The challenges faced by teachers of Japanese in New Zealand secondary schools

Haba, Kimiko
Kawai, Junji
Corder, Debbie
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Master of Arts in Applied Language Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

This research aims to investigate current challenges that Japanese language teachers are facing in New Zealand secondary schools. There have been many studies on the challenges of foreign language provision in New Zealand, but my research is different from most others in that its focus is on the teacher’s perspective. Because of the difficulties of formulating a hypothesis due to a lack of past studies on this topic from the point of view of the teachers, I needed a research methodology that would allow me to start collecting data without a theoretical framework. For this reason, I adopted grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) as my methodology. The data were collected through two focus group discussions and follow-up individual face-to-face interviews. A total of 12 in-service secondary school teachers of Japanese in the Auckland area, six of whom were native speaker teachers (NSTs) and six non-native speaker teachers (NNSTs), participated in my research.

My assumption prior to data collection was that the teachers’ main challenges would be relating to the new teaching approaches or assessments recently introduced under The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007b). However, what emerged as a significantly recurring theme from data analysis was the apparent lack of value being placed on foreign language education due to the “English-is-enough” mind-set that prevails in New Zealand society. Students do not perceive foreign language skills as being relevant career skills and careers advisors in schools do not recommend foreign language study either. As a result, the take-up and retention rates of students studying foreign languages in secondary schools have been declining and, of all the foreign languages, Japanese has been hit the hardest with a 55.5 percent decrease since 1996.

The repercussions of “non-value of foreign language education” are the same for the NSTs and NNSTs of Japanese. They include the need to create learning and teaching resources because of a lack of textbook aligned to learning, teaching and assessment of Japanese in secondary schools; organisation of multi-level classes and inadequate classroom time; and student demotivation to study Japanese because it is not seen as being important for their futures. The teachers were more concerned about these challenges than about the new teaching approaches, intercultural communicative language teaching (iCLT) and task-based language learning (TBLT). This could indicate that teaching Japanese in secondary schools in the current socio-cultural context in New Zealand, could be impeding their transition to the new approaches.

Government directives to make foreign language education compulsory and to identify Japanese as a priority language, like those made by the Australian Government, would raise the status of Japanese. However, public attitudes towards the value of foreign language education may take generations to change. In the meantime, the teachers in my research are employing a number of strategies to improve student numbers but their attempts are not always successful. Based on the respective strengths of the NSTs and NNSTs identified in the research, I conclude my thesis with a number of recommendations, which involve active networking and collaboration, to help the teachers resolve some of their challenges as well as to motivate students.

Japanese , Language education
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