Need help with an ESL student: Japanese exchange student with very little understanding of English


I have an exchange student from Japan that admits he barely passed the English test to become an exchange student. Staff has difficulty communicating with him. He could not understand “You cannot log into the computer until Monday. It takes the computer 24 hours to activate an account.” He nods politely, but struggles to understand simple sentences. He has been taken out of 9th grade English (he’s a senior) and been moved to an online 6th grade English because he could not do the work.

On the most recent test, he spent the entire class period attempting to translate and understand the first two questions (he could only answer question #1). He was crying by the end of class.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can get him the information in Japanese?

Any suggestions anyone has would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,


Hello @cthelen,

For help navigating the site, you could point the student to this link, which provides the Japanese translation of the website, done by volunteer translators:

A direct link to CSP can be found at:

I’m hoping other teachers chime in with suggestions. We appreciate your willingness to go the extra mile to help this student find success!

~ Hannah


Hi @cthelen,

I haven’t had students new to the language dropped into my AP class, but it wasn’t uncommon for this to happen in my other courses. IMO, ultimately it’s not realistic for these students to be achieving at the same level as students fluent in English - but we can definitely provide as much support as we can.

Some things I tried to help these students transition into their new environment:

  1. Using basic strategies we might use for any English Learner - simplifying sentences, supplementing with gestures and visuals, giving extra time to process. It’s a bit of playing charades and Taboo (avoiding anything other than the most basic vocab).
  2. Encouraging the student to use Google Translate - on whatever device is most convenient. In some cases, I had an extra phone on hand just for this purpose. It was an old pay-as-you-go phone that works fine over wifi.
  3. Having the student build their vocabulary over time. I have the student use the last pages of their class notebook as a “dictionary”. Every day they choose 2 words and I choose 2 words (or whatever combination you want) to write into their dictionary. They don’t necessarily have to be words related to the class - mostly words that are commonly used that they find helpful or I think they’ll need to know (such as “computer”, “wait”, “click”, “stop”, “describe”, etc.). They log the word in English and in their native language. Depending on the situation, I might borrow their notes and make a quiz every week or so if I want to give them points (but in most cases, these students have been pretty self-motivated and learn the words on their own since they just find it helpful).

It sounds like the student you have is putting in the effort and just needs some support. However, it might be up to your policies and your school’s policies to decide what to actually hold him accountable for. Meanwhile, the way I view it, my job is to help the student adapt to their new environment while getting them to learn as much of the content as realistically possible without unfairly jeopardizing their grade.

Hope this helps.


PS - Oh, in some cases I try to learn their dictionary terms with them, in their native language. Sometimes this helps if it’s a student who could use a bit more buy-in, plus it shows that we’re all learning and it’s okay to struggle and ask how to pronounce something and say it wrong a few times. :slightly_smiling_face:


I will reply here as both an AP teacher and a host parent. There are certainly arguments for removing the student from the AP class. However, it should be noted that it is unlikely he will receive credit from his home school for his “senior” year in the foreign exchange. My family hosted two students from Japan. Although they received some credit for cultural exchange, they did not receive a full year credit at home for their year here in the USA. His objective of exchange is cultural exchange and strengthening his English language proficiency.
His full immersion into an English language environment will strengthen his English proficiency, but you and he may not see a significant improvement until Christmas. A good sit down with him may help him to adjust his expectations. If he interacts well with other students and enjoys the class, he may not mind being behind the learning curve. If his English language acquisition frustrates him, then perhaps a less demanding course is in order. I think @frank_w_lee ’ s suggestions are excellent. Provide accommodations and differentiation as you can and have Teacher time for.