Tokyo JALT Journal Vol. 2 2014


Update 08/28/2018

This journal has been edited for readability for publication on this site. Photos, charts, and tables, all painstakingly created by the authors and carefully posted by the editors of the TJJ have been removed. We apologize for this and appreciate your understanding. All of the documents are included in the PDF file which is available on the main page. Thank you and enjoy the Tokyo JALT Journal.

Best regards,

Matthew Kocourek

Incoming President

Tokyo JALT


Dear JALT Tokyo Journal Readers,

Welcome to the second issue of Tokyo JALT Journal. This issue opens with a groundbreaking five-part article by the Learner Development SIG which describes its outreach project in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The project is a unique and meaningful one, and makes for a powerful and emotional read.

The remaining four articles can be divided into two thematic groups: Liz Yoshikawa and Lina Valdivia explore aspects of Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory from the Japanese English educational perspective, while Alan Harper and Josef Williamson run comparative studies of Japanese learners in different cultural contexts.

Lina Valdivia describes the evolution of English education in Japan from the high school perspectives and argues for more transparency in assessment proceedings. She positions herself as ethnographer within the Japanese educational system, an observer who studies patterns and historical precedent and, mindful of Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory, puts forward some interesting ideas on why and what Japanese English education has become today.

With his article on motivational differences, Alan Harper compares two groups of Japanese students, one group in an EFL context and the other in an ESL one. His findings highlight the differences in both motivation and attitudes in English education for students of similar backgrounds in different educational surroundings.

In his article on turn-taking and consensus building behaviors, Josef Williamson compares two groups, one Japanese and one native English in a business English context. The tasks set were practical and highly relevant to the students’ actual experiences of English, therefore his findings show the importance of these two things to anyone teaching English, not just within the business world but also in the world of education.

I am looking forward with great anticipation to receiving contributions for our third issue, with a publication goal of October/ November (deadline for articles: August 31, 2015). This means that there is plenty of time to put the thinking caps on, do a little research and write up a paper about your work! Remember, it all goes on the CV and your article could be the stepping-stone into a new job. Please find the details below:

  1. Deadline: August 31, 2015
  2. The style is a modified 6th edition of the Purdue University APA guidelines

I hope you enjoy this year's edition of Tokyo JALT Journal and I am looking forward to your future contributions.

Your editor,

Eucharia Donnery

Tokyo JALT Journal

Table of Contents

1. Learner Development Outreach Translation Project for Tohoku

Sayuri Hasegawa, Andy Barfield, Ted O’Neill, Rob Moreau, and Mayumi Takizawa

2. Considering Context: The Implementation of Visual Thinking Strategies [コンテクストの考察:ビジュアル・シンキング・ストラテジーの実施]

Elizabeth Yoshikawa

3. Globalization and English as a Foreign Language: Exploring Paths Towards Educational Change in Japan

Linamaria A. Valdivia

4. Effects of Teaching Pedagogies on Motivational Variables of Japanese English L2 Learners: A Comparative Study

Alan G. Harper

5. L1 Pragmatic Transfer in English Meetings: An Analysis of Japanese Turn-Taking and Consensus-building Behaviors

Josef Williamson

Copyright © 2014 Tokyo JALT JournalAll articles contained herein are copyrighted by their respective authors and cannot be reproduced or distributed without expressing permission.
Content formatting may have changed due to website publication. For intended formatting, please download the original document here.

TJJ Vol. 2 2014

Learner Development Outreach Translation Project for Tohoku

Sayuri Hasegawa, Andy Barfield, Ted O’Neill, Rob Moreau, and Mayumi Takizawa

JALT Learner Development SIG

Keywords: 3.11, junior high school children, stories, translation project, outreach

1 Overview

The Learner Development (LD) SIG’s Tohoku Outreach activities were generously supported by the Tokyo JALT Chapter in March 2014. By way of thanks, through the following five short articles, we would like to share with you some of our work and reflections to do with such outreach activities. These articles focus on different dimensions to a translation project for a junior high school in Rikuzentakata, a small coastal city in Iwate that was one of the worst hit areas on March 11, 2011. The project involved over 50 teachers and students translating into English the junior high school children’s accounts, Looking Back on This Past Year after the Earthquake, of their 3.11 experiences that they wrote in March 2012, one year after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster. This landmark piece of work became an important part of the second LD SIG Tohoku Outreach Weekend, which all five of us took part in just before the third anniversary of 3.11 in March 2014. The children’s accounts also helped us each appreciate better the extraordinary strength and courage of a particular community in Tohoku in experiencing and coping with 3.11 and its aftermath.

The LD SIG’s Tohoku Outreach activities have expanded from making targeted material and financial donations in 2011 and 2012 towards more specific activities carried out by groups of LD SIG members in 2013 and 2014. In March 2013, ten members of the LD SIG went to Tohoku as part of a new outreach initiative to learn about how different individuals and organizations in Tohoku hope to develop their communities in the future - and how LD SIG members may be able to contribute over the longer term. The 2013 group visited a range of groups and organizations (businesses, communities, NGOs, schools, and temporary housing) in Rikuzentakata (Iwate-ken) & Kesennuma and Sendai (Miyagi-ken), to listen to the stories of teachers, young people, community members and leaders, and seniors in Tohoku. Members of the SIG also did a workshop with Filipino teachers to learn about the lives of Filipino migrants in Tohoku and took part in a promotional event for a Social Enterprise English School (SEELS) established by the Filipino community after 3.11 in Sendai.

