Stating and Supporting Opinions in an Interview: L1 and L2 Japanese Speakers

By Iwasaki, Noriko | Foreign Language Annals, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Stating and Supporting Opinions in an Interview: L1 and L2 Japanese Speakers


Iwasaki, Noriko, Foreign Language Annals


Abstract:

Stating and supporting opinions are important speech acts for language learners to develop. This article examines how speakers of Japanese as their first language (L1) state and support their opinions. Performances of second language (L2) learners of Japanese were also examined to identify the language abilities that L2 learners may need to develop. While L1 speakers often sought common ground using various mitigation devices such as -zyanai desu ka ("isn't the case that"), -yone ("y'know"), and the modal adverb yappari ("after all, as expected"), L2 learners enrolled in a 4th-year Japanese course rarely sought common ground using these devices. In order to help L2 learners develop their ability to state and support opinions in a socioculturally appropriate way, it is important to provide guided opportunities for them to produce discourse-level exchanges beyond sentence-level opinion statements.

Key words: modality expressions, oral proficiency interview, stating opinions

Language: Japanese

Introduction

Stating and supporting opinions are important speech acts, especially in discussions where decision making is involved or in interview settings in which interviewers assess the interviewees' opinions to select finalists for job openings or scholarships. The current study aims to advance the abilities of college-level learners of Japanese as a second language (L2) in this area by examining how speakers of Japanese as their first language (Ll) deploy grammatical resources to state and support opinions.

The importance of stating and supporting opinions is reflected in the ACTFL oral proficiency guidelines, which identify the ability to "provide a structured argument to explain and defend opinions" as one of the global tasks for Superior-level speakers (Swender, 1999). This is an important skill for students to begin developing well before they approach the Superior level. L2 learners may be asked to express their opinions in their L2 not only in informal conversations but also in interviews for internships, job openings, scholarships, or graduate school admission. In order to facilitate L2 learners' development of the ability to state and support opinions, it is important first to understand how Ll speakers of the target language express their opinions in settings that L2 learners may encounter - e.g., formal interviews. This is because how one expresses opinions varies greatly across different settings and across cultures (see Fox, 1994, for example).

Japanese speakers, for example, are said to be reluctant to state their opinions directly (see Davies & Ikeno, 2002). Little research has been done to understand how Ll Japanese speakers convey their opinions in interview settings, where the interviewer often has higher social status and/or more control of the interaction. For Japanese language educators to effectively help students develop their ability to state and defend opinions, it is essential for them to understand what linguistic resources Ll speakers utilize to convey their opinions while mitigating their assertions (in order not to offend their interlocutors), and which of these linguistics resources L2 Japanese learners need the most guidance in using to express opinions. The current study, then, examines how Ll Japanese speakers state and support opinions in interviews that are similar in format to the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), focusing on the linguistic devices that they utilize. It also examines 4th-year Japanese learners' performances to determine what they may need to learn if they aim for target-like performance.

The OPI is sometimes criticized for its interaction being unlike conversation (see Johnson, 2001). Instead, it is likely to be similar to an interview setting, which is in its own right a very important type of situation and therefore is an important area for study. Unlike in conversation, interviewers often have an agenda, e. …

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