Attitudes toward English and English learning at three rural Japanese middle schools: A preliminary survey

| December 1, 2010
Title
Attitudes toward English and English learning at three rural Japanese middle schools: A preliminary survey

Authors
Joel P. Rian
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
Abstract
This study explores attitudes toward English and English learning at three rural Japanese middle schools. Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research has, over the past few decades, devoted increasing attention to the influence on language learning of learner motivation and attitudes. Theories backed by extensive empirical surveys among language learners have posited that learners attitudes toward second language culture influence their second language achievement. However, many of these surveys have involved learners who are immersed in the ―target language‖ culture or have direct contact with it. In socio-educational contexts where learners exposure to the target language is limited almost exclusively to their classroom experience, attitudes remain comparatively unexamined.

Japanese middle school students are required to study English in a social environment where there is little immediate need or opportunity to use the language for communicative purposes. Further, as the bulk of middle school English study is oriented toward preparing students for examinations, the middle school English learning environment is not set up to foster communicative ability—a problem which, notwithstanding the efforts of dedicated teachers, Japanese society does not appear to commonly acknowledge. Considering these circumstances, it is easy to speculate that motivation to study English among these students is ―low,‖ or that attitudes toward learning English tend to become negative as students progress through their studies.

Few investigations of Japanese middle school students attitudes have been conducted; however, none has found substantive support for these claims. The present study employed a questionnaire based on two past studies by Yoneyama (1979) and Koizumi & Matsuo (1993), incorporating some new concepts in SLA research that have come to light since the time of those studies. The results of the present survey mirrored past findings: responses were homogenous and generally neutral, again challenging the assumptions that middle school students generally have negative attitudes toward English. Further, the data suggest an interesting contrast between a positive image of having English ability and a slight disinterest in undertaking efforts to actualize this ability. Finally, the results of the present survey point to avenues for further research into the L2 attitudinal portrait of this considerably understudied group of learners.

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Category: Thesis