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L2 literacy practices of learners of Japanese outside the classroom
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posted on 22.03.2017by Inaba, Miho
A significant number of studies highlight the importance of learners’ exposure to their L2 in out-of-classroom contexts. L2 reading and writing activities (L2 literacy practices) represent opportunities for learning and using target languages. However, in the field of Japanese as a second language (JSL), experimental research into L2 reading and writing from the perspective of cognition is still dominant. This study instead takes a sociocultural approach in order to investigate the L2 literacy practices of learners of Japanese, and discusses the factors facilitating opportunities for L2 literacy practices and how learners read and write in naturalistic contexts.
Data was collected from fifteen intermediate and advanced students of Japanese at an Australian university, in the form of learning diaries concerning their literacy practices, as well as the Japanese-language materials which they read and wrote. These data sources were coupled with interaction interviews, as described by Neustupný (2002). They were also supplemented by background interviews about the participants, such as their linguistic backgrounds and their experiences of learning Japanese. The utilisation of Activity Theory (Leont'ev, 1978; Engeström, 1999, 2001) allowed the exploration of how and why the students undertook their L2 literacy practices under the influence of various individual and contextual factors.
The findings reveal that the majority of the students tended to focus on tasks related to their Japanese classes during the data collection period, and occasionally undertook extracurricular reading and viewing activities by utilising hard-copy as well as web-based materials. More importantly, the study indicates that the impetus behind undertaking non-class-related literacy practices was related to the multiple motives of the students. These motives included both learning Japanese and pursuing individual interests and entertaining themselves. The students’ interest in particular topics (e.g., interest in Japanese pop culture) was often influenced by their peers or siblings, and such interests played a particularly important role in expanding the opportunities for Japanese literacy practices.
Another important finding of this study is the potential of computer technology, in particular, the Internet, to support L2 literacy practices. The Internet enabled the students to access materials based on their interests and to participate in online communities, which eventually produced opportunities for authentic language use. The students also strategically employed digital dictionaries and online tools, such as Google and Wikipedia, to provide support when their Japanese proficiency was too deficient to complete certain tasks. However, it was also found that not all the students were able to draw on such resources.
The current study also provides insights into how student motives and the differences between class-related and non-class-related literacy practices shape the students’ utilisation of various online tools and peer assistance. This finding challenges traditional reading and writing strategy research, which tends to ignore the influence of these individual and contextual factors. The findings of this study thus contribute to a richer understanding of how motive and other contextual factors affect opportunities for L2 literacy activities, and the ways in which the learners undertake the activities.