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Japanese Language Across the Curriculum

Masako O. Douglas

Department of Asian and Asian American Studies
California State University, Long Beach

Masako Tamanaha

Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
University of Southern California

Shoichi Iwasaki

Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
University of California Los Angeles

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Abstract

Foreign language curricula in higher education traditionally have been separated from other academic subject matters. "Foreign Language Across the Curriculum" is an innovative model to remedy this problem. A primary goal of this approach is to connect foreign language study to the study of another academic discipline. This paper presents a rationale for this approach and describes strategies to design and implement the curriculum. We also discuss computer-aided instruction, a summative evaluation of the course, and the feasibility of this type of curriculum in a four-year university. We also examine the potential of using this approach in other disciplines and with other languages.

Introduction

Foreign language curricula in higher education traditionally have been separated from other academic subject matters. Because of this unfortunate situation, students lack opportunities to use the language beyond required language courses. This hinders the maintenance of their linguistic skills and the practice of cultural and strategic knowledge acquired through several years of language training. Lambert (1991) states, "We expend almost all of our national resources for foreign language learning on first-time, low-level language learning among high school and college students, then watch those minimal skills decay and disappear through lack of use or reinforcement." The Framework for Post-Basic Japanese Language Curricula (Association of Teachers of Japanese, 2003) emphasizes the importance of involving other academic disciplines in foreign language education.

This paper presents our attempt to maintain or further develop a learner's Japanese language competence by utilizing an approach called "Foreign Language Across the Curriculum" (hereafter FLAC). This approach is cost effective and flexible and therefore easy to apply to any foreign language courses. This paper reports the results of the pilot study of FLAC and consists of five parts: (a) a rationale for using the approach and an overview of the existing programs that utilize FLAC, (b) a description of the Japanese program for this pilot study, (c) the results of the summative evaluation of the Japanese Language Across the Curriculum (JLAC) course, (d) discussion, and (e) implications of the pilot study.

Rationale

Foreign Language Across the Curriculum (FLAC)

Foreign Language Across the Curriculum (FLAC) is a movement in which foreign language study is connected in some way to the study of another academic discipline (Achberger, 1993; Binghamton University, 1996; Met, 1999; Ryan, 1996; Spinelli, 1995 As mentioned earlier, most students lack opportunities to apply or further develop language skills beyond the required language courses. In most of the cases, learners exit the 2nd- or 3rd-year language course without a realistic use of the target language. The primary goal of the FLAC program is that learners will use meaningfully their already developed foreign language skills in order to acquire new information in the given academic discipline. FLAC is in this sense not a language-instruction program, but rather a language-use program.

Met (1999) describes various types of content-based language teaching programs. There are six models based on the degree of content and language integration: total immersion, partial immersion, sheltered courses, adjunct courses, theme-based instruction, and language classes with frequent use of content for language practice. Met describes these six models on a continuum from one end to the other. In a content-driven model such as total or partial immersion, language is a vehicle for teaching content, and its primary importance is student mastery of content. The primary goal of instruction in the language-driven model, on the other hand, is mastery of the language with frequent use of content.

FLAC is a content-based approach and falls in the categories of sheltered courses or adjunct courses. Sheltered courses, according to Stryker and Leaver (1997, p. 16), consist of "specially designed subject matter teaching given to a group of second language learners by a content specialist." Adjunct courses are those in which "students [are] enrolled concurrently in a language course and a content course that are linked through collaboration between the content and language teachers." The approach utilized in this pilot study is different from these two FLAC models regarding the use of the target language. In our model, content is taught in English as a regular course, but 15% of the reading assignments in the target language are added to the regular reading assignments in English. This approach adds strengths to the existing FLAC. It facilitates the incorporation of the foreign language component without the need for the creation of a new course, and it incorporates Japanese learners from different levels. In addition, the approach benefits any foreign language program that does not have a big pool of students but still wants to maintain languages that attract few students.