These links were further strengthened at the Learner Development 20th Anniversary Conference (LD20) in November 2013, with the participation of invited guest speakers from Tohoku. The Tohoku Forum at the LD20 conference showcased different projects that SIG members were engaged in and included initial discussions about the translation project. A short time later, in early December 2013, different LD SIG members met with a multi-university Tohoku Research Group at Hosei University in Tokyo and took part in a presentation forum in Tokyo in late December 2013 involving students from that research group, as well as Musashi-san, the local community leader in Rikuzentakata who spoke at LD20 with his daughter. Musashi-san is also chair of the Parent-Teacher Association at Kesen Junior High School and has been the key local contact for the members of the LD SIG Outreach group working together with some of their students on translating into English over 90 Junior High School children’s accounts of their 3.11 experiences that they wrote in March 2012 one year after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster.

In the following five inter-related short articles, we each look at that translation project from different angles. In the first contribution, Translation Project Coordinator Sayuri Hasegawa introduces the genesis of the project and presents some of the key issues that this work has involved. Following this, Andy Barfield and Ted O’Neill each explain how they worked together with some of their students on the translation project; they also share some of the insights that such teacher-learner collaboration and dialogue led to. Rob Moreau then continues by looking at how reading the children’s accounts and directly visiting the Rikuzentakata area in March 2014 strongly impressed upon him the value of engaging in such outreach activities. In the final contribution, Mayumi Takizawa takes an extended reflective look at what she learned from two children in particular in Rikuzentakata, exploring how their stories offer powerful examples of ‘near-peer role modeling’ (Murphey, 1996; Dörnyei & Murphey, 2003) and ‘diversity peering’ (Murphey, 2012).


Murphey, T. (2012). Autonomy, agency, and social capital: Surfing the altruistic coral reef café on a 40-mile layer of life! Learning Learning, 19(2), 4-17. Retrieved on 1 May 2014 from, T. (l996). Near peer role models. JALT Teacher Education SIG Newsletter Teacher Talking to Teacher, 4(3), 21-22.Dörnyei, Z., & Murphey, T. (2003). Group dynamics in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2 Learning from Coordinating an LD SIG Outreach Translation Project

Sayuri Hasegawa

2-26 Second Year Girl: …Many people died in the disaster including those who had taken care of me and those who were younger than me. I want to make the best of every moment every day for them. I want to appreciate what had been taken for granted before and I want to remember all the experiences and keep sharing them with others. That is our responsibility, of those who have gone through the disaster…

The 2012 collection of accounts, Looking Back on This Past Year after the Earthquake, by the children of Kesen Junior High School (JHS), was distributed in Japanese to the families of the children, Rikuzentakata City Hall, and the local library. Through discussions with Musashi-san and with Learner Development members at different events in the past several months, we came to see the LD SIG Outreach Children’s Translation Project as a way of extending those children’s Japanese accounts to a wider audience of English readers and of supporting the children’s wishes for their memories to be protected and their voices heard.

2.1 Setting up a Shared Online System

The project started to get off the ground at the end of last year, 2013. Musashi-san handed the booklet of children’s accounts to Mayumi Takizawa in December 2013 at the multi-university Tohoku Research Group meeting. His one request was that we should ensure that the children’s identities be kept anonymous. We should make sure they were introduced by gender and year only, and that other names that may be in the accounts be referred to by the term of relationship with the writer.

We created a PDF file of the 140-page booklet for sharing online, as well as a ‘sign-up sheet’ for translators to enter their names beside each child account. This online system served as the basis of the collaborative translation project, making it possible to share and manage the translation process together amongst participants in different parts of Japan. It also served as a means to protect the privacy of the children, as only those who joined the Outreach translation team had direct access to the online file of the children’s accounts. Later, we would use the same system for each translator to upload their finished translation, to be shared by all involved.

2.2 Gathering Together the Translation Team

At the LD SIG local get-together in mid December 2013, Andy Barfield explained the project and showed the folder of stories. Different LD SIG members responded positively, deciding to join the Outreach group and to help in some way with the translation project. I then emailed the expanding group of LD SIG Outreach members to discuss various aspects involved in the process of translation, such as timing, children’s privacy, and who they might invite to translate the accounts with them. By January 2014, we had agreed on a bilingual confidentiality agreement specifying privacy requirements, and project members had also begun to ask their students about their interest in translating the accounts. Before the end of January, we had also emailed all 200+ LD SIG members and invited them to take part in the translation project, either individually or in collaboration with their students. The team of translators now came to 11 LD SIG members and 29 students. Additionally, four members of Elementary School Thematic English Education Movement (ESTEEM), one of JALT Domestic Partner organizations, and 12 students from Nagoya International School asked to join after hearing of the project. Each organization had a key contact with whom I coordinated the exchange of translations and other conditions such as formats and timing. This brought the total number of people involved at the translation stage to 56. With enough translators signed up to work on 92 Japanese accounts, we aimed to get all the translations completed within four weeks. Two LD members (Mathew Porter in Hiroshima & Caroline Ross in Tokyo) volunteered to work as editors. In addition to translating, they would help proofread and edit the English translations of the children's accounts.

2.3 Presentation of Initial Translation to Musashi-san

By the time we met Musashi-san in early March 2014 on the second LD SIG Tohoku Outreach Weekend, we had preliminary translations for all 92 accounts, but there was still editing work to do and other decisions to make about how the final product would be organized. We discussed these questions with Musashi-san, who expressed his deep gratitude to all involved. Although we were unable to complete everything by the third anniversary of 3.11, we hope to deliver a final edited version in the near future.

*Photos and more available in the PDF version here*

When we returned from the outreach weekend, I shared online with the LD SIG translators a meeting report that recorded the details of the meeting with Musashi-san and some photos of our visit to the remains of Kesen JHS as the third anniversary of 3.11 approached (see Figures 1 and 2 above). Figure 1 looks down the coastal road to the school. The children and teachers ran up this road, and then took the narrow lane in Figure 2 to escape into the mountains to safety.

