Improving the kanji proficiency of adolescent Japanese heritage learners 

Aiko, M 2018, Improving the kanji proficiency of adolescent Japanese heritage learners , Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Education, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Improving the kanji proficiency of adolescent Japanese heritage learners 
Author(s) Aiko, M
Year 2018
Abstract This thesis focuses on Japanese as a heritage language and the challenges that arise for children learning Japanese while living in a different language and cultural environment. This research concentrated on formulating kanji learning, one of the Japanese scripts, with an aim to improve kanji proficiency and attitudes toward kanji learning through devising appropriate kanji learning materials and learning methods for Japanese Heritage Language (JHL) learners, especially adolescents.

The context for the study was a hoshuu-koo, a Japanese language school, in Australia and participants were students in Year 7. Hoshuu-koo are supplementary Japanese schools for students who study Japanese on weekends outside of Japan. Despite the growth in the number of JHL learners, due to increasing global population movement, materials and teaching methods for JHL education have not kept up with changing needs. There is a diversity of outcomes for students learning Japanese as a heritage language as learning and teaching experiences mainly rely on the methods of the Japanese education system, in an assumption that students learning Japanese at a hoshuu-koo will return to the Japanese education system. Many JHL learners come from mixed language backgrounds and will not participate in the formal Japanese system. Reasons for learning Japanese varies and methods that apply to native speakers of Japanese will often leave heritage learners discouraged. To address this situation a new class was introduced for JHL and new methods introduced. Student outcomes, however, did not improve. The research conducted for this thesis took place in this new class. Identified in the research literature on Japanese heritage language education is the kanji script, which presents as a hurdle for many learners due to its complexity and number of characters. Hence the choice of kanji learning as a major focus in this research.

In order to promote learner motivation and confidence towards kanji learning, and to develop kanji proficiency and elicit positive attitudes to kanji, pedagogical changes to the teaching of kanji were introduced into the new class at the hoshuu-koo. The concept of cognitivism was the main theoretical frame for this study, cognitivism theory emphasises mental processes, like motivation and psychological structures, including attitudes and confidence. Derived from cognitive psychology cognitivism incorporates students' needs, personal interests and clear goals which are important for meaningful learning and the facilitation of long-term memory. Given this theoretical approach the research focused on learners' levels of understanding. Data collection was concentrated on selected aspects of the students learning experiences and included testing for proficiency in certain tasks.  Participants¿ background contexts, that could influence heritage language learning, were also considered.

New kanji materials for adolescent JHL learners were designed by the researcher by adapting suggestions from prior research (e.g. Douglas, 2001). The revised teaching lessons and materials were conducted continuously throughout the year with an aim to improving the students' kanji proficiency and attitudes to learning. Both quantitative and qualitative approaches were used to analyse and examine the data from surveys, tests and writing tasks so that the efficacy of the new materials and teaching methods for these learners could be explored.

It was found that a majority of the students had clear perceptions about their own abilities in learning Japanese and the difficulties they encountered with kanji. The results of surveys at the beginning and at the end of the research period indicated that the number of students who had gained confidence in learning kanji increased. In the kanji tests, little improvement was evident in kanji reading skills, but clear progress was identified in kanji writing. The improved use of kanji in writing tasks suggested an increase in kanji knowledge. Other findings included a continuing issue related to motivation and patterns of typical mistakes made when using kanji in writing tasks were identified. The findings of this thesis have implications for future teaching and learning of JHL.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Education
Subjects Curriculum and Pedagogy not elsewhere classified
Keyword(s) Japanese Heritage Language
Learning materials
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Created: Wed, 20 Mar 2019, 14:58:07 EST by Adam Rivett
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