Printer Friendly

A narrative analysis of advanced Japanese language students.


In Japanese, different speech styles (formal or informal) are required in different situations. The informal style is not easily learned in the classroom, as it is not widely practiced and this is not introduced until later in the curriculum. Only when provided the real situation to use the informal style with host families in Japan, do students begin to acquire it. I examined the use of style in oral narratives of Japanese language students in two groups: group A studied Japanese only in the classroom, group B also spent some time in Japan. Surprisingly, group B demonstrated stylistic incoherence, while group A kept one style and thus produced more coherent narratives. I suggest that group A used "risk-avoidance strategy (it avoids the informal style)", whereas, group B took the risk of generating both of them, which led to an incoherent mixture between formal and informal.

1. Introduction

In Japanese language education, the smooth transition from intermediate to advanced levels [1] is an issue. Often students' abilities do not reflect an "advanced" level even though they are placed in the class after two years of study. An observable gap exists between students who have studied Japanese solely in the classroom and others who have spent time in Japan. This gap typically occurs in the third year level because some students participate in a year or a semester abroad program after the second year of classroom instruction. Having taught this level, I find that those who have studied in Japan are generally more fluent in their speech though their control of grammar is sometimes careless.

My observation possibly reflects the distinction between "Acquisition" and "Learning," which was introduced by Krashen. "Acquisition is a subconscious process identical in all important ways to the process children utilize in acquiring their first language, while learning is a conscious process that results in knowing about language." (1985: 1) Acquisition involves exposure to models and practice within social groups, but no formal teaching; whereas learning stands for conscious knowledge received from formal teaching. D'Anglejan (1978) notes that the communication in the classroom setting is likely to be different from the communication that occurs outside the classroom. Those students who have been to Japan have experienced the acquisition process through home stay programs. However, students who have studied Japanese only in the classroom have little access to social practice.

In this study, I examined the summaries of a TV drama by third-year college students of the Japanese language. The students were divided into two groups: J group (those who studied in Japan) and A group (those who studied Japanese only in the classroom). The purpose was to observe the differences in the narratives of the two groups. The following questions are considered: (1) What are the linguistic benefits of study abroad?; and (2) What are the pedagogical implications derived from the findings that will help students achieve the "advanced" level regardless of their prior background? In the following section, I will review literature related to the effects that study abroad experiences have on language proficiency.

2. Literature Review

Educators have assumed that to become fluent in a foreign language one must go to a place where it is spoken. Until recently, this belief was only supported by "intuitions and subjective observations." (Brecht, Davidson, & Ginsberg 1993:1) Krashen (1981) claims that a natural environment (as opposed to a classroom environment) does not always provide superior input for acquisition; thus it is important to distinguish "exposure-type" and "intake-type" in the natural environments, since only the latter contributes to the SLA (Second Language Acquisition.) If the environment supplies comprehensible input (intake-type), according to Krashen (1982), the "outside world" is clearly superior to the classroom.

Some studies indicate that the "intake-type" natural environments have some effects on increasing second language proficiency. John Carroll (1967) conducted the first major analysis of study abroad, which revealed a correlation between the time spent abroad and student proficiency. The studies in support of this result were reported by Willis, Doble, Sankarayya and Smithers in 1977. A similar result was reported by Dyson in 1988. In the 1980's, a number of studies using the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) were presented, such as Vegues (1984), Magnan (1986), O'Connor (1988), and others. Higher OPI scores among the students who had been abroad were reported in all cases.

In recent years, there have been more studies whose results were also consistent with previous studies on the linguistic impact of study abroad. Brecht, Davidson, & Ginsberg (1993) conducted a multi-year, multi-institution study of Russian and speaking proficiency gains were reported. Marriott's (1993) study revealed broader acquisition of sociolinguistic competence. A study conducted by Hart, D.S, S. Lapkin & M. Swain in 1994 discussed language gains by a group of Canadian students who participated in a three month bilingual inter-provincial exchange program. Hashimoto's (1994) case study indicated a student's sensitivity development towards the variation features of Japanese during her home stay experience. However, Freed (1995) claims that many of these studies "tell us little about actual language use and serve, therefore, as preliminary explorations of the topic." (1995:16) She further suggests the need for more empirical studies of linguistic ranges, such as phonology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and discourse features. In this research, I will address the issue from the perspective of students' narratives in the hopes of making a contribution to a better understanding of the linguistic impact of study abroad.