2.4 Working Out How to Edit the Translations

The editing process provides many challenges, but it is moving along towards completion. Many emails have been exchanged during the process of translation to discuss topics ranging from how to translate or not words in Japanese such as onigiri to the issue of standardization. How can translating the voices of 92 individuals by over 56 people be standardized? Should such a diversity of voices be standardized in any case? Perhaps the conventional rule for a translation project is that a single standard variety of English should be adhered to, but within this project many different users of English have worked together in small, localized interactions and collaborations. Would such diversity and collaborative learner development be best served by a single linguistic standard or not? Another complex issue that we are in the midst of dealing with is whether we may have the permission of the school authorities and parents to have the original Japanese included in the final publication to make the project fully bilingual. Two years have passed since the children wrote the accounts, and three years since 3.11. This translation project is for the children and their families, above all. We hope, too, that the finished English translations will be available on the web for different English reading communities and users, as well as for Japanese reading communities and users too, so that they can learn about the children’s experiences. That, I feel, would be a fitting way for the children’s memories to be protected and their voices heard.

3 Learning from Working on the Children’s Writing Together

Andy Barfield, Hitomi Sano and Sachiko Uchiyama

From the end of January 2014, I worked with two second-year university students, Hitomi and Sachiko, on the translation project. They each took five accounts by third-year children at the school, and together we developed a way of translating which was discussion-based. The translation project helped us become aware of different challenges in creating voice for young people in Rikuzentakata about their 3.11 experiences. It also led us to reflect on what we had learnt from the children.

With my limited reading ability in Japanese, Sachiko recorded all 10 accounts so I could listen to them and use the audio-recording. My goal was to listen a few times and then transcribe parts of each account that I could get or almost get, and work from those parts to the other less clear parts when I met later with the students. Hitomi and Sachiko each needed about an hour to make a translation of one account. I also needed an hour, separately before we met. We then took another hour to discuss things together and finalize things for one account, speeding up as we worked together more.

On reflection, it seems now that we were trying to find voices for the young teenagers in Rikuzentakata. At one point we noticed that one of the writers was rather more informal about expressing a feeling of happiness. I tried to imagine what a teenager would say in English, and I realised that all the slang expressions I was accessing were for my generation and out of date for a translation now in 2014. So we decided to look at an online slang dictionary, and in the end we got to something like "totally pumped". This seemed more or less appropriate, but was that the voice of a young person in English? Whose imagined identity was being voiced here?

A week or so after we had finished the translations, I met again with Hitomi and Sachiko to ask them what they had learnt from taking part in this translation project. Their responses revealed the profound effect that the translation work had had on them.

Sachiko: Some stories are really shocking, and they also contain their happiness, so that’s why I think these are real stories. I was really impressed by the stories. I could feel what the students were feeling when 3.11 happened and one year after 3.11, so this was a really good experience for me. I also found that in English the meaning of ‘ganbare’ is difficult to decide – there’s no fixed phrase, but it’s very important for the children because it shows how they repeatedly encouraged themselves and other people in challenging situations.

Hitomi: I’ve always done translating from English to Japanese, but this time I wasn’t sure if my version was correct or not, so that was difficult. I discussed my translations with Andy, and he sometimes said a different expression from my translation, and that was interesting for me because I didn’t know how to express the meaning by myself.

Sachiko: It was completely different from translations that I’ve done before. In Japanese education we usually translate from English to Japanese, and just translate from textbooks, so there is no real situation. That’s not interesting - there is no discussion about the meaning and about what the issue is, and what we think about that issue - this is the biggest difference with my previous translation experience, I think.

I then asked Hitomi and Sachiko what they had learnt about the children themselves.

Hitomi: The story-tellers are more positive and active than I thought they would be. They always said that they found a sense of gratitude and they could realise the importance of daily life. Although I don’t have any burden (‘higai’) in my life, I think I have to learn from their experiences. They lived without any electricity and water and used fire. I think these things are natural and ordinary for me, so I feel I should appreciate more what I have. They also talked about club activities. I did volleyball in JHS and SHS, so I also have to appreciate club activities and the people who support our activities – teachers, my parents, and so on. I hadn’t thought about that before.

3-6 Third-Year Boy: … With school starting, the happiest thing of all was that I could take part in club activities. Because of the disaster, I had been worrying about whether we could do club activities or not and I’d actually started to give up hope, so I was glad when we could do that. Although we were third-year students and didn’t have much time left at the school, we practiced and could take part in the last Junior High School Sports Competition. We lost both games we played, but I was happy because I took part in the games with the same team members I had been playing basketball together with for three years, and that was the best game of all ...

Sachiko: Some stories are very shocking, but the thing which impressed me the most is that each story has some kind of happy aspect – that really surprised me. I thought that every person in Tohoku had been suffering from 3.11 for two years or more, but most children got happiness from seeing their friends and starting school again – and doing sports – this is the core of their normal lives. They mention singing together and playing baseball with friends, so these are the sources of happiness for them. This is their strength, but also the sensitive or vulnerable point in their lives. To feel their real voice is the biggest point that I could get from doing these translations.

Hitomi: Since the disaster happened I didn’t do anything for people in the disaster-affected areas. Some of my friends went to Fukushima as volunteers and said, “You should go and see the situation because after one year the situation hasn’t changed.” I was scared by the fact the situation hadn’t changed, so this translating experience has been good for me, because it’s one opportunity to know about the experiences of local people in Tohoku. Actually, I want to go to Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, but I haven’t taken yet time to volunteer and doing something for these areas. I will try to from now.

