Tokyo JALT Journal Vol. 1 2013

Introduction

Update 09/03/2018

This journal has been edited for readability for publication on this site. Photos, charts, and tables, all painstakingly created by the authors and carefully posted by the editors of the TJJ have been removed. We apologize for this and appreciate your understanding. All of the documents are included in the PDF file which is available on the main page. Thank you and enjoy the Tokyo JALT Journal.

Best regards,

Matthew Kocourek

Incoming President

Tokyo JALT

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Dear JALT Tokyo Journal Readers,

I hope that the first issue of JALT Tokyo Journal sees the start of an engaged and committed discourse and debate among language researchers and teachers in schools, colleges and universities within the world of EFL in Japan and beyond. In order to help those who are job-hunting and provide legitimacy for the journal, I have applied for an ISSN number. I am looking forward with great anticipation to receiving contributions for our second issue, with a publication goal of October/ November (deadline for articles: August 31, 2014). Please adhere to 6th edition of APA style as outlined by Purdue University:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

This first edition includes six contributions, four articles, letters from the Reacting to the Past (RTTP) experts and a textbook review. In his contribution, In Japan, English is still a good investment, Messerklinger qualitatively examines the role of English in the workplace for Japanese employees. In his piece, How do you practice W/H questions in a natural way, Iwasawa outlines a practical lesson idea to help students by scaffolding their learning journey. In his article, Adding structured pronunciation practice to university oral communication classes, Hanbury emphasizes the need for teachers to help students in this area and reports on the outcomes of his action research project. In the article, The inclusion of “I don’t know” on the Vocabulary Size Test, Lucovich persuasively argues the rationale behind her ongoing doctoral research.

The Letters from the our visiting RTTP experts, the facilitators react to their past, outlining what happened in each workshop held at the RTTP at Sophia University event in May 11 &12, 2013. This first issue closes with a review by Lina Valdivia of a new textbook called Genius English Communication.

At this point, I would like to thank the contributors and the outgoing Tokyo chapter officers who helped launch the Tokyo JALT Journal.

Eucharia Donnery

Editor Tokyo JALT Journal


Table of Contents

1. In Japan, English is Still a Good Investment

Josef Messerklinger

2. How Do You Practice W/H Questions in a Natural Way?

Shaun Iwasawa

3. Adding Structured Pronunciation Practice to University Oral Communication Classes

Mark Hanbury

4. The Inclusion of “I don’t know” on the Vocabulary Size Test

Dawn Lucovich

5. Textbook Review – Genius English Communication

Linamaria Valdivia

6. Letters From Our Visiting RTTP Experts

Nicholas Proctor, Stephanie Jass, David Moser

Copyright © 2013 Tokyo JALT JournalAll articles contained herein are copyrighted by their respective authors and cannot be reproduced or distributed without expressing permission.
Content formatting may have changed due to website publication. For intended formatting, please download the original document here.

TJJ Vol. 1 2013

In Japan, English is Still a Good Investment

Josef Messerklinger

Despite decades of stagnant economic growth and an uncertain job market, adult students in Japan still find plenty of reasons to invest in English lessons.

Daisuke Watanabe is typical of adults studying English in Japan.

Although he has a good degree from a top-ranked Japanese university and has landed himself one of the increasingly hard to find full-time permanent positions at a major Japanese company, Daisuke is not sitting back and taking it easy.

A Path to Promotion

“To move up in the company, I need to improve my abilities including English.” Daisuke says. “You have to keep studying; otherwise you will get left behind.”

And to prove his abilities, he will take the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), again this year, the fifth time since graduating from university and the third time since joining his company.

“In university, we had to take the test, once for practice and once for real.” Daisuke explains. “It was a real bother, but now I look forward to taking it again.”

The TOEIC is one reason company employees are still so keen to study English. In 2012, according to data released by the Institute for International Business Communication (IIBC), about 3,200 companies schools and other organizations in Japan used the test in one way or another, and in this country alone a staggering 2.3 million people sat either the Institutional Program (IP) or the Secure Program version of the exam.

In that same year, 681,684 examinees from companies or other organizations took the IP exam. Nearly 25% of all examinees were engineers and more than half were “ordinary employees” with temporary employees making up less than 1% of the total. Manager level examinees comprised about one-fifth, according to the IIBC.

In fact, Daisuke currently works as a research engineer at his company developing one of their well-established products, but he is aiming for a management position.

“I like working in the lab, but as a manager, I will have more control over what I do and will be able to pass on my ideas to younger employees. “ Daisuke explains. He adds, “I think I can help my company more by being in management rather than just sitting in the lab all day.”

And in order to become a manager, he says he needs experience at one of his company’s branch offices overseas. Many companies in Japan have set 650 as a minimum score for employees sent on assignments abroad, but Daisuke’s has set a score of 730 as their minimum.

“I get closer and closer each year; I am sure I will make it this time,” he says optimistically. Until now he has been studying alone, but he thinks that maybe this course will help put him over the top.

In Japan, besides a number of courses provided by language schools, there are many self-taught courses for people wishing to study for the TOEIC, and the makers of the test, Educational Testing Service (ETS), provide preparation materials on their website.

“When I was in university, I didn’t think English was so important and only took science classes.” Regrets Daisuke, “Now I wish I had studied English more.”

Keeping Skills Sharp

But not all students are using English as a means towards promotion.

Keiko Hamada, who studies with Daisuke at a language school that specializes in improving students’ listening and writing ability, has a secure position in local government and also finds the TOEIC useful, but not for reasons you might expect.

She is one of the few in government who bother taking the exam. Of all the examinees sitting the IP version of the exam, over 1.2 million, only 333 were employed by prefectural or municipal government compared to over 200,000 in the electrical machinery industry alone.

But Keiko did not sit the IP version of the exam, which is available for companies, organizations and schools to give to their members at their convenience. She was one of the nearly one million individuals who took the SP, or Secure Program, version of the test paying for the exam out of her own pocket, about 5,500 yen per exam.

Keiko admits that she doesn’t really need English all that much at work, but finds that at odd moments, English will suddenly become necessary.

She describes a typical situation. “Sometimes, a foreigner who doesn’t speak Japanese very well comes into our office and needs our help. The non-English speaking staff then panic and call for me,” she laughs.

Thanks to her two years of studying abroad, Keiko’s speaking ability is very good, but she says the test helps her to judge her ability objectively while motivating her to study and keep her skills sharp.

She admits, “I am very competitive. I like to compare my scores to the average and to the last time I took the test.”

Keiko takes the test about once every other year. “Unfortunately,” she sighs, “My scores haven’t really improved much lately.”

The IIBC reports test data each year. Average scores over the past three years for the SP version have been exactly 574 points while for the IP version of the test scores have remained fairly constant at about 460 points.

“I’m still easily ahead of the average.” Keiko boasts.

It should be no surprise that average scores on the SP version are higher than average scores on the IP version. One reason is perhaps examinees like Keiko who take the test voluntarily and

expect to do well.

On the other hand, once examinees who take the IP version of the test like Daisuke have reached their goal, they usually no longer sit the exam.

Likewise, the distribution of scores on the SP version is slightly skewed with 3.3% of examinees taking top scores compared to 1.3% scoring in the highest range on the IP test.

Keiko, who also participates in triathlons, is not discouraged by her results. “I know I will never win, but placing consistently well boosts my confidence.”

An Edge in the Job Market

Others studying with the group are hoping that the qualification they get at the end of the course will help them with their job prospects.

Mari Okada is a temporary employee still looking for that elusive full-time permanent position. She graduated two years ago from a mid-tier university with a degree in international relations and is currently working for a foreign company in Japan.

Mari thinks it is natural that she keeps studying English, but like Keiko, she has learned the hard way that if she stops studying, her skills become dull.

“All my friends think it is great that I get to work for a foreign company because it is like getting free English lessons, “ she says. “But I don’t really learn that much.”

Mari took the TOEIC at the beginning of the year and was shocked that her score dropped so much. “I took the test in university for graduation,” she explains.

Her university is one of the growing numbers that have adopted the TOEIC either as test of achievement or for placement purposes. “We had to have at least 650 points [on the TOEIC] to graduate, and I got that on the second try after studying abroad for a semester.”

Over 360,000 university students took the IP version of the test while nearly 300,000 took the SP version. As with adult examinees, the average score for university students is higher on the SP exam than on the IP exam, 555 points compared to 433 points in 2012.

Likewise, overseas experience makes a difference. Those who have never lived abroad score 408 points on average while those with even some study abroad, less than 6 months, score 472 points. Two years abroad can raise scores by an average of nearly 250 points.

