This summer sees the publication of Developing Interactional Competence in a Japanese Study Abroad Context, the latest work by Naoko Taguchi. In this post, Naoko introduces us to the key themes of her work and what led to her interest in the topic.
“What skills and abilities do you think are important when living in Japan?”
I asked this question to the participants in my study in this book. Instead of answering speaking, listening, or vocabulary knowledge, one student said “singing.” He continued:
“They [Japanese people] do karaoke all the time, and I feel awkward when I just listen to others in karaoke. In China, people play mahjong, but not here. I like to learn how to sing in Japanese. It’s a little weird to sing old songs. They always sing new pop music.”
This episode summarizes what studying abroad really means. It extends far beyond the language study. It involves learning a new cultural practice and participating in it in a manner shared among local members. Through this socialization into a shared practice, language improves as a byproduct.
I have been teaching Japanese language and culture for over a decade, and I often wonder how students learn materials that are not in the textbooks. Obviously what teachers can provide is limited in time and scope, so I have been curious about the nature of independent, incidental learning occurring in a naturalistic setting. A study abroad context is naturally a prime venue to investigate this question, and this research monograph is the outcome.
This book describes the development of two linguistic features – style shifting and incomplete sentences at turn-taking – among 18 international students during their semester in Japan. These linguistic features do not appear in most Japanese textbooks as learning objectives, but they are indeed critical linguistic resources for interaction in Japanese. Japanese speakers use plain and polite forms skillfully to project social meanings of formality, affect, and hierarchy. They shift between these forms corresponding to the changing course of interaction. They often leave a sentence incomplete and prompt the listener to complete the unfinished turn, which is a feature of interactive turn construction.
These linguistic features indeed developed during a semester abroad among the participants in this study, and the development was grounded in their socialization into the local community. The community consists of a variety of domains of practice, each of which involves distinct settings, goals, memberships, and participant structures. By participating in these diverse communities, the participants learned patterns of speech that are contingent in context. Frequent style-shifting at dinner conversations in homestay, fast-paced, highly interactive talk with a same-age-peer, and participation in the senior-junior relationship in club activities served as venues where speech styles, incomplete sentences, and collaborative turn constructions are constantly observed and practiced. The critical skills while abroad could be summarized as one’s abilities in seeking these opportunities for practice and committing to them as venues for their linguistic and cultural growth.
You can find more information about Naoko Taguchi’s book on our website here. This work joins our other titles on Japanese learners and study abroad – do search our website for more books on these and similar topics.