Overview of existing programs with a FLAC component

There are more than 30 institutions that have FLAC programs according to Achberger (1993), Allen and Anderson (1994, p. 117), Binghamton University (1996), Ryan (1996) and Spinelli (1955). FLAC models such as those at Earlham, Binghamton University, and St. Olaf College are large-scale programs involving several disciplines from the humanities, social sciences, and international business. The University of Rhode Island has a joint degree program in which students can earn a degree in German and Engineering. The foreign languages included in the programs are varied. Some colleges offer FLAC courses with commonly taught languages (French, German and Spanish) and some others offer Asian languages (Chinese and Japanese). Strengthening students' ability to read academic texts is a commonly shared goal among the programs, but some programs also aim to develop oral skills for an academic purpose, such as summarizing and discussing the content of the reading in a target language. Moreover the number of readings in a target language and the number of credits granted for participating in the foreign language track also differ among these programs.

Existing programs can be grouped into two types based on whether a single individual or several members of a team serve as the resource person(s) in charge of reading material selection and tutorials . One type of program has a single resource person, usually a faculty member who teaches the target content course and who is bilingual in English and the target language. The course instead might be taught by a graduate student of the content course, usually a native speaker of the target language. The other type of program is accomplished through team teaching by staff from both content and language courses. The team usually consists of either faculty from each course or the teacher of the content course and a graduate student from the content discipline with requisite language skills. In this pilot study, we chose a teaching team that consists of a main instructor of the course and a graduate teaching assistant.

Benefits of FLAC for three groups of students

The following three groups of students are expected to benefit from FLAC.

Student Group 1: The first group of students who will benefit from FLAC is those who have completed advanced level Japanese courses. We witnessed how those students who completed the last regular advanced-level Japanese courses used their language skills in taking a content course, "Undergraduate Seminar: Modern Japan," after they had taken Advanced Japanese the previous spring. The instructor of the course reported that the students transferred the linguistic and learning skills that they acquired from the advanced level language course to the content course. The students collected a great deal of Japanese materials via the Internet and read the materials by themselves to obtain information for their term papers. The content course provided an excellent opportunity for the students to use their already developed Japanese language skills as well as their computer skills. The course played an important role in helping learners realize that the language skills that they acquired in the language course are practical and a great asset that enabled them to get new content information from authentic and genuine materials written in the Japanese rather than from English translations or materials written in English.

Student Group 2: The second group of students that may considerably benefit from a course that incorporates FLAC consists of learners of Japanese as a heritage language. Japanese heritage learners in our program commonly show highly developed Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS1) but underdeveloped formal register and literacy skills (Douglas, 2002). Our program offers Intermediate Reading and Writing for Japanese Heritage Speakers to develop their literacy skills, but students need to continue their study to further develop their literacy skills after they complete intermediate levels. The FLAC program is well suited for this purpose.
Student Group 3: The third group consists of graduate students who also need to develop content-specific language ability, especially reading skills for their research, after they complete three years of basic training in the Japanese language. We constantly receive requests from them to offer individual study. However, the lack of financial and human resources does not allow offering individual study to all graduate students from various disciplines. Content specific language ability, therefore, may be developed in each discipline by adding a Japanese language track to the existing courses. FLAC enables these students in intermediate high and advanced levels to continue their language development when there is no language course available.

The Japanese Program and JLAC

Based on the students' needs, a pilot study of Japanese Language Across the Curriculum (JLAC) was conducted in a content course, Introduction to Japanese Linguistics. The content course with a JLAC component was offered to the students who had completed Intermediate or Advanced Japanese, or to Japanese heritage speakers who had finished Intermediate Reading and Writing for Japanese Heritage Learners.

The course consists of two tracks: a regular track in English only and a Japanese track, in which 15% of reading materials in Japanese is added to regular reading in English. Our JLAC component focuses on developing reading skills. The amount of oral Japanese during instruction varies depending on the students' language abilities.

Students who select the Japanese track are sheltered for language tutoring. The tutorials for a heritage speaker or a native speaker of Japanese are conducted in Japanese. In the other tutorials for the advanced-level students, English is the means of communication. We employ team teaching in which content faculty selects the reading materials and a graduate student prepares course materials and conducts tutorial sessions. Table 1 summarizes the features of JLAC.