3. Methodology

3.1 Subjects The participants are fifteen college students who enrolled in "Japanese: Advanced Oral Skills." Seven students have studied Japanese only in the classroom, whereas the other eight students have spent some time in Japan (a year=4, a semester=2, summer=2).

3.2 Procedures Each student was asked to summarize a TV drama viewed in the classroom. All of the summaries were transcribed and used as data. The data was grouped, depending on the students' background, into an A Group consisting of students whose learning were limited to the classroom and a J Group who had spent at least two months in Japan.

3.3 Data Analysis Two distinctive features emerged from the narratives: 1 the use of conjunctions; 2 the style of speech. I examined the data from these two perspectives. With regard to conjunctions, the total number of conjunctions that should be used to construct each narrative was determined. Then, the actual number of conjunctions that were used correctly in each student's narrative was counted. The accuracy rate for each student was calculated from these two numbers. In order to analyze the style of speech, each sentence was examined and the number of formal and informal styles that were used in the narratives was counted. The consistency of their speech style was determined from these numbers.

4. Results

4.1. Uses of Conjunctions One of the distinctive features is the superior use of conjunctions among J Group. The Tables 1 and 2 show the accuracy rates of the two groups. See issue's website <> The results show that J group students demonstrated a better handling of conjunctions than A group. A group students' accuracy rate stayed around 45-50%; whereas the J group's marks were around 70-80%.

4.2. Style of Speech: Formal vs. Informal Another feature is the differences in their speech styles, which are apparent in Table 3 and Table 4. See issue's website <> Table 3 shows almost exclusive uses of Formal Style by A Group. On the other hand, Table 4 presents rather interesting results. While only three students (J-2, J-6, and J-8) kept their narratives exclusively in one style, the other five students (J-1, J-3, J-4, J-5, J-7) used a mixture of both styles. It is also interesting that among those three students who used one style, two of them (J-6 and J-8) kept their narratives in the Informal Style.

5. Discussion

5.1. Issues of Conjunction Uses The lack of or the misuse of conjunctions by A group students may cause a problem in actual communication. The following example is a part of the summary of an A Group student (A-1) and illustrates the improper use of conjunctions.

Example 1

... Saki wa shinpai ni natte shogehajimemashita. Jyaa, dooshite okaa-san ga mada kitenai ka zenzen wakarimasendeshita. Dakedo, Saki wa Asako ga shigoto shika ki o tsukenai to iu omoi ni kararemashita ...

(... Saki began to worry and her heart sank. Then, she does not understand why her mother has not arrived yet. However, Saki began to think that Asako only cared about her job ...)

She used advanced vocabulary, such as "shoge-hajime-mashita" (her heart sank), and "to iu omoi ni karare-mashita" (began to think). She also demonstrated good control of particles and other grammar structures. However, her use of conjunctions is not appropriate. Another example of an A Group student (A-2) illustrates lack of conjunctions.

Example 2

... Otoo-san wa Saki-san no kodomo no tokio omoidasushi, koofunshite, futari no me ni namida ga demashita.--Saki-san no mae de Kyoosuke-san to Okaa-san ga Asako-san ga okureta-no o hanashite, sono kaiwa kara Okaa-san wa hataraiteru onna no hito ga daikiraide, kono kekkonshiki ni hantai-shitemasu.

(... Saki's father remembered Saki's childhood and got emotional, and the two of them cried.--Kyoosuke and his mother talked openly about Asako being late right in front of Saki; and from the conversation, <it was obvious> that Kyoosuke's mother dislikes women that work and does not approve of this marriage.)

A-2 was talking about two different scenes; thus a conjunction, such as Sono-atode or Sorekara (After that) is needed (underlined). Throughout her summary, she did not use any conjunctions to indicate the change of scenes or the passage of time; therefore, her narration was difficult to follow. On the contrary, the following example of a J Group student (J-1) presents the ability to use proper conjunctions.

Example 3

... Saki-chan no haha wa nan de shite mo okureru-mitai kara, Saki-chan wa okaa-san ga konakya zettai-ni kekkon nanka shinai to kimerareterundesu. Soreni, Saki-chan Okaa-san wa shigoto ga Saki-chan yori daiji to omotteru ...

(... Because Saki's mother is always late, Saki has decided that she is not going to get married unless her mother shows up. In addition, Saki believes that for her mother, her job is more important than Saki....)

