I have been teaching private English classes for over a year now, and one of these classes happens to be for two Japanese children, 7 and 9, who have no prior English knowledge. Their father asks them to copy words from a vocabulary book they have, and wants me to help them study for the Eiken (English proficiency test) level 5. I've tried different approaches, but I only have 40 minutes a week with them, so retention is something we're struggling with. Although I send them homework, most of the time, they don't complete it, or only do so a few minutes before the class.

Recently, their father tells me that they have trouble understanding the English alphabetic system, so I thought it'd be useful to focus on phonics. My question is: with such little time together, should I really use it to teach phonics, or try instead to tackle the Eiken study guide for children the father gave to me? I feel like they'd benefit greatly from a stronger foundation in reading and recognizing words, but I often worry whether I'm choosing to focus on the right area.

If anyone has experience teaching EFL to young children, I'd really appreciate it.

3 Answers 3


This seems like quite a lofty goal. 40 minutes per week is quite difficult for students who actually have exposure with the language; for those without any experience, it's more than a herculean effort (for both the instructor and the students)!

I'm unfamiliar with the 英検, but according to wikipedia the first portion targets four skills: vocabulary, reading, listening, and writing. It goes on to say that the second section of the test is almost entirely speaking. The first portion must be passed in order to proceed to the second. This makes it quite difficult because there is no one skill upon which to focus.

Assuming the wiki page is correct, you have a bit of guidance since there's a gap between the first and second portions. Try to focus on those first four skills (while not completely ignoring speaking) and then once they pass, focus on speaking (while not completely ignoring the others).

If your students aren't completing the homework, perhaps it would behoove you (and them) to make the homework more fun. I'm not experienced in language education for children, but in American primary school the homework tends to be more "fun" in hopes to foster a desire to complete it instead of it becoming a chore. I'm sure you as a professional can evaluate the efficacy of this, and I invite you to take it with a grain of salt. :) You can find my answer on story-telling as a language tool here - maybe this could be useful and fun.

All in all, it truly seems difficult but I don't want you to feel discouraged. I think your most difficult task is to get your students engaged. Once this happens, the rest will fall into place.

Best of luck!


The goal for the children has already been defined as passing the Eiken. As such, it is necessary to prepare them for this even if this not what one agrees with. Passing this test is the need of the students and the teacher needs to meet this need.

Having 40 minutes a week with kids in an EFL environment is almost impossible to overcome. However, a serious attempt needs to be made to prep the kids for the Eiken unless the father changes his mind.


When I was living in Japan, I volunteered and taught English class and I had a lot of youth show up. They were mostly teenagers, but the best way they improved their English was giving them the opportunity to have English conversations with us, as well as with each other.

You can study textbooks and memorize words, but that doesn't mean you will become fluent in English (at least not quickly). This may be a little much for children under 10 years old, but it's what I have seen that shows the most progress.

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