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
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
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
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
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 www.uefap.com/writing/writfram.htm.
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 (www.rte.ie/radio)
or Australian public radio (www9.sbs.com.au/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 (elc.polyu.edu.hk/EAP/Audio-visual)
• 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.