Even though J-1 uses rather simple vocabulary and she makes errors in particles and speech styles (which are not evident in the translation), her narrative is easy to follow because she uses the conjunctions appropriately. Another student from J group (J-2) also inserts conjunctions appropriately.

Example 4

... Otoo-san mo oya-da to omotte, sorede, Saki ga jibun no koto o Okaa-san dake ga wakaru to iu koto o kiite, samishiku-narimashita.

Sono aida-ni, hoka no heya de Saki no chichi-kata no sobo, Agawa Torako to haha-kata no sofu, Iwai Kazuma to futari no oji-san-tachi ga mattemashita.

(... Her father felt he was a good parent, too; therefore, he was sad when he heard Saki saying that only her mother understands her.

Meanwhile, in the other room, Saki's father's mother, Torako Agawa, Saki's mother's father, Kazuma Iwai, and Saki's two uncles were waiting.)

So why did J group students use the conjunctions better than A group? In general, the students learn conjunctions at the beginning and intermediate levels; however, they have not had much opportunity to use them since the focus of the beginning and intermediate levels is on the learning of basic grammar. On the other hand, while living with Japanese families, I group students were required to: (1) answer "why" and "how"; (2) explain things; (3) put their statements in a logical order; (4) summarize events and so forth. Being "forced" to do these tasks, students have developed the ability to unify their discourse, which has contributed to their proper use of conjunctions.

5.2. Issues of Speech Styles While A Group students kept their narratives in one form, most of J Group students demonstrated an inferior control over their speech styles. Let us examine some examples to see how these styles are used in each group. The following narrative from a J group student (J-3) illustrates a mixture of the informal and formal styles.

Example 5

... (F) Taxi ni noru toki, Asako-san shinkei ga takabuchatte, hajimete shigoto ni urameshii. (1) Soshite, sonotoki, Saki-san to otoko-oya mo shinpai shitemashita. (F) Kanojyo wa naki-nagara, otoo-san to hanashimashita. (F) Saki-chan wa "dooshite kare o kimerareru no" to itte, otoo-san wa igokochi waruku-natta. (I) ...

(... While Asako was riding on the taxi, she became upset; and for the first time, she has regrets about her job. And, at the same time, Saki and her father are also worried. Saki talked to her father, crying. She asked him "how can I be sure that <the groom> is my man?" and her father felt uncomfortable ...)

In addition to some particle errors, her use of conjunctions was proper and her narrative was clear. However, she switched between formal and informal styles throughout her narrative. In the example, (I) represents the informal style and (F) represents the formal style. Another example of a J group student (J-4) similarly represents the mixture of two styles.

Example 6

... (F) Saki-chan no Otoo-san to issho-ni hanasemasu. (F) Otoo-san wa Saki-chan kodomo koro omoidashita. (1) Sono-atode, Otoo-san to Saki-chan no otooto to hanashimasu. (F)

(Saki was able to speak with her father. Her father remembered her childhood. After that, her father spoke with her brother.)

In this example, J-4 uses proper conjunctions. Despite some errors in particles and a verb conjugation, her narrative is clear and easy to follow. However, she also mixes her speech styles. On the other hand, this A Group student (A-3) uses the formal style exclusively.

Example 7

... (F) Zannen-nagara, Asako-san no musume-san, Saki-chan wa haha wa osoi-noni, monku o hanashite nakimasu. (F)

Saki-chan no otoo-san, Hisashi-san ga Saki-chan to hanashite, ki o yoku sasetai kedo, Asako-san ga mada konai to, Saki-chan ga ki o yoku dekimasendeshita.(F) ...

(... Unfortunately, Asako's daughter, Saki, complains and cries, even though her mother is late. Saki's father, Hisashi, talks to Saki, trying to make her feel better; but if Asako has not yet arrived here, Saki does not feel any better ...)

She does not use the conjunctions appropriately; hence if one did not know the story, it will be difficult to understand: "even though" should have been "because", and "if" should have been "because". However, she keeps her speech style formal in contrast to J-3 and J-4's mixed style. Another A Group example (A-4) is similar as follows.

Example 8

Kyoo wa Agawa Saki no kekkonshiki desu kedo, Saki-chan wa komattemasu. (F) Tatoeba, Saki-chan no Okaa-san-tte iu Agawa Asako wa shigoto no shuchoo kara kaerimasu ga, osokattadesu. (F)

Saki-san no otoo-san ga tetsudaitai kedo, okaa-san-jyanai kara deki-masen. (F)--Saki-chan no kokoro-bosoi kanji ga nokorimashita. (F)

(Today, it is Saki Agawa's wedding, but Saki is upset. For instance, Asako Agawa is supposed to return from the business trip, but is late. Saki's father wants to help Saki, but in vain because he is not her "mother."--Saki remains feeling uneasy.)