Table 1. Japanese Language Across the Curriculum

Skills Courses Language Resource Persons Foreign language Portion Credits
Reading with varied degrees of oral Japanese Introduction to Japanese Linguistics Japanese Faculty of the target content & graduate student with experience teaching advanced Japanese 15% of all reading materials added as Japanese materials No credit

Preparation for the Linguistics Course with JLAC

Prior to the quarter when the course with JLAC was offered, we distributed a flyer to explain the course (see Appendix A). To prepare the course materials, which required digitizing Japanese reading materials and making study guides, a quarter-time (25%, 110 total working hours) research assistant (RA) was hired. Table 2 shows a breakdown of the RA's job.

Table 2. Breakdown of a research assistant's job

Jobs Hours
Scanning materials and up-loading them to the course web site 30
Preparation of study guides 15
Tutoring 60
Preparation of survey form 5

The RA's first job was to scan all Japanese reading materials into a computer and up-load them to a course Web site. All reading materials were digitized so that the students could use an on-line dictionary and other functions in JWPce2, a Japanese software program designed to assist their study. As the breakdown of the workload shows, it was time consuming to scan a non-alphabetic language and manually correct errors: 27% of total hours were used for digitizing material.

Implementation of the approach

Description of the course

As a pilot study, a Japanese track was added to Introduction to Japanese Linguistics, an upper-division elective course. Participants read 15% of the reading materials in the original Japanese in addition to all assigned materials in English. This approach ensures content coverage by all students enrolled in this course and enhances the content by including additional reading in Japanese by the participants in the JLAC track. Students were given an option to take either the Japanese track or a regular course in which all materials were read in English. Students who had taken Japanese language courses for more than one year had the option to decide which track they preferred. By the end of the 3rd week, students had to choose the Japanese track or the regular non-Japanese track. No extra credit was given to participants in the Japanese track.

Students' profile

Thirty-nine students enrolled in the course, and eight of them participated in the Japanese track. Thirteen students did not participate but read some of the materials in Japanese, and the remaining 18 students neither participated in the track nor read the texts in Japanese. Of the eight participating students, two had previously finished Intermediate Japanese, two had finished Advanced Japanese, three were Japanese heritage speakers, and one was a Japanese native speaker who had finished high school in Japan.

Course materials

A course instructor selected the two categories of materials with content related to weekly topics in the course. One category contained mandatory reading materials, which all Japanese track participants were required to read, and the second category contained optional reading materials, which could challenge students with more advanced reading skills (see Appendix B). Since all reading materials were digitized, a computer workshop was provided at the beginning of the course for the students to familiarize themselves with the software programs. In addition, a hard copy of the reading materials was also distributed to the students.

Content-area instructor

The content-area instructor in this study was a native speaker of Japanese who taught both Japanese and linguistics. However, the approach does not require the instructor to be fluent in an oral language. The content-area instructor's primary role is to select reading materials written in the target language that are connected to the course content.

Study-group tutorial sessions

There were six one-hour study-group tutorial sessions every week handled by a graduate student. Due to the variations in the learners' reading abilities and their schedules, four sections were offered as individual tutorials and two other sections had two students. The graduate student was experienced at teaching advanced levels. She offered the tutorials completely in Japanese or partially in English, depending on the learner's oral competence, to help students understand the Japanese reading materials and relate them to the content of the course as a whole. She prepared study guides that were distributed to the participants one week in advance of the lecture. The guides consisted of vocabulary lists, reading comprehension questions, and discussion questions. Using these guides and with her help, students read the materials in tutorial sessions. She informally assessed if students read the assigned texts while she helped students learn how to read academic texts.

Course Evaluation

In order to examine the outcomes of this study, we conducted a survey and interviewed the participants at the end of the course. The survey was administered to the participants in the Japanese track and to those who did not choose that track but who read some Japanese materials. We asked them about whether the readings in the course helped their learning of vocabulary, kanji (Chinese characters), grammar, course-related content knowledge, and their reading skills. All eight participants in the Japanese track were interviewed individually at the end of the course.

