The Language Teacher
November 2001

Team Teaching and Japanese Learners' Motivation

Miyazato Kyoko

Hakuoh University

Although many team teachers admit that there are problems which need to be solved, the enormous popularity of team teaching (TT) among students was reported in Miyazato's study (2000). In this study, two major hypotheses are assumed for the effectiveness of TT based on determinants of Keller's (1983) education-oriented theory: (1) the TT approach reduces learners' stress and anxiety in foreign language (FL) classes by a native speaker teacher of English (NSTE) and supplements the learners' lack of linguistic abilities with the help of a Japanese teacher of English (JTE), which increases the learners' expectancy of success; (2) cross-cultural issues for the theme in the TT course increase learners' intrinsic motivation and are also relevant to their instrumental needs of accommodating themselves to Japan's internationalization.

TT and Japanese learners' psychology

Japanese students' anxiety in TT

JTEs and NSTEs in Miyazato's 2000 study perceived that the presence of a JTE compensates for the limitations in students' linguistic abilities and lessens students' stress and tension in FL learning. Ellis (1993) points out that the biggest problem in Japanese high schools is the learners' lack of exposure to spoken English, because English classes are mostly conducted in Japanese. In addition, anxiety toward NSTEs' different teaching styles is also reported to have a great influence on learners' psychology. Yamashiro and McLaughlin (2000) state that a mental block occurs in FL learners when they fear they might not understand every word or be able to speak without making mistakes.

Not only learners' linguistic limitations but also their psychological distance from NSTEs is presumed to be an other component of FL anxiety in Japanese learners. NSTEs are still rare for many Japanese students, especially in less urban areas. Miyazato's 2000 study indicated that one-third of the participants had no previous exposure to NSTEs' classes before entering the university. Medgyes (1992, pg. 340) argues that nonnative-speaking EFL teachers have advantages in anticipating language difficulties by being empathetic to the learners' problems and sharing the learners' mother tongue.

In summary, JTEs in TT are assumed to serve two roles: as a linguistic assistant for students' better understanding of English and as a pressure relief valve for language learning.

Students' perceptions of native and nonnative teachers

Despite the learners' anxiety toward NSTEs, a contradictory perception of NSTEs as charismatic is reported by Japanese EFL learners in the literature of TT under the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. In recent years, TT has been Assistant English teacher (AET)-centered and JTEs have tended to take a more passive role as an "interpreter." This is not only due to the AETs' dissatisfaction over being used as living tape recorders, but also from students' strong expectations of AETs to be the main teacher in TT settings.

Although most AETs in the JET Program are young college graduates with little or no teaching experience, admiration toward AETs, especially Anglo speakers of English, is seen from students in Japan. Sturman (1992, pg. 159) also states that the presence of foreign teachers in the Japanese school is appreciated as living "proof" of the internationalization of Japan.

Japanese students' motivation in FL learning

A problematic issue is that many university students show little interest in learning English. Berwick and Ross (1989) state that an instrumental motivation vacuum was left by years of competition and by studying English for entrance exams to get into the highest possible level university in Japan's hierarchy of universities. Actually, Koizumi and Matsuo (1993) report that a decrease in motivation of Japanese junior high school students is found after the initial stage of the learning process.

Furthermore, many students in the universities in less urban districts intend to spend their future lives in their local areas, where English is not really indispensable for their daily lives yet. Therefore, they perceive little necessity to learn English and have little instrumental motivation. Consequently, increasing their intrinsic motivation becomes the essential issue in those environments.

Cross-cultural studies and learners' motivation

One of the possible factors for which TTU (team teaching at the university level) was evaluated more highly than TTSE (team teaching in secondary education) in Miyazato's (2001) survey was the adoption of cross-cultural issues, which are presumed to induce intrinsic motivation in Japanese EFL learners who no longer respond to the standard methods of studying English. Prodromou (1992, pg. 47) states that discovering more about a culture so different from a students' own is an intrinsic delight in language learning.

