IATEFL 2012: Politeness in secondary TEFL in Japan

Toshihiko Suzuki has just finished his talk on his research into the development of speech acts and politeness via a politeness course in Japan.  It was quite brief, allowing for plenty of questions and interesting dialogue afterwards.  Here’s my low-down…

– Suzuki says the Japanese become better able to be polite around early adolescence, and that this should be paralleled in their English learning.  This will help their general communicative competence, not only in ELT.

– He makes two interesting suggestions: (1) modal auxiliaries in English should be taught at an earlier age to help them deal with this; (2) the Japanese believe Americans prefer directness – but this isn’t always necessarily true.

– Suzuki argues that pragmatic components should be included in class.

– It’s hard to measure the level/effectiveness of pragmatic competence – so “we notice our pragmatic failure only when a native speaker points it out.”

– Quote from Suzuki: “In order to learn a foreign language, we need to learn about sociocultural frameworks, not just about language itself.”

– Japanese expresses politeness through honorific expressions; but English is not equipped with these same tools, so nor are Japanese learners of English.  They need to utilise the proper lexical and grammatical items to achieve the same ends, e.g. modal auxiliaries.

And one last thing:

QUOTE OF THE DAY (so far!):

Delegate: “The Japanese have a reputation around the world for being so polite.”

Suzuki: “Thank you very much for saying so.”

Can’t believe no one else laughed! 🙂

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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

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