“I need to start studying again. I am too embarrassed to tell you what my score [on the TOEIC] was last time.”

She is probably not alone. The TOEIC test data show that average scores for potential employees is higher than for those currently employed and that scores steadily drop with length of employment. Potential employees scored 573 points on average in 2012 compared to 504 points for new employees, 485 and 484 points for those with 2 to 5 and 6 to 10 years of employment respectively, and 448 points for those at work 11 years or more.

Other data from the IIBC show that test scores for new recruits and potential employees are on the rise. Average scores for new recruits edged up from 484 in 2011 to 499 in 2012 and so far in 2013 505 points while those for potential employees followed a similar trend, 524 in 2011, 525 in 2012 and 558 in the early part of 2013.

This puts Mari in a bind. She needs to improve her skills in order to compete with others in the job market, yet she is working and fears she will suffer the fate of so many others who are employed and watching their English abilities fade.

The others in the class console her, saying it is natural that your abilities drop after university if you don’t try to keep them up. "Most people are too busy when they start working," Daisuke notes.

But more reason, they say, to keep studying.

TOEIC Program DATA & ANALYSIS 2012 can be downloaded in PDF form from: http://www.toeic.or.jp/toeic_en/data/


How Do You Practice WH-questions In a Natural Way?

Shaun Iwasawa

Kaichi Gakuen<shauniwasawa@gmail.com.>

Quick Guide

Key words: speaking, vocabulary comprehension, question making, critical thinking

Target learner level: Middle school grade 1~3 to high school grade 1.

Target learner: Middle school and high school

Activity time: 20~25 minutes

Materials: Teacher prepared activity sheets


Japanese students often find it a struggle to ask WH-questions. This activity gives students the opportunity to not only practice making WH-questions, but also use the vocabulary that they have learned in as real life a setting as the classroom offers. As students attempt to elicit responses from their partners or teacher, they have the chance to see if their questioning skills elicit the target response. If they do not, learning occurs and the student must adjust their question until the desired outcome is achieved. The benefit of this method being that it provides instant feedback to students.

Preparation

Step 1: First choose 20~30 responses and categorize them into sets on a worksheet. Responses may include “I am fine,” “Yes, I am,” and “For [...] year(s),” to more difficult responses such as “I disagree because~,” or “I don’t like doing it,” or “I prefer~.” Second, make a speaking test sheet. To make this a five point speaking test, choose five sets of responses from the practice sheet with each set being the answer to a different question. For example, one set of responses could be “I’m fine,” I’m good,” “I am OK,” which would require the student to ask the question “How are you (doing)?”

Step two: Students are given the handout and responses are explained to them. Some teachers may wish to have their students brainstorm questions that would elicit the target responses.

Step 3: Students are then put into a bicycle chain and take turns trying to elicit the target response by asking their partner questions.

Step 4: Speaking test: Once the students have finished practicing, have them work on a separate activity while the teacher takes them off to the side or into the hall one at a time. The students and the teacher have matching sets of responses. Students will ask the teacher questions in order to elicit one of the target responses from each set of responses. If they are able to do this in a predetermined amount of time, they can get one point for each set of responses.

Summary

The aim of this activity is to get students to practice WH-questions and use the vocabulary they have learned. Furthermore, it provides a semi realistic setting to see how affective their questioning skills are. This activity can be adapted to any level by adjusting the responses. It can also accommodate class sizes of up to 30 or 40 students. The responses should be simple and easy to prepare, as the target is daily conversation. If desired, this activity could be shortened or broken into pieces and used as a warm-up activity for every class over a term.

Adding Structured Pronunciation Practice to University Oral Communication Classes

Mark Hanbury

Seikei University

Abstract

There seems to be a lack of focus on pronunciation practice in English oral communication classes throughout Japan. This paper reports on a qualitative study which set out to integrate structured pronunciation practice into 12 English oral communication classes as a supplement to set textbook material, and to obtain students' reactions to the introduction of this pronunciation section of the syllabus. After devoting part of every second class to activities aimed at introducing basic elements of English prosody, and testing these elements in a final speaking test, it was found that students paid more conscious attention to pronunciation when speaking English. In an end-of-course survey, students reported that they felt improvement in both their pronunciation and listening skills, considered studying English pronunciation to be useful, and expressed a desire to continue pronunciation practice in the second semester.

概要

日本で行われている英会話の授業において発音に対する注目は不十分だと思われる。本論文は、一人の英語講師の経験に基づいて、規定の教科書資料を補う形で制度的に発音の練習を授業に取り入れる試み、そして学生のそれに対するリアクションについて報告する。隔回に発音の基本を練習する時間を導入し、その結果を試験で試したのち、学生たちは英語の発音に対する意識が高まったことがわかった。コースの最後に行った調査によると、学生たちは発音能力と聴力の向上を感じ、発音の勉強の有意義さを主張し、次期においても発音の練習を続けたいという願望を表した。

Introduction

I imagine that many university English teachers who are, like myself, engaged in teaching oral communication classes to Japanese students, find themselves accepting a level of Japanese-accented English from students which may not be understood by English speakers lacking a familiarity with Japanese phonology. It can be easy to overlook this, and go on teaching what is in the textbook, but in doing so, are we best serving our students? Without structured pronunciation practice in oral communication classes, are we meeting our students' communicative competence needs?

When our students reach us in university, they have already had several years of English study. However, in many cases this leaves them unprepared for actual oral communication, as they have been asked to memorize lists of vocabulary and complex grammatical rules without regard for the development of communicative competence (Evans, 1993, p. 39). Chujo (2012) argues that English phonetic education has not previously been central to instruction or syllabus development in Japan, and that now that the need for such training is recognized, it is not actually practiced in the classroom, due to emphasis on the grammar-translation method for entrance examinations, lack of opportunities to speak English, lack of confidence of Japanese English teachers in their own English pronunciation, and underdeveloped theory for English instruction (p. 683). Furthermore, Chujo posits that this lack of systematic pronunciation instruction in the early stages of English learning is responsible for students' fear of speaking English in public.

If we are to remedy this situation, how are we, at the university level, to proceed? Many of us may feel we don't have enough class time to spend on pronunciation. And if we do, what is the best way to go about it? Gilbert (2008) argues that rather than the traditional focus on minimal pair drills, which she describes as an inherently un-engaging activity that often leads to discouraging results for both students and teachers, it is more fruitful to aim for the development of 'listener-friendly' pronunciation. This can be achieved, Gilbert suggests, by not focusing solely on the segmental aspects of language, such as vowels and consonants, but on the supra-segmental features - stress, rhythm and melody - which she refers to collectively as prosody. Helping the listener to follow is so central to communication, Gilbert argues, that focusing students' attention on the major rhythmic and melodic signals of English is the most important way to improve their pronunciation (p. 2).

Gilbert illustrates the English prosodic system with what she calls the Prosody Pyramid. In speech, the stream of a speaker's thoughts are organized into chunks, expressed as a short sentence, a clause or a phrase, and Gilbert calls these chunks thought groups. The thought group forms the base of the Prosody Pyramid. Above this is the focus word, the most important word in the thought group. Within this word, one syllable is the main stress, which is the next level in the Prosody Pyramid. At the apex of the pyramid is the peak - the sound within the stressed syllable which must be clear in order for the listener to accurately interpret the meaning of the entire thought group (p. 10).

Cross (2002) and Evans (1993) also advocate a focus on supra-segmental features in teaching pronunciation, both arguing that segmental features such as vowel phonemes, while important, are less critical to communicative competence than the pronunciation of the phrase or thought group. Evans states that errors in stress, rhythm and melody have been shown to create more problems in communication than errors in the production of vowel or consonant phonemes (p. 40). Moreover, both Cross and Evans point out that English and Japanese are very different in their use of suprasegmental features like syllable structure, vowel reduction, and stress, suggesting that errors in these areas will often go unrecognized by students without explicit teaching and practice. Along similar lines, Gilbert warns that teaching individual sounds to students with no understanding of the English prosody system will lead to students practicing English sounds in their L1 rhythm (p. 30). The result is the lack of fluency evident in the English speech of many Japanese students.

