SLLT, Vol. 2, 2002
AN INVESTIGATION OF JAPANESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS' ATTITUDES TOWARDS THE STUDY OF ENGLISH

Jacqueline Norris-Holt


Abstract

This study investigated the attitudes of Japanese students towards the study of English. Attitudinal measures such as levels of student's interest, study habits and the perceived utility of English were examined. The subjects of the study included two separate age groups, first year junior high school students and third year senior high school students in the same private girls' school in central Japan. The same study also examined the attitudinal differences of students in the three elective lines in third year senior high school.

A total of 577 subjects participated in the study, 379 from third year senior high school and the remaining 198 from first year junior high school. A 34-item Likert scale questionnaire was administered to examine the perceptions and attitudes of students towards the study of English in a foreign language context. A four-point positive/negative scale was utilized in order to encourage students to make an attitude choice.

The findings showed both similarities and differences in the way in which junior and senior high school students responded. Of interest was the importance of studying both English grammar and conversation, without taking into consideration the focus of study for university entrance examinations. Both junior and senior high school students expressed overall agreement with these statements. Students were also found to respond similarly with regard to speaking English during their English class. In response to this statement both groups displayed overall disagreement with a total of 89.4% of students indicating they make few verbalizations in English. Differences were found to exist in students’ general views towards the study of English, with junior high school students indicating they studied harder in class and enjoyed doing homework more. Senior high school students displayed stronger positive attitudes towards the continued study of English and English classes at school being conducted in the English language.

In examining the findings for the senior high school students a number of differences were evident. E-line students indicated strong overall enjoyment to learning English with an 87.8% positive response. The same students also showed the highest positive response to the continued study of English and the selection of English as a major at university. E-line students were found to use English more than either A-or G-line students in English classes, however the quantity of usage for all three groups was relatively low.

The results imply the need for further research into the reasons why students possess the particular attitudes they do and at what stage some of these perceptions and attitudes change during secondary school. It would be beneficial to conduct a follow-up study of the same senior high school students after they have entered university. Junior high school students could be surveyed upon entry to junior high school and then at intervals throughout the six years of secondary schooling to determine what attitudinal changes take place and at what stage they occur in the education process.


INTRODUCTION

It would appear that very little research has been conducted to establish what attitudinal differences exist between first year junior high school and third year senior high school students engaged in the study of English in a foreign language context. In an attempt to address this research need, a study was designed to examine the attitudes of both groups of students within the same school system. According to Kitao and Kitao (1995), many students begin studying English in junior high school with eager anticipation; however due to the structure of English classes and the emphasis placed on a grammatical understanding of the language, many students soon lose interest.

Of the majority of studies that have been carried out, the focus has largely been in the area of university students' attitudes toward foreign language study. Many researchers have commented on the vigor with which students study for university entrance examinations, only to illustrate a general lack of interest in study upon acceptance to an institution of further education (Berwick & Ross, 1989; Benson, 1991). The experiences of students in the years prior to entering university are an important source of information regarding the attitudes and perceptions students formulate. When students enter junior high school it is the first stage of learning English and can be their first experience with a native English speaker. It is these experiences, combined with the attitudes that students develop during their six years of secondary schooling that form the basis of students' perceptions towards the study of the English language (Koizumi & Matsuo, 1993).

The purpose of the study was two-fold. It not only investigated differences between the two groups in question but also examined any differences that exist between the three established course groups in third year senior high school. Third year senior students within the population sampled were placed in one of three lines according to examination results and student preference. These three lines were examined to determine what, if any differences appeared in the students’ attitudes as a result of their line classification.

Working Definition of Attitudes

The term ‘attitudes’ as defined by Sarnoff (1970), deals with a disposition to react favourably or unfavourably to a class of objects. Eagly and Chaiken (1989) expand on this idea by stating that attitude is an outcome of the categorization process, this process being influenced by the social environment. Attitudes can be classed as items of social knowledge that are continually formed, strengthened and modified. They can therefore be defined as mediated reactions that have been strongly influenced by social context (Long & Russell, 1999). Attitudes are a means of adjusting to and making changes in one’s social environment.

Baker (1988) outlines the main features as:

  1. Attitudes are cognitive and affective.
  2. Attitudes are dimensional, in that they vary in degree of favourability / unfavourability.
  3. Attitudes incline a person to act in a certain way.
  4. Attitudes are learnt.
  5. Attitudes often persist, however they can be modified by experience.

English in Elementary and Junior High Schools

In Japan there are three types of elementary schools - municipal elementary schools, elementary schools belonging to a national university and private elementary schools (Kitao & Kitao, 1996). The majority of elementary schools are municipal and are strongly controlled by the Ministry of Education. They provide no foreign language program. Some university attached and private elementary schools do offer English as a part of the school curriculum; however these schools comprise less than 1% of the school population (Nogami, 1978; Koike & Tanaka, 1995). Even then English forms only part of the school program or is utilized as an extra-curricular activity on an infrequent basis. Those schools, which do have a language program, tend to emphasize oral/aural English skills, with little attention being given to the development of reading and writing proficiency.

Upon examination of the characteristics of the Japanese elementary school system we can find evidence of a de-emphasis on rote learning, with students being encouraged to participate in hands-on activities, problem-solving and the creative manipulation of materials in a number of subject areas (Kubota, 1999; LeTendre, 1999). Schools have been observed to promote self-expression through music, body movement and language. This particular approach, however, has not been found to continue once students enter the secondary school system. As students move through junior and senior high school, greater emphasis is placed on drill-oriented practices, especially in the EFL classroom where the method of yakudoku, otherwise known as grammar-translation, is highly entrenched (Tajimi, 1978; Hino, 1988; Gorsuch, 1998). Rohlen (1983) also notes that many students prefer the comfort of relatively passive and anonymous listening in the classroom to that of active participation. Although some research (LeTendre, 1999) suggests this may be changing, the emphasis on creative problem solving and self-expression declines as students advance through the education system. Kobayashi, Redekop and Porter (1992) add to this further by commenting on the differences in the physical environment between the two institutions, with reference being made to students being intrinsically motivated in elementary school, only to face the rigid and competitive surrounds of secondary school.

Koizumi and Matsuo (1993) point out the transition from elementary school to junior high school can be a stressful experience for school children. Upon entry to junior high school students are faced with a number of new challenges, such as the physical environment, a variety of subject teachers, new class members, and a list of new school rules and regulations. It is also the formal beginnings of English language instruction for the majority of junior high school students. As English is not one of the subjects tested on junior high school entrance examination papers, it may be approached differently to that of students in senior high school. If students have had an opportunity to learn English prior to entering junior high school it may have taken place in a less structured, less examination-oriented environment. Kitao and Kitao (1996) report that very few elementary school children take English classes. Yamada (1986) however, suggests that differences in English ability do exist before students enter junior high school.However, as the language has not been utilized as a means of assessment for entry into secondary school, students may have somewhat different attitudes to that of third year senior high school students.

Although the Ministry of Education does not require that students study English, almost all junior high school students take the subject (Kumabe, 1978). Schools generally offer between three to five hours of English study per week (Kitao & Kitao, 1995; LoCastro, 1996) with the general aim of the curriculum to provide students with a practical command of written and spoken English. In junior high school a 1,000 word vocabulary is targeted to be taught in English classes (Goold, Madeley & Carter, 1993). In addition to this the promotion of cultural awareness is seen to be of equal importance.

The textbooks that are used in junior high schools must be approved by the Ministry of Education, with all draft copies of new material being subject to strict scrutiny by Ministry officials and a board of schoolteachers and university professors. To give an indication of the control placed on the use of textbooks, there were only five texts in circulation in junior high schools in 1977, one of which was used in half of all junior schools (Imura, 1978). With the introduction of the new junior high school curriculum this year, only seven textbooks have been placed on the selection list by the Ministry (Mombukagakusho [Japanese Ministry of Education and Science], 2001).