Sachiko: I feel the children are strong, but they require special support. They can recover from the shock that I could feel in their real stories, but some students are completely devastated by what happened in the earthquake. The most important kind of support is to make some places for the children to play and to see their friends, and also it’s important for them to have education with their friends and teachers that they know, because some students were not comfortable after 3.11 when schools started again. The children must all have their own opinions about 3.11 and reconstruction, so to think about their opinions and to discuss these in class and talk with others in their community is really important because the children will become adults and be the future generation in Tohoku.

4 Puzzling through Translation Difficulties Together Reveals Simple and Surprising Understandings of 3.11

Ted O’Neill

Working on this translation project with a small group of students was a productive learning experience for all of us. This task was an excellent way to put some of our classroom tools and practices to real use. As a group, we improved how we used technology, our appreciation for the craft of translation, and our knowledge of the experiences and feelings of young people in the tsunami-affected area.

I sent out one email message describing the project to two of my classes from last year and a few other students who I thought might be interested. Six replied, and we translated nine of the accounts. I started first by transcribing one handwritten account into a Japanese text file which I asked my students to proofread and correct for me. One student quickly and efficiently corrected all of my misreadings or missed characters in bright red text. The tables had certainly turned and everyone saw that I needed significant support in working with Japanese. So, it was time for everyone to begin.

Unlike Andy, Sachiko, and Hitomi who spent a significant amount of time discussing, we did all of our work online in text for practical reasons; classes were over and we were dispersed throughout Tokyo, Miyagi, Fukushima, Indonesia, and Boston. Working online was also an application of work from the previous school year. One of the six students had been in a year long paperless class with me–all content and work was on Google Docs and Drive. I also used these tools less intensively with two of the other translators in other classes.

The inexperienced users got started and had a few small problems but were supported by the examples of the more experienced users, direct answers to questions by email, and by asking friends. This last informed more people about the project- a good result I think. Soon, everyone was able to work together well.

Anna: I liked it because I can choose the time to do work. I could do it even in the early morning, late at night, anytime my concentration was good condition!

Kenta: I think Google Drive is good and powerful tool for school especially for writing, because many people can work at the same time in same files. We can easily help each other and also we can read others'.

Keisuke: It was as if I was doing my homework (joking). Since I have never used the system, I had mechanical problems at first, but friends told me how to do it and I gradually got used to it.

I created a sign-up sheet for each learner to select one passage. Later, some chose a second. One member of the group joined too late to get "her own" but still participated actively as an editor for the others. I then asked each translator to sign up as the first checker or editor and second editor for each passage. At first, this went slowly, and I was often the first commenter. However, the editing started to occur more organically. Rather than signing up, everyone just started reading, commenting on, and directly correcting each other’s work. This built over time until one of the later accounts had 33 comments from 4 learners and none directly from me until the final edit. The learners had engaged and made the tools and process their own because this was a project they all valued.

Anna: Because I always wish people in Tohoku well and I want to do whatever helps them.

Keisuke: I didn't have time or courage to go to Tohoku by myself, but still I would be happy to help the Tohoku people. If my skills would be any help, I thought that was great.

Trying to understand each account at a distance drew the learners closer to the experiences of people in Rikuzentakata. As Kenta was puzzling through a difficult passage in his hotel room in Boston we ran into something we just did not understand.


In the morning, all we had to eat was the sanma left behind by the disaster and I ate a lot of them. I did not care the fact that I was eating sanma from the tsunami.

In checking the English translation, I was having trouble understanding this. I asked Kenta to explain and he replied:

Actually, I am confused too. Here Japanese sentences said that "the tsunami brought the sanma", if we catch the meanings naturally. It does not make sense for me and it seems that there are some Japanese errors. But, also we have to make sure that the earthquake was so "special" that we cannot imagine what happened. I mean it could had happened...

So, I took this passage back to the whole group of LD translators for help. And, we learned something that really affected Kenta strongly, and all of the other members of our group as well.

Sayuri replied with the background information we needed, "According to 遠野まごころネット [Tono Magokoro Net] , a volunteer group, there was a fish factory that was hit by the tsunami and 800 tons of fish including sanma were spread all over."

This made clear to Kenta, myself, and everyone that "we cannot imagine what happened." The seemingly impossible became not just possible, but normal for people in Rikuzentakata. Making the trip to study the area made this one particular image of the devastating experience real as we drove past the rebuilt fish processing plant and walked the hillsides where that child had scavenged the sanma three years before. None of this understanding would have taken place without the challenge of translating these accounts.

5 A Potent Reminder of 3.11: My Experiences with the Translation Project through a Visit to Rikuzentakata

Rob Moreau

On March 7-9th 2014 five members of the Learner Development SIG Tohoku Outreach group returned to revisit Kesennuma and Rikuzentakata. Part of this trip was to reconnect with the people who the SIG had first met one year before and who were directly connected with the Kesen Chugaku translation project. I was unique amongst the group as I was not involved in the translation effort, having only recently joined the Outreach group. In this account I would like to reflect on how the experiences I had visiting Rikuzentakata and hearing first-hand accounts helped to make this Translation Project come alive for me and underline the value of developing and maintaining personal relationships with people in the Tohoku area.

On our first approach to Rikuzentakata, one of the first landmarks that we passed was the Kesen Junior High School, with the lone “Miracle Pine” visible in the background. This was the spot where so many of the children’s accounts had originated. I was struck by how close the school was to the sea. Recalling the first lines of many children’s accounts of their experiences of March 11, such as sitting in the gymnasium, or practicing the school song for the graduation ceremony, created a profoundly moving juxtaposition for me as I looked out onto the hollowed out shell of the school, three years after it had been destroyed in an instant, a mere 35 minutes or so after the initial quake. I tried to imagine how the students could have escaped from such a place.

