A Tale of Two Teachers: Technology-Supported Language Learning for Japanese

This month we published Technology-Supported Learning In and Out of the Japanese Language Classroom edited by Erica Zimmerman and Abigail McMeekin. In this post the editors explain what inspired them to put the book together.

Erica’s journey

Over the past 25 years, I have participated as a learner/teacher in the changes in technology for learning Japanese. When I started studying Japanese in 1992, I did not own a computer. My sensei (teacher) painstakingly wrote our textbook, worksheets, tests, and quizzes by hand. In 1998, when I needed to produce handouts in Japanese for my pedagogy classes, I installed the Japanese Windows operating system on my laptop. In 2001, with the use of the new Windows IME (Input Method Editor), I conducted a semester-long project with two colleagues examining the use of visual input (chat, MSN Messenger) with the use of voice CMC (PalTalk) for learning Korean. Many of our sessions were fraught with technical issues such as poor connections (it was dial-up then). More recently, with the proliferation of technology, it is increasingly more challenging to determine the effectiveness of apps, online websites, social media, etc. on language learning and acquisition.

Abby’s journey

Like my co-editor, I have many stories over the years of trying to incorporate technology into my teaching. It was never very easy. In the last ten years, however, it has become commonplace to type in Japanese and Japanese websites are now easily accessible along with internet tools to aid in deciphering them. In 2014, a conference presentation on the importance of digital literacy skills in second languages motivated me to design a project that involved using web-based activities to facilitate learning in Japanese. It was at this point that I began researching the topic but was unable to find anything on how to do this or what the possible learning outcomes might be…


Thus, we both found ourselves wanting to incorporate the latest technologies (e.g., WEB 2.0, web-based tools) using methodologies that addressed more communicative and integrative aspects of learning (versus rote) but could find little information on what that would look like for Japanese. The last review volume published for Japanese CALL was in 2002, considered ancient by today’s technological standards. What we really wanted was a book that synthesized advice on using newer SLA theories and methodologies with the latest technology while offering information on learning outcomes and best practices. As the saying goes, what does not exist, one creates.

This is why everything we wanted to know about Japanese CALL we included in our volume. For instance, the introduction chapter gives an overview of Japanese CALL, offering insights into where the field has been and where it is now, using Warschauer and Healey’s different CALL genres (Behaviorist/structural, communicative, integrative, and ecological).

For the individual chapters, we aimed for including a variety of technologies (e.g. virtual games, computer-mediated communication, corpus software), examined through different theoretical lenses and methodologies in various learning environments (e.g. flipped, online, blended, distance). We wanted each chapter to provide readers not only with a description of how to use the technology being investigated but also to offer findings on potential/actual learning outcomes and best practices. So to give readers an idea of the future trajectory of Japanese CALL research, the epilogue gives specific suggestions on where to go from here.

Thus each chapter offers a combination of experimental, empirical and practical aspects of CALL. Every author who contributed to this volume started from scratch. We hope that readers will find something useful in every chapter.


For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Computer Assisted Language Learning edited by Judith Buendgens-Kosten and Daniela Elsner.

What Does Language Learning Outside the Classroom Look Like?

This month we published Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba. In this post the author explains what inspired this study and how she carried out her research.

I first became interested in out-of-class language learning more than 10 years ago when I had just started my career as a teacher of Japanese at a university in Sweden. I vividly remember how in my very first week at the university, some of my students told me about their favourite Japanese pop culture, such as anime (Japanese cartoons), manga (Japanese comic books) and movies. It was shocking to me at that time – I wondered how they could know Japanese pop culture better than me even though they were on the opposite side of the planet. I was also surprised by the fact that they could speak Japanese even before completing beginner level. It all started from there.

I then started asking my students what they had done in Japanese outside the classroom and realised that almost all do something extra in Japanese alongside their classroom-based study. At the same time, I started wondering what I could do to support their study as a teacher of Japanese. This question motivated (and still motivates) me to dig into out-of-class language learning for my research.

One big challenge when conducting this research was to decide which data collection methods to use. Out-of-class literacy practices are usually ‘hidden’ from teachers, and students undertake such activities irregularly. The very nature of out-of-class language learning might make the research on this topic complicated. However, when considering the different data collection methods available, I came across the ‘diary study with photos’ method in several papers in the field of literacy studies. Visual information is crucial to be included because one feature of literacy in this digital age is its multimodality.