English in Senior High Schools

Public high schools generally offer four hours of English instruction per week, with classes once again being tightly controlled by the Ministry of Education. In the first year of senior high school students take English I, which is basically an extension of junior high school English. In second and third year, English II (reading) is taught, being supplemented by English IIA (speaking), English IIB (advanced reading), and English IIC (writing) (Goold et al., 1993)

A typical English language class is based on a reader and grammar text. As with junior high school texts, senior textbooks are also monitored by the Ministry of Education (Oyamada, 1978). However, with senior schools, textbooks are selected by the school rather than the district in which, the school is located. During class time the teacher checks the students’ sentence-by-sentence translations of a set section of text, which has usually been completed for homework. Students are required to read the translation with the teacher making corrections where necessary and pointing out any important grammatical features (Hildebrandt & Giles, 1980; Hino, 1988, Kitao & Kitao, 1995; LoCastro, 1996; Gorsuch, 1998). Tajimi (1978) provides a comprehensive description of such typical English translation classes, suggesting that many students are left with only a superficial understanding of what they have just studied. In a study conducted by Kobayashi et al. (1992) of college students reflecting on their high school experiences, the general view expressed was that of large class sizes, with students laboring over grammar points explained in Japanese, with very little focus on conversation or conversation practice. Doyon (2000) suggests that little input is solicited from students, with the idea being that the classroom is a place where one listens and learns but rarely speaks.

The importance of studying English in senior high school for university entrance is well documented throughout the literature (Imamura, 1978; Matsuyama, 1978; Buck, 1988; Berwick & Ross, 1989; Brown, 1995; LoCastro, 1996; Kubota, 1999; LeTendre, 1999; Lanara, 1999). LoCastro (1996) points out that English is a requirement on almost all senior high school entrance examinations as well as college and university examinations. Many companies also require that applicants have obtained above a certain score on standardized proficiency tests, such as TOEFL, TOEIC or the Eiken test.

It may be argued that it is the pressure of having to sit for the English language sections of the university entrance examinations in particular that is the source of motivation for most Japanese learners of English. Indeed informants almost overwhelmingly cite passing exams as the primary motive for studying English, particularly during junior and senior high school (LoCastro, 1996, p. 47).

Such examinations are primarily composed of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and translation style questions, which are in essence rather difficult, in some cases even for native speakers of the language (Imamura, 1978; Morrow, 1987; Smith, 2000). Much of the literature talks about the “washback” effect of these examinations on the preceding curriculum and what students must learn in senior high school (Buck, 1988; LoCastro, 1990). In reality many teachers teach to prepare students for particular tests, with many students seeking the assistance of outside cram schools to assist with such preparation (Nogami, 1978; Yoshida, 1991; Leonard, 1998). LoCastro (1990) even suggests that the level of difficulty of prestigious university examinations far exceeds that which is covered in secondary school textbooks. This pressures students to seek assistance outside of school.

Buck (1988) points out that there is a tendency for both teachers and students to direct their classroom activities toward the taking of such tests, with student pass rates often acting as an indication of teacher success. Many teachers express a desire to be able to teach their students to develop English language proficiency; however, with university examinations having such an important influence on what is taught in senior high school, it is impossible to develop such proficiency. Teachers and students can do nothing more than focus on the areas of language study, which will prove most valuable in such examinations (Imamura, 1978).

Berwick and Ross (1989) suggest that the study of English reaches a peak in third year senior high school when students must compete for a limited number of positions in prestigious universities around the country. Students place considerable emphasis on grammar and translation, as these components of English study are the most easily assessable in entrance examinations. Thus, language practice is focused away from any development of communicative skills to the heavily weighted study of reading, writing and an understanding of the structure of the English language.


REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Upon review of the literature available in the area of student attitudes, it would appear that most of the research which has been conducted to date has focused on first year university students and their transition from the senior high school English class to the university style lecture. Apart from this perspective there are others who have examined the views of adults returning to English study after a period of absence, and comparative studies investigating the attitudes of Japanese students as opposed to students in other countries. In one such study conducted by Cogan, Torney-Purta and Anderson (1988) it was found that Japanese students’ attitudes towards the study of a foreign language indicated that it was not important for them personally. Of the first year university students sampled only 34% indicated that they would study a foreign language if it were not compulsory. In addition to this, few students considered the study of a language useful for getting a good job. The authors of the report concluded that Japanese students regard the study of English as purely an academic pursuit rather than one for utilitarian purposes. Although English is not a requirement for junior or senior high school graduation, almost all students in the public and private education system study the language for a period of six years (LoCastro, 1996, Kitao & Kitao, 1996). Cogan et al. (1988) estimate the figure to be somewhere around 95% of students. The attitudes that students develop during this time are not just towards the English language itself, but also reflect the “subjective and impressionistic feelings associated with learning a new subject” (Benson, 1991, p. 35). Whether these feelings are positive, negative or a combination of both, they tend to remain with students, even after entry to university.

In a study conducted at a national technical university in Kyushu, Japan, the attitudes of 601 students toward their high school English learning experience were examined (Long & Russell, 1999). Results from the survey showed that students were relatively positive, with 70% indicating that their teachers could teach grammar effectively. However, more than 50% were negative in their response when questioned regarding their teacher’s ability to teach oral communication effectively or make classes interesting and innovative. When questioned regarding their enjoyment of English class and level of confidence, the negative responses of students were double that of the positive ones.

Kobayashi et al. (1992) conducted a survey of 549 freshmen and sophomores to assess their high school learning experiences and attitudes towards English. There was found to be an overall interest in the study of English, with 73% of students wanting to be able to speak the language and 83% to use it to learn about other cultures. A further 87% saw English as being important in their future career choice. However, approximately 85% of the students indicated that their high school English course had failed to improve their communicative competence. When asked if they had been interested in studying English in high school 60.2% of the students responded positively. Students were also questioned to determine if university entrance examinations had in some way facilitated their ability to speak English, and 85.4% of the subjects responded negatively to this statement.

Similarly, Lanara (1999), in a study of 90 first-year English major university students, found that there was a negative response to their high school English language classes. Students expressed the view that they had not learned anything of value in high school due to poor teaching methods, which were characterized by monotonous grammar-translation drill practice. Christensen (1989) reinforced these findings in her study of first year university students, with many subjects indicating they had a negative impression of high school English classes. When questioned regarding weak aspects of high school English, grammar was the most frequently mentioned. Students pointed out that little time was allocated to spoken English, with heavy stress being placed instead on university entrance examination preparation.

Although these surveys examined the high school experiences of subjects, they did so after the students had entered university and had been subjected to a different learning environment. This can only have resulted in some bias as to the way in which they responded to some items in the respective questionnaires that were administered. Although Christensen (1989) boasts, that the administration of the survey in the third week of second semester for first year university students ensured the memory of high school experiences being fresh in the subject’s minds, the students had in actual fact been exposed to a new learning environment for a period of four months. This must have altered their perceptions of English at the secondary school level. Although a daunting and perhaps unachievable task, a survey of students whilst still at high school, followed by a subsequent survey after entering university, would provide a more accurate account of students’ attitudes of their high school experience, which could then be compared against their English experience at the university level.

Apart from the above-mentioned studies, there has been little research conducted to address differences which may exist between junior high school and senior high school students in their attitudes towards English, whilst still at school. Of those studies that do exist, many have been carried out by Japanese researchers, with no equivalent articles in the English language available. The general focus of these research papers however, has centered on the attitudes of either junior high school students or senior high school students, with few comparisons being made between the two groups.

In one article by Hatori (1977) the primary reasons why junior high school students hate English and the time period in which they develop this particular attitude was examined. The study was conducted over a 16-month time frame with the subjects being surveyed on three occasions, in May and October of first year and in September the following year. When first questioned, the majority of students indicated that English was not a difficult subject. However, when surveyed for the second time 33% of the students felt it was. When questioned in second year the percentage had risen to 62%. When asked to indicate when English became difficult 49% of the students responded with the third semester of first year, whilst 42% of the students indicated it was in the first semester of second year. Hatori claims there are five major reasons for this change in students’ attitudes in junior high school. They include: (a) students not understanding information in class and being unable to make a connection between new material and that which has already been covered; (b) students not liking their English teacher; (c) instructors teaching English as a subject and not as a language for communication; (d) the structure of the Japanese education system in which students are required to cover a considerable amount of work, with teachers lacking the time to review material with students who don’t understand; and (5) Japanese students tend to underestimate their English ability.

