Web site use and lesson plan for teaching and learning Japanese as a foreign language

Kayo Shintaku, The University of Arizona

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This presentation aims to address the use of web sites as authentic materials to enhance orthographic and sociocultural understandings in a higher education curriculum of Japanese as a Foreign Language (JFL). A lesson plan is proposed as a more comprehensive way of teaching and learning Katakana loan words to meet the specific needs of the JFL learners surrounded by emerging digital literacies.

Based on its orthographic nature, the Japanese language consists of two phonograms (Hiragana and Katakana) and one logogram (Kanji), and it contains thousands of well-established loan words from other languages such as English, German, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish. Katakana’s presence has been significantly prominent due to its ease of use for transcribing the sounds of foreign words. However, for JFL learners, Katakana is difficult to acquire because 1) its use in textbooks is very limited in spite of its usage in both existing and emerging media, 2) the characters found in the wide range of font types used in various media types do not always look the same as JFL learners’ perceptions, i.e. different from textbook fonts, and 3) meanings used in Japanese may not be the same as in original languages.

Having limited exposure to just one font type and limited lists of loan words introduced in textbooks does not prepare learners for the actual literacy worlds in which they would most likely encounter Katakana, e.g. web sites, manga, anime, and digital games. To tackle common challenging Katakana issues for novice JFL learners, a classroom lesson plan using Japanese web sites is proposed to provide sufficient exposure of authentic digital literacies in Japanese. The instruction targets Katakana loan words for JFL learners to encourage multimodal digital literacy awareness through their usage in sociocultural content, graphical representation, and semantics.


Kayo Shintaku
Ph.D. student in the graduate interdisciplinary program in Second Language Acquisition & Teaching
The University of Arizona

14 thoughts on “Web site use and lesson plan for teaching and learning Japanese as a foreign language”

  1. Great job Kayo! What is your definition of loan words please? I wasn’t quite sure how you specifically are referencing them?

    1. Thank you Christine. Loan words are borrowing words from other languages. As shown in the example page, “hamburger” is a foreign food for the Japanese culture, and the word did not exist in Japanese language. So it borrowed the word from English. Since it is a foreign word, it uses Katakana (which is one of the Katakana’s jobs as a script). I hope this will help to clarify loan words. Please let me know.

  2. Very interesting and informative presentation, Kayo. I’m curious about your final comment that motivation plays a large role in acquiring a L2; how do you think using digital tools affects motivation either positively or negatively? Could you share your experience with this as related to teaching loan words with students keeping logs and presenting them as outlined in the presentation?

  3. I am currently teaching Japanese first semester learners, and we do introduce outside literacies as much as we can by showing actual web sites where many katakana loan words are used. For example, McDonald Japan’s menu, Seven Eleven’s Japanese web site, Japanese video game company’s web site, some manga pages as well as introducing through textbook chapter (textbook also has pages for loan words in Katakana). We are hoping that students can see the real usage of Katakana in real web sites that they are also familiar with the context. The lesson plan I proposed is still at the stage of proposal. It is not incorporated yet. But from my experience with students so far, Katakana loan words is one of the problematic and challenging element in first semester learners, and I do feel that motivations can be easily used as an ignition. What I mean is that since web site contents vary, it is easier to access to the students’ interests. The cool web site of video games (for me, a big yes) would be boring if students are not interested in. Having said that, my lesson plan is an attempt to incorporate some fluctuations of students interests (for them to explore on their own) and some guiding by an instructor (where katakana loan words aligned with textbook chapters can be easily found). I am not sure I am fully able to answer your question, but please let me know if not.

  4. Thank you for the great presentation! I really enjoyed it. I am currently teaching Korean and Korean also has a lot of loan words like Japanese. The loan words are frequently used in written and spoken Korean (Signs on the street, dramas, songs, etc.); thus, I also think learning loan words gives learners a chance to learn not only the language but also culture. I think utilizing the web is great in terms of providing students opportunities to see authentic usage of the language. Finally, I do agree with you that ‘motivation’ is the key for continual language learning.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I agree with you about the cultural element in learning loan words. Some loan words are historically borrowed, and learning where the words came and what the original language is really reveals a lot of relationships between countries and cultures. Visual support that the web sites tend to have also a great push for novice learners when font types are different from what they are familiar with or what they think a particular katakana should look like.

