The importance of i-Chat lounges in Japan

By Janet Jennifer Wint (Ritsumeikan Uji Jr. & Sr. High School)

 スクリーンショット 2016-01-08 10.31.23

Background and relevance

As Japan moves towards playing a larger role in an emerging global community, English oral communication and listening plays a significant part in understanding the cross-cultural relationships of the world. Contemporary foreign language education has taken on a communicative emphasis. The focus is on developing the student’s intercultural knowledge, listening, and communicative competence.

(Robatjazi.M.A., 2008).

Nowadays, poor oral proficiency or inactive participation in classes may lower student’s grades substantially despite good written skills. We could say the skills and confidence to speak English have become an integral part of our social, academic and professional competence. (Rubin, 2002)

There is a developing interest in the concept of anxiety as it relates to second language learning. The construct of communication apprehension (CA) has been central to communication avoidance since 1970 and is viewed as” a broadly based anxiety related to oral communication”. (McCroskey, 1983)

The high increase in Japanese returnees has brought about concerns for students immediate regression and language attrition. There is thus a rising need in Japan to develop language maintenance programs for second language English (L2) for such students.

The numbers of international students in Japan have continued to increase at a rapid pace and have featured very prominently in the so-called “internationalization of education”. International students are seen as a catalyst for internationalization and education reform

The English clubs or circles have been around for many years and is viewed as a place for ESL language learners to use English beyond the ESL classroom and in real life situations. The introduction of the chat lounge encompasses the foundation of an English club or circle, but empowers students to organise, create and develop activities. It also empowers students to manage and take control of the maintenance and growth in their English abilities, which in turn builds confidents and motivation.

This article highlights the impact and the importance of the i-chat lounge in Japanese universities and schools.


Communication Apprehension

In Japan, communication apprehension (CA) is viewed as being catastrophic to L2 English learners and to its educators. (Lucas. J, 2008). Earlier research such as, (McCroskey 1997b; Nuto 2003) has implied that once a student has suffered from foreign language CA, it can develop into a vicious circle that maintains itself. The present findings implied that low self-assessed English proficiency together with the unrealistic demand that one must always speak flawlessly can make the student feel that they cannot meet the demands of the communication situation.

Foreign language communication apprehension can slow down or hinder the development of spoken fluency completely. This justifies the need for greater awareness of the causes of foreign language communication apprehension. With this knowledge, teachers can do their part in lowering the students’ anxiety and apprehension and design not only lessons, but English i-chat lounges that also include low-anxiety oral practise as much as possible.

Researchers investigate a concept of self-confidence, which are sometimes involved with other variables, a combination of language anxiety measures and self-ratings of proficiency (MacIntyre P. D. et al, 1997)

Successful oral communication is dependent on the environment, motivation, enthusiasm, trust, openness, sense of humor, rapport, and the desire to integrate, communicate and to be global. (Parson. M., 2001; Weng. T.H., 2010). These are the foundation and the required components of an English i- chat lounge.


Japanese Overseas Students and Returnees

According to The Ministry of Education, (2013), numbers of Japanese students overseas have more than quadruple in the past 15 years. Nearly 76, 000 of these students have returned to Japan. returnees have been defined in Japan as those persons of Japanese citizenship who have spent an extended period abroad, usually at least one or two years, and who have then returned to live in Japan.

While many returnees have made a smooth transition back into Japanese life, this has usually been at the expense of hiding or having to forget their foreign experience. For many Japanese the returnees `way of thinking' is seen as different, not amenable to a society used to traditional conditioning. They lack "Japanese common sense.'' Historical, public, and research perspectives on returnees have also been very much coloured by the views of particular scholars. What is most interesting is how the chronology of returnees as a `problem' reveals the anguished self-introspection, the on-going battle over what constitutes `Japaneseness.'

For returnees, few class activities involve the use of global language skills and communication activities do not drive students to utilise their language skills to the fullest nor extend or stretch their abilities.

As Returnees L2 start to regress as soon as they return to Japan, It is important for teachers to organise English circles or a chat lounge, which allow the returnees the freedom to utilise their global language skills to the highest degree and also enable them to interact smoothly with their peers in Japan and internationally. With an English chat lounge and the development in technology, it would be feasible to set up a correspondence network between Japan returnees and students from other countries. This will in turn offer the chance for all students to use English for real communication purposes. (Hansen. L, 1999).


International Students to Japan

The number of international students enrolled in Japanese schools and universities in 2011 was 138, 075

Apart from coming to Japan to learn about Japanese culture and tradition, these students are also of great importance to English chat lounge in Japan. They give Japanese students the chance to use English for real communication purposes and build strong lasting relationships between Japanese Students and exchange students. It also gives both students hands on experience in cross-cultural situations.


i-Chat Lounge

The practice of English language skills in the classroom is crucial, but it is not enough for a student to master or to feel comfortable using the language. The i-chat lounge is born out of the English clubs, circles and online social media chat lounge. It aim is to empower students to take charge of their global, English learning directions and goals with positive, motivation and confidence.

The i-chat lounge is a drop in centre where students of all age are empowered to make decisions and given the freedom to attend and come and go whenever they like.

An i-Chat lounge, unlike any university or high school classroom, has an extremely calming and relaxed atmosphere of a cafe, lounge area at a hotel or an airport. Where students, friends and teachers meet up to chat, discover, study, assist, and take part in or create various, interactive activities.

An i-Chat lounge is accessible to students from 9:00 am until closing. It should always have two native English teachers and one Japanese English teacher to assist students at all times.

In the i-chat lounge, the students have the chance to use different skills to tackle tasks and discuss a variety of topics. Students can also form new and strong relationships with teachers, students, connect with conversation partners, and meet native English teachers and international students from around the world. Like a hotel lounge, students are not required to obtain memberships or to attend on a daily. Students are free to decide on what they would like to do.

The i- Chat lounge usually offers exciting holiday and cultural events and outings throughout the year, where teachers, international students, and Japanese returnees and regular students enjoy world events presentations and discussions.

The i-chat lounge allows students to feel free and empowered.



The i-chat lounge is important for many reasons. For example, Students who lack interaction and/ or motivation in the classroom, either because they are introvert, shy or they have a low language level,. The

i-Chat lounge may be a good solution to involve them with their friends in doing various activities and to make weak students active, motivated and confident. The good thing an i-chat lounge is that it gives opportunities to students to study English with fun and it is also a place for students to improve their English. For instance, students can choose to read stories and books to enhance their writing skills. They also watch documentaries, films, listen to songs and engage in discussions with their teachers and peers; they can play games and sports to change the atmosphere and practice the language in funny ways.

It also gives both international and Japanese students hands on experience in cross-cultural situations.

The i-chat lounge allow Japanese returnees the freedom to utilise their global language skills to the highest degree and also enable them to interact smoothly with their peers in Japan and internationally.

Components of the i- chat lounge lowers students’ anxiety and communication apprehension and in turn build motivation and self-confidence in students.

In conclusion, the i-chat lounge paves the way for students to build up their personality, discover, understand and become themselves and develop their cultural competences. It makes them aware of the national and international issues and events; so that they can be useful for themselves and for their community as well as to develop their sense of citizenship and belonging.










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