In a similar study of third year junior high school students (Matsuhata, 1970), it was discovered that 26.3% of students liked English, 38.4% disliked the subject and 35.4% were undecided. Of the students who indicated that they enjoyed studying English the majority felt that they had begun to like the subject from first semester in first year, this coinciding with the commencement of English study. Of the students who didn’t like English, the majority suggested that they had begun to dislike English from first semester in second year. The major reasons for beginning to like English, in order of preference included (a) I liked the teacher; (b) I was interested in learning a foreign language; (c) I could understand the lesson; (d) I achieved good test results; and (e) I wanted to do well in a new school subject. Of the main reasons listed for beginning to dislike English, in order of preference, the following were the five most common responses; (a) English class was difficult and I couldn’t understand; (b) I didn’t like the teacher; (c) I didn’t study hard; (d) the teacher changed and their English pronunciation and teaching style was different; and (e) I didn’t like having to remember vocabulary.

When the same students were questioned with regard to what particular components of English they wanted to study, the most popular responses were vocabulary and idioms. This was followed by grammar, review of material already covered, writing, pronunciation and intonation practice. The students also indicated that they would like to begin English instruction in elementary school and that students throughout Japan should be required to use the same textbook. They also expressed concern with class sizes suggesting that smaller numbers of students would be more appropriate for language skill development. Of particular interest was the expressed desire of some students to learn foreign languages other than English.

The author concluded that English teachers need to think more about the choice of material and the level selected for instructing students in the classroom. Tatsuma (1978) reinforces this idea by suggesting that the teaching material adopted for the classroom plays a major part in the motivation of students towards the subject. It was also suggested teachers need to communicate more with students in order to find out how they want to learn English. This should be supplemented with discussions enabling the teacher to monitor the progress of students and to determine those areas of study which require further explanation.

In a large scale, comprehensive study undertaken by a group of researchers in the Department of Education at Hiroshima University (Matsuura, Nishimoto, Ikeda, Kaneshige, Ito & Miura, 1997), the attitudes of high school students towards the study of English were examined over a 30 year period, beginning with the first survey in 1966. This was followed by three more surveys at10-year intervals, with the last study being conducted in 1996. The purpose of the study was to investigate any attitudinal changes during the time period with an almost identical questionnaire being administered each time. In the 1996 study a total of 46 schools participated, involving 4,174 students; 1,429 from first year, 1,383 from second year and 1,346 from third year of senior high school. The subjects were administered a 35 item questionnaire using a five-point Likert scale. The items were divided into three separate categories. In category A the following issues were addressed: university/company entrance examinations, general knowledge, educational value of English, English for international understanding, and the practical value of studying English. Category B of the survey addressed the four skills of English, students’ feelings towards English and their motivation to study the subject. In Category C the students were asked to indicate their interest in learning English, how enjoyable and fun they thought the subject was and to what extent they liked or disliked English.

According to the results of the study and for two almost identical items, 84.2% of students were undecided as to whether they were studying English for the purpose of university/company entrance examinations. However, more than 50% of students agreed and over 30% strongly agreed with the study of English for the benefit of general knowledge. When questioned regarding the necessity to study English due to its importance as an international language, 66.7% of the students agreed. Almost the same percentage of students agreed with the value of studying English for future employment purposes. Upon examination of the results from category A and when compared with previous surveys, it was found that the negative response of students towards the importance of English for the reading of foreign novels had increased. This increase was attributed to the increased availability of software and electronic dictionaries for translation purposes.

In category B over 60% of the students agreed with the importance of developing listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. However, compared with the 1966 study, the importance of reading and writing had decreased somewhat. More than 60% of students were positive in their response to “It’s cool to be able to speak English” and the value of English for traveling abroad. In the 30-year span that the study was conducted it was discovered that the number of students who thought it was “cool” to be able to speak English had increased by 28.2%.

In category C 42.5% of students indicated their interest in studying English, although many of them were dissatisfied with the way in which classes were conducted. Only 23.5% of students felt it was fun and only 23.8% enjoyed learning the subject. For both of these items less than 4% strongly agreed. In category C the largest percentage of responses fell in the undecided section. In comparison with previous surveys it was found that the positive responses of students had decreased by 10%.

The researchers arrived at a similar conclusion to that of Matsuhata (1970), suggesting that English teachers need to change their attitude to the way in which they instruct students. They provide students with a service for which they must consult students to determine the most appropriate method of teaching them.

In the previous study conducted in 1976 (Department of English Language Education at Hiroshima University, 1977) the same questionnaire was administered to a total of 3,317 senior high school students. However, unlike the 1966 study and the final study in 1996, a group of 424 junior high school students were included in the survey for comparison. In category A, when questioned regarding the importance of English for future employment, the attitudes of senior high school students had changed considerably over a 10 year period with an attitudinal decline being evident. The importance of studying English for university/company entrance examinations had also altered, with 71.4% of the 1966 students agreeing with the statement and only 54.4% of the 1976 students. It was discovered that second year senior high school students were less positive in their overall attitude towards English. This was explained by the fact that first year students are new to senior school and want to work hard whereas third year students are consumed with study for examinations. In the same study junior high school students were found to be more positive due to their belief that English is an international language and to their desire to travel abroad. Specifically, when questioned regarding the importance of studying a foreign language to improve the understanding of one’s own language, 45.7% of junior high school students agreed, while only 35.9% of senior students displayed a positive attitude. In response to “English is an international language and therefore necessary to study”, 80.9% of junior high and 73.7% of senior high school students agreed. Apart from these differences, the majority of other items displayed a less significant 0.1-4.8% attitudinal change.

In category B senior high school students responded positively to the item “I really want to be able to speak English fluently”, with 91.1% agreement. This was followed by 78.2% of students disagreeing with the statement “I feel horrified if I look at a westerner or see English”. Interestingly enough the term westerner (seiyoojin) was removed from the 1996 questionnaire. Students were found to agree overall with the majority of statements in the category with positive responses over 70% for eight of the 15 items. When compared with results from the 1966 survey it was found that the biggest percentage change occurred with an item examining the “cool image” associated with being able to speak English. In the 1966 study only 38.1% of students agreed with the statement, however this had risen to 48.6% in the 1976 study. When questioned regarding wanting to watch foreign movies without subtitles 72.6% agreed in the 1976 study, while only 65.7% had the same response in 1966. Other response variations were not as significant, with items showing a 0-4.7% attitudinal change. Upon comparison with the results for junior high school students, the most significant difference was with the statement “Even if you study English a little you can’t master the subject”. To this item 54.4% of junior high school and 37.2% of senior high school students disagreed, a difference of 17.2%. The next most significant change was regarding the item “Students who major in English Literature are very intelligent”. While only 39.6% of junior high school students disagreed, 51.8% of senior school students had this opinion. Another item which addressed the requirement of studying English even when you don’t want to resulted in 59.6% of junior students and 48.1% of senior high school students disagreeing, a difference of 11.5%. Of the 15 items included in category B, eight were found to show less than a 2.3% difference between the two groups.

In category C, 52.7% of students indicated that they were interested in English. However, when questioned regarding enjoyment, how much fun the subject was and if they liked English, the positive responses of students were as follows: 20.9%, 25.0% and 31.8%. These results clearly indicated that even if students were interested in the subject they had negative attitudes towards the way in which English was taught in the classroom. Over the 10-year period between 1966 and 1976 it was found that the positive attitudes of students had declined. The largest percentage change was with regard to the students’ enjoyment of the subject with 32.8% in 1966 indicating they enjoyed English and only 20.9% in 1976. In terms of how much fun the students thought the subject was and whether or not they liked English, there was a decline in positive attitude of 5.6% and 5.5%, respectively. In category C, information was provided regarding the response of first year junior high school students, rather than junior high school students in general; and the attitudes of third year senior high school students, as opposed to senior students in general. It was discovered that 72.6% of first year junior high school students were interested in English, compared with only 47.7% of third year senior high school students. In terms of their enjoyment rating of the subject 68.8% of junior students enjoyed English as opposed to 16.2% of senior students. 63.1% of junior students though English was fun and only 19.3% of senior students had the same view. With regard to whether or not they liked English, 64.3% of junior students indicated that they did and only 26.0% of third year students had the same response.