A-4 also misuses and skips conjunctions: "For instance" should be "Because". In addition, it would have been more natural, if she had inserted "therefore" in the underline. However, A-4 does not change her style. She keeps her narrative in the formal style. It is noteworthy that with one minor exception all J Group students kept the formal style throughout their narratives. However, five out of eight students who had been to Japan demonstrated a mixture of both styles; and two students used the informal style exclusively. What made J Group, who are expected to have better control, mix the formal with the informal style?

Makino (1996) conducted a survey using his students, who had participated in summer programs; in order to identify the role played by the out-of-class learning process and its effect on Japanese language learning. He discovered that most of the host families could not speak English well, and it was "necessary" for the students to speak Japanese. The following figure illustrates the most important aspects that they thought they had acquired through the home stay process. Each student was asked to give three answers. See issue's website <> The students themselves recognized the improvement in their use of the informal style. In addition, in answer to the question "what aspects of Japanese do you think you should have learned prior to going to Japan?", 4 students pointed out the informal style: See issue's website <> In the classroom, the difference in the styles is explained and the students practice situational role playing. Although the skills are learned, the students have not reached the point where they can use the style comfortably. The students "acquire" the informal style for the first time, when they are required to use the style with the host families.

However, this observation does not account for the A Group's superior control over the speech styles. To explain, I consider the "risk-avoidance strategy" (Corder, 1981). Schachter (1977) presents an interesting study of the low percentage of errors in English relative clauses produced by Chinese and Japanese speakers in contrast to Persian and Arabic speakers. She argues that Chinese and Japanese made fewer errors, not because they possessed the competence to use the relative clauses correctly, but because they avoided using them. Because most Japanese textbooks introduce the formal style first and the informal style is more complicated, the production of the informal style is more difficult and involves more risks. Therefore, students with less exposure to a variety of speech styles tend to choose the safest form, which apparently leads to the strategy of avoiding of the informal style. On the other hand, students who have been exposed to different speech styles feel more comfortable taking the risk, yet not knowing exactly when to use what, which leads to the mixture of the two styles. Consequently, I argue that J Group is one process ahead of A Group even though A Group appears to be more consistent in their speech styles.

6. Conclusion/Implications

This study suggests that study abroad experiences helped the students to progress in the Japanese language, particularly in their acquisition of conjunctions and informal speech styles. In this final section, I will discuss how we should provide the students whose learning experience is limited to the classroom with something closer to the "out-of-class" experience in order to help them acquire the two discussed areas. Makino's survey (1996), mentioned above, also illustrates how television programs positively influenced the participants' language learning. Figure 3 shows the kinds of programs the participants watched. <>

Ogawa (1990) points out that the best type of TV program for learning Japanese is drama because it usually contains "a variety of speakers in terms of social background, age, sex, and dialect". Therefore, the learners are exposed to both speech styles through watching dramas. With regard to acquiring conjunctions, I would suggest an interview project with Japanese speaking families who live in one's local area. When conducting interviews, the students must: (1) initiate a conversation; (2) ask some questions; (3) request explanations; (4) end a conversation. Later in class, when the students present the results, they are required to: (5) begin the presentation; (6) arrange their statements in a logical order; (7) summarize the results; (8) conclude the presentation; and (9) answer questions. Through these activities, the students practice developing the ability to unify their discourse, which will lead to their proper use of conjunctions. Classroom based "learning" of a second language should be balanced with opportunities to experience natural language "acquisition" outside of the classroom.


[1] "Intermediate" here indicates the level after 150 hours college instruction (OPI level 1), and "advanced" indicates the level after 300 hours college instruction (OPI level 1+/2). There may be some areas of the country where one cannot find Japanese families; however, there may be a few Japanese students studying English even in a small college.


d'Anglejan, A. (1978). Language learning in and out of classrooms. In Richards, J. (Ed.) Understanding Second and Foreign Language Learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House

Brecht, R., D. Davidson, & R. Ginsberg. (1993). Predictors of foreign language gain during study abroad. Wash. D.C.: National Foreign Language Center.