On the Saturday, as part of our tour with our English-speaking guide, Konno-san, we stopped at Kesen Junior High School and retraced the steps that the students had taken in order to escape from the tsunami. It was a powerful experience to follow their steps. In retrospect we knew how much time they had to escape, but at the time it must have been absolutely frightening as the aftershocks continued one after another, including seven that were at least as powerful as the earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand less than one month before (The Telegraph, 2011). Konno-San told us the people of Rikuzentakata had no idea of the enormity of the tsunami that was to hit until the last minute either. Given the school's proximity to the sea, it was fortuitous that the children had practiced earthquake drills regularly, including one just 2 days before 3.11.

Walking along the muddy path up towards the high ground where the students of Kesen Junior High School moved to safety made real for me the scale of the situation the students faced and the time they had in which to flee. Of course for the children, as reflected in their writings, it wasn't the preparation and readiness that formed the most poignant memories but the fear and uncertainty.

2-18 Second-Year Girl: … “This isn’t any ordinary earthquake. The ground is still shaking even though I’m outside. I’ve never experienced one like this before.” These were the thoughts that constantly floated about in my head. The aftershocks continued. I was so scared that I couldn’t even think straight. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the words “Massive tsunami warning” followed by someone shouting “Get to higher ground!” I ran as quickly as I could, my face white with fear. As long as the aftershocks continued, I simply could not gather my thoughts and calm myself

down. As I looked upon Takata Matsubara, I saw the wave recede far more than I had ever seen. Then it was pushing straight in my direction, accompanied by an ear shattering roar. The only words I could muster were “I’m scared.”

Children at other schools had similar escapes as those who fled from Kesen Junior High School. One of these schools was the Kesen Elementary School where we had stopped on our tour and had the opportunity to hear a first-hand account from a girl who was a pupil there when the tsunami struck. Gazing across to the hills behind the foundations and the rubble where the school had stood was a powerful moment as our student guide recounted the route that she and the others had taken to be reunited with their families. In the translated accounts we also hear time and again how the students didn’t know if their parents were alive or not. It must have seemed like a lifetime traversing over the hills to get to the community center on the other side that day.

1-15 first year student: … We evacuated to the playground still wearing our indoor shoes. About thirty minutes later, a member of the local fire brigade shouted, “The tsunami is over the bridge!” We ran up the mountain behind our school. Students in the lower years were crying, worrying about their families. I held back my tears. The first place I sheltered in was the home of a second-grade student. Aftershocks were coming all the time. I will never forget this disaster for as long as I live.

Being able to visit these areas where the children had run from the tsunami was a profoundly moving experience. Standing on the very route the students took while fleeing the deadly tsunami of March 11 and trying to imagine the scale of what was happening on that day helped to lift the words the students of Kesen Junior High School had written and helped to create a heightened sense of the reality of the situations written about in the accounts. The experience also helped to give me a deeper connection to the translation project and served to remind me of the value of the outreach trips and maintaining the bonds that the group has developed through this project.


Unknown author (2011, March 15). Japan earthquake: Timeline of the disaster, from tsunami to nuclear crisis. The Telegraph. Retrieved on 1 May 2014 from

6 Near-peer Role Modeling and Diversity Peering for Autonomy

Mayumi Takizawa

In March 2013, on the first Learner Development SIG Outreach Weekend to Tohoku members of the LD group, including myself, met with three female students from Kesen Junior High School (JHS) in Rikuzentakata. Quite unexpectedly we got to know about several episodes in their lives that were connected with their English learning histories and development. I became especially interested in the stories of two of the children, Kana and Yumi, who had contributed their reflective accounts to the school booklet. Taking a new look at the episodes this time, I have realized that “near-peer role modeling” (Murphey, 1996; Dörnyei & Murphey, 2003) and “diversity peering” (Murphey, 2012) seem to characterize their processes of becoming autonomous learners as well as English users. Murphey and Arao (2001, p.1) define near-peer role models (NPRMs) as “people who are near to ‘us’ in several ways: age, ethnicity, gender, interests, past or present experiences, and also in proximity and in frequency of social contact” and “whom the learners may respect and admire” (Dörnyei & Murphey, 2003, p.128). Murphey and Falout (2012) claim that learners may realize a sense of autonomy by "teaching and learning from both their in-class friends and other-class counterparts, learning to learn through interacting with near peer role models”. On the other hand, Murphey (2012) also emphasizes the potential of “diversity peering, which is the bringing of diverse people, who are quite different from us, into our realms of imagination and modeling them, such that they become our peers (even if only imaginary)" (p.8). He argues that young learners may do “diversity peering” more readily than adults, and are "adaptable and flexible in this regard” (p.8). In what follows, I would like to introduce different significant episodes from Kana and Yumi’s language learning histories of English since 3.11, in order to explore how near-peer role modeling and diversity peering may promote autonomous language learning and use.

The East Japan Great Earthquake occurred when Kana was in the 6th grade at Osabe Elementary School and Yumi was in the 1st grade at Kesen Junior High School (JHS). While Osabe Elementary School was on high ground away from the coast, Kesen JHS was washed away. Both of their families were deeply affected by tsunami, and Kana and Yumi started to live in temporary housing units in Rikuzentakata. One year after 3.11, Kana and Yumi wrote reflective accounts about what had happened to them when the earthquake had struck. Kana wrote:

We waited in the cracked school playground for people to come and pick us up. When nearly everyone had been met, I suddenly thought about grandma and grandpa: Were they ok? Or were they trapped beneath some toppled over furniture? Is that why they hadn’t come to pick me up yet? I never want to experience the same terror as I did then ever again in my life.

Yumi focused on learning from the tragedy:

I look back now and the memories of the disaster are all harsh and painful. There was nothing positive about the disaster. But I’ve learned so many things and with support of so many people, I’m alive now. I’m feeling full of gratitude. And I don’t want to just erase the painful memories of the disaster. I want to face them and work through them and turn them around into something positive. I don’t think I can’t give anything back to all the people who supported me. Instead, I want to live each and every day with a smile.