The researchers point out that many students do like studying English, but that their positive attitudes toward the subject decline as they progress through the six years of secondary school education. They found that for third year senior high school students the overall enjoyment of learning English had decreased by 16.4% over the 10 years between 1966 and 1976. They also discovered that students were studying the language for reasons other than university entrance examinations, with many students being keen to improve speaking skills, followed by reading, listening and writing. Students also wanted to learn English in order to be able to travel abroad. The study pointed out that the number of students who had no desire to study the language had increased over the years. This trend was attributed to a lack of interest by students to study the subject due to having no future goals for the use of English. The study concluded that teachers and students have differing opinions as to the way in which English should be taught.

In research conducted by Yamada (1986) it was suggested that the students’ attitudes change over the three-year period, with the majority of students liking English when they enter the first year of junior high school. However, Imamura (1978) pointed out that this eagerness was the result of mere curiosity rather than real motivation. It was further indicated that these same students often begin to dislike English when they start the first semester in second year. However, according to Ishiguro (1961), when compared with other school subjects the students’ attitude changes are less significant for English.

In another study conducted in 1990 (Koizumi & Kai, 1992), junior high school students’ attitudes and motives towards the study of English were examined. In conducting their research, Koizumi and Kai based their questionnaire on the work of the Hiroshima University study (1977) with the addition of other items that addressed the issues of motivation, learning English outside of school and a student’s self-evaluation of their English ability. The students surveyed were from a public junior high school in Fukuoka, with a total of 300 students participating in the study. The questionnaire was divided into a number of categories, including sections such as the practical value of English, desired outcomes of learning English, educational value, understanding foreign cultures and general feelings towards the subject.

In terms of the practical value of studying English, second year and third year students were found to display less positive attitudes than those of first year junior high school students. Third year junior high school students were less motivated to master English than first or second year students. First year students placed considerable emphasis on the educational value of English study, whereas second and third year students thought it was unnecessary. The study of English for understanding foreign cultures was also viewed as being less important by third year students than those in first or second year of junior high school.

In the section of the questionnaire addressing the study of English outside of school, some interesting information was obtained. On average students in each of the three grades studied at a cram school (juku) 2.5 days a week, with some third year students studying more. Third year students were also found to use television, radio and cassette tapes less for studying English than students in earlier grades.

Upon examination of the students’ self-evaluations, first year students rated themselves better than second or third year students across the four language skills. Female students in each of the three grades also rated themselves higher than male students. From these results it was discovered that those students who evaluated themselves positively had a more affirmative attitude towards the study of English and studied the subject more at home.

Koizumi and Kai (1992) concluded that over the three-year period that students are in junior high school their positive attitudes towards the study of English gradually decline. Suggesting that the feelings and attitudes that students have towards the study of English plays a major role in their desire to continue studying in later grades.

In the longitudinal study conducted by Koizumi and Matsuo (1993) a group of 296 first year junior high school students were examined to determine what attitudinal and motivational changes took place over a one-year period. The subjects were surveyed at four points in time; in their first English class, at the end of the third month, the seventh month, the eleventh month and in February the following year. The students were required to complete a 36-item, five-point scale questionnaire. The results of the study indicated that students suffered a decline in attitude during the first three to seven months in the first year of junior high school. This decline was attributed to the increased difficulty of English classes. The researchers provided the following analysis:

Students start the learning through oral lessons, and in the next phase the main part of the lessons is directed to acquiring grammatical rules and translation, which are useful strategies for the entrance examination system in Japan. This kind of traditional and formal language learning takes much time and effort and students feel great difficulty, which may lead to these observed declines in students’ attitudes and motivation in their learning English (Koizumi & Matsuo, 1993, p. 8).

Imamura (1978) reinforces this idea by suggesting that first year English classes contain a substantial amount of aura-oral practice, which maintains students’ interests in the subject. However, once the textbook changes in second year the work starts to become too difficult for students. Many students who were unable to internalize material covered in first year cannot cope with the introduction of new vocabulary and grammatical structures the following year. As well as this, both teachers and students become more conscious of high school entrance examinations, which take place at the end of third year.

Rationale for the Study

The purpose of the study was to investigate any differences which exist between first year junior high school students and third year senior high school students towards the study of English. Specifically, the following research questions were addressed:

  1. Do third year senior high school students place more emphasis on the study of English for university entrance examinations than first year junior high school students?
  2. Are third year senior high school students more likely to indicate they will discontinue studying English after they graduate than first year junior high school students?
  3. Do third year senior high school students place less value on the development of English communication skills due to the structure of university entrance examinations than first year junior high school students?
  4. Are first year junior high school students more enthusiastic than third year senior high school students about studying English?
  5. Are there any attitudinal differences between the three subject lines in third year senior high school?
  6. Apart from examinations, what reasons do students cite for the study of English?


METHOD

The subjects of the study were students enrolled in junior and senior high school at the same private girls’ school in central Japan. The study involved two separate year groups, one group consisting of five-first year junior high school classes (JHS-1) and the other ten-third year senior high school classes (SHS-3). Students in the JHS-1 group ranged between 12-and 13- years of age as opposed to the SHS-3 group of 17- and 18-year olds. A total of 606 questionnaires were distributed, with 577 being completed and returned, 379 from SHS-3 and 198 from JHS-1. The questionnaires not completed were attributed to absences on the day the survey was administered.

A 34-item questionnaire using a four-point positive/negative forced choice scale that assessed student attitudes towards the study of English was distributed to all SHS-3 and JHS-1 students. The 34-item scale was constructed on the basis of a number of language attitude questionnaires (Chihara & Oller, 1978; Koizumi & Matsuo, 1993; Schmidt, Boraie & Kassabgy, 1996; Matsuda, 2000).

Prior to conducting the questionnaire a pilot study was undertaken in order to assess the suitability of the questions selected and the Likert scale chosen. Fifteen students were chosen to undertake the initial questionnaire, with one student being randomly selected from each class involved in the proposed study. In all, ten students from SHS-3 and five students from JHS-1 participated in the pilot. In the first questionnaire design a five-point Likert scale was selected, with responses ranging from strongly agree (5), agree (4), undecided (3), disagree (2) and strongly disagree (1). It was discovered that the subjects had a tendency to select undecided when not required to make a commitment to either a positive or a negative response. For this reason the five-point scale was reduced to a four-point scale to eliminate undecided as a response answer. Other adjustments to the instrument included the decision to obtain some input from the students by requesting that they offer a reason for Question 14, if they selected either disagree or strongly disagree as a response to studying English for the purpose of examinations only. With Question 18 it was decided to ask the students to indicate the Eiken level, or “Step Test” as it is commonly termed, that they had passed. The questionnaire was originally designed with all the statements forming one category. It was decided that sections should be added and categorized in order to provide the subjects with some insight into the focus of the statements contained in each section. Further analysis of the data from the pilot study led to word changes in some statements in order to provide clarity, especially for the JHS students. The questionnaire was then translated by a Japanese English teacher, who provided some additional culturally sensitive input (see Appendices A and B).

The subjects who participated in the study were informed that the data collected from the questionnaire would be used to conduct research and would not be viewed by their classroom English teacher. This was done in an attempt to secure the most honest and accurate responses from the students involved. They were also made aware of the fact that their name and student number would not be required. This information is frequently requested on test style question sheets. Students were however, requested to indicate their class number. Although this procedure did infringe on student anonymity, it was a necessary measure to meet the statistical requirements of the study.