The survey results are listed in Table 3 and show that the Japanese track participants evaluated their learning experience positively with respect to the readings and associated tutorials in this course. The mean scores reported are from a Likert scale where 1 = not effective and 5 = very helpful.

Table 3. Results of evaluation of the readings


Questions: Were the readings helpful for you to . . . N = 8 (JLAC participants) N = 13 (No-participants in JLAC)
increase your vocabulary in Japanese? 4.63 N/A
enhance your knowledge of kanji? 4.5 N/A
enhance your knowledge of Japanese grammar? 4.25 N/A 3
enhance your overall Japanese reading skills? 4.5 3.17
understand the points covered in lectures? 4.5 3.25

The average score ranges between 4.25 and 4.63 on the Likert scale. The responses by the learners who did not participate in the Japanese track are lower in two categories than those of the Japanese track participants; there was a 3.17 increase of reading skills and a 3.25 increase of course content knowledge. This difference is worth noting and will be discussed later.

What follows are some comments on results from other questions on the survey. Question 2, "How often have you attended the Japanese Track reading sessions?" showed that the attendance rate for the discussion sessions was very high: 75% of the participants attended more than 80% of the sessions. In response to question 11, the participants rated the helpfulness of the research assistant as very high (4.75). Question 10, quoted in Table 4, produced an unexpected surprise in that five out of eight students (62.5%) reported that they did not need extra points to motivate themselves to take the Japanese track.

Table 4. Reasons to participate in a Japanese track

Question: Unfortunately, we cannot give you any extra credit for participating in the reading sessions. What do you think about it? If you were to receive any extra credit (e.g., extra points, or one unit), would it influence your motivation? Number of responses (N = 8)
Yes, a participant should receive extra points or a unit; it is difficult to continue attending the reading sessions without any incentive. 1
I don't need extra points, but it was difficult to continue when I became very busy with other courses. 1
I don't need extra points; being able to practice reading Japanese was enough motivation for me. 5
Other: Explain: "Extra points would have been nice." 1

Questions #13, "We would appreciate it very much if you could give us any comments regarding the reading materials in Japanese (difficulty, relevance, amount, quality of website texts, etc.)" and #14 ("What would you suggest to improve the Japanese track so that it will benefit students who take the course next year?") called for free-form answers, and these are analyzed in the following paragraphs.

Ten responses to question #13, comments about the reading materials, were categorized into four groups:

  • Use of technology to read materials (three responses)
  • Difficulty of the materials (three responses)
  • Relevance of the materials to the course content (three responses)
  • Types of the materials (one response)

Students rated very positively the use of the technology, which enabled them to look up kanji (Chinese characters) quickly on an on-line dictionary. Students commented that the reading materials were difficult, but they considered the challenging texts to be a good learning experience and commented that they became more confident about reading academic texts. Students also responded that the relevance of the reading materials to the course was very high. One comment on the types of the materials was that the student preferred "lively" and less academic readings (e.g., an article "Manuke ja wakaranu aho-baka bunpu" in the references).

Responses to question #14 (to provide suggestions to improve the Japanese track) were grouped as follows:

  • Reading assignments (six responses): Students suggested different reading lists for different level students. They also suggested a strategy of dividing articles into parts for some levels so that students could complete a given part of the reading and have a sense of achievement. They also suggested that the readings should be broken up evenly throughout the weeks.
  • Frequency and format of the tutorials (three responses): Students requested an increase in the number of the sessions from one to two per week. Some preferred a one-to-one meeting with their tutor, while others preferred a group session with the same-level students so that they could discuss their readings.
  • Preference of the Japanese track (five responses): Students requested that a Japanese track be added to other courses, such as literature classes.
  • Optimal level to take the course (one response): One student suggested that students need to finish the third year of the language course in order to participate in the Japanese track; otherwise they would be frustrated by the difficulty of the reading materials.
  • Access to computer (one response): One student did not have a computer at home, and had difficulty getting to an on-campus computer lab.

