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



• Your reading speed has increased with practice, which is excellent news. However, you may still need to ask yourself if what you are reading is really necessary. Academic texts of the kind we are using in our studies are rarely written to be read in their entirety. Learn to be selective and use indexes and contents pages to find the most relevant sections of books. Use journals; articles are often more up to date, shorter and more specific than books.

• To improve your reading speed further, these short readings with comprehension questions have a five minute timer built in
It is often good to read texts that are fairly easy for you, to build confidence and speed.

• Read with a pen in your hand – not to note down Japanese translations, but to interact with the text. Make notes, write questions, agree or disagree with the writer. This helps you process the content information more effectively. The chapter on reading in A Guide to Learning Independently (3rd edition, Marshall & Rowland, 1998) has more detailed advice in this area.


• You use the phrase "How can I say?" to stall for time or check with your conversation partner. These are both important strategies, but a wider range of other phrases would help you to sound more natural. Try listening to what native speakers do in the same situations. You could start with phrases like let me see, well, I think…hmmmm, to stall, or strategies such as description to get your point across when you don’t know a word.

• Your speech would also benefit from a broader range of vocabulary. From your writing, it seems clear that you have access to a fairly large vocabulary bank. Sometimes you experiment in your speech, but you tend to ‘play it safe’. Try using words you haven’t used before and use the checking strategies above to make sure they are correct.

• Pronunciation. Generally, your pronunciation is quite clear. However, as you know you do have slight difficulties with some consonant sounds, in common with many other Japanese speakers of English. The particular consonants for you to focus on are /l//r//<eth>//?//j/ and /v/. Some consonant clusters are also hard to use. Tongue twisters, like the ones online here: are fun and helpful. You might also try shadowing some one on TV or the radio with pronunciation you admire. You can get movie scripts online at a number of places, including Record your reading of a scene against the actors, and notice the differences.

• Sound Foundations (Underhill, 1994) is an excellent self-discovery resource designed for English teachers to raise awareness of their own pronunciation in order to teach better.


• Basic errors in tenses, articles and concord come from proof reading. Although in your more formal reading you proofread more carefully, think about the effect on the reader in everything you write. Checking carefully is also a good habit to get into.

• The advice sheets in the Language Centre are often useful for helping clarify common errors which may have fossilised themselves in your writing or speaking. Go back and clear up the mistakes which someone of your English level shouldn’t really be making anymore!

• When you receive your marked drafts, it is good that you record your errors so carefully. If you notice a particular structure is giving you difficulty, pay particular attention to it the next time you write. Look for examples in articles you read and record positive models to refer to in future. To start with, the passive voice may be one to focus on. It helps to make your writing more objective in academic terms, and you have had some problems with it in the samples I checked.

• Note other structures that are commonly used in academic writing. Study Writing (Hamp-Lyons & Heasley, 2006) has some useful pointers on pg 20, as well as a lot of other useful activities.


This case study has scrutinized the needs and abilities of a particular learner, but the intention was also to outline a methodology for the analysis of learners in general. I believe that standardized testing has a place, but that with a little extra effort the examination of more personalised data can reap great rewards.



ALDERSON, J.C., CLAPHAM, C. & WALL, D. (1995) Language Test Construction and Evaluation Cambridge: CUP
ARNOLD, J. (Ed) (1999) Affect in Language Learning Cambridge: CUP
BAXTER, A. (1997) Evaluating your Students London: Richmond Publishing
DURHAM UNIVERSITY LANGUAGE CENTRE (2006) Class Level Descriptors [online] Available at: [accessed November 16, 2006]
DORNYEI, Z. (2001) Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom Cambridge: CUP
ETS (2004) Mapping TOEFL, TSE, TWE, and TOEIC on the Common European Framework [online] Available at:
[accessed November 16, 2006]
HUGHES, A. (2003) Testing for Language Teachers Cambridge: CUP
JORDAN, R.R. (1997) English for Academic Purposes Cambridge: CUP
LUOMA, S. (2004) Assessing Speaking Cambridge: CUP
McKENZIE, W. (1999) Multiple Intelligences Inventory [online] Available at: [accessed 14 May 2006]
MORROW, K (ed.) (2004) Insights from the Common European Framework Oxford: OUP
TARONE, E & YULE, G. (1989) Focus on the Language Learner Cambridge: CUP
THOMPSON, I. (2001) "Japanese Speakers" In SWAN, M. & SMITH, B. (eds.) Learner English (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: CUP
UNDERHILL, N. (1987) Testing Spoken Language Cambridge: CUP
WEIR, C. (1998) Communicative Language Testing Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall

Resources and Supplements

ANDERSON, K. MACLEAN, J. & LYNCH, T. (2004) Study Speaking Cambridge: CUP
BAILEY, S. (2003) Academic Writing Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer
GILLET, A., (2006) Using English for Academic Purposes: A Guide for Students in Higher Education [On-Line] School of Combined Studies, University of Hertfordshire.
Available at: [accessed 20 September, 2006]
HAMP-LYON, L. & HEASLEY, B. (2006) Study Writing (2nd Ed,) Cambridge: CUP
MARSHALL, L. & ROWLAND, F. (1998) A Guide to Independent Learning (3rd Ed.) Maidenhead: Open University Press
UNDERHILL, A. (1994) Sound Foundations London: Macmillan


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