Chapter 7: English and the global perspective

7.5.2 Learning Japanese as a foreign language in a classroom setting (synthesis)

Anonymous English 102 Writer

February 2021

In this essay there are four articles being discussed relating to learning Japanese in the classroom setting. The articles tell a story about literature and learning a language using different aspects and approaches to each idea. The information I was able to acquire was able to expand my knowledge of the Japanese language as a whole and I found myself getting pulled into articles wanting to learn more and more. This first article in particular really piqued my interest and caused me to read for hours.

In the artice “The Construction of the Japanese Language and Culture in Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language” written by Yoshiko Matsumoto and Shigeko Okamoto, it is shown that learning Japanese as a foreign language (JFL) through the use of textbooks can paint a false picture of the language as well as the society it is found in. This presents a struggle to being able to learn and interpret the full aspects of the language to be able to make it feel more natural to a native speaker. Since many of the popular textbooks only elaborate on the more formal side of things the learner might gain that false sense of Japanese culture, one that is tainted by very humble and polite methods of reasoning and communication (Matsumoto and Okamoto 28). However, Japanese language is a much more dynamic concept varying from region to region, each using different amounts of what the textbooks call a “standard” form of Japanese in their communication (Matsumoto and Okamoto 43). Yoshiko and Shigeko elaborate on this by explaining the social and cultural side of language learning and how most textbooks that teach Japanese as a foreign language, will just focus on Japanese as if society was only about being one, in harmony perhaps. For this reason, those textbooks tended to only elaborate on using a more traditional style of Japanese. This can portray Japanese culture as very proper and polite where a native speaker would always speak formally, have a humble attitude, and with a vague mindset. This is not true on many occasions, however, as to allow any given conversation to feel more natural one must interpret that specific situation and determine if using the “standard” Japanese is appropriate rather than using more informal terms. If I was talking to my family or close friends, being more direct in what I say rather than taking the formal route which is more indirect would show that I have a bond with them. If I started using the more vague and indirect ways of speaking the textbooks teach it would cause that bond to weaken as it would give a negative feeling to whomever I am speaking too (Matsumoto and Okamoto 31). This article shows how language is a very fluid thing, always changing and evolving, and how these Japanese textbooks stomp on that view as they only focus on the language itself instead of how it is used in the real world. Instead of going by the book to learn Japanese there might be another way to grasp the information needed, maybe though watching anime?

In “The Use of Anime in Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language” written by Chan Yee Han and Wong Ngan Ling, it is shown that anime could have a helpful impact on the way that JFL is taught. Due to the sheer amount of time we spend indulging in whatever happens to be trending at the time, also known as pop culture, one would draw the conclusion that incorporating said trends into class activities would make them more engaging. Hense, incorporating anime into the JFL classroom should allow for more ways to engage the class, right? Well according to Yee Han and Ngan Ling it is shown that the use of American cartoons has had a great impact in the teaching of English as a foreign language class so anime should have the same effect in a JFL class (69).  Of course, watching anime alone is not enough to allow for the ability to learn the language, it might just peak the students’ interest and cause him or her to join the class. I can relate to not being able to pick up any of the Japanese language from watching anime as even after four plus years now of watching subbed anime I only know a few key words and phrases. However, watching anime has very much so piqued my interest in wanting to learn Japanese and improve my knowledge of the cultural aspects of it too. A proper way to use the showing of anime as a tool to grow a student’s knowledge in class would be through the use of actively watching it rather than just watching it (Yee Han and Ngan Ling 69). This includes having several activities to go along with the specific anime being shown as long as it is more than just watching the show. The article tells us that generally within a class’ schedule anime watching should come later in the class after the activities have become dull for the students.  They say since only the left side of the brain, which deals with logic and calculations, has been used to work through the class thus far it is now time for the right brain, which deals with more creative aspects, to step in by watching anime (Yee Han and Ngan Ling 69). However, anime does have its limitations and it is a real challenge to be able to keep students interested and motivated to continue putting forth effort into learning the language.

