Why Japanese? Why Not Japanese?

A Case Study of Chinese International Students Studying Japanese at American Universities





Chinese international students, higher education, Japanese, motivation


As Chinese students have become a larger share of the international student population at U.S. universities, their participation in Japanese language classes has increased. However, Chinese student enrollment significantly decreases after the completion of the first Japanese class, and consequently, fewer Chinese students take intermediate or advanced level classes. This study examined the experiences of Chinese international students enrolled in Japanese classes as well as those who stopped taking Japanese after the first quarter or first-year class in a private university in the United States. We used semistructured interviews to investigate the reasons and goals of Chinese international students for studying the Japanese language, the successes or challenges both inside and outside of the Japanese classroom, and the reasons students continue or discontinue learning Japanese.

Author Biography

Jun Xu, Colorado State University, USA

JUN XU, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Chinese and Japanese in the Department of Languages Literatures and Cultures at Colorado State University. His major research interests lie in the area of Second Language Acquisition, Foreign Language Pedagogy, and Pragmatics.


Deutsch, F. M. (2004). How parents influence the life plans of graduating Chinese university students. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 35(3), 393–421.

Dörnyei, Z. (2007). Research methods in applied linguistics: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methodologies. Oxford University Press.

Gao, X., & Lv, L. (2018). Motivations of Chinese learners of Japanese in mainland China. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 17(4), 222–235.

Griner, J., & Sobol, A. (2014). Chinese students’ motivations for studying abroad. Global Studies Journal, 7(1), 2–14.

Hao, J. (2018). Being an international student: Experiences of Chinese undergraduate students in a large research university [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of California, Santa Barbara.

Heng, T. T. (2017). Voices of Chinese international students in USA colleges: ‘I want to tell them that…’ Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 833–850.

Heng, T. T. (2018). Exploring the complex and non-linear evolution of Chinese international students' experiences in U.S. colleges. Higher Education Research & Development, 37, 1141–1155.

Horiba, Y. (2012). Word knowledge and its relation to text comprehension: A comparative study of Chinese‐and Korean‐speaking L2 learners and L1 speakers of Japanese. The Modern Language Journal, 96(1), 108–121.

Huang, W., & Feng, D. (2019). Exploring the dynamics of motivation for learning Japanese among Chinese learners: An elicited metaphor analysis. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 40(7), 605–617.

Hudson-Endo, M. (2014). Nihongo Noryoku shaken N2 juken junbi no tame no koza-jissen to sono yigi [The practice and significance of a course for Japanese Language Proficiency Test N2]. In M. Tsutsui, O. Kamada, & W. M. Jacobsen (Eds.), New Horizons in Japanese Language Education (pp.117–125). Hitsuji Shobo.

Institute of International Education. (2018). Open Doors 2018. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students

Japan Foundation. (2013). Survey report on Japanese-language education abroad 2012. https://www.jpf.go.jp/j/project/japanese/survey/result/dl/survey_2012/2012_s_excerpt_e.pdf

Japan Foundation. (2017). Survey report on Japanese-language education abroad 2015. https://www.jpf.go.jp/j/project/japanese/survey/result/dl/survey_2015/Report_all_e.pdf

Looney, D., & Lusin, N. (2018). Enrollments in languages other than English in United States institutions of higher education, summer 2016 and fall 2016: Preliminary report. https://www.mla.org/content/download/83540/2197676/2016-Enrollments-Short-Report.pdf

Kubota, R. (2011). Learning a foreign language as leisure and consumption: Enjoyment, desire, and the business of eikaiwa. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(4), 473–488.

Kubota, R. (2013). ‘Language is only a tool’: Japanese expatriates working in China and implications for language teaching. Multilingual Education, 3(1), Article 4.

Matsumoto, H. (2007). Peak learning experiences and language learning: A study of American learners of Japanese. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 20(3), 195–208.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. (2018). Economic relationship between Japan and China. https://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000007735.pdf

Mori, J., & Takeuchi, J. D. (2016). Campus diversity and global education: A case study of a Japanese program. Foreign Language Annals, 49(1), 146–161.

National Standards Collaborative Board. (2012). Standard for Japanese language learning (3rd ed.).

Nomura, K., Kataoka, S., & Mochizuki, T. (2019). Understanding the motivations of fluent speakers in beginner-level foreign language classrooms: A Hong Kong study. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 40(7), 618–632.

Norman, J. (1988). Chinese. Cambridge University Press.

Novotna, Z. (1967). Linguistic factors of the low adaptability of loan-words to the lexical system of modern Chinese. Monumenta Serica, 26(1), 103–118.

Rafi, M. (2018). Influential factors in the college decision-making process for Chinese students studying in the U.S. Journal of International Students, 8(4), 1681–1693. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v8i4.224

Sánchez, C. M., Fornerino, M., & Zhang, M. (2006). Motivations and the intent to study abroad among US, French, and Chinese students. Journal of Teaching in International Business, 18(1), 27–52.

Shibatani, M. (1990). The languages of Japan. Cambridge University Press.

Teo, T., Hoi, C. K. W., Gao, X., & Lv, L. (2019). What motivates Chinese university students to learn Japanese? Understanding their motivation in terms of ‘posture.’ The Modern Language Journal, 103(1), 327–342.

Tsang, S. Y. (2012). Learning Japanese as a foreign language in the context of an American university: A qualitative and process‐oriented study on de/motivation at the learning situation level. Foreign Language Annals, 45(1), 130–163.

Yan, K., & Berliner, D. C. (2011). Chinese international students in the United States: Demographic trends, motivations, acculturation features and adjustment challenges. Asia Pacific Education Review, 12(2), 173–184.

Yan, K., & Berliner, D. C. (2013). Chinese international students’ personal and sociocultural stressors in the United States. Journal of College Student Development, 54(1), 62–84.

Yi, S. G. (2001). Why do college and middle school students want to go abroad? Chinese Education & Society, 34(3), 48–56.

Zhang, Q.P. (2000). Reform and development of study-abroad activities in China’s new era. Chinese Education & Society, 33(5), 91–101.




How to Cite

Xu, J. (2020). Why Japanese? Why Not Japanese? : A Case Study of Chinese International Students Studying Japanese at American Universities. Journal of International Students, 10(4), 1023–1039. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i3.1327



Research Articles (English)