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Take an Effective Multidisciplinary Approach to Learning Language


Take an Effective Multidisciplinary Approach to Learning Language


Prof. Muehleisen is currently teaching the basics of applied linguistics at her seminar, in which they discuss and research topics related to language and language learning, including semantics and second language acquisition. Her seminar is popular among many students who have interests in teaching English or Japanese to non-native speakers, second language acquisition and translation study.

Lab Data

Victoria Muehleisen (Associate Professor)
Linguistic Theory and Knowledge for
Second Language Learning and Teaching
Office: Waseda Campus Bldg #11

An international environment where students can pursue their own interests

Prof. Muehleisen is an American professor who has been living in Tokyo and teaching English and linguistics at Waseda University since 1994. In Prof. Muehleisen’s seminar, students are encouraged to explore the ways in which linguistic theory and knowledge can be applied to real world situations. This practice gives them confidence in their ability to speak and teach the English language, something that they will need to succeed in their careers.

The seminar is mainly focused on second language learning and teaching, but students interested in other areas, such as translation or language policy, are also welcomed into the group. The seminar is conducted in English, but it is open to students interested in the theory and how it can be applied to any language.

Prof. Muehleisen’s seminar is comprised of 18 third year students and 21 final year students, a big number for such a seminar, demonstrating its popularity. Waseda University is home to the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS), which counts many foreign students among its student body. The seminar includes students from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the United States, Italy and Sweden. English is the main language used in the group, although some discussions are conducted in Japanese for the ease and understanding of all students involved.

Discussions can be Japanese or English, but their presentation must be given in English.

An international approach presents students with many opportunities

At the SILS, all students have the opportunity to study abroad, and a few students even obtain double degrees while doing so. This is classified under the one-year Study Abroad Program (SAP). Students have an opportunity to study at Waseda for a year, move to another university abroad for one year, and then come back to spend more time at Waseda, all without leaving their current course of study. For example, the students in Prof. Muehleisen’s seminar this year did their study abroad in the United States, Sweden, Spain, Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Some students choose to study politics or economics while they are at the SILS. This is very unique approach, and students can take advantage of this opportunity to study across their different areas of interest.

Prof. Muehleisen’s seminar sometimes interacts with similar groups held at sister universities in Finland and Malaysia. She is now planning a video conference with students at Finland’s Jyväskylä University in the spring of 2019. During this video conference, she is planning to host a joint presentation session to demonstrate what the students have learned here at Waseda and exchange this knowledge with students in Finland. The students are really looking forward to this program.

Although some of the students found communicating in English difficult at first, they now enjoy having discussions in English with both Japanese and foreign students alike. This is one of the main reasons why many of them chose Prof. Muehleisen’s seminar in the first place. It has allowed students to interact with others in English, improving their communication skills and helping them to make new friends.

In addition to helping students feel more confident about their proficiency with the English language, Prof. Muehleisen’s highly sought-after seminar gives students the skills they need to start looking for jobs after graduation. In the seminar, students are encouraged to share tips, hints and successful strategies for not only finding suitable positions, but also acing the interview and getting hired.

By spending time learning together in Prof. Muehleisen’s seminar, like-minded students are able to uncover their own potential, select higher education opportunities, and/or practice valuable skills for finding employment.

Prof. Muehleisen explaining with a YouTube video in her seminar.

Hands-on learning and discussion

The topics discussed when we visited were "semantic priming" and the "Stroop effect." Prof. Muehleisen presented a YouTube video showing the text of color names that were written in same color of the text, and the text of color names that were different from the text, such as word "orange" written in black ink. The video showed that people are slower to say the name of colors when the word "orange" was shown in black. Students were then divided into 5 sub-groups, and they discussed what they had seen in the video.

In the breakaway groups, the students were asked to do additional reading, discuss the topics, and give presentations on how what they have learned relates to the basics of applied linguistics. Therefore, students not only learn the theories of linguistics, but they also learn how to give effective presentations and practice their public speaking. In the classroom, members of these small groups really enjoy the discussions, and they listen and learn from each other. Some students are not confident when speaking in English, but those who are fluent English help them to prepare; everyone and encourages each other in a friendly manner.

Students learned about the priming effect of language by watching YouTube videos.

Group discussion is conducted in a friendly atmosphere.

Message from the Teacher

In this seminar, students are exploring ways in which linguistic theory and knowledge can be applied to actual situations, including language teaching and language learning. Through discussions (in English) with classmates from a variety of countries and backgrounds, students develop their critical thinking skills and their ability to express their viewpoints clearly. While learning materials are provided and discussion topics are suggested in the seminar, students make their own choices and engage in discussions in order to enhance their personal course of study; they then develop their writing skills in the course of completing a graduation thesis in English. Along the way, they also give many presentations, both in groups and individually, thus practicing useful public speaking skills.

However, my seminar is just one opportunity available for students at the SILS. Students in all fields can engage in cross-disciplinary discussions, seminars and conferences that help them further their skills and boost their learning process.

Message from a Senior Student

I was born in Italy. I am a third-year student and live in an apartment near the University campus. I speak Japanese fluently now, and the reason why I came to study at Waseda was for its sophisticated language level. I used to study Japanese at a private language learning school in Tokyo, but I was not satisfied with the level of study.

Things in Japan are full of surprises. There are so many different people, and the culture is really different from Italy. I love Japanese language and have enjoyed learning with Prof. Muehleisen. The seminar has given me many occasions to give presentations and engage in interesting group discussions. I tend to have English-speaking friends, so this seminar gives me an opportunity to talk to Japanese students in Japanese, which is something that I really enjoy. The faculty members are very helpful, and I have no time to be homesick.

Federica Margarelli

Message from a Senior Student

I am 19 years old, and interested in Waseda’s study abroad program (as are many students) this program allows students to attend a foreign university without leaving their present course of study. I was born and raised in Japan, and had never spoken English in a real world scenario, outside of the classroom.

In my class, there are some students who are Japanese but who were raised in other countries. I have a lot of stimulation here; I have to admit that my perspective was quite narrow before I came to Waseda. Now, my field of view is much wider. After studying in the United Kingdom for a year, I can now have interesting and varied discussions with native language speakers. My future dream is to be involved in teaching and education. I am currently interested in second language acquisition and would like to become a high school teacher or a Japanese language teacher abroad.

Yuuma Mitsuhashi

Recommended Book

Mapping Applied Linguistics, a Guide for Students and Practitioners』by Christopher J. Hall, Patrick H. Smith and Rachel Wicaksono (Routledge, 2011)

This is a guide book, written by three scholars with different backgrounds, for those students and practitioners who are studying or are interested in applied linguistics. A range of theories and methods are introduced, integrating sociocultural and cognitive perspectives. Those who are interested in multilingualism, discourse analysis, teaching language and bilingual education, language pathology and forensic linguistics will appreciate the book’s detailed content and its many resources and learning materials.

In Prof. Muehleisen’s seminar, this book was used to study the ways in which applied linguistics can be found in everyday life. Students discussed the content, gave presentations in English, and listened to each other’s presentations.