spaceCenter for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Important Information for Teachers

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, learners need to identify and mobilize those language structures that are appropriate for signaling a desire to break in. It is also necessary for them 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 attempting to join 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 students 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 education, 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.

The Empirical Nature of These Materials and Authenticity of Linguistic Samples

Because there is variation even among native speakers in the way they speak, and because much of our language use is unconscious or automatic, appropriate use of language or appropriate speech norms must be taught research-based.  The linguistic samples and exercises in these materials are largely based on past research findings.  However, due to the very nature of speaker variability (e.g., personality, age, gender, level of education, and cultural background), the samples and answer keys may not always match what you would say and how you would say it in Japanese.

Also, for learners to become able to use Japanese communicatively, sample dialogues were recorded at natural speed with very little grammatical and lexical modification (e.g., simplification).  It is our intention to provide to learners authentic language and language use as it is actually used by native speakers.  It is recommended that with these materials instructors encourage learners to focus on the appropriate use of Japanese, not grammatical accuracy or analysis of linguistic form.  Learners can begin to develop a tolerance of ambiguity while focusing on the main idea and appropriate use of Japanese, rather than worrying about understanding every single word used in samples. 

Degree of Nativeness

Should learners be expected to deliver a speech act the way a native does? In many cases, learners’ delivery will be accepted even if they violate certain rules. If people recognize that a learner is a non-native speaker, they will be less likely to take offense at unsuccessful attempts to deliver a speech act.  In some cases, the native speaker may have to make allowance for the fact that while the speech act is acceptable, it still is not stylistically appropriate.  In other cases, a learner’s utterance may be accepted but would still be inappropriate. In still other cases, it may not be acceptable at all.  These materials are intended to provide learners as to why native speakers perform speech acts in certain ways and what they are likely to consider appropriate in terms of speech acts addressed to them.  Instructors should leave it up to learners to decide just how much they wish to conform to a native-like standard in their 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 learners to fine-tune their ability to perform speech acts, they need partners. We would suggest that learners be encouraged to try out the strategies that they learn through these materials in real life situations. Hopefully, our resources will help your students to achieve their communicative aims by reducing to some degree instances of communication failure through inappropriately executed speech acts.

Structure and Content of These Curricular Materials

Our self-accessed web-based modules include an introductory awareness-raising unit and five speech act modular units (apologies, compliments/responses to compliments, refusals, requests, and thanks). 

The introductory unit presents eight realistic situations learners of Japanese are likely to encounter in Japan.  The unit attempts to trigger learners’ noticing of important pragmatic features and invoke their interest in pragmatic norms and cultural mores (more information about the introductory unit).

Components of each of the five speech act units (Quick Guide to a Sample Unit):

1. Description of the situation with contextual factors (e.g., age, status, level of acquaintance, intensity of the act) and successful L2 sample interactions

2. Pragmatic awareness-raising tasks and explicit feedback on L2 pragmatic norms

3. Language-focused (sociolinguistic/pragmalinguistic) exercises, and grammatical and lexical information

4. Practice in producing output

5. Self-evaluation and feedback

6. Sociocultural information

7. Annotated bibliography for the speech act

More Information about the Components of the Speech Act Units

Recommendations for Japanese teachers in incorporating these materials into the curriculum

If you are an instructor considering using these materials in your Japanese courses, there are multiple ways to do so.  The units are intended for learners’ self-access, so they can be assigned as homework in addition to your regular curriculum.  However, our research study has shown that students may prefer to get some practice or get some questions answered in class. 

If you are a Japanese instructor using the textbook, An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese by Naomi Hanaoka McGloin & Akira Miura (1994), you may wish to view our detailed tips as to how you might supplement your textbook use with these speech act materials.

If you would like access to responses students send to us in doing the exercises, or need some ideas as to how you can follow up these materials in your class, please contact Noriko Ishihara.

Useful Sample Worksheets and Questionnaire

Sample Reflective Journal Tasks for Learners

Sample Learner Questionnaire/Evaluation of the Materials

Frequently Asked Questions from Students

Information for Researchers

Back to Speech Act Strategies Index Page

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