Classroom teachers conducting the survey were instructed to give the students some initial guidelines regarding how to complete the questionnaire answer sheet. This included directions on the four-point scale and the importance of circling one answer only. The students were encouraged to write a response to two of the questions if necessary. The teachers were also instructed to allow the students adequate time to complete the questionnaire in order to collect the most accurate information. The teachers called upon to conduct the questionnaire where the Japanese English teachers of the classes involved. The teachers were given a one-week time period in which to administer the questionnaire. This was done in an attempt to allow teachers to select the most appropriate time to complete the task with their students. All students completed the questionnaire during class time. Administration of the questionnaire was carried out in early December and took approximately 10 minutes to complete.

The decision to conduct the questionnaire at the conclusion of Semester Two was made for two main reasons. With the JHS-1 group having entered the new school system in April of the same year they were given time to adjust to the new curriculum and to formulate personal ideas and opinions towards the study of the English language. The second consideration was that SHS-3 students study a set curriculum from April to December of the school year, with special elective classes being offered to the students when they return for one month in January the following year. By administering the questionnaire in December it was anticipated the information provided by students would be more accurate as they were still in the process of studying in their regular classes.

Class Descriptions

The JHS-1 classes were engaged in the study of English four periods per week with a Japanese English teacher and one period each week with a native English speaker, with each period lasting 50 minutes. Before entering junior high school the students must first sit an entrance examination in which the subjects of Japanese and Mathematics are assessed. The students are given a grade out of 300. This grade is then used to ensure an even distribution of students based on ability throughout the five classes (K. Kurokawa, personal communication, December 18, 2001).

In SHS-3 there are a number of English related subjects. The subjects selected and the number of hours they are studied depends on the particular course line the student is placed in. In order to understand how students enter a course line it is necessary to look at the examination system in SHS-1. When students first enter SHS they are required to take two examinations outside of the usual mid-term and end of term tests conducted. These additional examinations are held in November and January each year. The results of both of these examinations determine the course line the students will enter for the remaining two years of senior high school. The examination in November is externally set, while the one in January is an internal examination. In both exams the students must complete three separate and compulsory subject sections, Japanese, English and Mathematics. Each subject tested is graded out of 100, with a possible grade of 600 after completing both examinations. The students are then divided into one of three lines according to their grade and personal preference. The three lines are labelled as G, E and A. Students in A-line comprise classes 1-4; G-line, classes 5-9; and E-line, class 10 only.

Of the 400 positions available there are limitations placed on the number of students who may enter each line. After student grades and preferences are examined the first 160 positions are filled, the next 40 students are allocated to E-line, with the remaining students comprising G-line (T. Shimada, personal communication, December 18, 2001). According to SHS-1 student preferences for 2000, approximately 230 students indicated a desire to enter A-line, 45 wanted to enter E-line and 125 to enter G-line. Of the 230 who wished to enter A-line a maximum of 160 positions were available.

In SHS-3 the students are once again required to take two additional examinations. These exams are given the name Jitsuroku Tests, otherwise known as Overall Achievement Tests. They are held in June and November and are set internally. In both examinations the subjects of Japanese and English are compulsory. For the third subject the students may choose from a list of elective subjects that include Mathematics, Japanese History, World History, Biology, Physics and Chemistry. In November an extra elective of Geography is added to the list. Each subject is given a score out of 100 with a possible score of 600 after the examination in November. This score is then used by the school’s university to determine what courses students are eligible to enter. Students indicate a preference to enter a particular course. However, in the event that the course is popular the student’s grade is used to determine the order of acceptance of students. Apart from the Jitsuroku Tests the students must achieve an overall grade point average of three or more. The grade point system is based on a 1-5 score, with 5 being the highest. A student’s grade point average is calculated from mid-term and end of term tests taken from SHS-1 through to SHS-3. If students from G- and E-lines meet the school’s university requirement for grade point average they may enter the institution automatically. Last year however, out of a possible 240 students only 79 SHS-3 students entered the university via this process.

Students across the three lines study the same four compulsory subjects although some differences appear in the hours of study. The compulsory subjects include: Contemporary Japanese, Classical Japanese, Physical Education and Contemporary Society. The students must also study other compulsory subjects, but these vary according to the line. Apart from these subjects there is a list of elective subjects the students may choose from to comprise the 32 periods of study they must complete each week. The electives on offer vary according to each line, with the largest number being available to G-line students. The following is a list of the English related subjects that each line studies (T. Shimada, personal communication, December 18, 2001).


G-line

Compulsory

English Reading

4 hours

 

 

English Writing

2 hours

 

 

 

 

 

Elective

Oral Communication

2 hours

 

 

English Elective A

2 hours

 

 

English Elective B

2 hours

 

 

 

 

E- line

Compulsory

Comprehensive English

3 hours

 

 

English Expression

3 hours

 

 

English Understanding

4 hours

 

 

 

 

 

Elective

No English electives available

 

 

 

 

 

A-line

Compulsory

English Reading

4 hours

 

 

Oral Communication

2 hours

 

Elective

English Writing/English Elective

4 hours


In G-line the elective subject of Oral Communication is taught by a native English speaker. In E-line the compulsory subject of English Expression is taught by a native speaker of English. All other English classes are conducted by Japanese English teachers, with no native speaker classes being available to A-line students.


FINDINGS

A Comparison of JHS-1 and SHS-3

The questionnaire items were divided into six categories: general view; importance; purpose; skills; performance; and anxiety. The students’ responses were examined according to each of these categories and were tabulated by percentages (see table 1 and 2).

In the category “General View,” two items were found to display a difference in attitude between the two groups. In response to item 2, I would not take English if it were not a compulsory subject at school, 36.1% of the SHS-3 students expressed strong disagreement, while only 18.7% of the JHS-1 students had the same view. This view is not surprising as many SHS students realize the importance of the study of English for upcoming university entrance examinations and the need to be able to understand the language, especially in its written form in order to graduate from high school. For JHS students who have been in the system for less than one year this requirement may not be viewed with the same necessity.

TABLE 1

Descriptive Statistics of JHS-1 Student Attitudes Towards the Study of English

Item

Strongly

n

Disagree

n

Disagree*

n

Agree

n

Strongly

n

Agree**

n

Responses

 

disagree

 

 

 

total

 

 

 

agree

 

total

 

total

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

 

