Introduction to the Column: Exploring Individual Differences Through Case Studies

Jason Brown, Thompson Rivers University, Canada
Huw Davies, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan

Brown, J., & Davies, H. (2019). Introduction to the column: Exploring individual differences through case studies. Relay Journal, 2(1), 102-103.

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Welcome to the first case studies column in Relay Journal. In this inaugural column, we introduce six case studies which we have grouped into three loose categories. The first two papers explore the development of learners’ relationships with English study; the following two investigate the relationship between learner beliefs and motivation, and the final two studies look at how personality and anxiety affect English use.

First Azusa Yamamoto explores the personal experiences of two Japanese females in their 30s to track their motivation for learning English over time. Yamamoto has found there is a strong relationship between their former school learning environments, their self images, and their motivation, but that achievement in high school does not necessarily correlate with proficiency levels as young adults. Next, Daniel Hooper focuses on an outlying participant from a larger study and discusses this person’s engagement with an English practice space in a university in Japan over a one-year period. As the learner’s identity shifts, so does his attitude towards and use of the space. This paper is also of interest to those interested in the impact of role models on language learners.

Naoya Shibata and Brien Datzman each explore how the learner beliefs of university students in Japan impact their motivation and the strategies they use. Shibata’s findings bring into question previous research that suggests learner beliefs are connected to strategy use. His paper also highlights the importance of educators personalizing content based on learners’ motivation and capability to use out-of-class learning strategies. Datzman’s paper focuses on psychological factors that may have helped two Japanese university students as they progressed along their language learning journeys. His study highlights the ways motivation plays a role in the choices surrounding use of language learning strategies.

In a study on Japanese learners of English on a pre-college course in America, Yukiko Oki investigates the relationship between personality traits and learning strategies. The study makes use of language learning histories, learner diaries and individual interviews to qualitatively reveal how personality plays a role in the choice of learner strategy use.

Finally, Hung Nguyen-Xuan’s exploratory case study on the impact of anxiety on in-class English performance offers some food for thought for researchers wishing to study anxiety in speaking tasks, or for classroom teachers looking to encourage learners to be more confident. While the two students Nguyen-Xuan focused on both felt anxiety in some situations, his findings indicate some situations where coping strategies led to reduced anxiety.

We hope you enjoy exploring the rich diversity of case study research found in this column. In future issues, we intend to publish full articles, works in progress, and summaries related to research case studies of individual learners. The purpose is to understand the complex processes that individuals experience when learning a language. We look forward to seeing your contributions in the next edition.

Notes on the Contributors

Jason Brown is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University in Canada and is completing his Ed. D in TESOL from Anaheim University.  He has close to ten years overseas teaching experience in Japan, India and China. Jason’s research interests include relationships between, Willingness to Communicate, Motivation and Second Language Acquisition.

Huw Davies is a learning advisor at Kanda University of International Studies and a PhD student at Lancaster University. He holds a MEd in Applied Linguistics from the Open University. He has published papers concerning learning strategies and learner autonomy.