Student Motivations: Why Japanese at the intermediate and advanced levels?

Pikachu in front of a world map

In the wake of ongoing pressure on language programs in Australia, and the ongoing challenge of transition between online and in-class teaching, the Student Motivations project was conceptualised to provide vital insights into how Japanese-language students understand their learning journey, common trends in this journey, and the impact of Covid-19 on their motivation and engagement. The project is an ongoing investigation into who as of 2021 was studying Japanese at intermediate and advanced levels in Australian universities, and their motivations for continuing.

As part of this larger initiative, the project team—Dr Rowena Ward, Dr Toshiyuki Nakamura, Professor Carol Hayes, and Dr Laura Emily Clark—held a seminar recently to share the initial findings of the Student Motivations project, supported by Sakura Network and Japan Foundation, Sydney.

The seminar was intended to encourage debate amongst Japanese-language educators as to the needs and expectations of their students beyond what they see in the classroom.

The seminar brainstormed issues arising from the project findings, which include:

The important relationship between the study of Japanese language and ongoing strong interest in Japanese culture

The relationship between in-class Japanese language study and opportunities to use Japanese outside the classroom

COVID and its positive and negative impact

The seminar was well attended, with 58 attendants at one point. The findings reported in the seminar sparked exciting discussions, with issues highly relevant not only to Japanese language learning but also to learning in other languages, including Indonesian. The key findings shared include the surprising fact that student motivations in learning (advanced) Japanese are not externally driven. Rather, the motivations are personally driven by a strong interest in deep linguistic and cultural engagements (e.g., meeting with Japanese people and enjoying Japanese music, movies, and TV shows).

Equally surprising is the mixed finding of (COVID19-related) online learning: the research found both negative and positive experiences in studying Japanese online. While students reported that 50 percent of them were very satisfied with their learning experience, overwhelmingly, they wanted to have more opportunities to practice speaking with native speakers, allowing feedback for improvement. Among the least engaging aspects are rote learning and heavy homework load, suggesting a rethinking of the role of homework in learning.

Overall, the seminar was a real eye-opener on diverse aspects of advanced Japanese learning and teaching in today's dynamic and ever-evolving environment; it will be interesting to see what the team discovers in the future too, as it delves deeper into the Japanese language-learning landscape.