In the article, “Peak Learning Experiences and Language Learning: A Study of American Learners of Japanese” written by Hiroshi Matsumoto, it is stated how the JFL class could improve by considering some students peak learning experiences experienced within JFL. The article starts off by getting into some phycology on motivation and peak learning experiences. A peak learning experience is a point when the student is fully engaged and that class period becomes hard to forget after, it could also be a turning point in someone’s interests for the better. I found this to be very interesting as phycology has always fascinated me. Continuing, he goes on to talk about how a study that was conducted about students’ most exciting and memorable moments related to learning Japanese as well as their worst experiences. He told each student to describe these moments in as much detail as they could to be able to understand the results easier. According to his results the most popular event that caused the greatest enjoyment from the students was being able to get the opportunity to study abroad in japan and living with a Japanese host family. Out of the 128 college/university students he gave the study to 34 of them were able to go over to japan and have a truly memorable time (Matsumoto 199). The next one in top experiences is the ability to communicate with native Japanese speakers so it seems that having the ability to communicate with people who are fluent in the language makes learning it much more interesting. Next, he shows the results of the negative side of the study and the number one experience which hinders learning according to the students is that they could not tell if they were making any progress in improving (Matsumoto 201). The next one after that was having to memorize all the kanji and other symbols associated with Japanese, there is roughly 50,000 however knowing all of them is very impractical. To conclude the study, it is stated that in order to enhance the learning experience in the JFL classroom teachers should try to include outside factors such as having fluent Japanese students participate in class.

In “What is Literacy?” written by James Gee, he offers a great insight into the world of literature and how society causes the creation of different groups governed by specific rules. He calls these groups “discourses” in which any one person can be a part of them if they meet all those specific rules (Gee 18). These groups include everything, from people to cashiers in a grocery store and everything in between, it just has to have some connection to communication. Gee also talks about the idea of secondary discourses or the secondary groups individuals can be a part of. This can relate to the third article “Peak Learning Experiences and Language Learning: A Study of American Learners of Japanese” because JFL students have to deal with different discourses depending on what their class is doing. For example, if a student was studying abroad in Japan, they would be a part of totally different discourses than a student studying it in America. This would cause the peak learning experiences to change even though both students are studying the same thing. Gee talks about how the discourses individuals are included in will shape a person into their unique identity, or as Gee calls it an “identity kit” (Gee 18). This means that the students studying abroad will gain a different perspective of the Japanese language and therefore gain a different identity then an American studier. There are many discourses as well as secondary discourses related to learning Japanese, some of which include: Different levels of fluency, being able to read and write, as well as learning the language as a whole. These discourses can change depending on the specifics of each class and where there taught or the activities within them.

Each article overall talks about important aspects of learning foreign Japanese and how students and teachers can better investigate different methods of learning and teaching the subject. Theres also aspects that can be related to literacy, more specifically relating those aspects to Gee’s article about the definition of literacy and how discourses can improve the understanding of the subject. The Japanese language is a very interesting topic and defiantly one that involves a lot of literacy practices that surround it.

Works Cited

Chan, Yee Han, and Ngan Ling Wong. “The use of anime in teaching Japanese as a foreign  language.” Malaysian Online Journal of Educational Technology 5.2 (2017): 68-78.

Gee, James Paul. “What is literacy.” Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning  across languages and cultures (1998): 51-59.

Matsumoto, Hiroshi. “Peak learning experiences and language learning: A study of American  learners of Japanese.” Language, Culture and Curriculum 20.3 (2007): 195-208.

Matsumoto, Yoshiko, and Shigeko Okamoto. “The construction of the Japanese language and  culture in teaching Japanese as a foreign language.” Japanese Language and Literature  37.1 (2003): 27-48.


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Understanding Literacy in Our Lives by Anonymous English 102 Writer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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