In the end, I decided to employ this diary study with photo method alongside interviews, and asked the participants to include visual information as much as possible, for example, screenshots of websites and photos of books that they had read. I also asked them to bring paper-based materials to class (e.g. their books and essays for the Japanese classes) if possible. In the interviews, I used such visual materials to trigger the students’ memory when they engaged in particular literacy activities in their diaries. They sometimes even used my computer to demonstrate how they utilised online tools and websites. I think this method enabled me to collect rich data in a less intrusive way than either observations or video recordings and also helped me to understand the contexts of their literacy practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

The Japanese writing system and the difficulties it poses for second language learners

This month we are publishing The Japanese Writing System by Heath Rose. In this post, Heath reveals how his own struggles with studying the written language inspired him to write the book.

The Japanese writing system has fascinated me since I first began learning it as a high school student in rural Australia. This captivation remained with me when I became a teacher of the language, and later as a researcher of it. However, my relationship with Japanese is somewhat multifarious; while I have always appreciated the beauty in its complexity, I can be simultaneously frustrated with it and enamoured of it. Still to this day, I do not know any other language that mixes so many types of scripts within a single writing system. Japanese consists of two phonetic scripts (hiragana and katakana) that represent syllables in the language, a character-based script (kanji) that represents meaning-based units, and an alphabetic script (Romaji).

When I first learned kanji, I found the writing system to be a great source of motivation to study. There was beauty in the physical form of the scripts and I could see progress being made in my learning of the hiragana and katakana scripts, and the first few hundred kanji. This motivation slowly dissipated in later years of study, as I realised that I needed to learn many more thousand kanji, which seemed to represent the language in a haphazard manner. A learner must know more than 2000 kanji to be literate in the language, and many more thousand to develop a high level of expertise in it. What was once a source of joy, had developed into a laborious task of memorization that extended over a decade of intensive study.

I was fortunate to be able to live in Japan for eleven years. While I saw my spoken Japanese improve effortlessly during this time, my written Japanese still required formal classes, and daily self-study. When I lacked the time to devote to reviewing kanji, my proficiency was adversely affected. At that time it dawned on me that the written Japanese language and the spoken Japanese language were completely separate beasts; it was possible to advance in one and decline in the other.

My interest, as a researcher of the processes by which second language learners acquire written Japanese, grew from my own struggles with learning the language. In my research, which spanned a decade, I discovered patterns in learning that were indicative of good and bad practices. Some successful learners applied strategies to memorize kanji, such as making associations with their shape, components, or meanings. However, I concluded there was no definitive “magic” strategy for success. Rather, successful learners tended to cope with the magnitude of learning via successful self-regulation of their learning goals, and their learning behaviours.

I sum up my research (and the research of other linguists) in my new book titled The Japanese Writing System: Challenges, Strategies and Self-regulation for Learning Kanji. In this book research is discussed in terms of their implications for second language learners, teachers and researchers alike.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Writing Systems edited by Vivian Cook and Benedetta Bassetti. 

Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals

Earlier this month we published Wai Lan Tsang’s book Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals which studies Cantonese, English and French multilinguals in Hong Kong. In this post, Wai Lan tells us how her own experience as a multilingual learner inspired further examination of the influence of other languages on the language being learned. 

The fact is that if you have not developed language,
you simply don’t have access to most of human experience,
and if you don’t have access to experience,
then you’re not going to be able to think properly.
Noam Chomsky

Chomsky’s quote tells us how important human language is in formulating our experience and thoughts. But what happens when we know more than one kind of human language? How do we think these different human languages influence or interact with each other?

Born into a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, I have the privilege of being exposed to different languages. As a native speaker of Cantonese (a variety of Standard Chinese), I have acquired English, French and Japanese. During the acquisitional process, I have become more and more aware of how the languages I know might influence each other – as expected or to my surprise. For example, once in a Japanese course I was taking, my French was activated quite a number of times when I was trying to figure out the pronunciation of some Japanese words. It was a surprise to me because those moments of activation came unconsciously, and I would expect languages similar to Japanese, for example Chinese, to be activated, but it was not. This kind of amazing experience has inspired me to explore more about how different languages in a multilingual’s mind may interact with each other.