In early 2012, Yumi and Kana had been invited to the Czech Republic and to Germany respectively with other students as a support for children in the disaster-affected area. When we first met in March 2013, Yumi especially seemed impressed with this experience and told us about how happy she had been to finally communicate with her host sister. Although Kana didn’t talk about her visit to Germany much at that time, this year in March she looked back on that episode as an important first experience for her in using English by communicating with her host family and other people. This had motivated her to learn English harder afterwards too.

When I met Kana again in March 2014, she told me that it had been very helpful for her to study English often with Yumi soon after she had entered Kesen Junior High School. Yumi had been really good at English and had showed Kana how to study at home, especially to review the lessons at school and to practice repeatedly what the teacher had already taught her in class or what she had already understood, so that she would be able to understand more difficult lessons later. Kana had followed her peer’s advice undoubtedly because she already knew Yumi was a good English learner and trusted her as a good model. That was how Kana started her own autonomous English learning, and she often came to learn and follow what Yumi had experienced afterward.

Yumi's Experiences

On March 2, 2013, during the LD SIG’s first Tohoku Outreach visit to Rikuzentakata, Yumi gave us the English speech in Yahagi Community Centre. Her speech is shown below.

Learn from an Easter Egg

Do you know where the Czech Republic is? You may say “No.” To tell the truth, I didn’t exactly know where it was. I also didn’t know what language they spoke before I went there. I was invited to the Czech Republic as a part of a program there as support of the earthquake disaster last March for ten days. When I was in the Czech Republic I stayed with a Czech family for one day. The host mother was Japanese. Asako was their daughter. She is one year younger than me. I cannot speak Czech, and she cannot speak Japanese, either. At first, we couldn’t talk about anything because we were very nervous. So she thought and thought. After that she decided to make an Easter egg for me. Even though she didn’t know me very well, she tried hard to make an Easter egg for me. It was pink and very cute. Her mother told me that she had made it to bring me good luck. I didn’t know her language but I could understand how she felt. When she gave me the egg, I was very happy and smiled. That smile helped break the ice between us. Finally, little by little we started speaking to each other in English. It wasn’t perfect English but we could understand each other and we became good friends after that. From then on, I tried to speak English and smile whenever I could. Before I went to the Czech Republic, I was really selfish. Before the trip, my future dream was just to be involved in or do some sort of international work. Through this trip, I learned two things. The first thing I learned was that smiling makes people happy. Body language is very important when communicating with others especially when they don’t speak your language. The second and equally important thing is to speak English. Your English doesn’t have to be perfect but you have to try to speak English to make communication possible. If you don’t try, your English won’t improve and you won’t be able to communicate with others. Since I returned to Japan, my way of thinking has changed and my future dream has changed as well. Since the disaster that occurred on March 11, I’ve been supported by a lot of people. So I want to help people in need someday. There are people in need all over the world and if everyone tried a little, we can make their lives better. Finally, I want to become a cabin attendant in the future. This way I can meet and greet many people with a big smile and hopefully make their journey a little better. If we try hard, we can change the world for the better.”

Kana’s father later told us that the experience of giving her speech to us must have helped Yumi become more confident of her English learning and motivated to be a better learner as well as English user. A month after giving the speech to us, Yumi entered the Study Abroad Department, Morioka Chuo High School. She had decided to make her dream come true even though the school is very far from Rikuzentakata. Then, in February this year, Yumi left to go and study for a year at a school in Adelaide, Australia, which was reported in the local newspaper.

Kana’s Experiences

In June 2012, after being asked by the people in Craig, Alaska, two American pilots visited Kesen JHS to return a basketball that had drifted across the Pacific Ocean after 3.11 from Kana’s school to Craig. That was how the students of Kana’s school and the school in Craig started to correspond with each other. This exchange also led children in Alaska to learn more about earthquakes as well as Japan because they sometimes occur there too. These episodes were introduced and broadcast on NHK BS, as “海を渡る震災漂流物 ~ umi wo wataru shinsai hyouryubutsu ” (Disaster objects drifting across the ocean) for the second anniversary of 3.11 just after the Learner Development SIG’s first Tohoku Outreach in March, 2013.

Kana had exchanged letters in English with an elementary school girl called Alicia in Alaska. In the NHK program, Kana mentioned that she could forget everything negative when she read Alicia’s letter and wrote a response about their common favourite idol Justin Bieber or other fun things she did. Yet, Alicia later reported how scared she had been when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit Craig in January, 2013 and she had wanted to know from Kana what she should do to protect herself (see Figure 3 below). Kana had felt a little perplexed and said that she needed some more time to talk about the earthquake to other people, but would like to do it someday and wrote about her favourite volleyball player Kimura Saori instead in her letter at that time.

*Photos and more available in the full pdf version*

In September 2013, Kana participated in the preliminary round of the Takamado-no miya’s Cup All-Japan Junior High School English Speech Contest in Iwate Prefecture as a representative of Kesen JHS, as Yumi had done the previous year. In her English speech she talked about her dream of becoming a care worker and a local English-speaking tour guide in Rikuzentakata. The next month, Kana gave her speech again at her school festival, and then in November 2013 she took part in the Tohoku Forum at the Learner Development SIG's 20th Anniversary Conference as a guest speaker with her father at Gakushuin University. This time she gave her speech as part of her father's conference presentation.

In the winter of 2014, Kana studied English harder with volunteers and other students at a study room called “manabi-no heya” and with a home tutor after school to prepare for her high school entrance exam. Just two days after the exam, on March 8 and 9, the second Learner Development SIG Tohoku Outreach Weekend took place, and we visited Rikuzentakata. Kana joined our study tour with her friend Sachi to show us around their different tsunami-affected places in Rikuzentakata. On March 12, 2014 Kana, Sachi and other students, who had all contributed their accounts to the school booklet when they were in the 1st grade, graduated from Kesen JHS (see Figure 4 below). And the next day, they all successfully passed their entrance exams and started their new high school lives in April.