This is not the only obstacle to fluency for students. As well as phonology, Bradford (1993) argues that the other main aspect of interference is socio-cultural, a factor less frequently taken into consideration. When our students speak in class, they are typically thinking about avoiding mistakes in grammar and vocabulary, rather than in helping the listener to follow their meaning (Gilbert, 2008, p. 2). In line with the affective filter hypothesis, Chujo emphasizes the need to create a relaxed learning environment, where students can lower their anxiety about speaking English aloud and engage with the listener (2012, p. 683). Similarly, Evans posits three basic dimensions for changing students' pronunciation habits: the affective dimension (including a positive attitude towards the language and culture, as well as motivation to improve language deficiencies); the practical dimension (where pronunciation skills are practiced and developed); and the monitoring dimension (in which students learn to monitor native speakers' speech, and apply what they notice to their own English production) (1993, p. 44). He argues that these three dimensions are linked, so that through effective practice of supra-segmental skills the affective filter is lowered, and as students become newly aware of the importance of prosody, their motivation will increase, leading to continued development of monitoring strategies for pronunciation.

Objective

The purpose of this paper is to present the results of an action research qualitative study, informed by the literature discussed above, into the following questions:

1. Whether and to what extent it is possible for regular, structured pronunciation practice to be successfully integrated into general English oral communication classes, regardless of the set texts for those classes; and

2. What are students' responses to the addition of this regular, structured pronunciation practice to their courses, as a supplement to the set texts.

Method

Participants

There were 261 participants in the study, across three large private universities in the Tokyo area. All were first or second year students in 12 general English classes (focusing primarily on listening and speaking, but with some reading and writing elements also). Classes were 90 minutes, and met once a week for 15 weeks. Four classes were at an all-girls university, while the remaining eight classes at the other two universities were co-ed. Class sizes ranged from 20 to 30 students. Three classes were computer science majors, two classes were literature majors, there was one class each of international studies majors, economics majors and biology majors, and the four all-girls classes were of mixed majors. Students' English levels ranged from low to intermediate.

Tasks and Procedures

Students were informed in the first week of classes that along with their set textbook, each unit of which would take two weeks of class time, 30-45 minutes of each two-week block would be devoted specifically to pronunciation practice. Material covered during this pronunciation practice would be tested in a speaking test in week 12.

At this pace, there would be time to focus on 5 pronunciation skills over the course of the semester. Informed by the literature discussed in the introduction, the elements selected for classroom practice were: 1) vowel sounds, 2) question intonation, 3) syllable counting, 4) strong syllables, and 5) weak syllables and schwa.

Vowel Sounds

Although Evans argues for a focus on the phrase or thought group in pronunciation practice, he acknowledges the importance of phonemic accuracy, especially in the production of vowel sounds, which he regards as being especially problematic to Japanese learners (1993, p. 40).

The importance of vowel phoneme production is also made clear in Gilbert's Prosody Pyramid model, where the peak syllable is the most important part of the thought group, with the vowel in this stressed syllable thus being crucial to the listener's understanding of that thought group. Gilbert suggests that the best way to present vowels to students is to begin with pronunciation of the alphabet vowel letters. The pronunciation of these alphabet vowels (as in made, tea, ice, soap, and cube) involves an off-glide, produced by an upward shift of the tongue and a change in the shape of the lips while they are being spoken (Gilbert, 2008, p. 25).

Following Gilbert's recommendation, alphabet vowel sounds were introduced to the students as being essentially diphthongs, in contrast to the Japanese vowels (/a/, /i/, /u/, /e/, /o/). The teacher demonstrated the production of these sounds with exaggerated mouth movements, drawing students' attention to the widening of the lips at the end of the front vowels (/eɪ/, /iː/, /aɪ/), and to the lip-rounding necessary for the back vowel sounds (/oʊ/ and /uː/). These last two were contrasted with the non-rounded Japanese vowels /o/ and /u/. After these alphabet vowel sounds had been demonstrated, students repeated the alphabet vowel sounds in chorus. The difference between the diphthongization in the alphabet vowel sounds of the English words 'cake' and 'cone' was contrasted with the loan-word cognates in Japanese, ke-ki and ko-n, which lack diphthongs. It was also pointed out to students that without rounding of the lips, the word 'cone' may be mistaken for 'corn', as indeed the pronunciation of the two words is identical in katakana.

Next, a list of English words containing the alphabet vowel sounds was distributed to students for practice in pairs. After the teacher demonstrated with one student, partners took turns pointing randomly at a word from the list, which the other partner would then say out loud, taking care to articulate the alphabet vowel sounds with lip and tongue movement. In order to ensure correct mouth movement, the partner who had selected the word was charged with watching the speaking partner's lips, to check for English rather than Japanese vowel pronunciation. This became a kind of game, which students enjoyed.

Question Intonation

Chujo argues that a common intonation error among Japanese learners is the misplacement of the terminal pitch in information (Wh-type) questions. She reports that in her observation of her own students, "...the tendency was to read a sentence with the raised terminal pitch whenever there were question marks" (2012, p. 687). This writer has observed the same occurrence on many occasions over the years, and like Chujo, deemed it worthy of explicit instruction and practice.

It was decided to limit question intonation practice to information questions and yes/no questions, in order to highlight the difference in terminal pitch between the two types. Also, as these types of questions appear regularly in textbooks of every level, there would be ample opportunity for review and reinforcement outside of the time allotted specifically to pronunciation practice.

To begin with, the following was written on the board:

Yes/No? [See the PDF file for the illustration] Wh? [See the PDF file for the illustration]

The teacher demonstrated some basic yes/no questions, such as 'Do you like natto?' and 'Are you from Tokyo?', gesturing up with his hands and using exaggerated rising pitch at the end of the question. This was followed by a demonstration of some Wh questions, 'Where do you live?' and 'What's your name?', gesturing down and using falling pitch at the end of the question. A list of ten yes/no and information questions was then distributed to the students. As this was still early in the semester, and it was likely that students hadn't had much chance to get to know each other yet, these questions were of the 'getting to know you' type. Students were called on randomly to read out these questions in plenary first, and their rising or falling terminal intonation was checked by the teacher. To reinforce the distinction between rising intonation for yes/no questions and falling intonation for information questions, the teacher repeated students' questions with large hand gestures up or down. Pairs then asked each other the distributed questions, checking each other's intonation, and answered their partner's questions with their own answers. Although not explicitly required by the teacher, many students used rising or falling hand gestures as they asked the questions, suggesting they found this a useful kinesthetic reinforcement.

Syllable Counting

Japanese students come to the study of English with the familiar rhythm of their L1 already assumed to be the natural state (just as English speakers do when studying Japanese). If students are to achieve more listener-friendly English pronunciation, they must be made conscious of the rhythms of English, the basic unit of which is the syllable. Although the number of syllables in a word may seem obvious to an English native speaker, for learners from different linguistic backgrounds syllable divisions may be perceived differently (Gilbert, 2008, p. 4). In the case of Japanese students, when the phonological rules of their L1 are applied to English, the result is the katakana pronunciation that teachers will be familiar with. For this reason, it is important that students are taught to count syllables, in order to raise awareness of the differences between Japanese and English rhythm patterns.

First, the concept of 'syllable' was introduced with the teacher saying words of various lengths and counting out the syllables on his fingers, one syllable at a time. Once the concept had been made clear, the difference in number of syllables between some common English words and their loan-word cognates in Japanese was demonstrated, tapping out the syllables on a desk. For example, the two-syllable English words 'salad' and 'orange' become the three syllable Japanese words sarada and orenji. This phenomenon is made especially clear to students when it is pointed out that 'McDonalds' in English has three syllables, whereas makudonarudo in Japanese has six syllables - twice as many. It may need to be mentioned that the concept of 'syllable' being practiced is not identical to the number of characters in a katakana word. Some students may protest that orenji has four syllables, counting the katakana for the /n/ sound. Rather than going into too much technical detail in explanation, it was found that encouraging students to tap out the syllables on their desk as they said English words, helped them to achieve more natural pronunciation and awareness of the number of syllables.

A page was distributed to students with four groups of English words - one group each of one-syllable words, two-syllable words, three-syllable words, and four-syllable words. After a demonstration by the teacher with one student, and a reminder to try to use English rather than katakana pronunciation, students practiced in pairs. Partners took turns reading out a random word from one of the four word-groups, while the other partner, without looking at the page, answered with the number of syllables. Again, students were encouraged to tap out the number of syllables on their desks. Students seemed to enjoy this activity, and energy levels in the classes were high.

Following this pair-practice, a game inspired by an activity in Gilbert's Clear Speech From the Start (2001) was used to further entrench the idea of syllable counting. Teams of four to five students were given a blank sheet of paper. Teams were given one minute to write down as many food-related words of one syllable as they could think of. After one minute, teams were given one point for every word with the correct number of syllables, and their scores were recorded on the board. This process was repeated for two-syllable words, three-syllable words, and four-syllable words. At the end of the game, the team with the highest score were the winners. This game prompted discussion within the teams about the number of syllables in various English words, and helped to lower students' affective filters.