1

10.66

21

28.43

56

39.09

77

44.67

88

16.24

32

60.91

120

197

2

18.69

37

50.51

100

69.19

137

16.16

32

14.65

29

30.81

61

198

3

4.06

8

26.40

52

30.46

60

59.39

117

10.15

20

69.54

137

197

4

21.32

42

47.21

93

68.53

135

23.86

47

7.61

15

31.47

62

197

5

6.09

12

7.11

14

13.20

26

27.41

54

59.39

117

86.80

171

197

6

7.11

14

27.92

55

35.03

69

46.19

91

18.78

37

64.97

128

197

7

9.23

18

34.87

68

44.10

86

37.44

73

18.46

36

55.90

109

195

8

17.68

35

40.40

80

58.08

115

28.79

57

13.13

26

41.92

83

198

9

22.34

44

51.78

102

74.11

146

18.78

37

7.11

14

25.89

51

197

10

39.90

79

45.96

91

85.86

170

11.62

23

2.53

5

14.14

28

198

11

70.20

139

21.21

42

91.41

181

4.04

8

4.55

9

8.59

17

198

12

6.60

13

13.71

27

20.30

40

41.62

82

38.07

75

79.70

157

197

13

9.14

18

19.29

38

28.43

56

48.73

96

22.84

45

71.57

141

197

14

15.74

31

50.25

99

65.99

130

26.90

53

7.11

14

34.01

67

197

15

7.11

14

24.87

49

31.98

63

47.21

93

20.81

41

68.02

134

197

16

21.83

43

55.33

109

77.16

152

16.24

32

6.60

13

22.84

45

197

17

22.34

44

57.87

114

80.20

158

10.66

21

9.14

18

19.80

39

197

18

11.92

23

19.17

37

31.09

60

39.38

76

29.53

57

68.91

133

193

19

26.04

50

53.65

103

79.69

153

14.06

27

6.25

12

20.31

39

192

20

7.11

14

31.98

63

39.09

77

40.61

80

20.30

40

60.91

120

197

21

9.69

19

36.73

72

46.43

91

39.80

78

13.78

27

53.57

105

196

22

7.11

14

12.18

24

19.29

38

51.27

101

29.44

58

80.71

159

197

23

6.60

13

10.66

21

17.26

34

51.78

102

30.96

61

82.74

163

197

24

8.12

16

23.86

47

31.98

63

47.72

94

20.30

40

68.02

134

197

25

47.21

93

37.06

73

84.26

166

8.63

17

7.11

14

15.74

31

197

26

25.89

51

54.31

107

80.20

158

16.24

32

3.55

7

19.80

39

197

27

7.11

14

23.35

46

30.46

60

43.65

86

25.89

51

69.54

137

197

28

11.68

23

44.16

87

55.84

110

34.01

67

10.15

20

44.16

87

197

29

34.69

68

53.57

105

88.27

173

8.67

17

3.06

6

11.73

23

196

30

7.11

14

48.22

95

55.33

109

28.43

56

16.24

32

44.67

88

197

31

33.84

67

46.97

93

80.81

160

12.63

25

6.57

13

19.19

38

198

32

18.18

36

38.89

77

57.07

113

32.32

64

10.61

21

42.93

85

198

33

20.20

40

41.41

82

61.62

122

28.28

56

10.10

20

38.38

76

198

34

19.70

39

34.85

69

54.55

108

30.81

61

14.65

29

45.45

90

198

In Tables 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7

* Sum of ‘strongly disagree’ and ‘disagree’

** Sum of ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’

TABLE 2

Descriptive Statistics of SHS-3 Student Attitudes Towards the Study of English

Item

Strongly

n

Disagree

n

Disagree*

n

Agree

n

Strongly

n

Agree**

n

Responses

 

disagree

 

 

 

total

 

 

 

agree

 

total

 

total

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

 

1

9.57

36

28.46

107

38.03

143

40.43

152

21.54

81

61.97

233

376

2

36.15

137

38.52

146

74.67

283

14.78

56

10.55

40

25.33

96

379

3

14.32

54

35.54

134

49.87

188

41.11

155

9.02

34

50.13

189

377

4

37.40

141

39.79

150

77.19

291

15.65

59

7.16

27

22.81

86

377

5

6.88

26

7.14

27

14.02

53

21.43

81

64.55

244

85.98

325

378

6

10.32

39

38.62

146

48.94

185

36.24

137

14.81

56

51.06

193

378

7

12.43

47

36.77

139

49.21

186

35.71

135

15.08

57

50.79

192

378

8

13.46

51

37.47

142

50.92

193

29.82

113

19.26

73

49.08

186

379

9

29.02

110

53.03

201

82.06

311

13.72

52

4.22

16

17.94

68

379

10

25.66

97

44.44

168

70.11

265

20.11

76

9.79

37

29.89

113

378

11

63.59

241

27.18

103

90.77

344

4.75

18

4.49

17

9.23

35

379

12

3.98

15

11.41

43

15.38

58

45.62

172

38.99

147

84.62

319

377

13

5.04

19

25.99

98

31.03

117

42.18

159

26.79

101

68.97

260

377

14

25.80

97

42.55

160

68.35

257

24.20

91

7.45

28

31.65

119

376

15

6.88

26

20.90

79

27.78

105

38.89

147

33.33

126

72.22

273

378

16

31.22

118

44.18

167

75.40

285

15.87

60

8.73

33

24.60

93

378

17

20.05

76

40.90

155

60.95

231

24.54

93

14.51

55

39.05

148

379

18

16.67

63

28.57

108

45.24

171

33.07

125

21.69

82

54.76

207

378

19

41.62

154

42.43

157

84.05

311

10.27

38

5.68

21

15.95

59

370

20

7.94

30

30.69

116

38.62

146

33.86

128

27.51

104

61.38

232

378

21

17.15

65

41.69

158

58.84

223

32.72

124

8.44

32

41.16

156

379

22

6.60

25

6.07

23

12.66

48

39.05

148

48.28

183

87.34

331

379

23

6.35

24

9.79

37

16.14

61

38.62

146

45.24

171

83.86

317

378

24

7.67

29

25.66

97

33.33

126

46.56

176

20.11

76

66.67

252

378

25

27.39

103

52.93

199

80.32

302

14.10

53

5.59

21

19.68

74

376

26

26.20

98

57.75

216

83.96

314

12.57

47

3.48

13

16.04

60

374

27

7.96

30

31.83

120

39.79

150

36.34

137

23.87

90

60.21

227

377

28

22.34

84

43.62

164

65.96

248

23.94

90

10.11

38

34.04

128

376

29

60.48

228

29.97

113

90.45

341

5.04

19

4.51

17

9.55

36

377

30

12.50

47

31.65

119

44.15

166

42.29

159

13.56

51

55.85

210

376

31

38.62

146

39.68

150

78.31

296

14.81

56

6.88

26

21.69

82

378

32

24.87

94

37.83

143

62.70

237

28.84

109

8.47

32

37.30

141

378

33

21.28

80

36.44

137

57.71

217

33.24

125

9.04

34

42.29

159

376

34

19.84

75

30.95

117

50.79

192

36.51

138

12.70

48

49.21

186

378

In item 3 students were asked to indicate if they studied hard in English classes. It was found that 50.1% of SHS-3 students agreed with this statement, while 69.5% of JHS-1 students had the same positive attitude. With many SHS-3 students studying specifically for entrance examinations, work that is not relevant is often approached with little interest. Many of these students study at cram schools, two or three evenings a week, learning material that will be of the most benefit to them in examinations. LoCastro (1996, p. 51) provides the following description:

….these after-hour schools are deemed necessary given that the language classes in all but the best senior high schools do not prepare the learners adequately for university entrance exams. So a situation may arise where a high proportion of the learners in a class in a public school may be present only to meet the legal requirements of attendance, whereas the lessons are seen as irrelevant and deficient.

Yoshida (1991) goes further by stating that it is the responsibility of cram schools to instruct students at advanced levels and to prepare them for entrance examinations. In a poll conducted by the Tokai bank in the three major cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, it was found that, 37.7% of elementary school students, 65.9% of all junior high school students and 77.6% of students in third year junior high school intending to sit senior high school entrance examinations attended such schools.

Although the same may be said of junior high school students approaching senior high school entrance examinations, students in their first year of junior high school may be less inclined to think exclusively of study for examinations only. Therefore, these students work harder during class time. Another possible contributing factor to these results is that the students at the school surveyed, having passed the entrance examination for junior high school receive automatic entrance to the senior school, thus removing the need to study exclusively for examination purposes.

The responses to item 4, I enjoy doing my English homework, show that SHS-3 students show stronger disagreement, probably as a result of the type and quantity of work they are required to complete in their own time. As JHS-1 students are just beginning to learn English there is less emphasis placed on a total understanding of the language and the use of the grammar translation method to digest large volumes of material in the foreign language. JHS-1 classes still employ a variety of methods in the classroom, with the use of music, pair-work and interesting worksheets for students to complete as homework. Much of this changes as students reach their senior years and are required to complete greater amounts of work in their own time. Where 37.4% of SHS-3 students strongly disagreed with item 4, only 21.3% of JHS-1 students expressed the same view.

In the category of “Importance” only one item was found to show a significant difference, item 10. When asked to indicate if English classes at school should be conducted in English, only 14.1% of the JHS-1 students showed agreement, as against 29.9% of SHS-3 students. This result may reflect the attitudes of some students regarding the lack of ability to communicate using English after six years of studying the language. This view is expressed in much of the literature with the majority of high school graduates being unable to communicate in English (Benson, 1991; Kobayashi et al., 1992). JHS-1 students, on the other hand, may yet be oblivious to faults in the education system, with the opinion that one of the expected outcomes of secondary schooling will, in fact be an ability to communicate in English. Upon reading item 10 many JHS-1 students may have felt some concern at the thought of studying English through the use of the language exclusively, thus indicating overall disagreement with the item.

