One of the more difficult aspects of English are the articles, and not just the ones found in newspapers. Using “a” and “the” take years for most English natives to fully grasp, and much longer for those attempting to gain English abilities. The differences are striking, and there are many instances where “the” and “a” are not interchangable.
The word “The” is used to refer to something known by both the speaker and the listener. In the previous sentence as well as the sentence you are reading, there are 6 instances of “the”, each referencing something that we both clearly know to avoid confusion. “The word” refers to the word in question, which is “The”. “The speaker” is the person speaking, and “the listener” is the person listening, both known to both people. The “the” in quotes refers to the word “the”.
To clearly teach the word (“the”), have the student write the following sentence on paper, and identify all instances of “the” and what they reference;
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Image of the letter and word “a” in uppercase
To contrast, “a” refers to any instance of the object in question. If the teacher were to mention that they were going to “The Family Mart”, it would be assumed that the student is in some way familiar with that location, whereas “A Family Mart” could be any location located in Japan. If the teacher asked the student to write “The word”, the student should write “the”, whereas “A word” could be “pencil”, “hotcakes”, “button”, or any other word allowed in the classroom.
After explaining usage to the student, have them write the following sentence;
A quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
Have the student compare and contrast the two sentences to demonstrate understanding. This activity should take between 3 to 5 minutes. When the student successfully is able to show strong knowledge of “the” and “a”, reward them with a smile or a sticker in their reward booklet.
Oftentimes, vocabulary used for foods can be confusing, using different words to refer to the same thing i.e. soda and pop, EZ-Cheez and Easy-Cheese, Quesadillas and tortilla melts
This is confusing for non-native speakers who assume that everything only has a single word, which is the case for the Japanese word o-cha, which refers to both Japanese tea and green tea. So, how can you teach a student when each word is appropriate?
Drill the student on their nationality by using the grammar pattern of “Which nationality are you?”, to encourage the student to say “I am Japanese”. Expand on the grammar practice by asking “Which nationality is your tea?”, to which they should respond “It is Japanese” or “My tea is Japanese”. With both the student and the tea’s nationality established, the student will understand that they drink Japanese tea.
Japanese green tea drink
Next, ask the student “What color are you?”. If the student appears confused, use a piece of paper or a whiteboard to write “Y _ L L _ W” and encourage the student to fill in the blanks to choose “yellow” or whatever shade is most appropriate. Next, ask the student “What color is your tea?”, and write down all responses.
The student will quickly understand that green tea and Japanese tea are one in the same, and will have no problem using either term to describe the bitter deliciousness of Japanese お茶 (o-cha).
As any seasoned veteran teacher can attest, some students reach a point where they are no longer capable of learning. Specialized compartments in their brains, for whatever reason, fill up and do not accept any new knowledge. In these cases, what can teachers do?
Teachers must be insistent that the student has mastered everything there is to know, and any future learning must come through self study and speaking in front of a mirror. The student may protest, but you can point out that they have stopped listening to the teacher and have now become their own teacher. Be firm, yet kind with the student when you tell them not to return.
This is a particularly big problem in Japan, where you can talk to the student for an hour at a time and they do not retain anything that you have given them. Having spent the past hour reading a list of important words to a student, and having them leave the class with a bewildered expression does not result in good feelings.
For students that are insistent that you continue teaching them, convince them of their expertise by artificially dropping your own English ability. Remove prepositions from your conversation, avoid plurals, and interspace your sentences with hoots and whoops. It truly is a confidence booster for the student.
It’s a question that many teachers ask themselves and each other; how can I make the students pronounce the “TH” sound so frequently found in English? Luckily, the answer is quite simple, but the road to that answer is long and riddled with difficulties.
One of the difficulties comes from the size of the average Japanese person’s tongue. It is a well-known fact that Japanese have longer intestines than any other race on the planet, lending to specialization towards their diet of rice, fish and miso soup. Because of the longer intestines, the tongue is shorter for obvious reasons. With short tongues, they develop a condition where they infrequently move outwards from the back of the throat, leading to mispronunciation of sounds that make great use of the tongue, primarily the “TH” sound.
To teach the “TH” sound, it is as simple as convincing the student to stick their tongue out. Stick your tongue out when looking at the student and speak, making liberal use of words that begin with “S”. As the teeth come down, they naturally create a “TH” sound. Each time the student successfully makes a “TH” sound, reward them with a smile and say “ooo, nice”. If they make an “S” sound, you should shake your head in disappointment and reinforce this with “oh, not good at all”.
Very few people outside of the medical field own calipers, but it is possible to maneuver the tongue out of the mouth with fingers, chopsticks, or pens used as chopsticks. Make certain to wash or use alcohol rub on anything before placing it into your mouth or the student’s.
We are teaching the best lesson of our lives, engaging the student and filling their brain full of English, when suddenly a listening activity occurs. Since CDs are rarely replaced, years of usage take their toll and result in CDs so scratched that they will barely play. Needing to apologize over the condition of the CDs not only reflects poorly on the teacher, but also on the school.
For more experienced teachers, there is always safety in using cassette tapes. Cassette tapes can never become scratched, and have the ever-important reliability that CDs simply cannot provide. Many teachers will decorate the tapes to create a more personal atmosphere for the student, and allow the student to cue them for the activity.
For those who do not have extra cassette tapes, another possibility is to record yourself narrating the listening activities. This is beneficial for three reasons; one, you own all of the rights. Two, you won’t be surprised by the content. Three, it delights the students, and they are more likely to believe that you are a professional narrator.
If your school has new CDs, keep them in pristine condition by never placing them in direct sunlight, lightly washing the backs with a solution of detergent and water by means of a soft towel, and never putting them directly on top of paper.