There are currently 1.3 million foreign workers in various workplaces and training centers across Japan. From April, central and local governments begin implementing strategies to assist an additional 350,000 foreign workers to quickly assimilate into Japanese society and take on jobs in fields as diverse as farming and nursing. Consultation centers offering administrative services and Japanese language classes have been readied. Although there are 40,000 Japanese language teachers in place, more are required according to central government estimates. Against this backdrop, Wei Huang was recently encouraged to return to Japan to conduct joint research activities into teaching Japanese to speakers of Chinese at Daito Bunka University in Tokyo. Wei Huang first came to Japan to study comparative linguistics and received a doctoral degree from the International University of Kagoshima in 2012. He then started teaching Japanese as a foreign language classes at Anhui University of Finance and Economics in Bengbu, China, which is also where he gathered ideas for this essay. When learning Japanese as a foreign language in China, the author suggests it is quite important to have a thorough understanding of the effects of the Chinese mother language. He holds that the same is true when Chinese students continue their studies in Japan. Native speaking Chinese teachers can facilitate a positive transition from the Chinese mother tongue to the acquisition of Japanese as a second language. Such qualified teachers can promote Japanese language acquisition by identifying common grammar and writing forms between the target and the mother language. In addressing the matter of negative language transfer, teachers of foreign languages can employ strategies to overcome the effects and promote more efficient learning.
The cultivation of writing ability in my students is my primary goal as a Japanese language teacher. I developed several strategies to improve the Japanese language writing ability of Chinese students. Based on my teaching experience in China, this essay summarizes problems that exist in the writing process, and summarizes my strategies to improve Japanese language learners’ writing ability.
Insufficient vocabulary, a poor understanding of Japanese culture, and the writing process are the three main obstacles learners face when writing in Japanese. The first problem my students often encounter in the process of writing several sentences and paragraphs is an insufficient reserve of Japanese vocabulary. With limited vocabulary, the learners have trouble trying to express ideas freely and accurately. Therefore, students need to expand the number of words they can access. An additional problem is that Japanese learners tend to use their mother tongue to think or write first. Then they translate their thoughts into Japanese. This often leads to the insertion of Chinese vocabulary and idioms. Therefore, students need to also master certain expressions and Japanese ideas. The ordering of ideas and the manner in which introductions and conclusions are proposed in Japanese are also essential skills for students to acquire. I propose the following strategies to improve the Japanese writing ability of my students in China.
Focus on the Accumulation of Vocabulary and Language Expressions
Accumulating vocabulary and language expression is the basis of writing well. A wide variety of vocabulary and language expressions lays a foundation for composing sentences and writing paragraphs and essays well. Only by using vocabulary and language freely can we express our thoughts accurately and write with pleasing expressions at a high quality level.
Vocabulary can be increased by doing a lot of reading
Reading efforts should be directed not only at Japanese literature, but also at Chinese literature. This is because Chinese is the mother tongue of my students. Extensive reading can improve our writing ability. Building our general knowledge by reading can help guide our Japanese writing. We can use what we have read in Chinese for reference when writing in Japanese. Reading extensively not only increases vocabulary, but also broadens knowledge, and captures all kinds of information. By reading we can emulate writing styles and cultivate the ability of observation and analysis.
Phased-in and step-by-step training
The cultivation of writing ability draws on whole language learning, including the language skills of listening, speaking and reading. In the initial stages of writing, the composition of short sentences and short paragraphs is enough. With continuous improvement, and the recycling of Japanese vocabulary in listening and speaking activities, one’s writing fluency also increases. Step by step students can deepen the contents of what they write about.