Strong Syllables

According to Cross (2002, p. 2), English is a stress accent language, with stress-timed rhythm created by a combination of word stress and sentence stress. In contrast, Japanese is a pitch accent language with syllable-timed rhythm, where all syllables are of more-or-less equal duration. Whereas English uses stress on the peak syllable to highlight the most important information in a thought group, Japanese does this grammatically. At the word level, problems may arise because learners often ignore stress patterns when they learn vocabulary, and English loan-words often have different stress in Japanese. English speakers store vocabulary items mentally according to their stress patterns, which means that stress errors at the word-level can cause confusion and disrupt communication (Gilbert, 2008, p. 5). For these reasons, English stress patterns need to be taught explicitly for 'listener-friendly' pronunciation.

In Gilbert's Prosody Pyramid model, each thought-group has a focus word (usually a content word). The speaker wants the listener to notice this word the most, and it is therefore emphasized by use of intonation. Within the focus word is the peak syllable, which is stressed by means of loudness, contrastive vowel length, contrastive vowel clarity, and pitch change (Gilbert, 2008, p. 15). Stress at both the word-level and sentence-level creates contrast, highlighting the most important information in the thought group.

In order to introduce these ideas to the students, a handout was distributed (inspired by activities in Gilbert, 2001), featuring pictures of household items. Below these pictures were 12 sentences, such as 'It's a washing machine,' 'It's a T.V.' Students first matched the sentences to the pictures, in order to check vocabulary. Once this was done, the teacher read the sentences and instructed students to listen and underline the stressed syllable in each. Students were allowed to confer before being called on randomly in plenary to read out the sentences with the correct syllable stressed. It was noted that some familiar vocabulary had a stressed syllable other than that which students had expected.

Below these sentences was another group of sentences under the heading 'What's it for?'. Each sentence took the following pattern: It's for _____ing (something). For example, 'It's for sitting on.' Within each of these 'What's it for?' sentences, the stressed peak syllable was marked in bold. After a demonstration by the teacher with one student, pairs took turns reading a random 'What's it for?' sentence with the marked stress, to which their partner would respond with the correct answer from the 'household items' group of sentences.

Thus (with stress underlined), one student might say:

It's for washing clothes.

To which their partner would reply:

It's a washing machine.

To ensure that students stressed the correct syllable, rather than reading in a monotone, they were encouraged to use slightly exaggerated stress. This made for a fun activity, with some students taking the opportunity to ham it up, but it helped drive the point home.

Weak Syllables and Schwa

It is important to stress words and syllables correctly, but it is equally important that the words and syllables around them are de-stressed or reduced in order to create contrast. In word-level stress, most unstressed vowels are reduced to schwa (/ə/), the most common vowel sound in English (Bradford, 1994, Cross, 2002, Gilbert, 2008), which occurs in almost every English word that is longer than two syllables (Cross, p. 2). This reduction of vowel clarity to the schwa sound is, Gilbert writes, "...particularly baffling for students whose L1 never reduces vowels, such as Spanish and Japanese. Learning to hear the difference between clear and reduced vowels is therefore a challenging but essential task"(2008, p. 17). As most Japanese students are more familiar with written than spoken English, the vague unstressed schwa sound can be difficult to hear.

Reduction is also essential in sentence-level stress. As discussed above, the focus word in a thought-group is usually a content word. In order to create contrast with this stressed focus word, structure words such as pronouns, prepositions, articles, the verb 'to be,' conjunctions, and auxiliary verbs, are de-emphasized and reduced using schwa and contractions. Students can find reducing structure words difficult for a number of reasons. They are difficult to hear in spoken English, and so often go unnoticed by students. Some students may also be resistant to using contractions because they regard them as slang, or otherwise improper English. This can lead to students emphasizing every word when speaking English, in a way that sounds quite unnatural to the ears of native speakers.

In presenting the concept of weak syllables and the schwa sound to students, the words 'America' and 'tomato' were first written on the board. Students were reminded that in both words, the second syllable is stressed, as had been previously practiced. Next, the teacher drew a line through the first a and the i of 'America' and the first o of 'tomato.' The pronunciation of these words was repeated, and the fact that these syllables are weak was highlighted, contrasting the English pronunciation with the unreduced vowels of the Japanese amerika and tomato. Next, the vowel letters a, e, i, o, u were written on the board, and below them the /ə/ symbol. It was explained that this symbol is not part of the alphabet, but represents the weak, unstressed vowel sound from the example words. The schwa sound was demonstrated for the class, contrasting it with the Japanese vowels (/a/, /i/, /u/, /e/, /o/). It was suggested that students think of the schwa sound as being like the sound one might make if hit on the chest, which the teacher proceeded to do to himself lightly by way of example. This sparked some experimental imitation from students. Drawing a line from each vowel letter to the /ə/ symbol, the teacher told the class that the sound of any of these letters can change to the /ə/ sound when they are weak and not stressed, pointing out that the a, i and o in the example words 'America' and 'tomato,' all have the same pronunciation.

Next, a number of other multi-syllable words were written up on the board, and students were asked to copy them down. As the teacher read out the words, students were instructed to cross out the vowels which changed to the schwa sound. After being permitted to confer with each other to check their answers, students were called on randomly to come to the board and cross out the vowels which made the schwa sound.

Having introduced the concept of de-stressing in words, the teacher explained that just as there are some words that are stressed in a sentence (usually nouns and verbs), some words in a sentence have weak pronunciation, and that these are usually small words like 'and,' 'of' and 'a.' First, the phrase 'fish and chips' was written on the board. The teacher read out the phrase, emphasizing all of the words. Then the teacher explained that in normal spoken English, the pronunciation of 'and' would be very small and weak. Underneath 'and' on the board, the teacher wrote /ən/, and read out the phrase again with natural pronunciation. Some other examples of the reduced 'and' sound were given, such as 'black 'n' white,' and 'rock 'n' roll.' Next, a handout was distributed to the students, featuring some more phrases with the reduced 'and' sound. The stressed syllables in the content words were underlined, and the reduced vowels were crossed out. The phrases were practiced chorally as a class, and then in pairs, with partners charged with checking each other's /ən/ pronunciation.

After this pair-practice, the phrases 'a cup of tea' and 'a piece of cake' were written on the board. Again, the teacher read out the phrases, emphasizing all of the words. Then the teacher explained that in normal spoken English, the pronunciation of 'a' and 'of' would be very small and weak, and that they would both change to the /ə/ sound. On the students handouts were some more phrases with reduced 'a' and 'of' sounds, and the same procedure as above was used to practice these - first chorally as a class, and then in pairs.

Lastly, students practiced a conversation set in a restaurant, using food and drink words such as 'tomato' and 'lemonade' with unstressed syllables, and phrases with reduced structure words, such as 'fish and chips,' 'a cup of tea" and 'a piece of cake.'

Speaking Test

In week 12, students were tested on the pronunciation skills they had practiced thus far. The test was in the form of a role-play, which featured all of the phonological elements discussed above, with five lines each for A and B partners. Within the role-play script there were 30 test features, worth one point each.(Both the Speaking Test role-play script and the Speaking Test Grading Sheet can be found in the appendix.)

The role-play script was distributed to students, who were told that they would perform this role-play twice - once as part A and once as part B - so that all students would deliver all of the lines. Students were informed that they would be tested on their pronunciation of the features practiced in class, which were written on the board as a reminder. Students practiced in pairs, and were encouraged to make notes on their scripts, e.g. underlining stressed syllables and crossing out reduced ones, or drawing arrows up or down at the end of questions to indicate the direction of their terminal pitch. Students were not required to memorize their parts, as it was believed that this would increase anxiety and bring about a raising of the affective filter, negatively effecting production.

When pairs were satisfied that they were ready to perform the role-play, they approached the teacher's desk at the front of the classroom and read out the conversation twice - once as A and once as B. Pairs did not perform for the class, again, to avoid adding to anxiety levels. While tests were being conducted, other pairs continued practicing together.

As students read their parts, the teacher checked the Speaking Test Grading Sheet (see appendix). At the conclusion of the test, the teacher held a brief conference with each partner, going through the Grading Sheet with them to correct pronunciation errors and point out any problems or mistakes which might have caused them to lose points, as well as praising good pronunciation. Students were given a score out of 30, and after this had been recorded by the teacher, they were allowed to keep their Grading Sheet for encouragement and to see what areas they needed to work on.

