Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Connections between Teacher and Student Attitudes regarding Script Choice in First-Year Japanese Language Classrooms

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Connections between Teacher and Student Attitudes regarding Script Choice in First-Year Japanese Language Classrooms

Article excerpt


This study Investigates connections between teacher and student attitudes related to the delayed (or immediate) introduction of Japanese script in the Japanese language classroom. Two groups of students completed questionnaires concerning their attitudes toward the immediate or delayed introduction of Japanese script and the use of romaji (romanized Japanese) in the Japanese as a second language classroom. The first group was introduced to Japanese script immediately, and romaji was not used in their textbook. The second group used a romaji textbook and was introduced to Japanese script at a later time and a slower rate. Teacher attitudes were also assessed using a questionnaire and interviews. Relationships were found between teacher altitudes regarding script use and several aspects of students' attitudes. For both groups, student responses corresponded well with teacher responses in terms of degree of satisfaction with the writing system used to teach Japanese in class and the use of an alternative script to study Japanese (romaji for the first group and Japanese syllabaries and kanji for the second group). Teacher and student attitudes toward the textbook were also related for the second group. Questionnaire and interview data indicated a clear teacher influence on student attitudes related to script choice in the Japanese classroom.


Teaching Japanese script to learners whose first languages are alphabetic can be a daunting task. Written Japanese uses two syllabaries (scripts whose characters represent single morae-sound units that make up words and typically consist of one consonant followed by one vowel) and thousands of Chinese characters (kanji). The first syllabary, hiragcma, consists of 46 characters in modern Japanese, and is used mostly for inflectional endings and for words native to Japanese, but not written in kanji. Katakana, also consisting of 46 characters, is used largely to render words of foreign origin (except for Chinese words) and for onomatopoeic expressions. Kanji can have meaning by themselves and may represent individual words. They can also be combined with other kanji to form meaningful, multicharacter compounds that function as single words. Many of these compounds are words borrowed from Chinese. Individual kanji can have more than one reading, depending on the surrounding characters and context. Horodeck (1987) estimated that knowledge of 1,500 characters will allow a person to read most of the materials they encounter in modern Japanese. The Japanese government lists 1,945 characters (joyoo kanji) for use in everyday Japanese, and the suggestion is often made that if learners master this list, they will be able to read most modern Japanese text without having to look up a lot of unknown characters (e.g., see Hadamitzky & Spahn, 1981). In addition to hiragcma, katakana, and kanji, roman letters and Arabic numerals may also be mixed with Japanese script, particularly in scientific writing and other types of writing where numbers or acronyms frequently occur. In short, the Japanese writing system is one of the most complicated writing systems in the world, because it utilizes thousands of characters and mixes several different scripts in complex ways.

Given the complexity of the Japanese writing system, it is not surprising that there has been considerable debate over how to teach this system to both L1 and L2 learners (Koda, 2001; Makino, 1987; Matsunaga, 1995, 2001; Miura, 1987; Nara & Noda, 2003). Two closely related issues for Japanese L2 pedagogy have been the timing of the introduction of Japanese script and the use of an alternative script (usually romanized Japanese, or romaji) to facilitate the learning of spoken Japanese. Those arguing for delayed introduction most frequently offer romaji as an alternative solution for representing spoken Japanese in the early stages oi learning.

Some proponents of delayed introduction to written Japanese argue that sound is automatically accessed when processing Japanese, and that learners must have some sound to associate with characters in order to effectively process written Japanese (Matsunaga, 1995, 2001). …

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