“Watching Olympic coverage in Japanese counts as studying right?” (by Dr. Caroline Riches)

I didn’t necessarily expect any of my three daughters to follow my career path. Imagine my surprise, then, when my youngest daughter, who studied fine arts and then worked as a technical writer, announced that she would be going to Japan to be an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) with the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program, stepping, at least for a time, into my linguistics and second language education path!

All of our daughters attended French Immersion schools, and while this instruction did not provide enough opportunity for the attainment of French/English bilingualism in and of itself (see my previous blog on French Immersion), it was ample enough for them to take it upon themselves to become highly proficient in French with extra, individual efforts. So, along with acquiring French they also became ‘good language learners’ (Lightbown & Spada, 2013).

Now back to my daughter in Japan. She and her husband have been Japanophiles since they first met, and actually began taking Japanese lessons years ago in Montreal, somehow knowing that Japan would happen at some point – and so her sojourn in Japan has been the realization of a dream to some extent. As a second language educator, what intrigues me is watching SLA theory play out in practice. My daughter writes a regular blog about her experiences in Japan, and has recently posted about her language learning experiences (https://mailchi.mp/d1073d97eeb5/im-big-in-japan-learning-japanese?e=a70d78dca6). Her Japanese language learning progress is a study in SLA principles. It is a complex interplay of motivation (classically integrative, but also instrumental as she needs to speak and read Japanese to go about her daily life [Gardner & Lambert, 1972]), aptitude and personality (her diligence and reserved, respectful nature seems to fit well with learning Japanese [Lightbown & Spada, 2013]), sociolinguistics and cross cultural understanding (as she contends with different Japanese dialects and navigates Japanese linguistic customs [Holmes, 2017; Kramsch, 1998]), classroom language versus naturalistic communication (as she moved from studying Japanese in a classroom setting in Montreal to total immersion in a small Japanese village [Ellis, 2015]), and immersion combined with form-focused instruction (as she sought out formal tutoring to provide systematized instruction to complement her daily exposure to Japanese in context [Genesee, 1985; Lyster, 2004]). Her self-devised and individualized plan for learning Japanese encompasses all of the above.

I find it interesting that although she specifically mentions the struggles of learning a new and complex writing system, she does not explicitly mention the Japanese cultural and sociolinguistic norms on honorifics and politeness as a challenge (which I found to be so different and difficult in our brief visit to Japan last June! and which are discussed as key features of Japanese in applied linguistics and cross-cultural literature [e.g. Wierzbicka, 1997]). In any case, and perhaps this is the point, she seems to have come up with a language learning plan that works for her.

I will end by coming full circle, explaining that the title of this blog is actually her latest facebook post on learning Japanese:

Watching Olympic coverage in Japanese counts as studying right?


Ellis, R. (2015). Understanding second language acquisition: Second Edition. USA: Oxford University Press.

Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second-language learning. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House Publishers.

Genesee, F. (1985). Second language learning through immersion: A review of U.S. programs. Review of Educational Research, 55, 541 -561.

Geyer, N. (2008). Discourse and Politeness: Ambivalent Face in Japanese. London: Continuum.

Holmes, J. (2013. An introduction to sociolinguistics. New York: Routledge.

Kramsch, C. (1998). Language and culture. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Lightbown, P. & Spada, N. (2013). How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lyster, R. (2004). Research on form-focused instruction in immersion classrooms: Implications for theory and practice. Journal of French Language Studies, 14, 321-341.

Wierzbicka, Anna (1997). Understanding Cultures through Their Key Words:English, Russian, Polish, German, and Japanese. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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