Language Learning with Japanese “Tadoku”

Last semester my JPN 201 students learned how to communicate with Japanese college/university students in Japanese through the #CCJpn201 Twitter Project. I wish I could continue this project. However, the academic year in Japan will end in March. Furthermore, since months of February and March have no classes for students, it would be difficult for me to find Japanese students who are willing to work with my students.

Are my students having easier time in JPN202 because they don’t have to tweet everyday? Since the project during fall was so challenging, do you think they deserve a break? My answer is “Absolutely not!” There is no time for them to rest in terms of learning Japanese before their going to Japan.

I already started the “Tadoku” Project in JPN202!! What is “Tadoku”? “Tadoku” is a Japanese word. “Ta (多)” means “many,” and “doku (読)” means “reading.” What I ask my students to do in class is to read books written in Japanese. Why is it so special? Nothing. They just have to read books without a dictionary or without checking unknown words. Is their vocabulary large enough to understand a story? Are they not frustrated because they are not allowed to use dictionaries? Some students worry how they could read without using dictionaries.

Let me explain how “Tadoku” works. There are four rules for “Tadoku.”

  1. You must start reading books from an easier level.
  2. You must not use dictionaries to read a book.
  3. If you encounter an unknown word, you must skip it.
  4. If you cannot continue reading, you must stop reading the book, and start reading a new one.

Japanese ebooksI purchased graded books from level 0 to level 4 for a “Tadoku” activity in class. They are graded on the basis of vocabulary, grammar structures, and the numbers of words used in a book. I also asked the library to purchase “Tadoku” ebooks through EBSCO which students can access through the library catalog.

Books in JapaneseLast Friday my students had their first “Tadoku” class. I brought the level 1 books with me. Each of them picked up a book which appealed to them. After finishing a book, they picked up another one, then another one, then another one. The ticking from the clock on the wall was the loudest noise in the room. When class was over, there was an assignment for them to reflect on what they read.

I created this assignment by using Google Forms. They need to tell one’s own name, the date of reading, the titles of the books they read on the day, the title of the book they choose to recommend; and to describe easiness to read by scale from 1 to 5, how interesting the book is by scale from 1 to 5, and their recommendation by scale from 1 to 5; and lastly they have to write a comment in Japanese on the book.

Would you be interested in knowing how I used Google Form for this purpose? When you create an assignment by using Google Forms, you will email the form to the students. After your students respond to the assignment, you can see responses collectively as well as individually. When you click “individual” on the page of their responses, you can find how each student responds to your questions. It is very convenient for me to use this form because I want them to use a scale to describe certain things and to write a paragraph about their reflection on the same page. And students’ responses will be kept in a folder in my Google Drive. There will be more “Tadoku” activities throughout this semester. I’m looking forward to reading their ratings as well as their comments.Comment in Japanese from Google Form

Results from #CCjpn201: A Semester-Long Twitter Project

Tweet from student of Japanese

My project was to have my JPN201 students communicate with college/ university students in Japan through Twitter for 13 weeks during the fall of 2015. This project challenged not only students but also myself. My students were asked to find out Japanese college/ university students’ lives. We ended this project by presenting each student’s discovery in class. Each student uploaded his/her Storify on our hashtag, #CCjpn201 (see image above and slideshow below).

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Why so challenging? Students have difficulty communicating in the first place. On top, they had to communicate with native speakers of Japanese in the Japanese language!! None of them had communicated with native speakers with this intensity. It was difficult for them to read “unedited” Japanese passages written by native speakers. There were so many unknown words or Chinese characters in tweets written by natives. It was easy to misunderstand natives’ tweets. It was frustrating for them not to be able to ask what they wanted to ask because they didn’t know how to ask. Even if they used a dictionary to find a word they wanted to use, they ended up choosing a wrong one, which created further miscommunication! They protested to me that they used a dictionary or asked a Japanese friend on campus. Nevertheless students in Japan didn’t understand what my students asked, and replied apologetically, “I’m very sorry, but I don’t understand X,” “What do you mean by Y?”, “Maybe you wanted to ask me Y didn’t you?”

