The study took place in Utsunomiya, the capital city of Tochigi prefecture, on the northern edge of the Kanto plain about 100 km from Tokyo. I The research was done in “eikaiwa” schools. Eikaiwa basically means English conversation schools. These schools are privately owned and operated, numerous and the competition for students is intense. It is called the “eikaiwa industry” by the local English newspapers It is traditionally where the majority of foreign English teachers got a job while living in Japan. The classes chosen for the study were adult general communication courses within eikaiwa schools I was admitted into these classrooms to do the research due to my history and relationships with the teachers.
The title of the presentation states “Beyond the “nuts and bolts” of EFL classes in Japan. In my experience of teaching in Japan I felt something was missing. That there was more to teaching English than focusing on grammar, vocabulary, language functions and the methodology to get these points across, labeled the nuts and bolts of language teaching by one of the teachers in the study Previous research I found seemed to focus on University and other formal educational institutes classes and they were in my experience a completely different reality to what many teachers face everyday in Japan. I saw the EFL classroom as a place of human interaction, a social setting, a lot of which is not clearly understood. The study delves into this specific setting, focusses on the sociocultural aspects, the classroom interaction and asks the question, What is going on here?
The study is a qualitative study, focussing on a complex human sociocultural setting through the use of Ethnographic methods. An ethnographic approach seemed the logical “fit” as it can research sociocultural processes in language learning and “provides a lens” to understand the patterns of behaviour and interaction in the classroom that are often implicit because they become “ so regular, patterned and ordinary”(Frank, 1999, p.3). Four different classes were chosen to carry out the data collection. For each class there was a class observation For each of the classes teachers there were pre-observation and post-observation interviews. With the students there were post-observation focus group interviews done mainly in English The aim was, through a triangulation of data collection methods, to gain both an etic and emic perspective of the classrooms. There was a n open and cyclical process to data collection. Early analysis of data helped focus the research data as themes emerged and theories were tested. and
In relation to the context, there was an integrated mix of factors, both internal and external, that influenced and created the interaction in the classes. These factors are called the “sociocultural aspects”. I use this all inclusive term to include external factors like business realities to internal factors such as the participants motivations to learn. In this human social context the participants created their own unique type of interaction and relationships.In other words a classroom culture was formed. Despite the varied goals, motivations, beliefs and past experiences of the participants, they are brought together under the umbrella of learning and teaching a foreign language. The classes were casual, relaxed learning environments where relationships were formed, influenced by the sociocultural aspects and largely restricted to the classrooms. The term “sociopedagogical relationships” is used here to describe the unique type of interaction found in the classes.
First let's look at the sociocultural aspects that shaped and influenced the formation of the classes culture . All the classes investigated had these common characteristics: There was no formal syllabus that directed class content. The syllabus was developed and maintained by the teachers themselves but at times followed a designated class textbook. Students were a variety of ages, occupations and were from various backgrounds. There were in other words various personnel variables. Class sizes were small between four to six people in each class. Teachers were from a different cultural background from the students The classes were total English immersion classes. The classes met once a week for an hour each time.
Eikaiwa industry is a very competitive business. The retention of existing students and the attraction of new students is an economic reality. At the forefront of the teaching approach were these business realities. This influenced the classroom in a number of ways from the teaching approach to individual student management. This is because first and foremost from the teachers' perspective, one of the main aims was to “keep the students happy” and to “keep them coming back” (see 4.1.4)
I n this context many of the the students have only a few or no chances to interact face to face in English or to integrate into any type of English speaking community outside of the classroom. Most of the students it can be said are relatively isolated from English speaking settings. There were strong indications from the students that this was their major concern about studying English. Basically The lack of opportunity to be able to communicate (speak and listen) to foreign people, especially English speaking people was perceived by them as a major tumbling block to better proficiency.
For some of the students the reasons to take eikaiwa classes depended on their personal or professional circumstances. One example of this was the young woman with a foreign boyfriend in Canada. It would be easy to say the motivation to learn was idiosyncratic to each individual, however the data revealed a more complicated picture. So we can now look at the question ”If the many of thestudents get no immediate personal gains from studying the language and/or few chances for interaction in the language, why go to great lengths and expense to learn it?” Ryan (2009) states the Japanese context can be understood to a certain extent by Dornyei's concept of the ideal L2 self. The positive attitudes towards the TL communities in this case 英語圏 (English speaking countries) self motivates the students to learn English in order to fulfill their dreams of becoming their ideal self. These various motivations must also be taken into account by teachers especially in ligh tof the business needs.
