Friday, October 15, 2010

How can an advanced learner of Japanese who has acquired an abundant vocabulary and mastered complex grammatical constructions sound awkward and "un-Japanese," even though she speaks fluently and accurately? This question arose from Chiemi Hanzawa's teaching experience and has led to her current research and the focus of her dissertation.

In her research, Hanzawa, a Ph.D. candidate in the Second Language Acquisition Program, looks at the use of aizuchi (in English backchannel responses)—short responses given by the listener, such as "hai" or "ie" in Japanese or "uh" or "yeah" in English. She has discovered that the content of a message is a part of communication, but how the message is given and received both verbally and nonverbally is also fundamental and should not be neglected in foreign language instruction.

The appropriate amount and variety of aizuchi is key to sounding Japanese. However, there is no clear guide for non-native speakers to know how, how much, and when to use aizuchi.

"My appreciation goes to the Japanese Program and so many motivated students at The University of Iowa who have taught me how to teach," Hanzawa said.

Hanzawa's oral interactions between native speakers and learners from different perspectives will lead to connections of her research findings with classroom instruction. She wants to educate learners to become interculturally competent users of the foreign language, not merely successful language students in the classroom.