How do Japanese EFL learners elaborate sentences complexly in L2 writing? Focusing on clause types

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Syntactic complexity has traditionally been measured by “macro-perspective measures,” which provide a paucity of angles from which to examine how learners actually elaborate a sentence. Mixing up a large variety of clauses with only “the number of clauses” or “subordination ratios” could lead to overlooking desired relationships between complexity and proficiency or task manipulation and linguistic performance. The current study attempted to capture the features of writing syntactically complex sentences through “micro-perspective measures,” such as clause types (main clauses, coordinate clauses, adverbial clauses, relative clauses, complement clauses, and non-finite clauses), and differences in learner proficiency levels. Participants were 28 Japanese EFL learners. Proficiency was operationalized via argumentative essay scores. To elicit syntactic knowledge, we offered the participants a specialized task that restricted the number of sentences in describing a plot consisting of six related illustrations. The results revealed that coordinate clauses, relative clauses, and non-finite clauses are more frequently produced in elaborating syntactic structures, irrespective of the writer’s proficiency level. Our findings also indicated that non-finite clauses are a more practical expedient for proficient learners than less proficient ones. Some pedagogical implications are also discussed.

Nishimura, Y., Tamura, Y., & Hara, K. (in press). How do Japanese EFL learners elaborate sentences complexly in L2 writing? Focusing on clause types. Annual Review of English Language Education in Japan, 28, 209–224.

L2 word processing of singular- and plural-dominant nouns in English

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This study explored the word frequency effects of plural and singular nouns in second language (L2) word processing. Although previous studies have pointed out the influence of word frequency in accessing L2 words and their corresponding concepts or the first language (L1) translations (e.g., Habuchi, 2005), they have not taken up the frequency dominance in singular and plural forms as done by Baayen, Dijkstra, and Schreuder (1997). Thus, the present study conducted two types of matching task to investigate the associations linking the L2 word, L1 translation, and the concepts of singular-dominant words (e.g., cat, photo; k = 12) and plural-dominant words (e.g., sock, bean; k = 12) on the basis of the revised hierarchical model (RHM) (Kroll & Stewart, 1994). Thirty-two Japanese learners of English participated in the study. In the experiment, the target L2 words were presented, either in singular or plural forms, on a computer screen followed by either their L1 translation (L1 matching) or a representative picture (picture-matching), and the participants were asked to judge whether the L2 word matched the L1 translation or picture. Reaction times for each trial were recorded and analyzed. The results revealed a significant interaction between the frequency dominance and word form, indicating that singular-dominant words and plural-dominant words were processed differently.

Tamura, Y. & Nishimura, Y. (2016). L2 word processing of singular- and plural-dominant nouns in English. Journal of the Japan Society for Speech Sciences, 17, 17-37.

Unconscious but slowly activated grammatical knowledge of Japanese EFL learners: A case of tough movement

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Among foreign language teachers and researchers, it has been widely acknowledged that grammatical knowledge of a foreign language comprises two types of mental storage. One of the two, explicit knowledge, is quite likely linked to adjectives such as “slow” and “conscious,” whereas the other, implicit knowledge, is associated with words such as “fast” and “unconscious.” The present study challenges this conventional and popularized view, by addressing the consciousness and speed dimensions of Japanese EFL learners’ (N = 24) knowledge about tough movement. We conducted a grammaticality judgment task adopting two experimental paradigms: (a) a subjective measure of consciousness known as the meta-knowledge criterion, and (b) response time modeling. The participants judged the grammaticality of the stimuli under the two conditions, (a) control and (b) tough movement, and described their mental state during judgments (explainable vs. intuitive) trial by trial. We analyzed the dynamics among the recorded judgment responses, reaction times, and responses on the subjective measure. The results supported the hypothesis that the consciousness and speed dimensions intersect obliquely. This means that unconscious knowledge does not entail faster grammatical performance. Some pedagogical implications, particularly in light of English grammar teaching in Japan, are also discussed.

Tamura, Y., Harada, Y., Kato, D., Hara, K., & Kusanagi, K. (2016). Unconscious but slowly activated grammatical knowledge of Japanese EFL learners: A case of tough movement. Annual Review of English Language Education in Japan, 27, 169–184.

