabet for shy learners. Native Japanese speakers can learn English with the proper supports and practice. The most emphasis must be placed on areas that differ strongly from Japanese. Teaching English to Japanese speakers is both rewarding for teachers and students.

I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

Similar Posts


Always welcome thoughts and comments, new blogs can be lonely!!