Questionnaire

In order to get feedback from students on studying pronunciation, a questionnaire was distributed to all students the week after the speaking test. (The questionnaire can be found in the appendix).

It was hoped that this questionnaire would provide insight about students' previous experience studying English pronunciation, their opinions on the usefulness of studying English pronunciation, their impressions of their own progress with regard to English pronunciation during the course of the semester, and their feelings about continuing to study English pronunciation in the future.

The questionnaire consisted of a total of seven questions. Five questions used a five point Likert scale, and two questions were open ended. All questions were presented in both English and Japanese, with the translations done in collaboration with a native Japanese speaker.

Results and Discussion

Speaking Test

Gilbert (2008) writes that tests used for research purposes have a different function from tests for teaching pronunciation, arguing that the true purpose of testing pronunciation in the classroom should be to encourage the students. She believes pronunciation to be psychologically sensitive, and more difficult to grade objectively than grammar or vocabulary. Thus, for pedagogic and psychological reasons, Gilbert argues that in testing pronunciation, the elements tested should be intentionally and thoroughly taught, in order to more or less guarantee better scores (2008, p. 44).

To this end, students were told explicitly what pronunciation elements they would be tested on, and these were specifically focused on in classroom practice, resulting in relatively high scores on the speaking test. For the 261 participants across 12 classes in three universities, the average speaking test score was 24.74 out of a maximum 30 points, or 82%.

Below are class average scores, broken down by major:

[See the PDF file for the table]

As might be expected, the highest scores were amongst the Literature and International Studies majors, and the Higher Level Mixed Majors groups who had been streamed according to their results in the TOEIC Bridge Test. However, the difference in scores between these classes and the Computer Science, Economics, Biology, and Lower Level Mixed Major Groups was not as significant as may have been expected. Between the highest class average score of 26.3 (88%) and the lowest of 22.6 (75%), there was a difference of only 13%. This may reflect that the test itself, and the pronunciation practice throughout the semester, used simple vocabulary and grammar, with the aim of being effective for all students, regardless of English level. Moreover, whilst it might be reasonable to expect that the Literature, International Studies, and Higher Level Mixed Majors groups have a more positive attitude towards English language and culture, the novelty of this pronunciation practice may have generated more enthusiasm among the other groups, leading to the comparatively narrow range of speaking test scores.

Questionnaire

The first five questions in the questionnaire used a five point Likert scale: 大変そう思う taihensouomou (Strongly Agree), ややそう思う yayasouomou (Agree Somewhat), そう思う souomou (Agree), ややそう思わない yayasouomowanai (Disagree Somewhat), 大変そう思わない taihensouomowanai (Strongly Disagree). The results are shown below:

[See the PDF file for the chart]

The results for this question suggest that while a significant portion of students surveyed had not previously studied English pronunciation, a much larger cohort had. However, it must be born in mind when interpreting this data that what students have typically done in previous English classes is not actually pronunciation correction, but simply parrot-like repetition (Chujo, 2012, p. 683).

[See the PDF file for the chart]

The answer to this question was overwhelmingly yes. The smaller number of 'Strongly Agree' responses in comparison to the concentration of 'Agree Somewhat' and 'Agree' responses, may be indicative of students' modesty about their own achievements, or may alternatively suggest that while the program of pronunciation practice was on the whole successful, there is still room for improvement.

[See the PDF file for the chart]

The results for this question suggest that the vast majority of students felt their listening ability, a main focus point of communicative English classes, had grown after practicing pronunciation.

[See the PDF file for the chart]

The results for this question are in line with those reported by Suarez and Tanaka (2001, cited in Chujo, 2012, p. 682). Students clearly feel that studying English pronunciation is worthwhile.

[See the PDF file for the chart]

The answer to this question was overwhelmingly positive, with comments also suggesting that students found the addition of structured pronunciation practice to the course to be both enjoyable and useful.

The sixth question was intended to elicit feedback from students on what aspects of English pronunciation they would like to study, or may find useful. The most common suggestions are shown below, translated into English by the author. These suggestions will be incorporated into future classes.

[See the PDF file for the chart]

At the end of the questionnaire, space was provided for students to add any comments or feedback about practicing pronunciation in the course. Comments were written in students' L1, so as to ensure free and full expression of their thoughts and ideas, unfettered by limitations in English ability. A representative selection of these comments, with English translations by the author, can be found in the appendix. Based on this student feedback and on the observations of the teacher throughout the course, some recommendations were arrived at for initial forays into teaching pronunciation.

  • Be explicit
  • Contrast with Japanese
  • Emphasize rhythm
  • Use game-like practice in pairs or groups

The first recommendation for teachers who wish to add a pronunciation element to their classes is to focus on one pronunciation feature at a time and be explicit in instruction and demonstration of that point. While students in an immersive environment may pick up more natural souding English pronunciation by osmosis, most students in university English classes in Japan will need to be told what to listen for and focus on. Features of English pronunciation which may be taken for granted by native-speaker teachers (such as stress, vowel reduction, and mouth movement), only become obvious to many students once they have been pointed out. Student feedback in this study bears this out, and suggests that once students are made consciously aware of elements of English pronunciation, like the prevalence of the schwa sound, they more closely monitor both their own production and that of others. If the teacher has sufficient knowledge of Japanese, contrasting English and Japanese phonology can make the target feature much clearer for students, whether it be syllables ('salad' versus sarada), stress, or intonation.

Another recommendation is to emphasize rhythm. It was found that students responded well to being taught about stress and vowel-reduction in English. Many reported that they had never been taught anything like this before, and felt that their own pronunciation had become a little more native-like after practicing it. The author has observed that students who stressed words correctly, even when their segmental pronunciation was problematic, achieved much more understandable 'listener-friendly' speech. In the future, this teacher intends to focus more on rhythm in pronunciation practice.

Both student feedback and teacher observation suggest that once a target pronunciation feature has been introduced and practiced chorally as a class, some form of game-like practice in pairs or groups is effective. Students responded enthusiastically in the classroom and in their written comments to this, and it seemed to lower the affective filter so that students were less shy about producing unfamiliar sounds and speech patterns.

Of course, the activities described in this study are merely the first steps in teaching pronunciation. They are not intended as a definitive guide, and the author is quite sure his methods of teaching pronunciation will evolve over time.

Implications

Among students' suggestions for pronunciation points they would like to study in the future, everyday conversation was by far the most common. While this is a standard part of English oral communication classes, responses from students in this study suggest that the phonological aspect of speaking English may often be neglected as teachers focus on vocabulary and grammar. These are important, of course, but perhaps more emphasis should be placed on training students how to produce the sounds of English from the outset. This writer shall be attempting in the future to more fully integrate pronunciation into the presentation and practice of textbook conversation material in the classroom. Although some teachers may shy away from listen-and-repeat exercises, Gilbert (2008) argues that with 'quality repetition', focusing on stress, pitch change, or reduction, the prosodic flow of the sentence is internalized before students attempt to come to grips with the its inner workings (p. 32).

Another popular suggestion for future pronunciation practice from students surveyed was English songs. It has long been known that music is a useful tool for teaching English prosody, as attested to by the popularity of Graham's Jazz Chants(1978). Popular English language songs can be incorporated into various aspects of classroom pronunciation practice, as a way of highlighting rhythm, stress, and reduction, and for segmental practice of troublesome sounds like /r/ and /l/.

The speaking test used in this study did not require students to create original content, as it was felt that focusing on pronunciation features that were in many cases new to them would be burden enough. However, once students have some familiarity with basic English prosody, it may be desirable to give them some creative input into the test script. Future speaking tests may require students to complete a conversation from prompts provided, as long as testable features are set in these prompts to ensure some uniformity.

Depending on students' level of English ability, other activities such as skits or presentations may be preferable to a scripted conversation as a means of testing pronunciation. Evans (1993) suggests a news broadcast, interview, talk show or documentary, arguing that activities like these which focus on content as much as on form help correct pronunciation to become part of students' speech outside of the classroom (p. 44).

As discussed above, the speaking test used in this study was a pedagogical tool for teaching pronunciation, rather than a test for research purposes. As such, no pre-test was given. However, since one of the main purposes of the speaking test is to act as encouragement to students, it may be useful to give a pre-test at the beginning of the semester, before tested features have been taught, so that students can be shown the improvement in their scores when they are tested later.

