Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

A Narrative Analysis of Advanced Japanese Language Students

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

A Narrative Analysis of Advanced Japanese Language Students

Article excerpt


In Japanese, different speech styles (formal or informal) are required in different situations. The informal style is not easily learned in the classroom, as it is not widely practiced and this is not introduced until later in the curriculum. Only when provided the real situation to use the informal style with host families in Japan, do students begin to acquire it. I examined the use of style in oral narratives of Japanese language students in two groups: group A studied Japanese only in the classroom, group B also spent some time in Japan. Surprisingly, group B demonstrated stylistic incoherence, while group A kept one style and thus produced more coherent narratives. I suggest that group A used "risk-avoidance strategy (it avoids the informal style)", whereas, group B took the risk of generating both of them, which led to an incoherent mixture between formal and informal.

1. Introduction

In Japanese language education, the smooth transition from intermediate to advanced levels [1] is an issue. Often students' abilities do not reflect an "advanced" level even though they are placed in the class after two years of study. An observable gap exists between students who have studied Japanese solely in the classroom and others who have spent time in Japan. This gap typically occurs in the third year level because some students participate in a year or a semester abroad program after the second year of classroom instruction. Having taught this level, I find that those who have studied in Japan are generally more fluent in their speech though their control of grammar is sometimes careless.

My observation possibly reflects the distinction between "Acquisition" and "Learning," which was introduced by Krashen. "Acquisition is a subconscious process identical in all important ways to the process children utilize in acquiring their first language, while learning is a conscious process that results in knowing about language." (1985: 1) Acquisition involves exposure to models and practice within social groups, but no formal teaching; whereas learning stands for conscious knowledge received from formal teaching. D'Anglejan (1978) notes that the communication in the classroom setting is likely to be different from the communication that occurs outside the classroom. Those students who have been to Japan have experienced the acquisition process through home stay programs. However, students who have studied Japanese only in the classroom have little access to social practice.

In this study, I examined the summaries of a TV drama by third-year college students of the Japanese language. The students were divided into two groups: J group (those who studied in Japan) and A group (those who studied Japanese only in the classroom). The purpose was to observe the differences in the narratives of the two groups. The following questions are considered: (1) What are the linguistic benefits of study abroad?; and (2) What are the pedagogical implications derived from the findings that will help students achieve the "advanced" level regardless of their prior background? In the following section, I will review literature related to the effects that study abroad experiences have on language proficiency.

2. Literature Review

Educators have assumed that to become fluent in a foreign language one must go to a place where it is spoken. Until recently, this belief was only supported by "intuitions and subjective observations." (Brecht, Davidson, & Ginsberg 1993:1) Krashen (1981) claims that a natural environment (as opposed to a classroom environment) does not always provide superior input for acquisition; thus it is important to distinguish "exposure-type" and "intake-type" in the natural environments, since only the latter contributes to the SLA (Second Language Acquisition.) If the environment supplies comprehensible input (intake-type), according to Krashen (1982), the "outside world" is clearly superior to the classroom. …

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