Explicit Demonstration of Cross-linguistic Similarities in Teaching Japanese Kanji to Malaysian University Students


  • Kazuhito Uni University of Malaya
  • Paul Chamness Miller Akita International University


Kanji, Malay, vocabulary, semantic similarities, first language


This study examines the usefulness of using Malay to teach Japanese words comprising Chinese characters (“Kanji”) to 107 Malaysian, native Malay-speaking university students. Most participants had no previous knowledge of Japanese and the others were still at the novice level. The experimental group was provided a vocabulary list with written instructions in Malay and Japanese vocabulary that included 28 frequently used characters, whereas the control group was given a list with the same words but without such instructions. The 28 Japanese words were presented as 14 pairs in the list distributed to the experimental group, with each pair comprising a common Kanji component or common Malay radical that highlighted semantic similarities between Japanese and Malay. Both the experimental and control groups were given 30 minutes to learn the 28 Kanji and another 30 minutes to answer identical multiple-choice tests containing 28 questions. After the test, the average scores of the experimental and control groups were analyzed using the t-test. At a 5% confidence level, a significant difference was found between the scores of the two groups (p < .001, t = 6.893, d = 1.34). Thus, the authors concluded that providing a vocabulary list highlighting semantic similarities between Japanese and Malay with written instruction in Malay, the learners’ first language, can benefit native Malay-speaking university students in their acquisition of basic Chinese characters used in Japanese.

Author Biographies

  • Kazuhito Uni, University of Malaya
  • Paul Chamness Miller, Akita International University