The Perceptions of Japanese Students toward Academic English Reading: Implications for Effective ESL Reading Strategies

By Iwai, Yuko | Multicultural Education, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

The Perceptions of Japanese Students toward Academic English Reading: Implications for Effective ESL Reading Strategies


Iwai, Yuko, Multicultural Education


Introduction

The population of English as a Second Language (ESL) learners has increased significantly in higher education settings in the United States today. There were approximately 583,000 foreign students enrolled in American colleges and universities in the 2006-2007 academic year, more than half of whom were from Asia-students from India, China, South Korea, and Japan represent the first to the fourth rankings respectively (Institute of International Education, 2007). In the 2006-2007 academic year, there were about 35,300 Japanese students enrolled in higher education in the United States (Institute of International Education, 2007).

It has been reported that Japanese ESL students are generally unsuccessful when studying in English speaking countries (Hayes, 1979; Matsumoto, 1994; Miller, 1982; Ota, 1994). Most Japanese students study English in Japan only in order to pass the university entrance examinations that mainly consist of analytical and grammatical skills of reading rather than oral and communicative skills (Butler & Iino, 2005).

In addition, the typical way of reading in English for Japanese students is the grammar-translation method (Mantero & Iwai, 2005). Using this approach, the students depend on English-Japanese dictionaries and translate from English to Japanese word by word. They stop at the point where they encounter an unknown word, and they clarify its meaning completely. Otherwise, they believe that they do not understand a text or piece of information well. It is difficult for them to understand a whole message or the intentions of authors because they do not really think about the meaning in context, but rather they focus on each word and each sentence so that they know what the Japanese translation is (Kitao & Kitao, 1995).

Having this learning background, many Japanese ESL college students have reading difficulties when they enter the United States. They try to find some strategies that work for academic reading in ESL settings as college students. The primary issues are, how do they figure out more effective reading strategies, why do they think the reading strategies they used in Japan are not appropriate, and in which situations do they have reading problems?

Second Language Acquisition

Previous research suggests that Second Language Acquisition (SLA) refers to "the subconscious or conscious process by which a language, other than the mother tongue, is learned in a natural or a tutored setting" (Ellis, 1986, p. 6). In this process, second language (L2) learners do not realize that they are acquiring their L2; rather, they have a feeling that they are using the L2 (Krashen, 1982).

There are three major SLA theories. The first theory is the behaviorist theory. This theory supports the view that L2 learners acquire their L2 when they undertake a lot of repetitions (e.g., drills). From the behaviorists' point of view, L2 learners need to have opportunities and patterned practices to imitate models and focus on grammar, and their errors should be corrected as soon as possible (Peregoy & Boyle, 2000b).

The second SLA theory is the innatist theory. Dulay and Burt (1974a & 1974b) state that L2 learners acquire L2 in the way that people acquire their first language (L1). Innatist theorists hold that L2 learners learn natural language from teachers, books, and friends, and that they will naturally acquire their L2 without consciousness. In this process errors are not supposed to be corrected because L2 learners will naturally correct their errors themselves when the appropriate time comes.

Krashen (1982), one of the major scholars of the innatist theory, has distinguished acquisition from learning (the acquisition- learning hypothesis). He also pointed out that when students are challenged to learn a little bit more than their current linguistic abilities (the input hypothesis) and when they have higher motivation and lower anxiety (the affective filter hypothesis), L2 learners (a) monitor themselves (the monitor hypothesis), (b) acquire the grammatical structures of their L2 earlier (the natural hypothesis), and (c) acquire their L2 effectively. …

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