spaceCenter for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Important Information for Student Users of this Website


The Target Level of the Learners

These materials have been designed for intermediate to advanced learners (intermediate low to advanced low according to ACTFL oral proficiency guidelines).  For example, it is suitable for learners of Japanese in a foreign language setting who have completed at least 300 hours of instruction covering the first 20 chapters of the textbook Genki (Banno, Ohno, Sakane, Shinagawa, & Tokashiki, 2001).  The materials also cater directly to the communicative needs of the college-age learners in a second language setting.

The Intersection between Language and Culture

In language learning there are crucial areas of intersection between language and culture where the two are intricately intertwined. For example, in order to break into a conversation between two natives of Japanese, you as a nonnative speaker need to identify and mobilize those language structures that are appropriate for signaling a desire to break in. It is also necessary for you to know if it is culturally acceptable to break into the conversation of those two people and if so, when and how. Are certain discourse conventions used when entering into a conversation? Do gender, status, rank, and other factors make a difference?

These web-based exercises focus on speech acts in Japanese to enhance the strategies you might use for learning speech acts in Japanese. We perform speech acts when we offer an apology, a request, an invitation, a compliment, a refusal, and the like. A speech act is an utterance that serves some function in communication. It might contain just one word, as in "Sorry!" to perform an apology, or several words or sentences: "I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. It just slipped my mind." Speech acts include real-life interactions and require not only knowledge of the language, but also knowledge about how to use that language appropriately in a given situation within that culture (more information about speech acts).                                                                                                   

Speech acts are often difficult to perform in a foreign language because they are so closely tied to the culture. An utterance that works in English may not convey the same meaning when translated into the second language. When performing speech acts in Japanese, your first and most important concern as speaker is to consider: “Who is the addressee?” You must consider the hearer’s age, social position, and the level of familiarity between you and the hearer. The role that you and your interlocutor play (e.g., student vs. teacher) and the “status” difference that comes with the role (e.g., relatively “lower” status for a student, relatively “higher” status for a teacher) will condition what you say. The level of familiarity or acquaintance, that is, whether you are close or just getting acquainted, also plays a role in choosing the appropriate level of politeness. In Japanese, we also need to choose language forms that express respect and humbleness, especially through the use of keigo (honorific language). Within each speech act to be studied in these materials, these considerations will be highlighted through the use of a green font.  In addition, there are speech-act specific strategies, highlighted in red or blue fonts. These strategies are intended to alert learners as to cultural norms, the way the discourse flows, and the role played by various linguistic features.

The Variety of Japanese

These materials focus on “standard Japanese,” not on the dialect of Japanese spoken in the western part of Japan or any other regional dialects.

The Notion of What “Correct” Means with regard to Sociolinguistic Behavior

The truth is that in dealing with language in a social context, there is always variation, even among natives – given their personality, their level of schooling, their cultural background, and so forth. For this reason, many times there is no one best way to say something. Rather, there are preferred approaches. It is our intention to feature those preferred approaches.

Degree of Nativeness

Should you be expected to deliver a speech act the way a native does? In many cases, your delivery will be accepted even if you violate certain rules. If people recognize that you are a non-native speaker, they will be less likely to take offense at any awkward speech acts you may deliver. In other cases, your utterance may be accepted but would still be inappropriate. In still other cases, it may not be acceptable at all. So these materials may inform you regarding what native speakers tend to think. We leave it up to you to decide just how much you wish to conform to a native-like standard in your speech act behavior.

The Interactive Nature of Speech Acts

One of the truly attractive features of speech act work is that it involves language in context. Sometimes in language class, there is a tendency to study and to learn language out of context or at least in a non-interactive way. In the case of speech acts, in order for you to apologize or thank, there has to be someone else who is being apologized to or thanked. And this person’s response is not necessarily predictable. It is not necessarily clear just where the interaction will lead. So in order for you to fine-tune your ability to perform speech acts, you need partners. We would suggest that it can only benefit you to use the strategies you learn in this material in real life. Hopefully, it will help you achieve your communicative aims!

Comments and Questions from Students


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