Conclusion

This study set out to investigate the question of whether and to what extent regular, structured pronunciation practice might be successfully integrated into general English oral communication classes, and to obtain students' reactions to the introduction of this pronunciation section of the syllabus. It was found that devoting part of every second class to activities aimed at introducing basic elements of English prosody led to more conscious attention to pronunciation among students when speaking English. Students reported that they felt improvement in both pronunciation and listening skills, considered studying English pronunciation to be useful, and expressed a desire to continue pronunciation practice in second semester.

It is unrealistic to expect that fossilized pronunciation habits that have built up over years might be eradicated in the space of one semester, and improvements in the general pronunciation of most participants were modest. Achieving native-like pronunciation was not the goal, however, but rather making students conscious of their own pronunciation when speaking English. Judging by the feedback collected from students, this was largely successful. It should be remembered that this is a qualitative study, and inferences can only be made from what students reported they felt they had learned. This study does not attempt to quantitatively test improvements in students' pronunciation, and indeed, for some individuals there may not have been any actual improvement at all. It is hoped that the activities described here may provide a basis for students' continued development in awareness of English phonology and further improvement in pronunciation skills.

It is not claimed that the methods described in this study are the only way, or even the best way to introduce systematic pronunciation practice to English oral communication classes. This is merely a report of one teacher's ongoing attempts to do so. The seeming neglect of basic phonological training in English classes in Japan, and how best to remedy this situation, are issues which merit further study.

References

Bradford, B. (1994). Teaching English pronunciation to Japanese learners. Retrieved from http://cs3.brookes.ac.uk/schools/education/eal/jl-archive/jl-bestof/27.pdfChujo, J. (2012). The necessity of systematic English phonetic education at the tertiary level in Japanese education. JALT2011 Conference Proceedings. Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/proceedings/articles/1794-necessity-systematic-english-phonetic-education-tertiary-level-japanese-edCross, J. (2002). A Comparison of Japanese and English suprasegmental pronunciation as an aid to raising learner awareness. The Language Teacher, Issue 26(4). Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/old_tlt/articles/2002/04/cross Evans, D.W. (1993). Rightside-up pronunciation for the Japanese – Preparing top-down communicative lessons. JALT Journal, 15(1). Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/jj/articles/2819-rightside-pronunciation-japanese-preparing-top-down-communicative-lessonsGilbert, J. B. (2001). Clear Speech From the Start. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Gilbert, J. B. (2008). Teaching pronunciation using the prosody pyramid. Retrieved from http://www.cambridge.org/other_files/downloads/esl/booklets/Gilbert-Teaching-Pronunciation.pdfGraham, C. (1978). Jazz Chants. New York: Oxford University Press.

Appendices

[See the PDF file for the appendices]

The Inclusion of “I don’t know” on the Vocabulary Size Test

Dawn Lucovich

Introduction

The Vocabulary Size Test (VST) (Nation & Beglar, 2007) is a “discrete, context-independent” test that offers a simple method of estimating a test taker’s receptive vocabulary size (Nation, 2012). Available in paper or online, and now in several different bilingual versions (including Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian, and Vietnamese), the VST is designed to be easy to sit, administer, score, and interpret the results. The VST can be used to determine curricula and syllabuses, vocabulary instruction, and for research purposes; advantageously, it can be used for both native users of English and ESL and EFL users (Nation, 2012).

However, it may be impractical and inefficient in time and resources to administer the entire 100-item or 140-item VST in order to arrive at a vocabulary size estimate. For proficient native users of English, it takes approximately 10-20 minutes to sit the 100-item test. However, for intermediate-proficiency users of EFL, it takes an estimated 30-40 minutes. For those working with test takers of lower English proficiency, it may be highly impractical to spend 40 minutes or more on test taking – particularly in a classroom context - plus additional time and resources to mark, tabulate, and interpret the results for test takers, either individually or collectively.

Although “don’t know” (DK) options are not common in second language assessment, recently it has attracted attention as a potential method to correct for the effects of guessing (Nation, personal communication, May 2013). On multiple choice tests such as the VST, guessing can artificially inflate scores. Since there is currently no “opt-out” response on the VST, except via not answering an item (i.e. nonresponse or NR), the effects of guessing cannot be accurately measured. In relation to the VST, Nation (2012, Writing the choices section, para. 9) writes: “The test does not use an I don’t know option, because such an option discourages informed guessing. The learners should make informed guesses, because these guesses are likely to draw on sub-conscious knowledge”. However, particularly for high stakes testing, such as placement exams, including a DK option could yield a more accurate estimate of ability, thus providing a better outcome for program administrators and learners alike.

The investigation of a DK option will be valuable in order to examine its effect on guessing, and as a possible way to streamline test taking and to yield more accurate results. Future research into the VST will also hopefully yield a more practical and usable (i.e. shorter), yet still reliable and valid version of the VST. In order to investigate the potential inclusion of a DK option on the VST, preliminary pilot tests were conducted with 2 groups of test takers. The main research questions were:

1. How do test takers determine if they know an answer or not?

2. Do proficient native users of English and intermediate-proficiency Japanese EFL users differ when determining if they know an answer or not? If so, how?

3. Under what conditions do proficient native users of English and intermediate-proficiency Japanese EFL speakers use the DK option, and do they differ when doing so? If so, how?

Methodology

Instrument

The Vocabulary Size Test comes in either a 14,000 word family, 140-item version or a 20,000 word family, 100-item VST. The 20,000 word family, 100-item VST was modified to add a fifth option (e I don’t know) to the unmodified four distractors (a, b, c, d). As the VST has been demonstrated to show a high level of psychometric unidimensionality (Beglar, 2010), two versions of the test – VST-A and VST-B – were tested and deemed as parallel versions (Nation, 2012). For this study and future studies, both versions were modified to include the fifth option: e I don’t know.

An example of a VST item (from Version A) is as below:

Unmodified VST with four distractors:

1. see: They <saw it>.

a closed it tightly

b waited for it

c looked at it

d started it up

Modified VST with I don’t know option added:

1. see: They <saw it>.

a closed it tightly

b waited for it

c looked at it

d started it up

e I don’t know

Procedure

Potential pilot test participants were identified and divided into groups categorized by level of education and English proficiency. The results of the preliminary study were divided into two main groups (that is, the main constituent groups of the pilot study): proficient native users of English and intermediate-proficiency Japanese EFL users. Both the unmodified and DK-modified versions of the VST were administered to participants one-on-one. Immediately after the taking of the tests, the test-taking time was noted, and results were marked and tabulated. A semi-structured retrospective interview was conducted with each participant. Each session lasted no longer than 1.5 hours per participant.

Discussion

Preliminary results from the pilot studies reveal that the DK option is only used when the word is completely unknown – that is, when the word has never been encountered before, partial knowledge is not sufficient to inform a guess, or when a satisfactory process of elimination cannot be carried out due to the similarity of item distractors.

The pedagogical implications are that while subconscious knowledge clearly influences test-taking strategy and outcomes, the DK option is a useful addition when accuracy, time, and test strictness are desired. This finding may be generalizable to other language assessment measures, besides the VST, and should be the object of future research efforts.

Limitations

Since the VST was based on the written 100,000,000-token British National Corpus (Nation, 2006) and subsequently revised to include the 10,000,000-token spoken word family lists (Nation & Beglar, 2007; Beglar, 2010; Nation, 2012), there is a natural bias towards both written and spoken British vocabulary. As such, a slight underestimation of vocabulary size for non-British English language speakers and learners may occur.

Since the interviews currently being employed are self-reports, there is a danger of misreporting. However, as the test score and interview results incur no penalties, there is little incentive for false reporting, save for sociological or psychological reasons.

Finally, as these preliminary findings only include results from proficient native users of English and intermediate-proficiency Japanese EFL users, the results cannot be broadly generalized to other English language users in other contexts. However, the results are valuable as they provide an insight into DK option use, test-taking strategies and outcomes, and the vocabulary knowledge of these groups and, potentially in the future, larger populations.

Conclusion

As a follow-up to this article, three stages of studies are being conducted and will be reported on: First, further studies to determine the parameters of DK use on the VST; second, a series of case studies and interviews to qualitatively establish test-taker conditions and reasons for using the DK option; third, a quantitative study using a much larger sample size to investigate differences in test-taker use and outcomes.

All of these studies will contribute more evidence to the growing body of literature around the DK option and the VST. Future research should continue the examination of the DK option in various (not only limited to vocabulary learning and instruction) contexts, the refinement of the VST and its options and validity, and – most importantly for practitioners – the DK option and VST’s practical and pedagogical usefulness in gauging vocabulary level and progress, as well as in establishing vocabulary curriculum and projected outcomes.


