Monday, October 8, 2007
Professor Tomoko Yashima. Kansai University. Autonomy and willingness to communicate: The development of an English using ideal self
Professor Yashima’s previous work included a focus on Japanese adolescents studying in the US. She has identified a number of ways in which these young people tried different strategies to communicate with L1 speakers revealing their ‘willingness to communicate’ (WTC) as a key reason for facilitating learning.
Professor Yashima then put forward the idea of ‘international posture’ (IP) as a component of WTC. She defined this as a tendency to see oneself as connected to the international community, having concerns about international affairs, and an interest in interacting with people other than Japanese.
The talk then moved to describe two empirical studies of Japanese high school students in which she attempts to create a model of learner WTC and IP and interaction with motivation, proficiency and confidence.
Professor Yashima described a Model United Nations (MUN) project undertaken in the third year at a Japanese senior high school. Students took part in the MUN with several other schools playing roles as different countries’ representatives. The MUN had a number of features including formulized rules, pairing of students, floor talking rules and so on. In this way an ‘imagined community’ becomes visible and concrete.
Two cohorts of 152 students answered two questionnaires on motivation, IP and WTC and took the TOEFL ITP twice. The results showed that over two and half years TOEFL scores increased significantly, students communicated more frequently, and that IP increased but not significantly. An analysis of student comments showed that English had become a part of many students’ lives and that they had developed a positive attitude towards communicating in English. However, many still found it very difficult to use English.
A second study in February 2007 administered questionnaires to 191 students across all three years of the school. The items were about motivation, IP, WTC, frequency of communication, ideal self and ‘self determination’. Results showed that students with higher levels of IP and WTC tend to have self determined types of regulation and tend to visualize English using ideal selves more clearly.
It seems that the MUN is a way in which students can practically use English. It is a particular community of practice of teachers and learners with concrete tasks and ways of doing things. Learners’ self concept as L2 users becomes more concrete and language learning takes place through interaction with others. In turn learners become more autonomous with a clear sense of purpose in learning and using English.
It seems that MUN - the model United Nations - is quite a rare event in Japanese high schools; but many of the learners at the school in Professor Yashima's studies really benefited from taking part in such a course.
I wonder what other kinds of courses and events can give that real-world feel to English communication within Japan so that learners can gain some sense of using English with others in a meaningful way and have a positive image of their idealized self for the future.