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The LLL SIG Newsletter

Volume 5, Issue 2 [August, 2009]

Lifelong Language Learners, English and You
Geoff Sinha

This article describes a presentation given at the 2009 Pan SIG Conference that was based on research for a masterfs degree in Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language (TEF/SL). The major themes were of the presentation were:

1) Who is a Lifelong Language Learner ( LLL)?
2) Why are LLLs learning English?
3) Which accents/English varieties do LLLs prefer, and why?

1) Who is an LLL?
An LLL is anyone who has completed his or her formal school education and is continuing to study, learn, and grow. Therefore, my continued interest in the Japanese language and Aikido makes me an LLL, and I think that, basically speaking, we are all LLLs to some extent. With regard to English learning in Japan, LLLs are part of what Kelly (2005) describes as "Japan's adult education boom," a situation similar to that in the United States in the 1980s, when adult students enrolled in college courses in unprecedented numbers. So, it is an exciting time for LLLs, their teachers, and the Lifelong Language Learning SIG!

In essence, this research project had its genesis at the end of the Second World War in 1945, when the learners who took part in my research were born. They were the generation whose contributions were the foundation for present-day Japan. According to De Mente (2004), the members of this generation became known as shinjinrui, or "new kind of people" (p.118), because they were allowed almost unheard-of personal freedoms subsequent to the lifting of post-war restrictions. Furthermore, this generation enjoys the longest life span in the world and has given new meaning to the word "retirement." As they grew into middle age, another term, juku nen, or "prime years," was coined for them. Indeed, the members of this generation are the first in Japan's history who are in their sixties and seventies, 'still healthy and active, with the time and leisure to enjoy themselves' (p. 118). In other words, they're having the time of their lives.

2) Why are these learners learning English?
I interviewed 67 of these remarkable people in Tokyo about their reasons for learning English. Fifty-five were female, and twelve were male, with an average age of 61 years. I would like to thank Tadashi Ishida for his article A Dozen Reasons Older Japanese Learners Are Now Interested in Studying English (2005) that informed the design of my questionnaire. In order of popularity, the top six reasons for learning English were:

  1. Because it's never too late to learn English.
  2. Because English class is a good place to meet many different kinds of people.
  3. Because studying English keeps my mind active.
  4. Because watching English/foreign movies is fun.
  5. Because it's enjoyable to talk with foreign people in English.
  6. Because speaking English makes international travel easier.

(from T. Ishida, 2005)

As the list show, the main reasons that LLLs are learning English are social. Of the top six reasons given, only one, specifically No. 3 (Because studying English keeps my mind active), was not strictly socially motivated.

These findings were in no way unique or surprising in relation to other studies that have been done (e.g., Skier, E, 2005; Bradford-Watts, K., 2006). However, I have been able to organize my adult class more effectively based on this information, an outgrowth of which is our first field trip. I am also working more on building interpersonal relations within the group by trying to create a connected and cohesive class culture that is open to new members. We are looking forward to more class parties, which hopefully will include Bring a Friend days.

3) Which accents/English varieties do LLLs prefer, and why?
I asked the respondents to listen to and rate a North American, Singaporean, and Japanese accent on a 5-point Likert scale. The speakers were then measured in terms of linguistic competence (i.e., Did they sound educated? fluent? clear?) and social attractiveness (i.e., Did they sound confident? friendly? hard-working?).

Table 1: Results for Linguistic Competence and Social Attractiveness
@ Linguistic Competence (%) Social Attractiveness (%)
North America 60.2% 57%
Japan 49% 56.6%
Singapore 21.4% 41.6%

LLLs clearly preferred the North American native speaker, and this again was not too surprising. However, a very interesting and pleasantly surprising finding was how the Japanese speaker's rating jumped in terms of social attractiveness. I really liked finding out about this because it means that LLLs value Japanese speakers of English and native English teachers. Clearly, both have a lot to contribute in their classrooms.

In conclusion, presenting at Pan SIG was a rewarding experience, and it has sparked my interest in other areas of research, such as an investigation of the attitudes of different age groups or of different regions in Japan toward different varieties of English. I am also very interested in learning more about the learning histories of LLLs through first-hand narratives and possibly interviews. I am eager to engage in collaborative research, so if anyone is interested in working together on a project, please contact me. I would look forward to hearing from you!


Bradford-Watts, K. (2006, December). A summary of findings of a survey administered to 14 older learners. Retrieved from LLL SIG Web site http:/jalt.org/lifelong/journal/2006c/article.html

De Mente, B. L. (2004). Japanfs cultural code words: 233 key terms that explain the attitudes and behavior of the Japanese. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

Ishida, T. (2005, February). A dozen reasons older Japanese learners are now interested in studying English. Retrieved from LLL SIG Web site http:/jalt.org/lifelong/journal/2006c/article.html

Kelly, C. (2005, February). Acting adult in the English classroom. Retrieved from LLL SIG Web site http:/jalt.org/lifelong/journal/2005b/kelly.html

Skier, E. (2005, February). Elderly learners of Japanese, and what motivates them. Retrieved from LLL SIG Web site http:/jalt.org/lifelong/journal/2005b/skier.html