Carroll, J.B. (1967). Foreign language proficiency levels attained by language majors near graduation from college. Foreign Language Annals 1:131-151

Corder, S. P. (1981). Error analysis and interlanguage. Oxford University Press.

Dyson, P. (1988). The year abroad. Report for the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges. Oxford University Language Teaching Centre.

Ellis, Rod. (1986). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freed, B.F. (1995). Second Language Acquisition in a Study Abroad Context. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company

Gee, James Paul. (1989). Discourses and literacies: two theorems. In Social Linguistics and literacies: Ideology in Discourses. 137-163. London: Falmer Press.

Hart, D.S., S. Lapkin & M. Swain. (1994). Impact of a six-month bilingual exchange program: Attitudes and achievement. Report to the Dept. of the Secretary of State. Toronto: OISE Modern Language Centre.

Hashimoto, H. (1994). Language acquisition of an exchange student within the homestay environment. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 4 (4):209-224

Jorden, Eleanor Harz. (1987). Japanese: The Spoken Language Part I. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Krashen, Stephen D. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

--. (1985). The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. London: Longman.

Magnan, S.S. (1986). Assessing speaking proficiency in the undergraduate curriculum: Data from French. Foreign Language Annals 19 (5): 429-38

Makino, Seiichi, & Tsutsui, Michio. (1986). A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. Tokyo: The Japan Times.

--. (1995) A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar. Tokyo: The Japan Times.

--. (1996) Homestay ni okeru nihongo gakusyuu kooka. [Homestay effect in learning Japanese]. In O. Kamata & H. Yamanouchi (Eds.), Nihongo Kyooiku-Ibunkakan Communication. 41-61. Hokkaido, Japan: Hokkaido International Foundation.

Marriott H.E. (1993). Acquiring sociolinguistic competence: Australian secondary students in Japan. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 4 (4): 167-192.

Minami, Masahiko & McCabe, Allyssa. (1991) Haiku as a discourse regulation device: A stanza analysis of Japanese children's personal narratives. Language in Society, 20, 577-600.

O'Connor, N. (1988). Oral proficiency testing of junior year abroad: Implications for the undergraduate curriculum. Paper presented at the 1988 Annual Meeting of the MLA.

Ogawa, Nobuo. (1990). Classroom Use of Videotaped materials for Advanced Students of Japanese. In O. Kamada & W. M. Jacobsen (Eds.), On Japanese and How to Teach it: In Honor of Seiichi Makino. 198-210. Tokyo: The Japan Times.

Omaggio, Alice C. (1986). Teaching Language in Context: Proficiency-Oriented Instruction. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers, Inc.

Oxford, Rebecca (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teachers Should Know. Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers, Inc.

Schachter, J. (1977). An error in error analysis. Language Learning, 24, 205-214.

Simon, Mutsuko Endo. (1984). A Practical Guide for Teachers of Elementary Japanese. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan.

Stanislawczyk, Irene E., & Yavener, Symond. (1976). Creativity in the Language Classroom. Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers, Inc.

Swain, Merrill. (1985). Communicative Competence: Some Roles of Comprehensible Input and Comprehensible Output in its Development. In Suzan M. Gass & Carolyn G. Madden (Eds.), Input in Second Language Acquisition 235-253.

Veguez, R. (1984). The Oral proficiency interview and the junior year abroad: Some unexpected results. Paper presented at the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language. New York, April 1984.

Willis, F., G. Doble, U. Sankarayya & A. Smithers. (1977). Residence abroad and the student of modern languages. A Preliminary study. Bradford: Modern Language Center. U. of Bradford.

Torii-Williams holds a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Boston University and currently teaches Japanese.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Rapid Intellect Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Torii-Williams, Eiko
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Previous Article:Evaluating the treatment of L2 writing: an analysis of French textbooks.
Next Article:Teaching mindfully.

Related Articles
Mexico: The Challenge of Literacy and Multilingualism.
Humorous personal narratives in the ESL classroom. (Language Teaching & Learning).
The real Navajo code talkers: World War II's secret heroes created a code that proved unbreakable. Now they're movie stars. (times past).
Using story-grammar instruction and picture books to increase reading comprehension.
Contrastive rhetoric: development and challenges.
Smith, Dean Wesley, ed. with John J. Ordover & Paula M. Block. Star Trek; strange new worlds V.
Students' voices on foreign language anxiety.
Sa, Shan. The girl who played go.
An interactive approach to advanced Japanese.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |