Future selves motivate Japanese learners

Richard Sampson and his PhD supervisor Dr Kerry Taylor-Leech.
PhD graduate Richard Sampson and his supervisor Dr Kerry Taylor-Leech.

What motivates Japanese English language learners? A new study has found that they are more likely to do well when they can visualise themselves as competent speakers of English.

Griffith University PhD graduate, Dr Richard Sampson, analysed a group of 40 Japanese English language learners aged 15-16 at a technical college to determine what motivates them to learn.

“It’s been well documented that Japanese students of English often struggle to find meaning in their learning,’’ he said.

As a lecturer in English Communication in Japan, he became fascinated with students’ motivation toward studying English.

“At my college, students were aware that English was necessary for them to gain employment but they did not connect this necessity with their own future.

“As a result I became intrigued with the idea of working with my students to create activities and lessons that would help them connect learning to their future.”

He found learners were motivated by activities that allowed them to feel a connection to their future as well as activities that had relevance to their current self and their identities other than ‘language learner’.

“For example, one student referred to his exploits in online gaming and interacting with people all over the world. He noted that his efforts in the classroom studying English would foster his future endeavours in gaming.”

In the classroom

The students were also motivated by using English in the classroom, using English to interact with other students and chances to make realisations about the purpose of their studies.

“In classroom activities where students used English, they were able to reflect on ideas of a future self, using English in a practical sense.”

“These ideas revolved around concrete actions like discussions in international work teams, presenting research findings and email communication.”

A further finding was that students affected the motivation of each other.

“Students noticed what other students were doing in the classroom, and this prompted them to try things out. Motivation was shared across the members of the class group. It was kind of ‘contagious’.”

He says the study, which saw him awarded the Chancellor’s Medal at Griffith University’s mid-year graduations, could have implications for other language classrooms across the world.

“In a field dominated by quantitative studies on motivation and demotivation, few studies have examined how strategies that connect learning to self-concept might have positive effects on motivation from students’ perspectives.”

Now lecturing in English Communication at Gunma University, Japan, Dr Sampson’s current research will investigate how the perceived expectations of significant others and society influence Japanese students’ motivation towards English study.