The Education Policy Analysis Archives is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal freely accessible on the internet at
EPAA has published Volume 9 Number 10 “Japanese EFL Teachers’ Perceptions of Communicative, Audiolingual and
Yakudoku Activities: The Plan Versus the Reality” by Greta Gorsuch, Texas Tech University.
The article can be accessed directly at http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v9n10.html but an abstract follows below:
Japanese EFL Teachers’ Perceptions of
Communicative, Audiolingual and Yakudoku Activities:
The Plan Versus the Reality
Texas Tech University
In recent years, the learning of English as a Foreign Language in Japanese high schools has become the focus of new educational policies applied at the national level. One of these is The Course of Study issue by the Ministry of Education, in which teachers are, for the first time in a long series of curriculum guidelines, adjured to develop students’ “positive attitudes towards communicating in English.” Another is the JET program, which has put thousands of native English speaking assistant language teachers (ALTs) into Japanese secondary classrooms for the purpose of team teaching with Japanese teachers. Data resulting from a survey project of 876 Japanese high school English teachers
was used to provide empirical evidence of teachers’ levels of approval of communicative, audiolingual and traditional (yakudoku) activities. Teachers were also asked to rate the strengths of a variety of influences on their instruction, including university entrance exams, and pre- and in-service teacher education programs. Teachers’ perceptions of both activities and instructional influences were examined in light of teachers’ length of career, type of school (private versus public, academic versus vocational), and level of contact with an ALT. The data revealed the complexities of imposing broad, national educational policies on a diverse group of teachers, and in an educational culture which likely
precludes teachers’ use of communicative activities.
Volume 9 Number 10 “Japanese EFL
Teachers’ Perceptions of Communicative, Audiolingual and
Yakudoku Activities: The Plan Versus the Reality” by
Greta Gorsuch, Texas Tech University.
The article can be accessed directly at
The Education Policy Analysis Archives is a peer-reviewed
scholarly journal freely accessible on the internet at
Re: the Gorsuch article
There are deep, deep problems with this article.
First, it perpetuates the myth about entrance exams’ monolithic washback effect. Again, with almost open admissions at the mass of
tertiary schools, the effect has to be not near as simple as some think.
In the case of academic schools, it may not all be negative. If a regional university starts putting listening sections and paragraph
writing tasks on its tests, then the ‘feeder’ schools (schools who typically get a lot of their grads into the university) will respond
by teaching such things in their English classes. Who says this is such a bad thing? Even if what universities put on their exams is
still a lot of L2-L1 tasks with texts and this affects teachers at the secondary level, this is not to say the washback effect is so
clear on the students. Students in many high schools have their own agendas. If the university and department they are going to try for
doesn’t use the English score on the entrance exam to determine admissions, many students will know this and take it into account in
how they treat their English studies (as in, they don’t treat them seriously at all). It’s not even that clear on the teachers and
materials. The university entrance exams I’ve seen use fairly ‘authentic’ texts–my university chose a selection from US
News and World Report about motorcycle helmet laws in Florida for its reading and grammatical analysis questions (this is all public
knowledge now, since the exams are released to the public the day the results are tabluated.
Second, Gorsuch’s analysis simplistically misrepresents the nature of teacher training and professional development in Japan–which is not
to say that there are not problems with it. The problem she reports seems more like the breakdown of academic approaches to language and
LT and the reality in the classroom that takes place all over the world. Gorsuch also seems to confuse traditional teacher training programs at undergraduate universities with non-traditional ways of getting certified to teach (i.e., passing an exam , or somehow meeting the requirements of a private school). These are separate issues, but they get run together in her discussion.
Third, she attempts to ’empirically’ study something that can not possibly be studied this way. If you don’t get the concepts you are
going to study close to what the reality is, then there is no need to try an empirical study of the phenomena. You are just conceptually
baiting people to respond within the parmeters you want to see. It’s begging the question, an issue I took up with Gorsuch on her last
paper in JALT Journal, but one she apparently can’t understand. More on that in the next paragraph.
Fourth, just as with the last Gorsuch paper on this topic–in the JALT Journal a few years ago–it uses the term ‘yaku-doku’ as if it
were a full-blown method for ELT, which it is not. It is a cross-linguistic strategy within the Japan EFL context, not a method. Even
supposedly non-traditional methods such as Curran’s Community Language Learning may make extensive use of the L1. In the case of
yaku-doku, the term refers to using L1 in order to understand an L2 text, but anyone who has taught in a Japanese school should know that
cross-linguistic strategies go way beyond reading class. Such cross-linguistic strategies can certainly be integrated into full-blown
communicative methods at the beginning level and may indeed work best for adolescent and adult beginners.
Next, where Gorsuch writes:
>>Public vocational high school teachers were less likely to report that university entrance exams influenced their instruction than
teachers at public and private academic high schools. Vocational public high schools may be the perfect venue in which to introduce
programs with genuinely communicative aims. Because teachers (and, possibly the students) in these schools feel less influenced by the
need to prepare their students for university entrance exams, teachers could, with concerted help, develop English courses making
use of suitable communicative activities. If well designed, such activities can be motivating to students who traditionally have
little desire to learn English, especially in the traditional exam preparation oriented way (yakudoku). Rather than being seen as the
sad realm of students who cannot compete academically in the prevailing educational culture, the public vocational high school
sector could be an important venue for meaningful instructional change that can later be adapted to the public and private academic
This is interesting indeed, no wait, let’s say a fantasy. Who proved communicative activities are motivating to students who may be totally alienated from mandatory education? My experiences at vocational schools is the exact opposite. The biggest change happening to these schools is that more and more of their students can now go on to tertiary education if their parents have the money, since more and more universities are scrambling to find students.
Overall, this was a very uninformative and misleading study, and I would bet it was refered by a bunch of people who know nothing about
language teaching and learning in Japan–certainly not at the level being studied (secondary schools).