LINGUIST List 31.1939

Thu Jun 11 2020

Review: Applied Linguistics: Inaba (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 31-Mar-2020
From: Laura Dubcovsky <>
Subject: Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Miho Inaba
TITLE: Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Laura Dubcovsky, University of California, Davis


Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Inaba reports on the teaching of Japanese as a foreign language at the university level in Melbourne, Australia, a country with more than 100, 000 Japanese language learners. In the Introduction (chapter 1) Miho Inaba explains her interest in exploring students’ literate activities outside the classroom, given increasing and multiple technological media that surround students’ lives. The author offers a clear layout of the major topics of the book, followed by succinct descriptions of each chapter, the theoretical framework, and the methodology. Chapter 2 explores, “Out-of-class literacy and language learning from sociocultural perspectives,” situating the study within Activity Theory (Wells, 2002). Inaba defines key sociocultural components, such as learners’ interests and needs, physical, symbolic and cultural mediation tools, communities’ assistance, and division of labor. She underlines the relevance of students’ motives and levels of autonomy, as they comprise a sense of responsibility and agency, which result in strong influences for the language learning experience. Above all, she sheds light on contradictions that take place within the components of the Activity Theory and between them and the central system. Then the author summarizes quantitative and qualitative methods employed in the study and introduces notions of “class-related” and “non class-related” literacy practices as well as technological resources, all of which are expanded in separate chapters in the book.

In Chapter 3 Inaba examines, “Types of literacy activities performed outside of the classroom” undertaken by university students who approach the target language in social settings. First, she analyzes class-related and non-class related literacy types, looking at the range of autonomy and independence among learners. Then she presents “Four dimensions for the participants’ literacy practices in out-of-classroom contexts” (Fig. 3.1, p. 49) that allow a fast comparison between the two types of literacy settings. While in-class activities show formal arrangements, academic-based content, teacher-guided pedagogy and assessments through quizzes, written exams and oral presentations, out-of-the-classroom dimensions comprise informal arrangements, looser topical content, less-structured pedagogy, and absence of assessment tasks. The author observes, that despite differences across dimensions, the increasing use of technology is incorporated also in the school domain, as shown by on-line and electronic dictionaries to look up simultaneous meanings of words and expressions, comic books (manga), magazines and booklets with poems and song lyrics that populate classrooms’ shelves, and the permission to watch cartoons (anime), videos, TV shows and sit comedies (rakugo) in the classroom. Therefore, the two types of literacy practices are far from displaying clear-cut differences. As a matter of fact, they share common social purposes, seek for authentic material, and strive to reach access to native speakers in real and virtual worlds. Noticeably, the overwhelming use of technology is changing not only the way of learning in and out of the classroom, but also attitudes, values and motivation toward the second and/or foreign language among students and teachers.

Inaba looks for factors that encourage or constrain learners’ participation in “Class related literacy practices outside the classroom” and “Non- Class related literacy practices,” in Chapters 4 and 5, respectively. Within individual factors, she considers students’ personal trajectories, interests and beliefs, as well as learners’ differentiated styles that show varied engagement with literate activities in the community. Among contextual factors, the author includes the amount of time, peer interaction and variety of resources committed to literate practices without teachers’ influence. Inaba uses the Activity Theory’s terminology to deepen the understanding of students’ “motives,” examining “values of exchange” and “values of use.” Considered as external and internal motivation in most studies of second language (Ushioda, 2011), the former is driven mainly by good grades and marks, and in compliance with teachers’ styles and school requirements, while the latter draws from individual willingness and meaningful purpose to learn, with immediate applications in the real world. The author synthesizes the former concepts in Figure 4.1, “A model of the central activity system for class-related literacy practices” (p. 68), adding “Examples of linked activity system” in Figure 4.2 (p. 69).The figures help situate theoretical components explained in a generic manner (Fig. 2.1, p. 22), in the real context of second language acquisition. More importantly, the two chapters emphasize existing contradictions that take place in the dynamic learning process, such as ambiguities between students’ language proficiency and task demands, values of use and topics, and assessment tasks and learning activity.

Chapter 6 addresses, “Language-related mediation in L2 literacy practices,” by analyzing students’ strategies used outside the classroom to compensate for gaps in language competence. First the author reiterates individual and socio-cultural factors that support the theoretical framework of activities, actions and operations, and then she focuses on physical, symbolic and cultural tools that play a mediation role in the language learning experience. Inaba also enumerates traditional and on-line resources that assist with the information and communication across literate scenarios. From powerful digital engines (Wikipedia, Google, etc.), to social electronic platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), and from Japanese pop culture (songs, manga, anime, etc.) to real and virtual speakers, most learners can communicate successfully with others around the world. Moreover, participants seem at ease when approaching casual genres, unfolding their learning independence and agency capacities. For example, they can read subtitles from movies, translate videos, refine listening skills to understand popular lyrics, and even incorporate lexicon with varied nuances, tones and registers originating in TV shows and serials. On the contrary, when students are required to perform in-class-related tasks, they show uneven ability to benefit from technological resources. For example, when using pop-up dictionaries in class, only high- proficient learners can discern the correct meaning and select the proper collocation for a given context, while low-performing students do not take full advantage of these tools.

