Kanji Learning Attitudes and Self-Directed Learning by Learners of Japanese as a Foreign Language: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

This longitudinal qualitative study investigates how cultural experiences of staying in Japan may affect attitudes and self-directed earning of kanji among learners of Japanese as a foreign language. Six beginner learners pursued semester-long weekly kanji earning sessions and their diachronic behaviours were observed and recorded for attitudes and self-directed learning. The learners who had spent a considerable time in Japan consistently demonstrated trends of negative feelings toward kanji compared to those who had not Been to Japan at all. These attitudes were partially reflected in their reported ability for self-directed learning. This interesting finding is discussed in terms preconceived beliefs and how teachers could he p develop positive attitudes in learners.

Keywords

Japanese as a foreign language (JFL), kanji, attitudes, self-directed learning, sociocultural experience

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Chinese characters used in Japan are commonly referred to as kanji. Kanji play an integral part in the Japanese sociocultural milieu. Standard reading materials in Japanese (books, newspapers, and journals) and media (television, for instance) all include kanji. Calligraphy is promoted as a traditional cultural encounter. Kanji also play an essential role in the Japanese education system. Japanese children learn approximately 1,000 kanji in their primary education and 950 in their middle-school education ranging over a period of nine years (Taylor & Taylor, 1995). Simply put, Japanese literacy cannot be achieved without the knowledge of kanji.

The learning of kanji, however, is considered as one of the most challenging problems faced by learners of Japanese as a foreign language (hereafter, referred to as JFL learners) specifically from non-character backgrounds. Not only are they compelled to learn a great amount of kanji in a short period of time, but the figural complexity of certain kanji, the multiple pronunciations, and the polysemous meanings attached to one kanji all contribute to increase the anxiety of JFL learners.

To date, however, very little research has been conducted to observe kanji learning behaviour in a classroom environment. Much of the kanji learning behaviour research is restricted to questionnaires (Douglas, 1992; Okita, 1997) and to reading behaviour research, with learners reading a researcher-selected text at a single point in time (Machida, 2000; Matsunaga, 1999).This study, through longitudinal observation, sets out to explore how previous sociocultural experiences affect attitudes and self-directed kanji learning among JFL learners.

Attitudes

Several studies have indicated that attitudes (Horwitz, 1988, Wenden & Rubin, 1987) and past cultural experiences (Masgoret & Gardner, 2003; Jorden & Noda, 1987; Kawai, 2000) have an impact on learning strategies and achievement in a foreign language. Attitudes are considered important in second language acquisition as they reflect the learners' affective state of mind (Tse, 2000), which in turn can affect learning styles, strategies, and performance in the classroom.

Japanese, unlike English, is a language of a unique cultural community and learning Japanese as a foreign language inevitably enforces target language based cultural orientations. The vast array of Japanese language textbooks also highlights the purpose of assimilating learners into the target culture and society through the introduction of Japanese life styles, customs, food habits, cultural festivals, and so on. Kanji learning textbooks for JFL learners too make use of sociocultural contexts and traditional aspects of culture when introducing new kanji material (e.g. Habein & Mathias, 1991; Hadamitzky & Spahn, 1997; Rowley, 1992; Swiderski, 1993). One of the goals of these textbooks is to encourage learner motivation and positive attitudes through the introduction of culture and society. …