Data from interviews: In interviews, students commonly stated that their reading speed had increased during the course and that they gained confidence in reading academic texts in Japanese. They spent 4-5 hours per week on reading the materials. In terms of the amount of reading, they suggested reducing the length of the materials so that they could finish reading assignments on time and gain a sense of accomplishment. One student suggested having the Japanese-track participants present the content of the materials in lecture so that they felt more involved in the course, which would further raise their motivation. The participants recommended this course to the students who completed Advanced Japanese (3rd year) or beyond. Lastly, they hoped that a Japanese track would be added to other courses, such as literature and history, for example.

Discussion

Since data from both the survey and from the interviews are self-reports and no direct measurement of learning was used to measure growth in language ability, we cannot conclude from the outcomes of this study that such growth occurred using this approach. However, we can at least say that this pilot course helped the learners gain confidence in their language ability (vocabulary, kanji and grammar), reading skills, and ability to read academic texts (Table 4).

Students reported that their reading speed and the amount of reading they could complete had increased. We believe that the on-line dictionary played an important role in producing this result. kanji (Chinese characters) words, which make up 30 % of Japanese written texts, are a hurdle for learners of Japanese. Using a paper dictionary requires considerable time, skill, and experience. The more time students spend looking up words in a dictionary the more their reading is distracted.

The on-line dictionary also reduces an instructor's preparation time. Beeman et al. (1993) report that they spent 5-7 hours making vocabulary lists for each text for a total of 90 to 126 total hours for the 18 texts selected for their Japanese track. One drawback in using an on-line dictionary, however, is that not all words are available, especially those that are discipline-specific. The instructor must prepare glossaries for those words.

It is interesting that the average scores of the learners' evaluation of the increase of reading skills and content knowledge are 3.17 and 3.25 respectively in the non-Japanese track, while those in the Japanese track were 4.5 for both questions. Most of the learners (8 out of 13) in the non-Japanese track reported that they read less than 20% of the Japanese materials. The results possibly indicate that the learners should engage, as the learners in the Japanese track did, in a certain amount of reading in the target language on a regular basis in order to develop confidence in reading ability and content knowledge. Another factor that contributes to an increase of reading ability is regular attendance at tutorial sessions, which helped students comprehend the content of the reading materials.

Four factors appear to lead to the effectiveness of the model in this pilot project: the learners' high motivation, the authenticity of the task and materials, coherent team teaching between a content instructor and a language instructor, and the utilization of technology.

Although evaluation results show that students felt that the reading materials were difficult, all eight students who chose the Japanese track completed the course. The key might be found in the students' motivation and the relevant content of the reading materials. As the survey results show in Table 4, the motivation of five out of eight students who took the Japanese track was to improve Japanese reading skills, not to earn credits. If the learners' primary purpose of taking the course had been simply to earn credits, they might not have successfully completed the course. Lyon (1994) shares the same observation. Faculty members who participated in FLAC at the University of California, San Diego reported that the students in foreign language tracks were the most highly motivated students. The fact that the materials were difficult did not seem to present a problem for these students.

Students in the pilot project praised highly the relevance of the materials to the topics and stated that the materials emphasized what was covered in class and that they were interesting. For this reason, the faculty participant in the target discipline is recommended as the best person to select the material.

The success of this pilot course is strongly related to a coherent effort of the teaching staff: the content instructor and the language instructor. The pilot program was unlike other FLAC programs, almost all of which employ international graduate students who have relevant content course knowledge, but who are without any linguistic knowledge and experience of teaching the target language. We strongly recommend the hiring of graduate students who have experience in teaching the target language at advanced levels. They can provide students with specific language assistance when they encounter difficulty in reading. Most of the troubles encountered by the Japanese-track students while reading Japanese texts were linguistic problems.

In summary, the primary purpose of this project was to examine if it was possible to implement a FLAC model in a four-year college environment and to achieve the goal of the model, that is, that learners will make meaningful use of their already developed foreign language skills in order to acquire new information in a given academic discipline. Survey and interview results provide a positive answer to this question.

Implications of the Project

This pilot study shows that the JLAC model can be implemented with a relatively small financial outlay (25% RA-ship or TA-ship), and once all the materials have been prepared for the initial course offering, it will cost even less to offer subsequent courses. The model is efficient and can be applied even if institutions have staffing and budgetary restrictions.