*Photos and more available in the full PDF version*

As these episodes show, the 3.11 disaster brought Yumi and Kana different intense experiences even in their English learning and use, which seems to be related to the two kinds of peer modeling – ‘near-peer modeling’ and ‘diversity peering’. For example, Yumi had shared her thoughts and behaviors on their recovery from the disaster as Kana’s good near-peer role model. That seemed to stimulate Kana to learn more from Yumi as Murphey (2012) mentioned that near-peer role modeling provides the learner with positive strategies, beliefs, and behaviors. Because of the disaster, they were unexpectedly put into a situation where they actually needed to communicate with overseas children through doing homestays or correspondence. These experiences took them out of their daily lives in the affected area. Through this mixing and diversity peering, Yumi and Kana also actually had some challenges in communicating with their overseas peers. Yet, such experiences also seemed to stimulate them and lead them to become conscious of being English users, and later to become more autonomous learners. Although the post 3.11 reconstruction situation in Rikuzentakata is still extremely difficult and complicated, I really hope that these two young people’s English learning and use will be richer and happier for their hometown and their own future dreams.


Dörnyei, Z., & Murphy, T. (2003). Group dynamics in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Murphey, T. (2012). Autonomy, agency, and social capital: Surfing the altruistic coral reef café on a 40-mile layer of life! Learning Learning, 19(2), 4-17. Retrieved from, T. (l996). Near peer role models. JALT Teacher Education SIG Newsletter Teacher Talking to Teacher, 4(3), 21-22.Murphey, T., & Arao, H. (2001). Reported belief changes through near peer role modeling. TESL-EJ, 5(3), A-1, 1-15. Retrieved on 1 May 2014 from, T., & Falout, J. (2012). Critical participatory looping: An agencing process for mass customization in language education. Linguistik online, 54. Retrieved on 1 May 2014 from

Considering Context: The Implementation of Visual Thinking Strategies [コンテクストの考察:ビジュアル・シンキング・ストラテジーの実施]

Elizabeth Yoshikawa

Naruto University of Education

Keywords: Visual Thinking Strategy, learning past, communicative interaction


In the Japanese English as a foreign language context there are many challenges. A great challenge in conversation classes is not only to get students to freely discuss topics, but to justify their reasoning. Given students’ past learning experiences, which emphasized a power-distant relationship with their instructors, this challenge should not be a surprise to English instructors. Furthermore, given that students have had little experience in freely voicing their opinions as their previous experiences in English class emphasized utilizing stock responses, instructors have the challenge of teaching both new study habits as well as communicative English skills. The following discussion addresses the implications of students past learning experiences on their present learning actions. It then introduces the concept of Visual Thinking Strategy (VTS), which originated in the United States. It then suggests how to adapt the VTS methodology to the Japanese university EFL context to create an optimal communicative learning situation.


1 Introduction

In Japan, it is common to hear teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) bemoan that their students lack the motivation for self-directed autonomous learning. This complaint ignores students’ learning histories and the fact that to be an outgoing learner requires both practice and encouragement. It also disregards the fact that what autonomous learning is, is culturally defined. In the following discussion, autonomous learning will refer to Benson’s (2011) definition as the students’ “capacity to take charge of [their] own learning” (p. 10). Yet within this definition there are cautions which must be addressed specific to the Japanese context, as it belies that certain grounding factors are in place. Are students at a level in their EFL learning where they can take charge and direct their own learning (Riely & Zoppis, 1985 in Benson, 2011, p. 11)? This would mean that students are not at a beginning level of their learning but rather are at a stage where they are wanting to expand their language base and fluency. Furthermore, it negates the fact that past learning experiences influence present learning paradigms. There are differences in predominate learning paradigms between western and eastern countries. In Asian societies, as Harumi (2011) exemplifies Hofstede’s (n.d.) notion of how values of interaction and socialization differ according to culture/countries, the teacher-student relationship can typically be described as high-power distance. Students’ whose learning pasts dictated that the instructor is the holder of knowledge and they are the spoon fed recipients of that knowledge have developed learning habits in which the capacity to self-direct their own learning has yet to evolve. Nor have they had the opportunity to develop such a capacity, should the desire to be present, as many students have developed within a cohesive group learning paradigm. Lastly, it suggests that a bridge between the expectation of pedagogic goals and actual practice exist. As defined above, Benson’s (2011) autonomy in language learning denotes the importance of the realization of goals in the learning situation. Yet if students are to actualize their learning goals this would then require, as Ertmer and Newby (1993) suggest, that instructional practices are such that they facilitate students to do so. It also suggests the importance of understanding how cultural context influences how learning theories can be applied.

The following discussion is not an empirical study in the traditional sense. While based in a theoretical analysis, the discussion addresses the importance of instructors’ awareness of how past learning paradigms influence present learning techniques. It does this by addressing how empirical studies of others’ have addressed Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and applied them to second language (L2) acquisition. It then goes on to address the primary learning paradigms which most Japanese students have been exposed to in their learning histories and how this influences how many Japanese students approach English communication classes. This analysis is used to highlight how an awareness of student learning histories can be used to assist students in developing new learning repertoires in university English communication classes. Insights from the instructor/student relationship and expectations are important for understanding how culture influences foreign language teaching and learning. This would then facilitate pedagogical development. In the final section, this paper will address how visual learning techniques can assist students to be come autonomous learners within their own cultural dimensions. This paper outlines a conceptual task designed to improve students’ L2 competence and confidence to communicate.

