This study aims at identifying interpretable factors underlying Japanese language learners' attitudes toward kanji and their self-reported kanji learning strategies. It also examines the relationship between the two sets of belief factors. A questionnaire survey was conducted among Japanese language students at nine universities in the United States; 311 responses were subjected to exploratory factor analyses that identified six attitudinal factors and six strategy belief factors. Descriptive statistics indicated that students considered rote memorization most effective and metacognitive strategies least effective. Correlational analyses revealed that appreciation of the cultural value of kanji and positive emotions toward kanji were associated with stronger belief in varied strategies. Perception of difficulty and belief in special abilities required for kanji learning, in contrast, were associated with reliance on rote memorization.
Key words: attitudes, belief multidimensionality, kanji, learner perceptions, self-reported learning strategies
Every foreign language has challenging features to learn.1 Students learning Japanese as a second/foreign language (Japanese L2 students, hereafter) often view kanji (Chinese characters) as one of the most challenging aspects of Japanese learning (Gamage, 2003; Mori, 1999a; Okita, 1997; Toyoda, 1995). Toyoda (1995), for instance, reports that both beginning and advanced Japanese L2 students consider kanji difficult and exhibit a desire to receive some guidance that would facilitate learning. The challenge in kanji learning, according to the respondents to Toyoda's survey, includes difficulty in retention, multiple readings of a single character, visual similarity, the polysemous nature of kanji words, the large number of characters to learn, and visual complexity. Such perception of difficulty is at least partially attributable to the typological differences between logographic and alphabetic orthographies (Tollini, 1994).
In recent years, a growing number of studies have demonstrated that students' choice of strategies for a challenging learning task reflects their views on language learning in general and the nature of a given task in particular (Abraham & Vann, 1987; Barnett, 1988; Carrell, 1989; Cotterall, 1995, 1999; Elbaum, Berg, & Dodd, 1993; Horwitz, 1985, 1987, 1988; Kern, 1995; Mori, 1999b, 2002; Oxford, 1990; Sakui & Gaies, 1999; Wenden, 1998; Yang, 1999). Educational research also indicates that individuals' epistemological beliefs (i.e., beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning in general) have significant influence on comprehension and learning (Schommer, 1990, 1994). For L2 vocabulary learning, research consistently suggests that students' word learning strategies and their overall vocabulary knowledge reflect their beliefs about the nature of word learning (Gu & Johnson, 1996; Kojic-Sabo & Lightbown, 1999; Mori, 2002; Parry, 1997; Sanaoui, 1995).
These belief studies have contributed to better understanding of student perceptions in at least two ways. First, most studies support the notion of belief multidimensionality, that is, individuals' beliefs are described as a complex system of multiple, independent constructs (Cotterall, 1995, 1999; Horwitz, 1985, 1987, 1988; Mori, 1999a; Sakui & Gaies, 1999; Schommer, 1990, 1994). This notion challenges the unidimensional view that learners go through a fixed, linear progression of developmental stages, and that high-proficiency students always have more refined beliefs than low-proficiency students in all respects. Instead, multidimensional models offer the view that individual students exhibit different beliefs on each construct, and that each belief dimension has its unique impact on learning behaviors. The second important finding concerns the specificity of learner perceptions, that is, students' task-specific beliefs (e. …