In the last chapter Inaba summarizes major findings of, “L2 literacy practices and language learning in out-of-class contexts.” She underlines the importance of learners’ motivation to learning and autonomy to favor second language skills, which vary broadly according to agents (teacher or student) that regulate the literacy activity, the planned or spontaneous orientation given to the literacy tasks, the more personal or school-based topics that animate the discussion, and the academic or the domestic domain in which these practices take place. Overall, assessments, homework, lesson preparation, and revision tasks are highly regulated by teachers’ guidance and may demand lower levels of students’ self- determination, whereas the activities that are undertaken freely and for entertaining purposes, may empower students and increase their learning autonomy. Recreational readings, visual media and social communication tend to facilitate gains in second language vocabulary, incorporating words and expressions beyond the curricular scope, and raising metalinguistic awareness of nuance and adequate registers. In addition, learners are more inclined to enjoy the second language experience within a non- threatening environment. Figure 7.1 summarizes ,“Links between language classes/class-related tasks and non-class-related literacy practices” (p. 154), pointing at common materials, content and pedagogy between the two types of literacy activities, as well as similar higher results in reading and viewing than in writing activities, which are usually constrained to short answers, both on paper and on-line, and abbreviated emails, twitters, and blogs. In closing, Inaba suggests some directions for the foreign language classroom. She proposes to infuse school-based activities drawing from the examples of the informal setting, as they foster students’ motivation and positive attitudes toward the second language. She highly recommends the incorporation of authentic (reading, visual, audio) material, the selection of topics that resonate with students’ lives and their future jobs, and more importantly, the revitalization of the joy of learning a foreign language.


Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom represents a positive pursuit of approaching modern ways of teaching second languages. The book develops along linear and straightforward chapters that offer explanations, figures and tables accessible to all readers. The final bibliography combines Western and better-known studies with specific research on the teaching of Japanese at university level. The analysis of out-of-the-classroom-activities is consistently framed within Activity Theory and supported by quantitative and qualitative methods. Additionally, linguistic skills of reading, writing, speaking, viewing and listening are explored under the lenses of individual and sociocultural factors, which are well-integrated to better understand not only new learning tools but also inherent contradictions that exist in the language process. Therefore, the book attempts to overcome traditional dichotomies, such as colloquial versus academic registers, reading versus writing activities, first versus second language uses, etc., offering more flexible categories and fluid perspectives on foreign language teaching.

As Inaba recognizes, the book has some limitations, especially the low number (15) of participants, high level of language proficiency (intermediate to advanced), and educational level (university) selected for her study. Therefore, more information is needed to include a larger number of subjects, broader range of language competence, and all educational levels. Although the study involves quantitative and qualitative data collection, there is a lack of sources that can inform more objectively, beside interviews, and self-reported notes and diaries. Furthermore, and although the author reviews valid concepts in the field of second language learning, she echoes these notions profusely within and between chapters. It is suggested that the author avoids longer explanations of well-known theories, saving space for her novel contribution of Japanese class-related and non-class -related literacy activities performed outside of the classroom. Despite the few limitations, Inaba’s book constitutes an addition to the field of second language study, as it makes accessible modern means of information and communication to improve foreign language classes.


Ushioda, E. 2011. Language learning motivation, self and identity: Current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning 24(3). 199-210.

Wells, G. 2002. The role of dialogue in activity theory. Mind, culture and activity 9(1). 43-66.


Laura Dubcovsky is a retired lecturer and supervisor from the Teacher Education Program in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis. With a Master’s in Education and a PhD in Spanish linguistics/with special emphasis on second language acquisition, her interests tap topics of language and bilingual education. She has taught a pre-service bilingual teachers’ course that addresses communicative and academic traits of Spanish, needed in a bilingual classroom for more than ten years. She is currently helping in- service bilingual teachers for professional development and in parent/teachers’ conferences. She also volunteers as translator at Davis Joint Unified School district, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, YoloArts, Davis Art Center, and STEAC, in Davis, California. She is a long-standing reviewer for the Linguistic listServe, the Southern California Professional Development Schools and the Journal of Latinos and Education. She published “Functions of the verb decir (‘to say’) in the incipient academic Spanish writing of bilingual children in Functions of Language, 15(2), 257-280 (2008) and the chapter, “Desde California. Acerca de la narración en ámbitos bilingües” in ¿Cómo aprendemos y cómo enseñamos la narración oral? (2015). Rosario, Homo Sapiens: 127- 133.

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