After this project, I asked both my students and students in Japan to take surveys. The following is what they said:

  • I strongly disagree or disagree to the statement, “I enjoyed the Twitter Project.” (3 out of 6)
  • I didn’t enjoy this project because it was time consuming. (5 out of 6)
  • It was challenging to tweet in the Japanese language. (4 out 6)
  • I felt this project was very challenging. (4 out of 6)

Chart showing 4 students considered the project challengingAlthough these were rather negative opinions on the Twitter Project, all of them agreed to recommend this project to next JPN201 students. Interesting! I am sharing some of their responses.

  • It was difficult for me and often I didn’t like it. But I have improved enormously in my reading and writing ability, also in my ability to think creatively and respond well. It is important to get to know Japanese culture as told by Japanese people, not based on the positions of the people who wrote our textbook. I would recommend this without reservation.
  • It is a great opportunity, despite its many challenges to use Japanese in the context of conversation and communication with native speakers.
  • It let you have chance to use the language even you are not in Japan.

Students in Japan also felt challenged because they had to think through in order to explain things to my students who are not sharing their lives. All of them encountered differences between US and Japan in various aspects. They said that they enjoyed the project unlike my students, and wanted to participate again.

My students realized that they needed to study Japanese harder!!! I am very happy to know that I have convinced my students to study Japanese harder;)

Digital Projects and Online Etiquette

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Tweet showing a Connecticut College student using emoji.
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Tweet that talks about Camelympics and asks Japanese students if they have similar events on their campus.

I have been much busier than expected this semester. One of the reasons is my new project, JPN201 Twitter Project. The goal of this project is to create a physical or on-line guide about Japanese college/university students’ lives to prepare students of Japanese for studying in Japan. Before starting this semester, I worked hard to write a description of the project and develop rubrics to evaluate students’ tweets. Before I had asked my students to start the project, I encountered various unforeseen incidents.

Since my students find out how Japanese college students’ lives look like, it is necessary for them to have Japanese correspondents who are college/university students in Japan. The Japanese program at Connecticut College is a part of the Associate Kyoto Program (AKP) through which our students can study in Kyoto. The AKP’s main office is located in Doshisha University. I contacted the AKP office manager and asked her for help to find volunteer students from Doshisha University. They circulated the ad recruiting volunteer students for this project.

As soon as the ad was circulated, I started receiving inquiries from their students. I was excited initially without foreseeing what would have been involved! At our campus, we often discuss manners regarding how students should communicate with us through emails. To my surprise, one after another, I received ill-mannered emails. They addressed me, “Kobayashi-san,” instead of “Kobayashi-sensei.” Sometime they called me “Hisae-san.” I would like to let you know that they are not my peers, but they are college students. Furthermore, I have never seen them. This was their first time contacting me! Some of them did not even say why they contacted me in the first place. They just put their name without providing any proper information.

Although my students always behave appropriately at least when they communicate with me, I was afraid that my students would offend Japanese natives due to their lack of linguistic as well as cultural knowledge. Therefore, I provided the following:


  • Please maintain your cordial, polite, friendly tone.
  • Please be respectful to fellow students.
  • Please be positive when you would like to give feedback.
  • Please avoid making personal attacks in response.
  • Please avoid using Japanese slang you might have found in Anime, Manga, which may easily cause misunderstanding.
  • Slow to anger, abundant in empathy

While I paid my attention to my students’ behavior, I was taken aback by students in Japan! Maybe it is because I live in this country so long and because I do not have enough knowledge of youth culture in Japan.

