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ジェフリー・A・クロフト先生のコラム [1998年-現在] フリーランス・社内翻訳者
学術文献・研究論文・技術機関紙等の翻訳、契約書等の法律文書の翻訳、説明書・規格書等の技術文書の翻訳、手紙・通信文・企業案内・広告・ホームページ等の翻訳に精通。
[2001年-2002年] フリーランス通訳者
日英・英日同時または逐次通訳(主な顧客:富士通, ソニー, TBS等)
[学歴] 学士号:カリフォルニア大学、バークレー校 修士号:モントレー国際大学

第5回:『Interaction』『A conscious effort』『In the zone』『Teaching implications』

Interaction

I first went to Japan in 1991, and I studied Japanese diligently, with textbooks, workbooks, tapes, and CDs. I studied these materials with tutors and friends, when I found the time, but mainly I studied alone. Through this self-study approach, I managed to memorize enough grammatical rules, sentence patterns, and kanji (Chinese characters) to pass the third level of a highly regarded proficiency test by 1992. But I did not yet feel that I was very fluent (i.e., smooth, natural sounding) in the spoken language: I could manage to have a conversation, with a patient counterpart, but only haltingly. It was only after interacting with fellow learners in Japanese classes, and after living with Japanese and Japanese-speaking Korean friends who spoke no English—interacting with them every day—that I began to notice significant improvement in the fluency of my speech.

I experienced a truism firsthand: To learn to communicate effectively, it makes sense to, well, communicate. One must learn by trying. It worked for me: After and only after several years of seeking out meaningful communication, i.e., for the purpose of achieving a goal, expressing a need or opinion, telling jokes, and the like (McTear, 1975), I began to communicate fluently: To communicate smoothly and naturally in the target language on a range of topics without unnatural pauses and without unusual expressions.

Learners must engage the dynamic, complex, living body that language is in order to learn and use it effectively. In order to learn and use language in the real world—as opposed to regurgitating memorized phrases, for example—learners must interact with other learners and native speakers in the target language. This focus on the crucial role of interaction in language learning is not only my common sense approach, based on my own experience, it is an instantiation of the active, conscious effort that is fundamental to language learning.

A conscious effort

As van Lier (1998) illustrates, both L1 and L2 learning involve conscious effort: He points out that, even at play, children developing their L1 employ conscious learning strategies in their social interaction. For van Lier, the process involves “countless acts of conscious learning, with a keenly perceptive stance, the application of deliberate effort, and the investment of their growing personal identities” (p.142). Further, van Lier demonstrates that all language learning is an active, social process requiring the learner’s constant attention. Likewise, Swain (1993) observes, “as learners reflect upon their own target language use, their output serves a metalinguistic function, enabling them to control and internalize linguistic knowledge” (p. 126) Refining linguistic awareness and skill through interaction with others is an indispensable element of language learning. This description of interaction in the language classroom is a dynamic model in which learners actively seek out and then create effective linguistic skills, including output as well as input.

Indeed, output is shown as vital in language learning in much of the important research in the field. Swain (1995), for example, sets out to define the current “output hypothesis.” She offers that production is important in the process of language learning, as it serves as a means of practice, which enhances fluency. She describes the hypothesis that output promotes noticing (“learners do notice problems as they speak, and do try to do something about them” and that noticing promotes self-repair (p. 129). Further, she states that some of the most important language learning takes place through the dialogue of between and among learners and teachers (Swain, 1995). The exchange is the lesson and the learning—output and input are equally and mutually important. Gass and Varonis (1994) raise another crucial point, on the effort of the learner in maintaining a conversation to actively gain comprehensible input, “language which contains linguistic items that are slightly beyond the learner’s present linguistic competence” (Richards, et al., 1992, p. 72).

The ever present potential for further development, via meaningful interaction, is at the center of the theory on which I base my position on language learning and teaching: Sociocultural Theory (SCT).

In the zone

The crucial role of interaction and conscious effort that I discuss above underpins SCT, which encapsulates and informs my own language learning and teaching in practice. In SCT, language learning occurs in what Vygotsky (1978) termed the zone of proximal development (ZPD), or the “distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (p. 86). I have shown that my own language learning development resulted directly from my constant interaction with native speakers of Japanese with whom I lived.

I learned daily, from morning to night, from more capable peers who helped me to construct an ever-improving interlanguage: The language that I used which was neither English nor Japanese, but a developing language that I used as my Japanese developed (Selinker, 1972). This daily collaboration worked very well for me, allowing me to seek further opportunities to learn, and to share my own knowledge with other learners of Japanese as well, in Japan, in all of my college Japanese classes, and with in-house and freelance colleagues and supervisors in translation companies since 1998.

My language growth was vitally dependent on social interaction with more proficient speakers of my target language, which resulted only when I made conscious efforts to engage in this social interaction: A prime instantiation of the tenets of SCT in my life as a language learner.

Teaching implications

I have made the case for dialogic interaction and collaboration as indispensable elements in second language learning. Although these elements are crucial to the learning process, interaction and collaboration alone are not enough. As Ohta (2001) stresses:

It is important to underscore that collaboration, alone, does not guarantee that learning will occur. In and of itself, collaboration is not sufficient to promote development for L2 learners. The construct of the ZPD includes the need to accomplish something beyond the current level of development as a necessary ingredient. Research investigating the results of learner interaction during tasks that lack any sort of challenges confirms this (Olsher, 1999). Along with collaboration, a developmentally appropriate challenge is necessary to stimulate development in the ZPD. (p.11).

Thus, all language development requires change, through interaction, and change requires challenge. As Ohta states above, learning takes place when learners work together in a stimulating activity, incorporating a challenge. I have found this to be vital in my own language learning history.

When I had the challenge of the Japanese proficiency test established as one of my goals, I was dedicated to studying consistently, and I achieved the goal. I have also mentioned the limitations of studying for the Level 3 test—I did not feel that I had attained oral fluency as I had hoped to, for example. I did find that I was motivated to engage the preparation texts when I was faced with the challenge of learning the language required to pass the Level 3 test. Level 1 provided an even greater challenge, as it required me to gain a vastly greater level of language awareness, in terms of Chinese character knowledge and discrimination, aural proficiency, and the most challenging idiomatic expressions, as I have discussed above.

As a learner I found that the challenge provided by increasingly difficult Japanese courses—such as translation and simultaneous interpretation courses—prepared me for still greater challenges of applying that learning in the workplace, as a translator. I have learned a considerable amount of new vocabulary in highly specialized fields daily. I have found that this constantly increasing set of challenges has helped me to have clearly defined goals, which fostered significant growth in my language awareness and proficiency. Thus, as a learner, I have experienced the benefits of the challenge that Ohta defines as indispensable to language learning. I believe, therefore, that as teachers we should strive to provide learners with appropriate challenges similar to those that Ohta espouses, and to those from which I myself have benefited.

Once learners find that they can take on a challenge and reach their goals they may come to enjoy the challenge and search for more of the same. Then again, they may not; not all learners respond in the same way to the same challenge, even in the same class. As Ohta (2001) puts it: “Two learners in the same classroom will learn different things depending on, among other things, how they engage with the affordances in the classroom setting” (p. 3). But I do believe that it is important to expose learners to such challenges in some form so that they can learn whether or not they enjoy the given challenge for themselves. We as teachers can guide learners to realize which learning resources are most effective for them by providing our learners with interesting and challenging tasks and resources in order to grow to the fullest extent in their ZPD.

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