Foreign Language Grammatical Carefulness Scale: Scale development and its initial validation

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This study aimed to develop and validate a scale to measure the Grammatical Carefulness (GC) of foreign language learners. GC, by its definition, refers to psychological, behavioral, and meta-cognitive traits of a learner, and it entails highly controlled, cautious, analytical, and time-consuming language use. By conducting a set of questionnaire surveys targeting Japanese junior high school, high school, and university students (N = 2,288), a Foreign Language Grammatical Carefulness Scale (FLGCS) with 14 items, written in Japanese, was developed and tested for its factorial structure, reliability, convergent, content, and criterion validity. The results demonstrated that FLGCS yields three factors: (a)phonological, (b) lexical-syntactic, and (c) pragmatic carefulness, with a high reliability for each. The factorial validity was also supported by using both xploratory and confirmatory factor analyses. Further, a set of analyses confirmed various types of validity. The evidence for the validity is as follows: (a) the linguistic experts (n = 10) consistently judged that all the items properly referred to each factor in an appropriate linguistic sense, (b) FLGCS showed correlations with learner beliefs, consistent with theoretical expectations, and (c) FLGCS correlated to the scores of a C-test, and with the time to finish the C-test. The applicability of FLGCS in EFL teaching and research will also be discussed.

Kusanagi, K., Fukuta, J., Kawaguchi, Y., Tamura, Y., Goto, A., Kurita, A., & Murota, D. (2015). Foreign Language Grammatical Carefulness Scale: Scale development and its initial validation. Annual Review of English Language Education in Japan, 26, 77–92.

The notional number attraction in English as a foreign language: A self-paced reading study

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The purpose of the present study is to investigate whether or not the notional number attraction phenomenon is evident during L2 learners’ online processing of subject–verb agreement. L2 sentence processing studies have frequently reported the L2 learners’ online insensitivity to number mismatches, and it has been claimed that L2 learners have difficulty in representing grammatical number features, or they have a tendency to fail to access the number features in online tasks. L2 learners’ sensitivity to “notional number”, however, has not been considered by researchers. Hence, this research conducted a self-paced reading study targeting highly proficient Japanese learners of English (N = 28). The participants read the three types of sentences; (a) control (e.g., everyone in the room was/were…), (b) notional attraction (e.g., everyone in the team was/were…), and (c) grammatical attraction (e.g., everyone in the halls was/were…). In order to examine the participants’ sensitivity to number attractions, the differences in the reading times between the number matched and the mismatched verbs (was/were) were compared among the attraction types. The observed reading time differences in the grammatical and notional attraction condition were different than in the control condition, indicating that both attraction phenomena were evident. L2 learners’ imperfect representation of number features, which we call representation vulnerability, was discussed.

Kusanagi, K., Tamura, Y., & Fukuta, J. (2015). The notional number attraction in English as a foreign language: A self-paced reading study. Journal of the Japan Society for Speech Sciences, 16, 77–96. [CiNii]

Validation of the Grammatical Carefulness Scale Using a Discourse Completion Task and a Reading and Underlining Task

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The present study attempted to confirm the validity of the Foreign Language Grammatical Carefulness Scale (FLGCS) developed by Kusanagi et al. (2015). According to Kusanagi et al. (2015), Grammatical Carefulness (GC) is defined as a personal trait reflecting learners’ behavioral and psychological aspects of language use, and it consists of three subscales: phonological carefulness, lexical-syntactic carefulness, and pragmatic carefulness. Although the initial validation concerning factorial, content, and criterion-based validity has been done, the criterion-based validation did not take into account the correlation between the performance focusing on the specific aspects of language use and each subscale under the GCS. In order to examine the validity of the subscales of GCS, this study applied two types of task: a discourse completion task (DCT) and a reading and underlining task (RUT), which are considered to measure pragmatic and lexical-syntactic aspects of learners’ performance respectively. It was found that the two subscales (lexical-syntactic and pragmatic) and the scores of the two tasks were weakly correlated, which means that this study found additional evidence showing the validity of FLGCS.

Tamura, Y. & Kusanagi, K. (2015c). Validation of the grammatical carefulness scale using a discourse completion task and a reading and underlining task. LET Journal of Central Japan, 26, 75–84.

Measuring Japanese learners’ explicit and implicit knowledge of constraints on verb semantics: A case of assertive predicates in English as a Foreign Language.

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This study attempted to uncover, using untimed and rapid grammatical judgment tasks (GJTs)1, how constraints on verb semantics are represented in Japanese EFL learners’ explicit and implicit knowledge. Non-assertive predicates were chosen as target structures, and the participants were eighteen Japanese graduate students. In the untimed condition, the participants were allowed to take as much time as they wanted, whereas in the rapid condition they were instructed to perform as rapidly as possible. The results of a two-way ANOVA revealed that the main effect of grammaticality was statistically significant, though the main effect of task type was not. In addition, no significant interaction between the two factors was found either. This indicates that the participants were not able to correctly reject the ungrammatical sentences in both conditions. Thus, it can be concluded that the participants had neither explicit nor implicit knowledge of the rule of non-assertive predicates.

Tamura, Y. & Kusanagi, K. (2015b). Measuring Japanese learners’ explicit and implicit knowledge of constraints on verb semantics: A case of assertive predicates in English as a Foreign Language. International Journal of  Curriculum Development and Practice, 17 (1), 25–38.