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

Darren Elliott (MA ELT, DELTA)

Productive Skills: Speaking


In Appendix F, we can see that although he lacks confidence in this skill, N is actually quite good at holding turns and interrupting (F20 I know, I know, yeah…but one day, F59 but can I just say something?). He interacts well with others, using backchannel to recognise his peers and his grammatical and phonological errors are not serious to impede communication. His rhythm and intonation (suprasegmental) pronunciation is easy to follow in each of the texts analysed, and utilised to good effect to express emotion.


Nerves make the presentation (Appendix E) the least successful of the three transactions in some regards and is not a strong showing for an advanced speaker. The overall organisation of the presentation is clear but the level of self-correction (E25 don't, doesn't, don't) creates a slight strain on the listener.

N overuses certain lexical items; in both F and H "How can I say?" is frequently used to stall or seek assistance from the listener. At this level one would expect a greater ranges of devices for these purposes.

Although N has a fairly wide vocabulary, he needs to access a greater range of adjectives at times. (H5 onwards "difficult")

Phonologically, N displays the typical problems for a Japanese speaker of English (Thompson: 2001), and is well aware of this. As mentioned above, the problem areas are mainly segmental, and do not manifest themselves to a serious degree. However, the following consonant sounds cause slight difficulty.

/l/and /r/ are often confused, or replaced by a flapped /d/ sound. /<eth>//?/ are replaced by /z//s/ or /d/. /v/, which doesn't exist in Japanese, is replaced by /b/.

Receptive Skills: Reading


In Appendix H, N states that he has doubled his reading speed using equivalent texts from the course. He is able to skim and scan for gist, and extensive reading practice has honed his deductive skills.


From N's bibliography (Appendix B), and further classroom conversations, I suspect that he still relies heavily on familiar texts and class handouts for his research, which betrays a lack of confidence. The reading load on an MA course is heavy, and selective research combined with extensive reading are vital. N mentioned that although he can now guess words from the surrounding context, he skips unknown adverbs and adjectives but still uses his dictionary to check nouns and verbs. (B76). Changing his methods after so many years is proving challenging.

Receptive Skills: Listening


N generally copes well in interactions with both native an non-native speakers, as evidenced in Appendices F and H. His ability to comprehend new accents has developed as he has become used to various British Englishes. His background in Japan has been with American pronunciation, and initially this was quite a shock to him. He uses visual clues to help predict what he will hear, for example on news programmes (H45).

He also mentioned that anxiety or mood has a negative affect on his listening ability, but to a much lesser extent than in the past.


I have noticed that N will not always make it known that he doesn't understand, or will wait until after class to ask privately. This is possibly cultural. Unfamiliar regional accents are becoming easier, but still difficult. He believes that this is due in part to vowel sounds. Speech at natural speed or below is usually comprehensible but he has noted that during class discussions, as people speak more quickly, he sometimes feels lost. This may be exacerbated by vocabulary issues.

Language learning objectives/ suggested activities and resources: Addressed to the learner

"As a logical/ mathematical learner, many of these activities are available online and thus you can be guided even while working alone. This should appeal to your preference for structure and organisation in learning languages."


• In your academic writing, you need a wider range of reporting verbs. Try using a short journal article from a journal such as System, which can be accessed on line through the university library website. Don't read the whole article, however, but go through with a highlighter to find each reporting verb. Make a bank of samples and use them in your own assignments.

• Although your use of linkers and your organisation of language are good, remember that the Western style of organising ideas is a little different to that of Japan. Textbooks like Academic Writing (Bailey, S., 2003) have useful chapters on organising ideas (Chapter 12, p36 – 38). The University of Hertfordshire Academic writing website has some useful tips and exercises for organisation and interpreting assignment questions at

Finally, try reading a journal article from ELT Journal, also available on line through the library website. Rather than checking every word, read for general ideas and take bullet point notes. When you have finished, check the skeleton essay structure and how the ideas are organised.


• One of the main challenges you mentioned as a listener is regional accents. Listening to the radio, which you do, is helpful in attuning your ear to different sounds. Internet radio enables you to access stations from around the world. Try listening to Irish radio ( or Australian public radio ( to increase your exposure to native English dialects.

• For academic listening, Study Speaking (2nd edition, Anderson, Maclean, Lynch 2004), has a CD with a number of authentic sounding presentations with exercises and transcripts. These will help you to develop your understanding of signposting and other discourse devices which can help you predict what is ahead. Hong Kong Polytechnic University also has a range of video resources online which are both useful models for your own presentations and practice for your listening (

• You do need to ask questions if you are not sure what was said. Listening for gist and main ideas is a useful skill, but you shouldn't be afraid to ask for clarification during lessons or conversations. Also, whilst talking to native speakers, ask for clarification of colloquialisms and slang which they may use. Ask for repetition or slowing down – this should help you get used to wider range of phrases, which you can later use in your own speech.

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