“The 8th Question: Language Learning and Communication Contexts”

This paper presents the results of an eight-item survey administered to 237 language students beginning their Japanese studies at a mid-sized U.S. university.  Seven of the survey questions solicited demographic information and were used to profile the sample; the eighth asked the students why they were interested in learning Japanese.  After examination of responses to the eighth question, two things were clear. First (and not surprisingly), students who study the language do so with the objective of communicating with the Japanese. Second, the cultural/social contexts in which students desire this communication to take place vary wildly, in this sample ranging from meeting previously unknown family members in Okinawa to impressing prospective employers at a Japanese anime studio. Clearly, the sociolinguistic rules of interfamilial communications are not those of Japanese business communications; therefore, attempting to teach our students how to communicate in any one culture-specific context is unproductive. At the same time, it is unrealistic to expect that classrooms could address all communication contexts. I introduce instead a model of communication from the related discipline of Intercultural Communication, and suggest we consider its practical applicability in our classrooms and how it might better help our students reach their language learning objectives.

Dr. Yosei Sugawara, Lecturer
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

About the presenter:
After completing his law degree at Meiji Gakuin University, Yosei Sugawara worked for a number of years for a multinational company in Tokyo. His experience there led him to an interest in understanding the factors that affect the success and failure of communications between people of different cultures. In 1989, he quit the corporate world and moved to the United States where he first earned an MA in Intercultural Communication from California State University then went on to complete an MA in Japanese Linguistics and a PhD in Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona while concurrently teaching Japanese language and culture classes at IBM and Arizona’s Pima Community College.  In 2005, his translation of Yoko Ogawa’s Hakase no Aishita Sushiki was awarded the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature by the Donald Keene Center at Columbia University.  He currently teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and for the U.S. Dept. of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program at the University of Shiga Prefecture.  His research now focuses on exploring pragmatic methods for integrating principles of intercultural communication with FL instruction.

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