It can also be assumed that despite learners' anxiety or even refusal to learn the English language, especially learners of low English proficiency, acquiring knowledge on cross-cultural issues, however, would fit their hidden desire to communicate with foreign people and societal expectations for accommodating themselves to Japan's internationalization. As Yamashiro and McLaughlin (2000) indicate, some researchers have noted a high level of motivation among Japanese students without a corresponding high level of proficiency.

Hence, it is hypothesized that TT would be appreciated by Japanese learners because it lessens their anxiety and eventually gives an impetus to their intrinsic and instrumental motivation in English learning through cross-cultural studies.



The participants were 11 male and seven female students from two freshman TT English courses (N = 92) which were taught by the same team teachers of a university in a small city. Six students from each of three different English proficiency levels (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) were randomly chosen based on the results of an English proficiency test.


Two TT courses on cross-cultural studies were conducted in the Spring semester. After the summer vacation, conversation practice under TT was done in the Fall semester in order to provide students with opportunities to perceive cross-cultural studies in TT in comparison to another approach in TT. The TOEIC test, short version, was given in September to gauge the proficiency of the participants in this study. After the academic year of the TT course, individual semi-open interviews were conducted with the 18 participants.


Among the 16 students who preferred TT to individual instruction (II), eight acknowledged the advantages of TT, offering dual perspectives and cross-cultural interactions as their model. However, the other eight students claimed that they would take II by an NSTE if their English proficiency reached a certain level, which implies that half of the TT supporters see TT as a footstep toward II by an NSTE. Therefore, it is predicted that a main cause of Japanese learners' anxiety in FL classes is a low tolerance of linguistic ambiguity or uncertainty and that anxiety toward NSTE themselves will be mostly solved if anxiety about their linguistic uncertainty decreases.

Interestingly, however, the anxiety of linguistic uncertainty was reported least by beginners, compared to advanced and intermediate learners. Beginners did actually perceive their lack of English ability and great dependence on JTEs. However, having a JTE who helped them out of hopeless situations and their anxiety about FL learning, they looked at the content of the class rather than the form of the language.

One possible reason for the advanced learners' high anxiety is that advanced learners are more critical about their own English abilities. Yamashiro and McLaughlin (2000, pg. 13) also draw attention to the sociocultural aspect of Japanese notions of "face" and the extraordinary pressure to fit in with group norms.

As for TT as a motivational inducement, it can be concluded that a TT approach which focuses on cross-cultural studies motivates learners, especially those of low English proficiency. Although the system of self-reporting concerning motivation has limitations, the data of 11 supporters of cross-cultural studies and nine students who reported an increase in their motivation, among the 18 participants, give some validation to the conclusion.


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Ellis, R. (1993). The structural syllabus and second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly, 27(1), 91-113.

Keller, J. M. (1983). Motivational design of instruction. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models (pp. 386-433). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Koizumi, R., & Matsuo, K. (1993). A longitudinal study of attitudes and motivation in learning English among Japanese seventh-grade students. Japanese Psychological Research, 35(1), 1-11.

Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: who's worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340-349.

Miyazato, K. (2000). University-level team teaching: Advantage and disadvantage from the teachers' perspectives, JALT Conference Proceedings 1999, (pp. 126-131). Tokyo: JALT.

Miyazato, K. (2001). Students' perceptions of content-based team teaching. Hakuoh University Journal, 15(2), 231-248.

Prodromou, L. (1992). What culture? Which culture? Cross-cultural factors in language learning. ELT Journal, 46(1), 39-50.

Sturman, P. (1992). Team teaching: a case study from Japan. In D. Nunan (Ed.), Collaborative language learning and teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Yamashiro, A. D. & McLaughlin, J. (2000). Relationships among attitudes, motivation, anxiety, and English language proficiency in Japanese college students. In Individual Differences in FLL Conference Proceedings. Aoyama Gakuin University Department of English (pp. 9-26).


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