As language teachers, there are four skills we have ensure our students develop. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The best ALTs understand that success lies in getting the foundations of these four skills right.

It's not easy being an ALT. We are often put into schools with close to zero training in how to teach. I didn't even hear the word pedagogy till I'd been an ALT for a number of years. And the week of training I did before working in the public education system focused mostly on cultural understanding (i.e. how to behave in Japanese society).

One thing you can do as a new ALT, though, is think back to your own education and try to remember the processes you went through as you learnt to read and write. Obviously, you already had the basics for listening and speaking by the time you hit school.


The basics of listening skills boils down to being able to hear all the sounds of English and correctly differentiate them. Can your students hear the difference between "th" and "f"? What about "l" and "r"?

These skills need to be taught early in a student's learning career. Elementary school lessons, especially with younger students should include lots of playful activities that are sound focused. Singing songs, playful repetition games, or anything with a lot of physical activity and making those new sounds Japanese students don't use in their mother tongue.


While the building blocks of listening are sound based, speaking doesn't necessarily have to be so detail oriented. Accents and mispronunciations are fine, the key is being understood.

When building speaking skills in young learners (or learners of any level, really), the key is building confidence in their ability to convey a message. Games that build speaking skills are about conveying a message, not just repeating sounds from memory.


Similar to listening, the first thing students need to learn is the alphabet and the sounds those letters represent. In Japanese, the characters don't have names. Their names are simply how you read them. In English, the letters have names as well as sounds they represent. In many cases (part of what makes English tricky), the sound of a particular letter can change depending on the letters around it.

To build a solid foundation for reading, students need to quickly become familiar with the letters then move on to the sounds they represent. Phonics is one way to teach this.

When learning the alphabet, don't just teach students the names of the letters. Get them familiar with the shapes by making the shapes. Make the shapes with your body. Write the shapes in the air. Write them on paper. Gesture them to each other.

Associate the letters with words, and emphasize the sound that letter represents. "a-a-apple". Play spelling games with words that can easily be read phonetically. Cat. Dog. Stop. Red.


By the time students are learning to write in English, they should already know how to write in Japanese. That means they should know how to hold the pencil correctly and understand that there is an order to how letters are written.

In terms of letter stroke order, Japanese can be a little different to English. Also, printing may be a little different to writing. Keep these in mind if you are asked to teach stroke order. Also, it's confusing for students if your stroke order differs from the school stroke order (which at the moment, probably comes from Hi, friends! and the Department of Education). So for your students sake, check with the teacher prior to class to check your stroke orders are in order. See what I did there? ;-)

One of the first things students will want to learn is how to write their own names. Students feel a great sense of achievement when they learn to do it in English!

After stroke order, letter shape, position, and spacing is important. Make sure students understand the tail of g and y sit below the line; capital letters touch the top line as do tall letters like d, f, and l. Explain that spaces are important to help us read each word. Spaces between letters are small, spaces between words are big!

A student with a solid foundation has such a big advantage as they continue learning English through their years at school. How do you ensure your students start with a strong base? Please share in the comment section below.

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# Kev 2018-03-14 06:56
Besides basics, if the kids don't enjoy English, they won't learn very well. I think with speaking it's important to not introduce too many things at once, otherwise it's just too confusing. Just one building block at a time. If there's a simpler way to say something, then teach that first. If you can still simplify, then break it down even further. Then build from there.
# 2018-03-19 02:26
Quoting Kev:
Besides basics, if the kids don't enjoy English, they won't learn very well

Absolutely. If your students aren't enjoying their classes, their learning is going to suffer. It can be helpful to think of enjoyment as positive motivation. If students have good positive motivation, they'll learn so much better.

Check out for more on how to motivate students.

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