Roles of technology and of reading among five self-directed adult learners of Japanese as a foreign language
Little is known about foreign language learners who teach themselves without help from educational institutions. Particularly, less commonly taught languages pose unique challenges to self-learn. For instance, Japanese is especially difficult for English- speaking self-directed learners due to the strict copyright law, which makes it difficult to access learning materials, and orthographical differences between English and Japanese. This dissertation study therefore explores how learners of Japanese as a foreign language approach their learning in self-directed learning settings and how reading and technology in particular play roles in their learning. Additionally, this study examines the applicability of extensive reading materials in these learners’ learning situations. With a case-study method, five participants (four women and one man) participated in this study. These participants had various backgrounds, including different proficiency levels and diverse reasons for learning Japanese. Per participant, an initial online survey, two interviews, two observations with the think-aloud protocol, diary entries, and an analysis of learning materials were used for data analysis. Results indicated that these participants approached their self-directed learning in various ways. Technology played an important role for these learners mainly in order to access information (e.g., looking up meanings of words, cultural information). In contrast, although these participants mostly admitted the importance of reading in learning Japanese, only one of the participants actively read Japanese for learning. As expected, most participants claimed that the difficulty of kanji (a Japanese writing system using Chinese characters) is the main reason that of Japanese reading is so challenging. During the reading project time, the participants were highly motivated to read the materials that they received. However, there were a few motivational fluctuations throughout the reading project, and their motivation did not often correspond to the actual amount of reading. Overall, the participants’ experiences with the extensive reading materials were positive. Upon completing the reading projects, the participants expressed the potentiality of using these materials for their self-directed learning. Yet, they also addressed several concerns and challenges of the materials themselves, including lack of texts that readers are interested in reading, small furigana (i.e., pronunciation guides for kanji), and vertical reading.