Lots of exercises in various forms
Single-form exercises can be boring, so I encourage students to improve their writing ability through various forms of exercises. A variety of practical exercises can best assist students (Hu, 2011; Wang, 2007; Yuan, 2006). For example, I use course books that require students to fill in blanks, write about pictures, drill words, translate Japanese sentences into Chinese, write propositional essays, and so on. Each exercise has specific rules and steps. For example, when using pictures to encourage writing, I ask students to annotate the pictures, writing sentences or paragraphs by interpreting a story found in a series of pictures, and by asking and answering questions about the pictures. This not only helps to cultivate learners’ writing ability, but also trains their thinking, promotes creativity and imagination as well as nurture problem-solving skills. The textbooks I use were published by the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press (FLTRP), which is a foreign language publisher and university press in China. I also depend on books from the Peking University Press, founded by Peking University in 1979. Since its establishment, Peking University Press has published a large number of excellent higher education textbooks which are high quality and can be used with different levels of students.
Attention to revision
Revision is the key to improving writing ability. The sentences, paragraphs and essays that have been written should be carefully revised and revised repeatedly. In addition to modifying inappropriate vocabulary, grammar and language expression I try to help the writer to evaluate their compositions from the perspective of language logic and rhetoric. I recommend students first try to do self-revision before consulting me. I perform teacher-revision of the work as a second step. Modification is not a check of answers. I help students to analyze the causes of their language errors and to understand the differences between accurate sentences and their own sentences.
Writing Requires an Understanding of Japanese Culture and Concepts
I help my students to foster the ability to directly think in Japanese. Learners of Japanese need to be weaned away from thinking in Chinese and should control their translation habits in the process of writing. As a first step, I encourage students to adopt the habit of pen translation, a term which means a quick, rough translation from Chinese to Japanese.
Diminishing a reliance on translation
Controlling the ingrained habit to translate from Chinese is best done gradually to develop the ability of students to think and write in Japanese. Learners need to memorize a large number of common Japanese expressions that can be automatically inserted into their compositions.
Rote memory of model essays
I also recommend the memorization of model essays and templates. This increases the speed of writing, if not the ability of thinking of new creative ways to write in Japanese. Through the analysis and study of standard forms of letters and model essays, students can become more aware of Japanese written structures and gradually develop the ability of thinking in Japanese to write more creatively.
Training of writing skills
I explain to my students that if they want to write Japanese well, they need to have the ability to choose appropriate topics, and to organize the structure of their essays in ways that are understandable to Japanese people (Figure 1).
Selection of topics
I suggest two types of writing topics: designated and optional. For the writing of a given topic, first of all, it is necessary to find information about it. Then it is essential to collect data. It is necessary to forge a link between what students already know and enjoy to what is factual and interesting for a reader who is interested in (designates) a certain topic. For optional topics, students are free to choose an interesting topic. When choosing their own topic, students should start with topics that they are familiar with or interested in, then widen the scope of the topic. Only in these ways can students write with interest and motivation as well as satisfy their readers.
Figure 1. Author (left) with freshmen in a Japanese language writing class.
Conception is the process of positive thinking. In the process of conception, I suggest that students need to help their readers to associate ideas with certain words, sentences, and phenomena in Japanese culture.
Organizing the structure of essays
When explaining a topic, students should plan concretely. They need to draft what they need to write first, what to write afterwards, how to transit through the main points and how to end an essay. All these steps need to be carefully planned. A preliminary plan should be drafted for writing, so that not only can the material be sorted, but also the writing process can be clearly understood, more effective and methodical. I recommend my students to write from the general to the specific central point they are trying to express in Japanese.
I believe that writing skills best reflect the comprehensive language ability of my university students. Helping students to increase their vocabulary, to better understand Japanese culture, and to learn the writing process can result in the production of well-written Japanese compositions. It is difficult to measure the synergy of asking students to draw on a wide variety of skills to write, however I have found that among my students who are able to write well, many have effectively learned to rely on their abilities to listen, speak, and read the Japanese language.
Hu, C. (2011). Japanese Writing. Beijing: Peking University Press.
Wang, X. (2007). Practical Japanese Writing Course. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
Yuan, C. (2006). College Japanese Writing Course. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.