Dawn Lucovich is currently a doctoral student in Temple University’s Ph.D Education program. She earned her M.A. from Teachers College Columbia University, and has served as Assistant Manager and tutor for The Writing Center at Teachers College Columbia University’s Tokyo campus since 2009. She will be presenting on this topic at JALT 2013. Correspondence should be directed to <lucovich@temple.edu>.

Resources for using the VST

Beglar, D. (2010). A Rasch-based validation of the Vocabulary Size Test. Language Testing, 27(1), 101–118.Nation, I.S.P. (2012, October 23). The Vocabulary Size Test. Retrieved from: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/Vocabulary-Size-Test-information-and-specifications.pdfNation, I.S.P. & Beglar, D. (2007. A vocabulary size test. The Language Teacher, 31(7), 9-13.VocabularySize.com. (2010). Victoria University of Wellington.

References

Beglar, D. (2010). A Rasch-based validation of the Vocabulary Size Test. Language Testing, 27(1), 101–118.Ebel, R. & Frisbie, D. (1991). Essentials of educational measurement (5th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Elgort, I. (2012). Effects of L1 definitions and cognate status of test items on the Vocabulary Size Test. Language Testing, 30(2), 253-272.Ishii, T. & Schmitt, N. (2009). Developing an integrated diagnostic test of vocabulary size and depth. Regional Language Centre Journal, 40(5), 5-22.Nagy, W., Herman, P. & Anderson, R. (1985). Learning words from context. Reading Research Quarterly, 20(2), 233-253.Nation, I.S.P. (1990). Teaching and learning vocabulary. New York: Newbury House.Nation, I.S.P. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening? Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(1), 59-82.Nation, I.S.P. (2012, October 23). The Vocabulary Size Test. Retrieved from: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/Vocabulary-Size-Test-information-and-specifications.pdfNation, I.S.P. & Beglar, D. (2007). A vocabulary size test. The Language Teacher, 31(7), 9-13.Nation, I.S.P. & Webb, S. (2011). Researching and analyzing vocabulary. Boston: Heinle.Schmitt, N. (2010). Researching vocabulary: A vocabulary research manual. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Schmitt, N. & Ng, J.W.C. (2011). The Word Associates Format: Validation evidence. Language Testing, 28(1), 105-126.Schmitt, N., Schmitt, D. & Clapham, C. (2001). Developing and exploring the behaviour of two new versions of the Vocabulary Levels Test. Language Testing, 18(1), 55-88.Victoria University at Wellington. (n.d.). Paul Nation. Retrieved from: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/VocabularySize.com. (2010). Victoria University of Wellington.Zhang, X. (2013). The I don’t know option in the Vocabulary Size Test. TESOL Quarterly. doi:10.1002/tesq.98

Textbook Review

Reviewed by Linamaria Valdivia

Teachers College, Columbia University MA in TESOL Program
Genius English Communication I. H. Muranoi, Y. Mano, B. Hayashi, S. Hatano, Y. Yoshio & T. Uegusa. Tokyo: Taishukan, 2012. Pp. 1 + 208.

If you have ever had to navigate through an unknown land, without a map, without a compass then you must know what it is like to have to teach using certain MEXT-approved textbooks. Generally, many ministry-approved textbooks for teaching high school subjects are simply too dry or difficult to use in interactive or communicative ways. That is why it was so surprising to discover this new textbook by Taishukan, for new high school English Communication class starting April 2013, which incorporates a four skills approach.

Genius English Communication 1 provides a comprehensive four-skills approach that incorporates current themes across a range of subjects from social studies, science and history. The text is divided into ten chapters supplying appropriate subject-matter with a high degree of potential appeal and authentic use of academic vocabulary. With plenty of opportunities to integrate teaching English through content, the book also includes writing and speaking output exercises at the end of each chapter.

Chapter 1 introduces the idea if the whole world were to be represented by a village of one-hundred people. There is the big picture. This first theme sets up a basis for discussions using critical thinking skills. A listening comprehension exercise is provided before the reading passage, along with a preview of key words and their phonetic transcription. The new key words can then be matched with their definitions in the next exercise. The reading is comprised of four parts with vocabulary, grammatical items and comprehension questions listed at the bottom of each part. After the passage two pages of the chapter are dedicated to ‘Communication Activities,’ which include a true or false listening exercise, a brainstorming exercise, a pair-work task, a summary gap-fill writing exercise, a discussion task and a project task. The last page of the chapter provides the grammar points in detail and vocabulary review questions. All chapters in the text generally follow this same structure, however with variances to their writing task components.

The writing task in Chapter 2 continues summary writing but this time the task is to write a summary of the entire reading passage using a single scaffolded sentence as opposed to a gap-fill cloze task. With the summary in Chapter 1 as a model, the writing task develops into a joint-construction task in Chapter 2. The discussion task also provides additional joint-construction writing tasks by way of answering the discussion questions using scaffolded conversational sentences. The grammar points and vocabulary review section provides additional pronunciation training.

The next six chapters ask for a complete summary of the passage in other words an independent construction task with no scaffolding. Chapter 3 introduces an email conversation amongst two friends, the content of which is more contextually embedded. Chapter 4 focuses on presentation language, exposing the readers to important phrases such as “My presentation today is about...,” and “Here are” or “this shows...,” and so forth. Chapter 5 looks at a biographical recount of a girl who courageously battles cancer, and includes an extra section on word roots at the end. Chapter 6 discusses ‘change blindness’ when doing magic tricks and exposes the learner to more scientific terms. Chapter 7 is a biographical recount of the woman who contributed to making women’s judo an official Olympic sport. Chapter 8 discusses the world water crisis, and its impact on people’s lives and the ways in which we as humans waste water. Reading passages from now become a page longer from four to five pages. Again all writing tasks in Chapters 3-8 are to summarize the reading passage in writing with no scaffolding.

Chapter 9 discusses fair trade, and this time a writing topic is specified and students are asked to describe what the main idea of the passage is rather than a summary. The discussion task includes twice as many scaffolded sentences. There is a significant increase in the amount of vocabulary used in the passage, including bar graphs and pie charts to describe results making the content more academic. This chapter also features a recitation rhyme about the theme discussed in the reading.

The last chapter is a hybrid of a biological and historical recount of Irene Sendler during the holocaust. Learners are then asked to write a summary of Irene’s life. In this chapter the discussion task has no scaffolding and therefore becomes an independent speaking task. Here, the project task asks the learners to do research on the who, what, when, where and how of the Holocaust. A conversational board game is included at the very end of Chapter 10, slightly out of place but none-the-less another built in speaking activity. We see no prompts and language scaffolding in the last chapter. This gives the learner the chance to use their language more freely and independently.

Aside from the ten chapters the book then provides extra readings with comprehension questions from pages 135-196. Useful expressions for communication are given at the back of the book along with a word glossary and list of phrases. This textbook succeeds in providing lots of potential for engagement and participation. Promotion of critical thinking, and independent skills development can also be fostered using the four-skills tasks for each chapter. The design and physical attributes are also very accessible. Its consistency of task design facilitates new literacy skills particularly in the summarization of passages. Throughout the textbook we can see how the objectives for the new courses in English Communication can be met in terms of teaching English communicatively, incorporating the four-skills while exposing the learners to a sound basis of academic vocabulary. This textbook succeeds in providing opportunities to listen, read, write and discuss complex topics while allowing the chance for learners to think for themselves.

Letters from our visiting RTTP experts

From Dr. Nicolas Proctor (Simpson College, Iowa), Chair of the RTTP Board

Dear JALT Tokyo Chapter,

Thank you very much for inviting me and my colleagues, Professors John Moser and Stephanie Jass, to the JALT Reacting to the Past conference at Sophia University. We were all very excited to have the opportunity to teach faculty from different schools, colleges, and universities in Japan about the Reacting to the Past series (or RTTP). Although some experimentation with RTTP has been done outside of North America (primarily in Switzerland, Australia, and Taiwan), this was the first major conference outside of the United States. We were honored to be a part of it.

As you know, RTTP is a series of historical role-playing games that are designed to teach a variety of skills in addition to immersing students in particular historical moments. Instructors are able to modify the games to address their particular learning objectives. Some focus the games on developing student skills in problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. Others concentrate upon leadership and team-building.

Given that most of the instructors attending the conference regularly teach courses to English language learners, they were generally most excited about focusing the games on reading, writing, and speaking. This came up in the questions that were raised during the plenary sessions as well as in conversations that I had with individual attendees. They were excited that Professor Jim McKinley has blazed a path in the use of RTTP in speech and rhetoric courses.

