From foreign exchange to foreign language teaching: An interview with Masanori Matsumoto in Australia

Brett Cumming, Aichi Prefectural University

Brett Cumming: Could you tell us a little about how you came to teach Japanese in Japan?

Masanori Matsumoto: Prior to this, I was working for the foreign exchange department in a Chiba-based regional bank which sent me around the world on training trips to learn and study about the world financial systems. For six months, they provided me with the opportunity to see many different languages and cultures. I then looked for an opportunity to finish my work in banking in order to pursue my real interest, which is language. This led me to enroll in a Japanese language teaching training correspondence course which enabled me to teach Japanese as a second language. This was not well recognized at the time (around 1985) and didn’t have the same prestige as teaching Japanese to native Japanese speakers.

BC: Did you find many differences in teaching Japanese in Japan and teaching Japanese here in Australia?

MM: Well, after teaching Japanese for four years in Japan, I became more interested in teaching in foreign countries, which also provided me with the opportunity to utilize my English. In 1989, just around the time the Japanese economic bubble burst, I was employed on a 2-year contract on the Gold Coast. It was right at the peak of the Japanese inbound tourism market. Classes were easily attracting 50-60 businessmen and women. These students were extremely motivated to attract more Japanese tourists. In addition to the motivation, teaching here in Australia to monolingual students, all with the same L1, was unique in that they all had similar expectations, similar cultural differences (to Japan) and the objective of wishing to communicate with tourists. The Australian students at the time also generally had very little experience in language learning and somewhat false expectations about the effort required. Questions about whether fluency was possible in three months were not uncommon.

BC: Could you tell us a little about your latest research?

MM: I’m presently continuing my research on motivation, specifically the development of a tri-facet framework. An example to illustrate this is the motivation of Asian students studying a foreign language such as Japanese in an Australian educational context, and having to deal with two foreign languages and cultures simultaneously. This cultural distance is always regarded as a factor affecting the students’ motivation. It is said that the width of cultural distance between students’ L1 and L2 (the target language) is a factor affecting students’ motivation, which to some extent is true. It is my hope to look at Chinese students studying Japanese in a foreign educational context and see how this influences their motivation and progress.

BC: I would like to discuss your paper entitled “Second language learners’ motivation and their perceptions of teachers’ motivation.” Could you briefly explain what your findings were?

MM: I believe motivation is always a personal matter. Even if teachers try to motivate students (which is of course part of our job as teachers), students with different backgrounds, learning experiences, cultures, and ideas perceive what we do in different ways.

BC: So, did you find that students reacted positively to teachers who were very enthusiastic and genuinely tried to motivate them?

MM: The general finding is that, yes, there is a positive correlation and relationship between the teacher’s motivation, both real and perceived, and the intensity of the student’s motivation. Therefore, the teacher is a very important factor. Further examination found that depending on the student’s level of proficiency, which motivational factors or strategies are important differs; for instance, lower level students are more visually-orientated and do not respond as much to verbal encouragement while higher level students start to shift their focus more to the teacher’s skills in the classroom. I found advanced level students who are mostly approaching their goal of speaking English fluently focus more on the teacher’s actual techniques. In the future I would also like to observe Japanese being taught as a second language in a Japanese context and conduct a comparative analysis of Chinese and other foreign student perceptions of their Japanese teachers’ commitment and motivation.

BC: That sounds very worthwhile. I wish you all the best with your future research.