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Learners’ practice and theory about Japanese honorifics : an oral interview activity with native speakers Ode, Maki

Abstract

Japanese honorifics (JH) are challenging for learners of Japanese language to acquire due to their complex grammatical formulas. Textbooks tend to assume that the explanation of grammatical rules and drill exercises focusing on the rules are sufficient for learners to be competent in JH. However, functional issues related to honorifics such as how to use honorifics in socioculturally appropriate ways or how to deal with non-linguistic aspects of honorifics are likely to be ignored. The present study questioned the assumptions entailed in the traditional formoriented approach to teaching language, and examined an oral interview activity carried out by 24 students in a Japanese language course at a Canadian university. In this activity, the students interviewed Japanese professors using JH, and several types of data (i.e., the researcher observations and interviews with the participants and student written reflections on the interviews) were analyzed in order to find out students' practice (i.e., what students did) of and theory (i.e., how students perceived) about JH and oral interviews. The findings of the study present a very complex picture of students' practice and theory; they were engaged not only in the formation of the rules of JH but also in the functional areas such as non-verbal behaviour and conversation management. The data also revealed that students were very much concerned with functional areas during the interviews. From these findings, the study emphasizes the importance offunctions embedded in JH, and suggests that the Japanese teacher help learners acquire the functional competence dealing with JH as well as the linguistic competence.

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