TABLE 3

JHS-1 Reasons for the Study of English

Reason

Respondents

%

Communicate with foreigners

60

46.15

Travel purposes

19

14.62

No response

19

14.62

Future career

11

8.46

Be able to speak English

6

4.62

Be able to read English

3

2.31

Learn about foreign cultures

3

2.31

Improve general knowledge

2

1.54

Study abroad

2

1.54

English is an international language

2

1.54

Live abroad in the future

1

0.77

Listen to foreign music

1

0.77

Learn a foreign language

1

0.77

Useful in the future

0

0.00

Interested in English

0

0.00

Marry a foreigner

0

0.00

Watch foreign movies

0

0.00

TABLE 4

SHS-3 Reasons for the Study of English

Reason

Respondents

%

Communicate with foreigners

85

33.07

Travel purposes

5

1.95

No response

51

19.84

Future career

4

1.56

Be able to speak English

12

4.67

Be able to read English

6

2.33

Learn about foreign cultures

20

7.78

Improve general knowledge

21

8.17

Study abroad

0

0.00

English is an international language

32

12.45

Live abroad in the future

0

0.00

Listen to foreign music

0

0.00

Learn a foreign language

5

1.95

Useful in the future

11

4.28

Interested in English

3

1.17

Marry a foreigner

1

0.39

Watch foreign movies

1

0.39

Within the category of “Purpose” six items were found to show a difference in attitude between the two groups. Of particular interest is item 14, in which students were required to respond to the statement: The main reason I need to learn English is to pass exams in the future. Surprisingly, 25.8% of the SHS-3 students strongly disagreed while only 15.7% of JHS-1 students did. It had been anticipated that a large percentage of the SHS-3 group would have been in agreement with this item due to the increased stress placed on them to study the language for examination purposes. However, when asked to indicate on the questionnaire their purpose for learning the language a number of reasons were expressed. Student responses for both groups are displayed in table 3 and table 4.

Item 15 examined student attitudes toward the continued study of English. To this statement only 20.81% of JHS-1 students expressed strong agreement, while 33.3% of the SHS-3 students strongly agreed. When questioned regarding their desire to major in English at university 21.8% of JHS-1 students strongly disagreed, with 31.2% of SHS-3 students displaying the same attitude. Between the two items for both groups there was a considerable shift in attitude from a desire to continue studying English, to a reduced desire to study the language at university. The following percentages reflect the overall positive responses for SHS-3 and JHS-1 students to continue studying English and to major in English at university, 72.2% and 68.0%, as opposed to 24.6% and 22.8%, respectively. Perhaps this overall decline is a reflection of the desire of students to move away from the structured study of the English language, forming the experience of the majority of school students, to a desire to continue studying the language in situations outside the university system. If students are of the opinion that university lectures will be similar to that of high school they may wish to look elsewhere to pursue language study.

In item 17, 39.1% of SHS-3 students expressed overall agreement to work in a job using English, while only 19.8% of JHS-1 students had the same attitude. This may reflect the more concrete ideas of senior students regarding the type of career they wish to pursue upon graduation from university. JHS-1 students are less likely to have formulated similar opinions with regard to future career choices.

Item 18 examined the attitudes of students toward the Eiken test. In order to look at the results from this item it is first important to provide a brief description of the way in which the test is structured.

The Eiken

The Eiken or Eigo Kentei, is an examination taken by many students. It is produced by Nihon Eigo Kentei Kyokai (Eikyo) or Step: the Society for Testing English Proficiency (MacGregor, 1997). Although a privately run exam, it has national status, and is believed by many employers to be a valid indication of English language ability (Benson, 1991). There are a number of levels, including: Level 1, Pre-level 1, Level 2, Pre-level 2, Level 3, Level 4 and Level 5, with Level 1 being the most difficult. Level 5, however is relatively easy and is taken by a large number of junior high school students. For Levels 1 – 3 the tests are given in two stages. The first stage is a written test, including reading and listening comprehension. The second stage is a speaking, or interview test. According to MacGregor (1997) Pre-level 2 was originally designed for second and third year senior high school students. Upon examination of the June results for 1996, 75% of those students who sat the Pre-level 2 test were from that category.

Findings from item 18, I want to pass the Eiken test, show that 54.8% of SHS-3 students showed overall agreement with the statement, while 68.9% of JHS-1 students had the same attitude. For SHS-3 students the Eiken becomes less significant, presumably because sights are placed on the more important university examinations. For JHS-1 students however, their first contact with an external examination is probably that of Eiken, thus the greater emphasis placed on this particular test. According to some teachers (M. Aoki, personal communication, December 21, 2001), those students who have successfully passed a certain level of the test may be given credit when sitting entrance examinations for public senior high schools and some private schools. Although the subjects questioned in this study will not be required to sit further examinations to enter the school’s senior campus, some cram schools may suggest that students apply to take the test. The test provides students with additional external feedback as to their English language ability. For senior high school students this feedback may take the form of other external examinations.

With regard to item 19, a surprising 41.6% of the SHS-3 students strongly disagreed with the statement, When I finish school I will stop studying English. For the JHS-1 students 26.0% had the same attitude. Perhaps SHS-3 students can clearly see the benefits of continuing to study the language, especially when they have already spent a period of six years learning the language. To discontinue study would mean losing the volume of knowledge they have attained during their time at school. Topics of study such as “Internationalization” and “English as the international language of communication” may also have influenced the way SHS-3 students think about language study. On the other hand, JHS-1 students may not feel as strongly due to their limited exposure to the study of the language thus far.

In the category of “Skills,” three items were examined. In both items 22 and 23 SHS-3 and JHS-1 displayed similar attitudes. The results were as follows. For item 22, Without taking into consideration university entrance examinations it is important to study English conversation, the former expressed 87.3% overall agreement and the later 80.7%. For item 23, Listening and speaking skills in English are important, 83.9% of SHS-3 and 82.7% of JHS-1 showed the same positive response. Although English classes, especially those in senior school are based around the grammar-translation method (Hino, 1988; Gorsuch, 1998), students from both groups strongly indicated the importance of the study of English conversation, and the development of listening and speaking skills.

Item 25 asked students to indicate their attitude toward the irrelevance of communicative activities in class. In JHS-1, 47.2% of students strongly disagreed, while 27.4% of SHS-3 students felt the same. With JHS-1 classes being composed of a variety of classroom activities, students may be able to see the benefit of such techniques, thus the strong disapproval shown.

In the category of “Performance” item 29, I often speak English in my English class, produced some significant results. Students in agreement with the statement were few for both groups, with overall agreement for JHS-1 at 11.7% and for SHS-3 only 9.5%. What was interesting was a total of 60.5% of SHS-3 students strongly disagreed, while only 34.7% of JHS-1 students had the same strong attitudinal response. This is not surprising having witnessed a number of senior high school English classes over the years, in which the teacher’s method of instruction is didactic, with all necessary information being conveyed by the teacher to the students, with little in the way of classroom discussion. This observation is also supported by Clark (1987).

A Comparison of SHS-3 Classes

Upon examination of the findings for the three lines in SHS-3 some interesting results were evident (see table 5, 6 and 7). In the first category “General View,” as one would have expected, the E-line students showed the strongest agreement for item 1, with 87.8% of students expressing their enjoyment of learning English. This was followed by A-line with 70.4% and G-line with only 49.2%. For item 2 both E- and A-lines expressed similar views with regard to not selecting English if it were a non-compulsory subject. E- and A-line results showed 85.4% and 83% overall disagreement with the statement. G-line however, did not feel as strongly, with disagreement at 65.4%. For item 4 the results were somewhat unsurprising, with all groups displaying more than 50% total disagreement with the statement. E-line however, contained the lowest percentage, this illustrating the students overall desire to study English in this group. For item 5 the results were significant with all groups showing overall agreement with the statement, I respect my friends who can speak English. For A- and G-lines the results were 92.1% and 83.8%, respectively. E-line showed the lowest score of 73.2%. This, however, may indicate the students’ general acceptance of the fact that many students in the group are able to speak English and as part of their English classes they are expected to use English as the means of communication. These same students probably have higher expectations regarding their progress with English proficiency as a result of being in the class. The students in this particular course are reputed to make use of ‘real’ English in contrast to the grammar translation method of instruction used in other classes. For students in A-and G-lines there is less likelihood of using the language and therefore the ability to communicate through the medium of English is held in high regard. The results reinforce this particular ideology.

