Professor's Voice

Takafumi Shimizu

To teach Japanese to non-Japanese speakers it is necessary to go beyond the traditional points of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. This is because one can fail to successfully communicate with native speakers even when speaking with perfect pronunciation in grammatically correct sentences.

Consider the following two dialogues:

Dialogue 1:
Student (non-Japanese) and professor (Japanese) talking after class.
Professor: ‘Omoshirosoo na hon desu ne.’ (The book you are reading seems interesting.)
Student: ‘A, sensei mo kono hon yomitai desu ka? Kashite agemasu.’ (Oh, you'd like to read this, too? I'll lend it to you.)

Dialogue 2:
Student (non-Japanese doing home-stay) and host-mother (Japanese) looking at his mother's picture.
Host-mother: ‘Okaasan kiree ne!’ (Your mom is beautiful!)
Student: ‘Hai, watashi no okaasan wa totemo kiree de yasashii desu.’ (Yes, my mom is very beautiful and she is sweet.)

In both dialogues the students’ responses are grammatically perfect but the communication probably differs from their intention. In the first dialogue the student thinks she is being polite, but her choice of words is likely offensive to the professor. In the second dialogue, the student’s sincere response to the host-mother’s compliment comes across as conceited. 

So as you can see, it is not enough for language teachers to teach pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary; they must also teach appropriate usage for the context. These social and cultural rules of communication may differ among various languages and cultures. My course covers not only sociolinguistics, which studies relations between language and users, but also topics in pragmatics, conversation analysis, and intercultural communication. Students learn basic concepts, theoretical frameworks, and research methods and the application of these to actual Japanese classroom activities.

The course also gives students experience in field research through a group project whereby data is collected from native speakers and/or learners of the Japanese language through interviews, questionnaires, and observations, and then analyzed. The groups come up with interesting projects such as: wakamono-kotoba (youth vernacular) in ten different languages: the influence of nonverbal communication on impression management; generational differences among students in their uses of keigo (honorific expressions); and the use of katakana words by native speakers and Japanese learners.

Student's Voices

I took this course at the insistence of a Korean friend of mine and I am so glad that I did. It was really interesting and the professor explained things clearly. I liked the class environment, which was relaxing and friendly. The professor was humorous and always appreciated the students' opinions. I really learned a lot from that class.
Exchange student from Uzbekistan

I took the course expecting to learn about proper teaching methods of Japanese for foreign students. However, the course really opened my eyes as a Japanese person because it let me objectively see Japanese as both a language and as a people. It also made me aware of how people communicate through channels beyond words, such as principles of politeness, physical gestures, and tone of voice. It definitely became more fun to communicate after I took this course!
Graduate working for an international airline

The teacher gave us lots of examples for each topic from many different sources, which allowed us to learn not just theoretical aspects but also the practical points of sociolinguistics. The relatively small number of students gave ample chances for discussions, which really helped me understand how to apply concepts from the textbooks to real communication.
Graduate studying for a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics