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 www.geocities.com/yamataro670/readinglab.htm.
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
• 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: iteslj.org/links/ESL/PronunciationTongue_Twisters/ 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 http://www.imsdb.com/.
Record your reading of a scene against the actors, and notice
• 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.
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