Crosslinguistic Influence in MultilingualsThis book on crosslinguistic influence among three languages, namely Cantonese, English and French, in multilinguals, draws on the notions of ‘interface’ and ‘reverse transfer’ in second language acquisition. In particular, it addresses the possible positive or negative transfer effect from French as a third language (L3) to English as a second language (L2):

Does the acquisition of a later acquired language (i.e. French) have any effect on the reception and production of an earlier acquired language (i.e. English)?

The answer to the above query is not an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’, possibly because of a number of factors at play: L3 proficiency, linguistic feature or structure involved (which in turn relates to the notion of ‘structural linguistic complexity’), typology/ psychotypology and receptive and productive use of L2. These factors may in turn make the acquisitional process most intriguing.

In order to relish and excel in this fascinating acquisitional process, both language learners and language educators are encouraged to become more aware of the different factors and the resulting potential interaction among languages. The book will show them how those factors might have worked among a group of speakers of Cantonese with knowledge of English and French. The discussions in the book will also highlight other issues that are worth investigating in our quest for how crosslinguistic influence among three languages may take place.

Hope you all enjoy reading it and find it useful!

Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language AcquisitionFor more information about the book, please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.

Study Abroad and its Extension beyond Language Study

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.

cover TaguchiDICJ9781783093731This 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.

Standardization in Japanese Language Education

Editors of our recent book Rethinking Language and Culture in Japanese Education, Shinji Sato and Neriko Musha Doerr, describe how they came to put together this volume and why the topic is important.

Rethinking Language and Culture in Japanese EducationThe current educational climate is dictated by standards and tests. The standardized tests to measure individual aptitude and, collectively, the success of an education system and even the well-being of a nation as a whole. Knowledge is treated as static, commodified and homogenized. In this volume, we ask: What are the effects of this climate of standard tests? What kinds of schools, teachers and students does it reward, and what kind of learning does it encourage? What kind of knowledge does it promote, how does it do so and to what effect? What can educators and researchers do to challenge this climate? This volume seeks to answer these questions by investigating the dynamics of power relations in the processes of the standardization of language and culture and by exploring researchers’ and educators’ roles with a focus on the case of Japan. Japan’s language and culture have undergone such extensive standardization that various popular and academic discourses regard them as homogeneous. This makes Japan an important case for a study on the processes and effects of standardization.

This volume emerged from the editors’ personal and academic engagement with the process of standardization. As a Japanese language educator whose field is educational anthropology, Sato constantly faces the challenge of how to engage with the standard language and variations. He always wonders if he should include variations in the classroom or just focus on the standard language. If he decides to include variations, which variation to include?  When a student uses a variation, should he accept it or correct it as a ‘mistake’?  How to treat the language that some people are actually using as a mistake? Sato asks himself these questions when he teaches Japanese everyday.

As a cultural anthropologist interested in power relations manifested in uses of language as well as discourses around them, Doerr is concerned with how individuals come to desire the standard and various ideologies, concepts, and daily technologies that usher them to do so. Developed from a session on language standardization Doerr organized at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in 2005, this volume focuses in particular on the standardization of language and culture in Japanese education.

This collection investigates the ways in which ‘language’ and ‘culture’ come to be standardized through various ideologies, representations in textbooks, and in classroom practices. In doing so, the book provides insights into the standardization processes that connect theoretical and practical concerns that researchers and educators may have. The studies on language learning are mainly focused either on acquisition of language/culture (micro-level studies) or on the relationship between languages and cultures (macro-level studies). This book extends to both the micro and macro levels, and to Japanese language education designed for both ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speakers. By analysing the process of language/culture standardization, this book offers new ideas and awareness to the field of language studies and education.

The cases that this book illustrates cover a wide range of Japanese language/culture standardization processes in numerous contexts: practices of translation during Meiji era Japan, ideologies of standardization of regional dialects throughout the recent history in Japan, practices in college Japanese-as-a-Foreign-Language classroom in the United States, discourses in journals of Japanese language education, and classroom practices in nursery and primary schools in Japan. Few such studies have been published in English, making our contribution all the more important. The viewpoint this volume suggests is useful not only for those involved in teaching Japanese language and culture in and outside Japan as well as in between such borders (i.e. heritage language education), but also for those who are interested in the processes of differentiation, hierarchization, politics of education, multicultural education, bilingual education and globalization as it relates to education.