During the conference, I assisted Professor Bettina Gramlich-Oka in running a game based on the story of the 47 Rōnin. This is the first game in the series to be developed by faculty at a Japanese university, it is pioneering work. Since the game is being developed at Sophia, the developers are well positioned to consider the possibility of writing the game in both English and Japanese. I think the game is a great addition to the series. Aware that the game was at a relatively early stage of development, participants offered helpful advice and commentary throughout the two days of the conference. The subject makes the game a natural fit for Japanese schools; I think it would work well at schools in the US as well.

Overall, conference attendees were very enthusiastic about RTTP. Throughout the conference they were animated, energetic, and fully engaged. They asked good questions and played their roles with verve. A number of participants expressed a desire to return to their institutions to consult with colleagues about using RTTP on their home campuses. I think the use of RTTP in Japan will greatly expand as a result of the conference.

Throughout the conference, participants raised a number of questions about the use of RTTP with Japanese students. Overall, they were optimistic about the possibility of using the games in their own classes because it has worked already in Japan. They are eager to try RTTP at their own institutions. This experimentation is typical of the ways in which RTTP has expanded in the US, where it is now in use at over 300 different colleges and universities.

Initially, it was thought that RTTP would only work in small seminars at elite universities. Then it was tried at other four-year schools, where it worked to great success. Then it was tried at state universities; it worked there too. Two-year colleges, commuter colleges, and colleges with high proportions of immigrants, English language learners, and non-traditional aged students all presented challenges, but in every case dedicated faculty who know their students well have found ways to make RTTP work on their campuses. RTTP can be adapted to fit their strengths and weaknesses of a wide variety of students. The expansion of RTTP has been successful because the games are sufficiently robust to allow a lot of modification. The faculty members I spoke with in Japan have excellent ideas about how to modify the games to fit their classes, and they shared these with their colleagues from other institutions.

In conclusion, thank you very much for the hospitality and generosity that you extended to my colleagues and me during our brief stay in Tokyo. I hope this conference marks the beginning of JALT’s role at the center of RTTP in East Asia.

Yours most sincerely,

Prof. Nicolas W. Proctor

Simpson College History Department

Reacting to the Past Editorial Board, chair

Letters from our visiting RTTP experts (Cont.)

From Dr. Stephanie Jass (Adrian College, Michigan), RTTP Pioneer

Dear JALT Tokyo Chapter,

Two weeks after my wonderful trip to Tokyo to lead a Reacting to the Past game at Sophia University, I’m still marveling at how well it went. None of us in attendance were sure how it might go, trying RTTP with such a diverse group of instructors and students, but any trepidation we might have had was soon dispelled once our games started.

I led the Greenwich Village, 1913 game, which may have seemed a bit of an odd choice for a game played in Japan. But I chose it not only because the subject matter is familiar to me (and I’ve led it before), but because I wanted new players to experience a different kind of Reacting game – one that is not about warring groups or totally divided factions, and requires players to do work outside of the game to gain influence and power.

The players responded to the game much like players in America do: they were initially confused and nervous, but took the plunge and starting swimming. And that’s how it is for out students playing RTTP, too – they feel underprepared and scared, but with faculty encouragement (and prodding!) they eventually jump in and figure out what they’re doing.

Our game – played entirely in English – went very well, which was an impressive feat considering the varying levels of language proficiency in the room. Only two players had RTTP experience going in: one a professor, another a student. It was very encouraging to see that the student – the only non-faculty member in the game – was the most prepared player and did an excellent job presenting her character. Her knowledge and assuredness impressed everyone in the room. (This happens at Reacting workshops everywhere; invited RTTP students come ready to play, and are usually the best players in the game!)

The level of engagement of everyone playing made it clear to me that Reacting has a real future in Japan. Just as not all games are appropriate for all classes in America, I think that Japanese students will likely respond best to games that are chosen with them in mind. In America, American students, particularly first-year students, often find it easier if a game has a direct connection to them or their lives: geographically, thematically, or chronologically. I’m sure the same will be true of Japanese students. A game that deals with a Japanese topic or takes place in the modern age will likely be simpler for them to tackle, especially if it’s to be taught in English.

Going forward, I think the success of RTTP in any non-English speaking classroom will require some efforts to translate at least some of the existing game materials OR to develop new games with bilingualism in mind. I am very excited at the prospect of faculty using RTTP as a tool for developing second language skills, and think that the faculty members I met (as well as some of the other institutions represented at the conference) are pioneering that effort wonderfully. RTTP may have been around for fifteen years, but in many ways it is still a nascent method, and it has been fascinating to see the creative ways that various practitioners are using it to teach a host of skills and ideas. It’s not a panacea; not every class should incorporate Reacting unless it fulfills the course’s objectives, but I think it has great promise to get Japanese students dynamically engaged in speaking English.

I must graciously thank the Tokyo chapter of JALT, for inviting my American colleagues and me to Tokyo to take part in this very exciting experiment. From my perspective, it was a rousing success, and I hope I can take part in it again!

Sincerely,

Stephanie Jass

Assoc. Prof. of History Director of CORE (1st year curriculum) Adrian College 110 S. Madison St. Adrian, MI 49221

Letters from our visiting RTTP experts (Cont.)

From Dr. John Moser (Ashland University, Ohio), RTTP Creator and Pioneer

Dear JALT Tokyo Chapter,

What a treat it was to be able to help bring Reacting to the Past to a new audience in Japan! It was a particular thrill for me, as the author of the first Reacting game-in-development set in Japan (although not, I’m happy to say, the only one) to have the opportunity to run my game, “Japan, the West, and the Road to World War, 1940-41,” at the JALT RTTP conference at Sophia University.

As you know, the Reacting to the Past series attempts to introduce students to important texts, and pivotal moments in history, through the use of role-playing games. Players take on the roles of actual participants in great events, and each is equipped with a set of concrete victory objectives. They may pursue these goals through a variety of means—both fair and foul—but the real emphasis in the games is on persuasion, using classic texts to frame their arguments.

“Japan, the West, and the Road to World War” begins in the summer of 1940, in the wake of Germany’s spectacular victories over France and the Low Countries. By this time Japan had for nearly three years been mired in a seemingly unending war against China, and regarded German success as an opportunity for a fundamental reordering of East Asia. With France and the Netherlands occupied, and Britain preoccupied with home defense, many in the Japanese army and navy—as well as civilian ultranationalists—believed that the time had come to create a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” in which Europe’s colonies would be “liberated” (in other words, placed under Japanese rule), and the area’s resources could be committed toward winning a final victory over China.

In the game we played at the JALT RTTP conference, we had a fairly small group—probably a few less people than would have made for an ideal experience—but I still think it went quite well. Surely most of the participants brought energy and enthusiasm to their roles. The members of the Army faction were, as they should be, dedicated to victory in China. The Navy was equally dedicated to the “strike south”—the drive to occupy Southeast Asia—while keeping a watchful eye on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The zaibatsu (there was only one in this particular game) defended the interests of his corporation while showing a proper willingness to defer to the demands of the military when it became necessary. The members of the Imperial Court were careful to make their feelings known without associating the Emperor too closely with any particular option. Meanwhile the ultranationalists—an underground faction consisting of the game’s sole bureaucrat and a member of the Imperial Court—plotted behind the scenes to silence those voices opposed to an aggressive policy abroad.

I have been asked to comment on the challenges that might be faced in using Reacting to the Past games in Japan. Having seen my game in action at the JALT RTTP conference, I think the greatest of these might be encouraging native Japanese students to break out of the confines of their culture. The emphasis on politeness and quiet diligence could make it difficult for them to take on forceful roles. The problem was less obvious in my game—which, after all, is set in Tokyo—but even in this case the quietest participants were Japanese natives. I wonder if a game such as, say, Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France might prove even more challenging.

This caveat notwithstanding, I regard my experience in Japan as entirely successful. My game received some valuable playtesting, as well as feedback from the participants. As for the participants, they seemed genuinely to enjoy the game, and to appreciate the effectiveness of Reacting to the Past as a teaching tool.

Once again, I would very much like to thank JALT, and Sophia University for having me out, and giving me an opportunity to run my game in Tokyo. It was truly the experience of a lifetime.

Sincerely,

John Moser

Professor of History


Contact Information

Eucharia Donnery

EditorTel +81-03-3238-4424donneryeucharia@gmail.com


Linamaria Valdivia

PresidentTel +81-90-2915-8328linavaldivia@gmail.com


Shunsuke Kuwayama

Programs/Co-editorTel +81-80-3255-1233skuwayam@gmail.com