Student Preconceptions of Japanese Language Learning in 1989 and 2004

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study compares student preconceptions and expectations of Japanese language learning from studies conducted in 1989 and 2004. Over the years, student interests and pedagogical approaches have changed. However, the changes do not reflect on the student preconceptions and expectations. They still believe in traditional approaches to language learning, and their instrumental motivation is still high. A total of 374 undergraduate students studying Japanese in a four-year college participated in this study. The participants responded to a questionnaire concerning the four areas of language learning: (1) difficulty, (2) nature, (3) strategies, and (4) motivation. In analyzing these findings, this study recommends that instructors impart the facts about Japanese language learning to their students and assess whether their own curriculums meet the students' needs.

Key words: college-level language learning, questionnaire study, students' expectations, students' preconceptions

Language: Japanese

Students hold a variety of preconceptions and expectations about the language they are learning. The instructor who understands student preconceptions and expectations can assist them more effectively in achieving their goals and can evaluate the curriculum to determine if it provides the training necessary to meet the students' needs.

To be successful, learners must devote considerable time and energy to their study, and they must study effectively. They need to be aware of the realities of learning the target language, such as its difficulty and the time required to reach the advanced level more quickly. They also need to be informed about the most effective way to learn a foreign language. To assist students to become successful, an instructor must implement the curriculum with this in mind.

First, I discuss learners' preconceptions and expectations about Japanese language learning. Based on this discussion, I determine what facts the student must know. Finally, I examine whether our curriculumprovides effective ways of teaching.

In adopting the questionnaire "Beliefs about Language Learning" (Horwitz, 1988), this study surveys and examines student preconceptions and expectations in four areas: (1) difficulty of language learning, (2) the nature of language learning, (3) learning and communication strategies, and (4) motivation and expectation. The data on preconceptions and expectations examined here were collected in 1989 and 2004. The second set of data was collected in 2004 because an interval of 15 years seems adequate for identifying changes in Japanese language education. From the perspective of Japanese language pedagogy, these are very different decades. The student populations differ, and the teaching methodology has changed significantly in the intervening years, including the adaptation of Standards for Japanese Language Learning in many programs. This study compares the two sets of student responses to examine the influence of the different time periods. The survey participants in both data sets were native English speakers learning Japanese as a foreign language at the same four-year state university on the U.S.West Coast.

Before examining the students' responses, however, I review previous findings on the difficulty of Japanese, the characteristics of good language learners, and research findings on motivation. In addition, I discuss the different factors relevant to Japanese pedagogy in 1989 and 2004, as this study compares data from two decades.

Difficulty of Japanese

The School of Language Studies of the Foreign Service Institute categorizes Japanese as a Group Four language along with Arabic, Chinese, and Korean. According to the Institute's analysis (Omaggio, 1986), native English speakers need an average of 1,320 hours to reach the advanced-level speaking proficiency of the ACTFL guideline. It takes native English speakers three times longer to reach the advancedlevel proficiency in Japanese than in the Romance languages (Oh, 1996). …

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