Journal of the Institute for Second Language Development

Journal of the Institute for Second Language Development




March 2006
Gender and Academic Performance in English Communication Courses
July 2007
A Case Study Of A Japanese Learner In The UK
September 2007
Course Blogs for Overseas Study Preparation: A Survey of Student Opinions
September 2007
An Emerging Japanese English
February 2009
Observations on One Japanese University's General English Program
December 2013
Incentivization and In-class Participation in the Japanese University English Language Classroom

Case Study Of A Japanese Learner

July, 2007


Darren Elliott (MA ELT, DELTA)

Nottingham Trent University,

United Kingdom


In seeking to serve the learners as best they can, teachers often set needs analysis questionnaires, analyse written work and test scores, and use a number of techniques to gather data on their students. This process can become automatic and unthinking; the same questionnaires and tests rolled out at the start of each new term. However, if most teachers now recognise that different learners benefit from different classroom activities and learning techniques, I would posit that the analysis of learners needs and abilities should, as far as practically possible, be tailored to each student. This case study outlines an in-depth analysis of a Japanese learner studying on a post-graduate course in the UK, and the techniques employed in the analysis.

Learner Profile

At the time of the study, N was a 37-year-old Japanese male, living in the UK with a host family and studying a Masters degree in English Language Teaching. He arrived in the UK in June 2005, and returned to Tokyo in September 2006. Before coming to the UK he spent 13 years as a junior high school teacher at an inner city school in Tokyo, to which he returned after his sabbatical.

N began studying English in Junior High School with Japanese teachers, as was and is the norm in Japan, and focused mainly on grammar. He qualified as a teacher after University and moved on to his present school after about one year at his initial placement.

In order to join the course N needed to achieve a TOEFL CBT 220, an IELTS 6.5 (with 6 in writing) or satisfactorily complete the pre-sectional English course. N took the final option, although he has since achieved a score of 240 in the TOEFL CBT. This would place him at the low C1 level in the Common European Framework, with Effective Operational Proficiency, according to ETS, creators of the TOEFL (Appendix I). As we shall see from the data, it is possible that N is closer to high B2 level, or 'independent user'.


N has traveled extensively especially in Africa, and enjoyed the opportunities to travel in Central and Eastern Europe, afforded to him by proximity from the UK and availability of cheap airline tickets. He uses English to communicate successfully with other non-native speakers while traveling, and maintenance of a level of English sufficient for these purposes has been a major motivational force. More importantly, N needed English for daily life in the UK, especially in communicating with his host family. In the long term, he has been using and will continue to use English to teach in Junior High School (pupils aged 11 – 14). The major motivation for N at this time was to succeed in his MA studies.

Motivation is a complex issue and a great deal of the work of motivational psychologists over the years has been about condensing the number of variables that affect human action into manageable categories (Dornyei, 2001: 9). One commonly used model is that of the intrinsic – extrinsic cline, where intrinsic motivation is that of language learning as its own reward, and extrinsic motivation is focused on gaining rewards (promotion, acceptance into society) or avoiding punishment (ostracism, parental admonishment) (Arnold 1999: 14). There is not an absolute distinction between the two; for example, in N's case, he states:

"Studying here in the UK was one of my biggest dreams in my life. I had been dreaming for 13 years. So I have been happy all the time even though I had a number of difficulties." (Appendix D:66-68)

We can see that it was his own decision to come to the UK to study, driven by an intrinsic enjoyment of studying. However, extrinsic factors also motivate his language study:

"I wanted to know the theory of SLA and I was thinking this way: If I experience the difficulty in being able to speak English, I can manage to incorporate that into actual teaching." (Appendix D:48-49).

Motivation, according to Gardner and Lambert, (in Dornyei, 2001: 16) is integrative or instrumental. From the bilingual context in Canada, attitudes towards the L1 group were shown to be motivational. In N's case, his motivation as described by these descriptors would be largely instrumental; pragmatic and based on needs and goals. Although living in an English speaking country and travelling widely indicate an interest in foreign cultures and a certain integrative motivation, N was clear about his cultural background and filtered his experiences through his 'Japanese-ness'.

Learning Styles

As part of an MA module, N took a 'Multiple Intelligences' test, to raise awareness of his personal learning style. A copy of this, and definitions of each of the intelligence category, is included in Appendix A.

According to the test, N's strength lies in logical/mathematical intelligence, followed closely by naturalist, verbal and intrapersonal intelligences. Visual intelligence is considerably weaker than the others. In his interview, N talked about his traditional Japanese language education, and I can see a link between training in translation and a preference for logical/ mathematical learning.

Learner's assessment of his level and needs

In a needs analysis interview, the learner showed most concern regarding his listening ability, followed by reading, speaking and writing. However, he believed he had improved considerably between arriving in the UK and the time of data collection for this study (about one year). He saw his major language needs as academic; listening for lectures, writing organisation, extensive reading and functional speaking skills in seminar/ lecture situations were all discussed as areas which he would like to improve.

Samples used for this assessment and testing procedure

The focus in collecting data was to look at what N actually did and needed to do. As he was not taking part in ESL/EFL classes during the study, but rather using English as the medium for Post Graduate studies, I felt that the analysis of authentic materials would provide more apposite information than a study of standardised test scores (TOEFL, IELTS etc). This is an example of subjective testing, in which learners are given a far broader scope to express themselves (Jordan, 1997: 86)

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