This month we published Motivation to Learn Multiple Languages in Japan by Chika Takahashi. In this post the author introduces the book and explains what inspired her to write it.
I originally thought of writing this book when I was about to finish the last set of interviews with my two interviewees after nine years of data collection. I had started this motivation study in 2012, had published three papers on the earlier phases, and had unpublished data for the previous three years. What I felt was necessary at that stage was to put everything together to examine my interviewees’ long-term motivational developments to study multiple languages from a broad perspective. For that purpose, I felt that a book-length report was necessary.
We all know that it usually takes years to reach a certain level in any second/foreign language. We also know that it’s challenging to do so in more than one language, particularly when there is a strong social, political, or economic emphasis on one of the languages, in this case English. In a non-multilingual context like Japan, it may be even more challenging than in other contexts such as Europe. Yet I had these rich interview data to demonstrate that it is possible to be motivated to learn multiple languages even in a non-multilingual, exam-oriented context and to go beyond an instrumentalist view of language learning to see multiple language learning as a lifelong endeavor.
In the book, you will see that my interviewees experienced motivational ups and downs along the way, as they went from high school, to university, to graduate school, and into the working world. They had different approaches to language learning and went through distinct experiences even at the same schools, but they both showed compelling cases of persisting in learning multiple languages in their own ways. Readers may be particularly surprised that one of them ended up learning nine languages throughout the years. In an era when English functions as a global language and many learners question the necessity of learning another language when they can communicate in English, this is frankly quite amazing. I am sure that their motivational trajectories and perspectives on language offer valuable insights for our future language learning/teaching, no matter the context. I feel truly lucky to have met such wonderful learners, not only as a researcher but also as a language learner and simply as a human.
What I hope I have demonstrated through this book is that language learning is not just about gaining capital or a competitive edge in the job market. It is not something that happens only in formal education settings, either. My interviewees considered it a lifelong endeavor—an essentially human act that better connects us to other people—and showed that it can be so enjoyable and fulfilling if we have the right elements of motivation. I hope that readers both inside and outside Japan find these two cases illuminating and insightful for their learning/teaching of multiple languages in their given contexts.
For more information about this book please see our website.
If you found this interesting, you might also like Lessons from Exceptional Language Learners Who Have Achieved Nativelike Proficiency by Zoltán Dörnyei and Katarina Mentzelopoulos.