Last weekend I was in Tokyo to attend the JALT College and University Educators (CUE) SIG Conference where I gave a presentation about an action research project I did a few years ago.
I started the presentation by talking about my experiences as a novice teacher; specifically how my initial training and the policy of the first few schools I worked at was that teachers were not allowed to use the students’ L1 in the classroom. This continued while I was teaching at a pre-academic IEP while in graduate school in the United States.
After I returned to Japan and started working in tertiary education, I quickly found out that I was expected to use Japanese outside of the classroom when dealing with the administration and other faculty. Therefore, I began a crash Japanese study program. As my Japanese improved I found that I was using Japanese more and more in the classroom and I was interacting less and less with the students in English.
So I decided to undertake an action research project. I picked two low-level, first year English courses. In one course I spoke only English and in the other I spoke both Japanese and English. I kept a notebook where I jotted down my interactions with the students to keep track of how often the spoke with me in English or Japanese.
I assumed that if the students knew that I was able to communicate with them in Japanese, then they would not try to talk with me in English. However, that wasn’t the case. In the bilingual class, my interactions with the students were a 50/50 mix of English and Japanese. In the monolingual class, less than a fifth of the students tried to communicate with me in English (less the bilingual class). The majority of students continued to try to speak with me in Japanese and a small percent of students refused to communicate with me at all. I was therefore able to determine that students were more likely to communicate with me if I spoke both English and Japanese.
I ended the project by giving each class a survey. In the survey I asked if the students felt like they learned more English because of the language that I spoke. The bilingual class agreed that the learned more English because I spoke both English and Japanese. The monolingual class did not think that my only using English helped them learn. Next I asked the students if they were more motivated to speak with me in English because of the language I used. The bilingual class somewhat agreed and the monolingual class didn’t feel that my only using English motivated them to use English. Finally, I asked the monolingual class if the wanted a teacher who spoke both languages and they overwhelming agreed. I asked the bilingual class if they wanted a teacher who only spoke English and they overwhelmingly disagreed.
I concluded the presentation by relating how I have changed my behavior. First, I set the policy that the primary language of the class is English and that students must first try to communicate with me in English, but that Japanese is allowed. Second, I make it a point of teaching classroom English so that students have the skills needed to communicate with me in English. Finally, whenever a student tries to communicate with me in Japanese I encourage them to use English.