If you are interested in this title please see our website for more information.


The Importance of Online Communication in Language Learning

Following the recent publication of Online Communication in a Second Language we asked the book’s author, Sarah E. Pasfield-Neofitou, to explain the importance of online communication in language learning.

Online Communication in a Second Language
“Online Communication in a Second Language”

The inspiration to research learners’ uses of online communication in a second language outside of the classroom came from my own experiences of using email, chat, forums, and other online tools as a language learner, over a decade prior. In the years since my own initial forays into the online world in a second language in the late 1990s, the internet has exploded with online videos, mobile content, massively open online games, blogs, and social networking, and in undertaking the research for Online Communication in a Second Language, I had the opportunity to analyse over 2,000 such instances of interaction in Japanese, English, and other languages from 12 language learners.

Although many studies have shown the benefits and drawbacks of using ICT in classroom or laboratory settings for language learning purposes, I was interested in finding out how other language learners were actually using their second language online – how they developed networks, managed their communication and identities, how they maintained interest – and what happens when they lose interest? I was also very interested in the organisation of online communication at both the micro and macro level, particularly when two or more languages are involved, and the opportunities for language learning that online communication might facilitate. While there is an extensive and growing body of research on young people’s use of CMC, much of it tends to focus on monolingual contexts, particularly English.

Launch Display of "Online Communication in a Second Language"
Launch display of “Online Communication in a Second Language”

One of the most often cited advantages of online communication for second language learners is that it provides access to native speaker peers, can help develop literacy, and enhance formal learning. And indeed, I found that computer mediated communication provided exciting and important opportunities for language acquisition through the availability of contextual resources, authentic communication, repair, and peer feedback. However, as my study tracing learners’ online engagement for up to four years shows, access is not always easy or automatic. Students reported that they perceived language-specific ‘domains’ in the online environment – a sense that certain online ‘spaces’ were ‘owned’ or primarily designed ‘for’ particular groups. Thus, I became interested in what factors promote the establishment and maintenance of relationships online and participation in online communities, and what factors might conversely encourage ‘lurking’ behaviours, where negative experiences (or a fear of them) left learners too shy to contribute.

Although it is often assumed that only intermediate to advanced language students will have the capacity to engage in online communication, in my interviews with language learners who ranged in proficiency level from beginner to upper advanced levels, I found that often, online communication held an even more important place in the language use of beginner students. Those who had not yet had the opportunity to travel to Japan, host an exchange student, or share classes with native speakers of Japanese, often reported that the online environment was actually their primary or only use of Japanese outside of the classroom. Those students who had undertaken such activities reported that online communication was a way of maintaining those relationships they formed in face-to-face settings, and very advanced learners reported use of online communication in their occupational uses of Japanese as they transitioned to the workforce.

A small sample of kaomoji
A small sample of kaomoji

Despite their active engagement in online communication across the different levels of proficiency, and the central role that this communication played in terms of students’ overall use of their second language, I found that learners encountered a number of challenges in their online interaction. Some encountered differences in genre in terms of the kinds of messages they sent, and what they received, and expressed dissatisfaction, or felt excluded from certain online spaces, or were overwhelmed by the dazzling array of intricate and nuanced Japanese emoticons (emoji/kaomoji). A factor as seemingly basic as typing proficiency was found to greatly affect student’s language choice and participation in online communication in their second language.

Developing typing literacy is important
Developing typing literacy is important

I argue that the central role that online communication plays in language learners’ day-to-day lives and their holistic use of their second language, coupled with the challenges that exist, demonstrates the importance not only online of communication, but of learning how to communicate effectively online. This means fostering technical literacy, typing proficiency (which, especially in the case of a non-alphabetic language like Japanese, is not reducible to typing speed alone), and the ability to use tools like online dictionaries, glossaries and translators effectively, among other skills.

Keyboard and MouseNow, I am interested in concepts of ‘ownership’ of online domains, identity tourism (where playing online games, for example, can allow students to ‘try on’ different identities), and notions of what counts as a ‘conversation’ online, as well as how we can support and scaffold students’ use of online communication in out-of-class contexts.

For further information, please see Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahpasfieldneofitou.com