What are the Reasons Students Experience Difficulties When Learning Foreign Languages?

What are the Reasons Students Experience Difficulties When Learning Foreign Languages?

By: Konoka Nakamura

Editor’s comment: Our thanks to Kiriko Kushiyama sensei for introducing this wonderful student to us.  Konoka not only asks good questions, she actively seeks answers to them too. It was a pleasure working with this wondering mind.

I am a high school student who would like to become an English teacher because I enjoy studying English. However, many students in Japan do not share my enthusiasm for the language. I wonder if students in other countries face similar difficulties when learning a new language. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to study at a high school in Australia for 10 days in March 2023. The high school I went to is located in Perth and is a relatively rural one. The school is all-girls and the economic level is average. I decided to conduct a survey in Australia to investigate whether students there struggle with learning foreign languages as well. This was part of my Tankyu (exploration) class activities.

I started reading books on applied linguistics, particularly in regard to English as a Second Language. Based on my volunteer experience teaching English to junior high school students from low-income families, I used to think that low household income levels would negatively impact students’ academic performance. Some students could not afford to eat three meals a day, while others struggled to write the English alphabet. As I researched in academic journals on the topic, I came across an article (2017) by Nobuko Uchida. She argued that parenting styles were one of the main causes of poor academic performance among Japanese students. This made me wonder if some students performed poorly due to bad parenting styles, even if they were from wealthy families. I was curious to know which had a greater impact on students’ grades: household income or parenting styles.

To find out if household incomes and parenting styles affected students’ academic performance in Australia, I created a questionnaire. If I could find any clues that could help solve problems in Japan, I would consider myself lucky. The questionnaire consisted of ten questions that are classified into three categories: household income, parenting style, and academic performance. The household income category includes questions such as the number of meals eaten per day, whether parents are employed, the amount of monthly allowance, and whether students can spend money without restrictions. The parenting style category includes questions such as how often parents tell students to study and whether they enjoy traveling with their parents. The academic performance category includes questions such as asking about their special skills and their scores on the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

In Australia, I surveyed a 17-year-old class and collected 24 valid responses. Of the 24 students, one student eats only once a day, while three students eat twice a day. All of them said they do not receive any allowance from their parents. The student who eats one meal a day has both a father and a mother, but only the mother is working. Two of the students who eat two meals a day said both parents have jobs, while the other said only the father does. I thought that these three students might come from low-income families.

Regarding parenting, the student who eats one meal a day mentioned a minor problem with her father, saying: “My father always tells me I need to stop doing what I enjoy so I can get a higher ATAR [The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank].”  The other three did not mention any problems with their parents. In terms of academic performance, the student who eats one meal a day seemed to perform well, stating: “I am good at memorizing things, and I learn dancing, kung fu, hockey, piano, and guitar.” She wants to be a surgeon in the future. One of the students who eat two meals a day can speak two languages because their family originally came from Indonesia, while another wants to do something related to music. Contrary to my initial idea, none of them show any particular academic problems.

Then, I checked the data of the 21 students who eat three or more meals a day. Among them, 16 students don’t receive a monthly allowance. One of them said she does not like going on trips with her parents. According to her, her parents say: “Study longer; do better.” She studies for four hours per day. Two other students study for three to five hours a day (one is from Japan), seven of them for two to three hours, and four for one hour. Studying for four hours per day could be relatively long for Australian students. I assume she could have parenting problems; however, her academic performance does not seem to be so bad. She wants to study biochemistry or pharmacology in the future.

To my surprise, all the students seem to be satisfied with their NAPLAN scores. Four of them say their scores are “excellent,” and the others say they are “good,” although they study fewer hours than Japanese students. Last but not least, seven students answered that they like studying another language, while others didn’t clearly express their opinions. The latter seem to have mixed feelings toward language learning; they probably enjoy the lesson itself but have difficulties with test-taking. Some of them complain that the language test is very difficult. Anyway, neither household incomes nor parenting styles seem to affect their academic performance or self-efficacy.

I should have asked for more detailed information about students’ academic performances, as the question I asked was too subjective and lacked clear evidence or specific details. For example, it would have been beneficial to ask about students’ academic rank in school, as it could have helped me better understand the relationship between their parents’ behavior and their academic performance. Moreover, I intended to ask each student whether they are willing to study, or they are fed up with studying after hearing their parents’ encouragement. This could have helped me figure out whether parental behavior affects their mindset. If possible, I also wanted to ask their parents’ income, as it could serve as an important factor in understanding their socioeconomic status.

After I conducted the questionnaire, I learned that good parenting styles or environments have positive impact on our lives, even though my research did not show any connection between children’s parenting style, household income, and academic performance. Parenting styles and their surroundings are really important to develop students mentally and physically. Creating an equal environment can be difficult, but it would be nice if we could realize it.

In Japan, there are still about 43 million people who live in poverty. Our society, which has an inequality of academic performance because of economic inequality, needs to be changed. I want to learn more about the reasons for some Japanese students’ low level of proficiency in second languages, especially in English. I wonder why schools in Japan leave students behind, even some who cannot write the alphabet. The schools’ response should be improved. Of course, I cannot change something big by myself, but I hope that a little help goes a long way. In conclusion, I want to become an English teacher in Japan and to help students who do not have an adequate environment to learn well.


  • Uchida, N. (2017). Does economical gap create academic achievement gap?: How childcare and education cn compensate poverty. Trends in the Sciences, 22(10), 10-28. https://doi.org/10.5363/tits.22.10_24

Konoka Nakamura is a high school student in grade 3. She is interested in applied linguistics and would like to be an English teacher. Her goal is that all students in Japan can acquire English proficiency that enables them to adapt to the global society.

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