I think the data shows that knowledge of the context is vitally important from a teaching perspective. Finding an appropriate teaching approach, creating a good learning environment becomes all that much more difficult when teachers don't pay attention to contextual factors. Experienced teachers the study shows, work with the sociocultural aspects, and after adjusting they incorporate them in their teaching approach both implicitly and on reflection. Therefore we can summarize that being aware of contextual factors and having the ability to be flexible and adjust to them are important in creating what all the participants see as mutually advantageous learning environments.
What kind of classroom culture was developed under these sociocultural influences? The data revealed an endeavor to connection with each other. It was an important element in the development of a classroom culture. . If we focus on the teacher-student relationship, research tells us that in the absence of shared cultural experience there are possibilities of misunderstanding, error and bias (Bennet,1998; Hall,1998; Shah,2003 et el). However there was a mutual understanding that had developed between participants on how to interact and behave in the classroom. The sociopedagogical relationships formed were based on creating a positive learning environment and led the participants to overcame many of the obstacles inherent in interacting in such a context.
The students and the teachers tried to create a friendly atmosphere as they saw it as important in creating a successful learning environment. A friendly, relaxed environment the teachers believed, lead to a responsive classroom with lots of speaking. And the amount of speaking was perceived by the teachers as an indication of how successful the classroom was (see 4.1.7). The creation of a positive, friendly, non-threatening learning climate was an important aspect for the students as they attempted to communicate in the language. Constant praise from the teachers when the students spoke and to a lesser extent between students as well. Encouragement to speak and praise for effort was a constant characteristic of all the classes. Humour was a big factor in the classes in establishing and maintaining friendly relations. The data showed it functioned in the class in a number of ways: a) It maintained class order. b)It created a bond between participants as it needed insiders information to get the jokes c) It also gave the students chances to speak in impromptu ways outside of the established Routines. (4.2.4) .Humour transcended any barriers and maintained harmonious sociopedagogical relationships even when there was a need for teachers to manage or students to contest.
Taking away the unexpected , I believe, made the classes comfortable settings for all the participants. All the classes observed had similar aspects that took away the anxieties of communicating in another language with people outside their usual social groups and therefore created non threatening learning environments. Research in other intercultural settings reveal that people motivated by a shared responsibility for making meaning in a challenging context employ tactics for smoother communication. In the classrooms it was found that: The routine nature of the classrooms took away a lot of the student anxieties. Ritualized turn taking that was both regulated by teachers and students was employed to make sure everyone got a turn and no one student dominated. Teachers modified their speech and explanations so students would understand.
There was an adjustment made by the participants of these classrooms . The participants adjusted their behaviour and found a common ground in which all parties were comfortable. In other words a negotiated mutual understanding had developed. This lead to a hybrid culture. One example of this is the use of a type of interlanguage in the class, the majority of which was English but also interim use of Japanese. Titles (the use of -san for all participants), certain expressions and sounds were used idiosyncratically by students in their own language but within the boundaries of the groups' accepted norms(4.2.7). This Japanese language use was not used to bridge knowledge gaps it seemed but was a type of hybrid language developed in and unique to the classroom context that was natural and seemly implicit to both students and teachers.
The data points to experienced teachers being generally adept at creating and maintaining harmonious relationships within a challenging intercultural context. The endeavor for connections and the strategies involved were, created out of necessity to create mutually expedient learning environments. From the teachers perspective it was generally done as second nature, through built up experience. From the students perspective the motivation was for harmonious relations in order to “touch English” The sociopedogogical relationships created in the classrooms had similar aspects to other intercultural settings such as the use of humour but also had unique characteristics such as the use of a type of interlanguage. Therefore the students and teachers were going through a type of cultural learning process in the class that in part replicates the type of interaction they would experience outside of it but also is unique to that classroom. Does that hinder language learning or is it a stepping stone to better communication? I believe an awareness of these processes people go through while learning a language would help in making it a stepping stone.
Beyond the “nuts and bolts” of EFL teaching in Japan by Rory Banwell
The Business Needs. I believe a lot of people have no idea what a good English lesson would be or not be. ... I'm in a business here and I want the students to come back so whether they actually ......for me, them coming back takes precedent over whether they actually learn something.(George , Interview one)
The Social Reality “ I don't have any chances to speak outside of the classroom” (Patrick's focus group)
Motivation to learn. If the many of the students get no immediate personal gains from studying the language and/or few chances for interaction in the language, why go to great lengths and expense to learn it?
A flexible approach In light of these sociocultural aspects how can the teachers create and establish a classroom environment that enhances learning and student satisfaction?
Striving for connections success as a teacher does not depend on the approach or method that you follow so much as on your integrity as a person and the relationships that you are able to develop in the classroom (Sowdon, 2007)
Participant adjustment. certainly in my class they try to be more expressive , their hands move more, their faces move more. I think that is because that is what I do. (Patrick, interview two) I think I am an actress in the class (Patrick's focus group)