  5. Kayo, I am so excited to see how this project has continued to develop. My question is whether you have plans to design some sort of classroom-based study to investigate how learners interact with katakana in and through online texts and if so what you think that might look like.

  6. Thank you Dr. Warner for your guidance in this topic. 🙂 I would love to investigate katakana loan words learning as a study to see if this lesson plan would work, what kind of activities would support, and how learners think about those activities in katakana loan words. I need to develop the current lesson plan further or may need to break it down into smaller pieces to focus, but still I think font type is such an area that shows the difference between native and non-native speakers. The common phrase by native speakers, “we just know” really fits in this situation. There is no end if you start to measure mathematical degree of the dots and lines to determine one character is different from another. But I must ask myself, “So how do I just know?” It is obviously not just out of luck that I learned, but in the end it is the amount of exposures because those commonly confusing looking katakana characters are confusing enough for young Japanese native speakers. I am sure a lot of first-grader and preschool (kindergarten) teachers see mistakes in reading and writing particularly confusing katakana characters I introduced in the poster…(including my nephew when he was little). Therefore, as an instructor, it is important to give enough exposure while not overwhelming at the same time. Again, thank you for guiding me in exploring this topic.

  7. Kayo-san, thank you for sharing your teaching and research! I look forward to hearing how your research and teaching will develop. I found the part about the font variety interesting, as I see students confused varieties of fonts in Hiragana and also with Kanji, and for example, copy down Mincho style when they handwrite. When I come to think of it, the choice of font or writing style (roundish writing, cursive-like writing, etc.) also reflects the purposes, audience, formality, kinds of persona that the writer chooses, etc. As students do the Katakana logs, maybe they could note the kind of font, and why they think such font was used for the specific context? Regarding the use of Katakana and loan words, if you haven’t, you may also want to read Doerr & Kumagai (2014) Power of language ideologies: Challenging the notion of foreignloanwords in Japanese-as-a-foreign-language classroom. Writing Systems Research. It adds the perspective to re-examine the textbook explanation through students’ researching Katakana use in the real world.

    1. Keiko-san, thank you for your comment. I agree on the different use on the font types inter-relates to all the other choices. I like your suggestion on font type search. For intermediate to advance levels’ students, finding out font types would be an opening door for thinking about social-cultural aspects of language use. I think even for novice learners, this activity would be achieved by the pre-selected font types. Thank you for sharing the reference information. The title looks fascinating already. I am looking forward to reading it.

  8. I think that this has been a wonderful presentation on the use of websites as text in FL instruction.However I am curious to know what sort of guidance instructors are to give to beginning FL learners who are being exposed to the language for the first time.I would equally like to know if this module has been experimented and what the turnout was.Keep the good work up.Thank you.

    1. Hello Abraham. Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, this lesson plan has not been implemented yet. But I would love to develop further to meet the needs of JFL learners. As for the instructor guidance, I think for beginning learners, the list of possible web sites where the target katakana loan words would be easily found is helpful. But as in the presentation, students are welcome to explore on their own while satisfying a half of the list given by the instructor. Also, the list of web sites should have contents that JFL learners are already familiar with, i.e. the companies who have both English and Japanese languages available on their sites, like Burger King. Particularly, being able to find the sites without typing in Japanese becomes a huge importance for beginning learners.

  9. What a beautiful and informative presentation, Kayo. I’m wondering if the variations in Japanese writing are similar to that of Chinese, with its complex and simplified characters?

    1. Thank you for your comment. For katakana and hiragana in Japanese, there is no complex or simplified characters like Chinese. For Kanji, there are some Kanji variations as old or new way of writing though.

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