The JLAC model utilized in this project is quite flexible. The track of the relevant language need be offered only when the course has sufficient students who are interested. Students who are interested in the track but not sure if they can really accomplish it can try it out during the first three weeks. If they find it overwhelming, they can return to the regular English-only track.

The first step of this pilot study focused on the curriculum design with the JLAC component, implementation, and students' reaction to the approach. It did not measure the effectiveness of the approach in terms of learning. In a future study, we need to examine the effectiveness of this approach by assessing vocabulary and grammar knowledge and reading comprehension by pre- and post-tests.

This model also should be tested in other language courses where a majority of students are heritage learners. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the Japanese program offers intermediate reading and writing for heritage learners, but the course is limited to one quarter. Considering the limitations in funding and human resources experienced by all foreign language courses, it is difficult to offer upper levels of language learning for a small number of the students. Even if it were possible, it is doubtful that the learners could feel as strong a sense of language use in language courses as they seem to in FLAC courses.

In concluding, we hope that FLAC programs will be added to various college content courses so that the students with various majors and language needs can benefit from them.

Acknowledgment

We extend our heartiest gratitude to three reviewers (Dr. Alicia Muñoz Sánchez and two anonymous reviewers) for reading the first draft very carefully, providing valuable comments and suggestions, and for editing the manuscript. We also appreciate Dr. Cheryl Weigand, Managing Editor, for encouraging us to improve the first draft for publication, Dr. Patrick Kenealy, Department Editor, for editing the manuscript, and the Executive Editor for the valuable comments. Sincere thanks also goes to Dr. Mark Wiley for reading and editing the manuscript.

Notes

  1. Cummins' terminology (Cummins, 1980)

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  2. JWPce is a software program that has an on-line dictionary, kanji information, frequency count, coloring already learned kanji, and radical look-up. Professor Glen Rosenthal in the Physics Department at the University of California, Los Angeles developed it. It is free shareware and downloadable from http://www.physics.ucla.edu/~grosenth/japanese.html

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  3. It is noted that the survey, which was administered to the non JLAC track, did not ask these three questions. Thus the scores for these categories were not obtained.

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References

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Achberger, K. R. (1993). German in the humanities. Retrieved January 12, 2004, from Brown University Language Resource Center, Languages Across the Curriculum web site: http://www.language.brown.edu/LAC/resourcest/German.html

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Douglas, M. (in press). A profile of Japanese heritage learners: Individualized curriculum and its effectiveness. In D. M. Brinton & O. Kagan (Eds.), Heritage language acquisition: A new field emerging. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lambert, R. D. (1991). A national plan for a use-oriented foreign language system. NFLC position paper on foreign language policy, no 2. Washington, DC: National Foreign Language Center.

Lyon, K. J. (1994). A slightly different approach to languages across the curriculum. In H. S. Straight (Ed.), Languages across the curriculum: Translation perspective, II (pp. 73-78). Center for Research in Translation. Binghamton, NY: Binghamton University.

Met, M. (1999). Making connections. In J.K. Phillips (Ed.), Foreign language standards: Linking research, theories, and practices (pp.137-164). Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Ryan, F. (1996). Foreign language across the curriculum. Retrieved January 12, 2004 from from Brown University Language Resource Center, Languages Across the Curriculum web site: http://www.language.brown.edu/LAC/resourcest/Ryan.html

Spinelli, E. (1995, fall). Language across the curriculum: A postsecondary initiative. ACTFL Professional Issues Report.

Straight, H. S., Rose, M. G., & Badeger, E. H. (1994). International students as resource specialists: Binghamton's languages across the curriculum program. In H. S. Straight (Ed.), Languages across the curriculum: translation perspectives, VII (pp. 7-34). Center for Research in Translation.

Stryker, S. B. & Leaver, B. L. (Eds.). Content-based instruction in foreign language Education. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Posted October 12, 2004.
Modified October 14, 2004.

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2004 by Masako Douglas, Masako Tamanaha, and Shoichi Iwasaki.

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