Suddenly my perspective toward my students has been elevated highly. My students would never behave like them at least toward me. At the same time, I realized that this was one of the negative results of using technologies. Technologies are very convenient as well as beneficial as long as we use them for a right purpose in an appropriate manner. They provide us richer experiences such as my JPN202 Twitter Project. My students can communicate with native speakers of Japanese in the Japanese language while both sides stay where they are. Since I have no control over students in Japan, I decided to use this unpleasant incident to screen the volunteers. I did not respond to ill-mannered emails.  Among those students, one contacted me again to see if I had received her email and to ask me how she would start joining the project. I can give credit to her for willingness to contact me again. I explained to her why my response was delayed. After our appropriate email exchanges, she joined the project.

The project has been going smoothly. I have made many observations about my students’ communication skills. I’ve been enjoying monitoring their tweets and I give them feedback every week. Although it is a lot of work for me, it is valuable experience for my students. I’m looking forward to seeing what they say after the project.

Lastly, I found a way to motivate students in Japan to tweet.  Look at the image below. This photo tells who communicated with whom and who tweets most. After uploading the photo, the number of tweets from Japan increased. They surely continue to surprise me.


Zooming into Language Acquisition

My current Japanese 400C provides students multiple opportunities to study collaboratively with the upper-level Japanese students at Mount Holyoke College (MHC), MA by using technologies. This course employs content and language integrated learning (CLIL) approach, and students are expected to gain the new knowledge about the Japanese language through the reading materials, which my friend at MHC has been developing.

The current upper-level Japanese courses at Connecticut College (CC) are facing some administrative as well as pedagogical issues: 1) recent years there are chronically small enrollments; 2) the level of individual student’s language skills varies widely; 3) it is difficult for each student to find a peer who obtains the same Japanese proficiency level in class; 4) there is lack of peer pressure due to familiarization among themselves as well as with instructors, which creates an ineffective atmosphere to motivate the students to improve their language skills.

These issues are not unique at Connecticut College (CC); rather I found that the Japanese programs at small liberal arts colleges faced similar issues. New technologies have enabled us to supply students at both campuses with peer-reading sessions through Zoom, email communication among the students as well as between the students and both instructors, Zoom presentation sessions, and survey after presentation practice as well as final presentation in Google forms. We are also recording peer-reading sessions and Zoom presentations, and uploading them in the shared folder in Google Drive, which we hope helps each student to evaluate her/his own performance for their assignments.

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We have unintended positive outcomes by using technologies. This winter we had more snow than usual, and there were multiple times the college was closed. One cancellation happened on the day presentation was scheduled. In the morning I hoped that there would be no cancellation despite the fact that powder snow started covering the ground. My friend at MHC emailed me, “we don’t have snow here.” I had a bad feeling. An email came telling us the college would be closed at noon. I decided to stay on campus for the sake of presentation. Then another email came telling that there would be a parking ban. “Oh, NO!!!!!” Now I had to leave the campus.

I told my students to stay in the room and to wait for an invitation for Zoom session from me through email. I went back home to send out invitations for Zoom session. Thanks to Zoom we were successfully able to have student’s presentations by connecting five locations; a classroom in MHC; a student’s room at Smith College; two student’s rooms at CC; and my place, and we recorded the session as well!!!

We found another interesting effect of using Zoom. Time to time we asked our students if they would prefer not doing certain assignments or not. The students on both campuses always answer, “I can do this.” They never say to us, “NO.” It seems that they are motivated to show their best to the students on the other campus. We are pleased with our student’s attitude. Probably I will be able to report to you after this course whether they maintain this attitude throughout the semester.

Lastly I would like to share with you what happened last year when we offered the same course. I had one male student in the course at CC. He spent two semesters in Korea when he was a junior. One of the female students at MHC came from Korea. Apparently they had many things to talk about. One day my friend’s teaching assistants said to her, “Today you will have a session with Connecticut College.” My friend asked how they figured it out. Then they told her that they knew because the student wore make-up. Hmm…. It IS indeed interesting!!