Photographing, uploading, and discussing English words in Japanese society

Keith Barrs, Kanda University of International Studies


Quick guide
  • Key words: Flickr, photos, English in Japanese script
  • Learner English level: Any
  • Learner Maturity: High school, university
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes (only once)
  • Activity time: 20 minutes
  • Materials: Class Flickr account, students’ email account
This activity raises awareness of how words from the English language are used in the Japanese language. Students photograph examples of English written in Japanese script found in Japanese society and upload them by email to a class Flickr website. The photos are then used to create specific vocabulary-focused activities about the similarities and differences in forms and functions of these words used in the two languages, such as phonological and semantic changes.
Step 1: Sign up for a free Flickr account <>, which is a Yahoo-run photo and video sharing website. 
Step 2: Navigate to the Your Account section, under the You tab, and click on the Emails & Notifications tab. In the Upload by Email Options section there is an address for email uploading which can be changed if necessary by clicking Edit and then Refresh your Address. Copy down the address for future reference.
Step 1: Do a test upload. Find a photo and attach it to an email. In the subject line of the email enter a title. In the email body enter a description. Send it to the email address you copied down earlier and it should appear in your Flickr Photostream. You can then click on the photo, and edit it (e.g., rotate) using the Actions tab.
Step 2: Explain that the activity’s purpose is to raise awareness of the variety of English words that appear in the Japanese language, and to allow opportunities to compare and contrast features of the words as they appear and are used in their L1 and L2. Explain that they should look around for English words written in Japanese script (katakana, hiragana, kanji) in places such as newspapers, sign boards and product packaging. If your lessons have a theme, such as movies or travel, you can specify the content of the photos.
Step 3: Explain that they should upload the pictures to the class Flickr website for sharing. Give them the email address and if possible do a test run in class to show them the uploading process. Ask the students to write a specified title in the email’s subject line, such as Movie English or Travel words in Japanese, which will help for later categorisation.
Step 4: For the description, ask students to write 1) their first name, 2) where they found the picture, 3) how the words would appear written in the English alphabet and 4) a short comment about anything interesting they noticed with the word, such as a spelling or meaning difference, or whether they think the word is common in Japanese, etc. See Appendix for an example.
Step 6: Remind students to double-check that they have attached the picture to the email, written a title in the subject line, written a description in the email body, and entered the email address correctly. After they have sent the email, get them to check the website for their own upload as well as those of other students.
Step 7: Encourage students to use the Comments and Faves box under each photo on the website. This can assist the teacher in seeing what kinds of issues are being raised and which are most useful for subsequent classroom focus. These classroom activities can involve learning about a particular language element raised by the pictures and comments, such as the insertion of vowels after consonants, and then giving the students a quiz to check their understanding. A further activity could involve having students create flashcards or wordlists of the English language and Japanese language version of the words, just as is done when highlighting differences between British and American English.
This activity can help to raise Japanese students’ awareness of the English which surrounds them in their daily life. As such, it allows the teacher to generate classroom activities related to Japanese-English language contact, which can be pedagogically beneficial to Japanese students of English.
The appendix is available below.