In the category of “Importance,” the students in all three groups showed overall strong disagreement with item 9, Of all foreign languages, English is the best language to learn. Upon examination of the percentages for both strong disagreement and disagreement, the results were very similar with only three percentage points difference across all three groups in the breakdown of their negative responses. The overall negative results for A-, E- and G-lines were 86.9%, 82.9% and 77.8%, respectively. These findings are not unexpected for A- and G-line students; however one would have expected E-line students to express a higher percentage in overall agreement than the 17.1% indicated. As the students in the group are an elective class focusing on the study of English it would have seemed logical that more students would have favoured the choice of English as the elected foreign language.

For item 11, Classes other than English at school should be conducted in English, all three groups expressed overall disagreement with the statement. For A-and G-lines the results were higher than 90%, with E-line displaying 80.5%. These results indicate that students are opposed to the idea of learning other subjects at school through English. However, it is perhaps not surprising given the evidence that very little time even in English classes is taken up with instruction using English ( LoCastro, 1996). Therefore, the idea of other subjects being taught through the medium of English is almost unthinkable for the vast majority of students.

TABLE 5

Descriptive Statistics of G-Line SHS-3 Students Towards the Study of English

Item

Strongly

n

Disagree

n

Disagree*

n

Agree

n

Strongly

n

Agree**

n

Responses

 

disagree

 

 

 

total

 

 

 

agree

 

total

 

total

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

 

1

11.48

21

39.34

72

50.82

93

32.79

60

16.39

30

49.18

90

183

2

26.49

49

38.92

72

65.41

121

21.08

39

13.51

25

34.59

64

185

3

19.46

36

38.38

71

57.84

107

36.76

68

5.41

10

42.16

78

185

4

43.78

81

36.22

67

80.00

148

14.05

26

5.95

11

20.00

37

185

5

7.57

14

8.65

16

16.22

30

21.08

39

62.70

116

83.78

155

185

6

14.13

26

44.02

81

58.15

107

30.98

57

10.87

20

41.85

77

184

7

17.39

32

42.93

79

60.33

111

30.43

56

9.24

17

39.67

73

184

8

11.35

21

40.00

74

51.35

95

30.81

57

17.84

33

48.65

90

185

9

27.57

51

50.27

93

77.84

144

17.84

33

4.32

8

22.16

41

185

10

32.07

59

43.48

80

75.54

139

17.39

32

7.07

13

24.46

45

184

11

67.57

125

23.24

43

90.81

168

4.86

9

4.32

8

9.19

17

185

12

3.83

7

10.93

20

14.75

27

48.09

88

37.16

68

85.25

156

183

13

6.52

12

25.54

47

32.07

59

42.93

79

25.00

46

67.93

125

184

14

27.17

50

44.02

81

71.20

131

21.74

40

7.07

13

28.80

53

184

15

9.24

17

23.91

44

33.15

61

39.13

72

27.72

51

66.85

123

184

16

34.78

64

39.13

72

73.91

136

16.30

30

9.78

18

26.09

48

184

17

24.86

46

42.16

78

67.03

124

21.08

39

11.89

22

32.97

61

185

18

20.11

37

31.52

58

51.63

95

28.26

52

20.11

37

48.37

89

184

19

36.11

65

45.56

82

81.67

147

12.78

23

5.56

10

18.33

33

180

20

12.50

23

30.98

57

43.48

80

34.78

64

21.74

40

56.52

104

184

21

17.30

32

45.95

85

63.24

117

30.81

57

5.95

11

36.76

68

185

22

8.65

16

5.95

11

14.59

27

42.16

78

43.24

80

85.41

158

185

23

8.70

16

10.33

19

19.02

35

41.85

77

39.13

72

80.98

149

184

24

10.87

20

30.98

57

41.85

77

44.57

82

13.59

25

58.15

107

184

25

24.59

45

54.10

99

78.69

144

15.30

28

6.01

11

21.31

39

183

26

24.18

44

59.34

108

83.52

152

11.54

21

4.95

9

16.48

30

182

27

7.07

13

33.15

61

40.22

74

40.76

75

19.02

35

59.78

110

184

28

25.82

47

42.31

77

68.13

124

24.73

45

7.14

13

31.87

58

182

29

61.75

113

27.87

51

89.62

164

4.92

9

5.46

10

10.38

19

183

30

13.19

24

29.12

53

42.31

77

42.86

78

14.84

27

57.69

105

182

31

31.52

58

42.39

78

73.91

136

20.11

37

5.98

11

26.09

48

184

32

20.11

37

38.59

71

58.70

108

32.07

59

9.24

17

41.30

76

184

33

17.03

31

41.21

75

58.24

106

31.87

58

9.89

18

41.76

76

182

34

19.02

35

33.15

61

52.17

96

34.78

64

13.04

24

47.83

88

184

For item 12, about the importance of knowing English to be able to understand foreigners and their cultures, all groups responded with overall agreement. The results were all above 80%.

In item 15, E-line students displayed the highest overall agreement with the statement, with 80.5% indicating they plan to continue studying English. However, when questioned if they would major in the language at university only 41.5% of the students were in overall agreement. This would seem to indicate that half of the students will seek language instruction outside of university lectures, perhaps taking the form of an English speaking club activity at university or a conversation school. For A- and G-line students the percentages were much less with A-line indicating only 18.3% overall agreement and G-line 26.1%.

TABLE 6

Descriptive Statistics of E-Line SHS-3 Students Towards the Study of English

Item

Strongly

n

Disagree

n

Disagree*

n

Agree

n

Strongly

n

Agree**

n

Responses

 

disagree

 

 

 

total

 

 

 

agree

 

total

 

total

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

%

 

 

1

4.88

2

7.32

3

12.20

5

43.90

18

43.90

18

87.80

36

41

2

70.73

29

14.63

6

85.37

35

9.76

4

4.88

2

14.63

6

41

3

7.32

3

14.63

6

21.95

9

56.10

23

21.95

9

78.05

32

41

4

21.95

9

36.59

15

58.54

24

29.27

12

12.20

5

41.46

17

41

5

17.07

7

9.76

4

26.83

11

24.39

10

48.78

20

73.17

30

41

6

4.88

2

17.07

7

21.95

9

43.90

18

34.15

14

78.05

32

41

7

7.32

3

19.51

8

26.83

11

39.02

16

34.15

14

73.17

30

41

8

7.32

3

39.02

16

46.34

19

24.39

10

29.27

12

53.66

22

41

9

29.27

12

53.66

22

82.93

34

12.20

5

4.88

2

17.07

7

41

10

12.20

5

36.59

15

48.78

20

29.27

12

21.95

9

51.22

21

41

11

41.46

17

39.02

16

80.49

33

7.32

3

12.20

5

19.51

8

41

12

7.32

3

9.76

4

17.07

7

39.02

16

43.90

18

82.93

34

41

13

7.32

3

19.51

8

26.83

11

46.34

19

26.83

11

73.17

30

41

14

25.00

10

50.00

20

75.00

30

20.00

8

5.00

2

25.00

10

40

15

4.88

2

14.63

6

19.51

8

31.71

13

48.78

20

80.49

33

41

16

12.20

5

46.34

19

58.54

24

21.95

9

19.51

8

41.46

17

41

17

4.88

2

19.51

8

24.39

10

43.90

18

31.71

13

75.61

31

41

18

9.76

4

19.51

8

29.27

12

36.59

15

34.15

14

70.73

29

41