2 Vygotsky, Sociocultural Theory and L2 Acquisition

In the process of knowledge acquisition, there are a number of different factors which influence not only how the learner understands new concepts and ideas, but also how they interpret them. Vygotsky, who saw a distinction between classroom learning and situated learning, first addressed this notion. A classroom is a product of the culture it is situated in, and replicates cultural norms found in that society at large. There is accordingly, a strong relationship between the learner and the society they have developed in (Thorne, 2005). This idea was later developed and applied specifically to L2 acquisition, noting the importance of contextual factors through sociocultural theory (SCT) in learning (Lantolf & Poehner, 2011). The basis of SCT is that there is a relationship between cognition and the construct surroundings in terms of culture, history and institutional setting (Thorne, 2005). Recently in L2 research, as Fahim and Haghani (2012) and Thorne (2005) outline, SCT has been utilized to understand the epistemological and cultural influences in a specific learning situation to enhance L2 pedagogy and subsequently L2 acquisition. As language instructors, we must be aware of what social influences our students have experienced in their previous learning situations and how these influence the way they approach current learning situations. In its continual development SCT is understood as being progressive. As the learner develops through exposure to different experiences so do their cognitive skills. Accordingly, how processes become internalized are in part influenced by experiences at different stages of learning, and combined these will influence how a current learning situation is understood and interrelationships are defined by the learner (Engestrom, 2001). Thus, our social histories influence how we learn, however as our histories continue to develop so can the way we learn develop and change over time.

As with any learning theory, there are criticisms. Regarding SCT in L2 acquisition at the forefront is the fact that a theory is not carved in stone. What can be applied in one situation is not necessarily the same as how it is applied in another. Furthermore, even within a situation, differences exist in the students’ individual experiences. These differences in experiences dictate that the potential to create meaning out of a situation even within a population of similar backgrounds is not evenly distributed (Thorne, 2005). However, the importance of SCT here is that it implores the instructor to recognize that in the learning situation, each of our different experiences do influence how we interpret and internalize the material presented to us. In the EFL context, especially where the instructor is not always of the same cultural background as their students, particular attention should be paid to acknowledging these differences and understanding that these influence the learning situation. An instructor who has a basic understanding of students past learning experiences can utilize this to create a basis from which present learning paradigms can grow and expand. Thereby creating a situation where the learner is presented with an optimal learning situation which recognizes their learning cultural identity and history.

3 The Japanese University EFL Context

3.1 Characteristics and Stereotypes of the Japanese EFL Learner

If asked to characterize their students, many foreign instructors of English in Japan would not list their students as outgoing. Rather at the university level Japanese EFL students are typically characterized as being shy, reserved, quiet, and indirect (Saminy & Kobayashi, 2004). They are essentially a product of their past learning paradigms. Japanese society, like other Asian societies, is often tooted has placing great emphasis on group harmony and hierarchy (Barron, Gourlay, & Gannon-Leary, 2010). Most students have grown out of a behaviorist learning paradigm, which is a method of recording observable changes in learning behavior. From the behaviorist perspective, in learning, students are creating a “collection of habits” (Baumgartner, 2003, p. 8). Baumgartner (2003) then suggests that from this perspective students develop good study habits through drills. These drills form the basis of rote learning. Rote learning emphasizes learning as a process of reacting to external stimuli and observable changes as marked through the passing of examinations (Barron et al., 2010). Within in this, emphasis is placed on the group over the individual. In their learning pasts, the students have viewed their instructors as authoritative figures who are not to be questioned. This is coupled with the notion of face-saving, where maintaining public harmony is of cultural importance (Jiang, 2006). These two factors have hampered many university students from developing primary skills in critically assessing information on their own. However, this glosses over an important point, that the eastern learning ideology is juxtaposed against that of the western ideologies of individualism. Within the individualist paradigm, students are encouraged to respectfully challenge knowledge presented to them. A key point to consider is that while we may not appreciate the evidence for a specific line of argument, as it is in conflict with our own belief systems, it does not mean that the argument is weak or wrong (Cottrell, 2005). A skill we need is to recognize that whether we live in a society which values individualism or group harmony, we all have the potential to utilize other learning skills. As instructors we must recognize that how students exhibit being outgoing and critical in their learning differs according to the cultural norms they have experienced.

Upon entering university, many students suddenly find themselves EFL classes which emphasize not only speaking but also necessitate giving direct opinions. Students who have not previously experienced being critical or speaking without set guidelines from the textbook may find this difficult. Furthermore, some students may have experienced recourse for doing so or may have been reprimanded for not supplying acceptable stock responses. Negative past experiences may limit students in being critical or outgoing in class. Students need time to not only develop freedom in their speech, but also to understand that offering honest opinions in class will not be detrimental to their final grades. This calls for cultural sensitivity from the instructor, allowing students to develop these skills through expanding upon their past learning repertoires. However, it also denotes that the instructor must be prepared to adapt to both the situation and changing needs and perceptions of their students in terms of learning expectations and class requirements.

3.2 The Instructor’s Role

In the Japanese EFL environment students are typically described as being dependent, needing explicit instruction in language structures or points. This perpetuates the notion that foreign language learning in Japan is something that has been brought into Japan from the outside (Seargeant, 2008). EFL instruction is therefore something to be endured and not endeared. This endurance favours the behaviorist model of learning, as it encourages limited expression in English use beyond standardized stock responses. This is juxtaposed with continued pressure from education policies concerning the development of English communicative skills (see MEXT 2014, 2011). Instructors and students have to expand their comfort zones in their teaching/learning paradigms to allow students opportunities to manipulate and negotiate meaning in their language learning (Sakui, 2007).

Instructors, in the Japanese context, should develop a hybrid of instructional paradigms where they present students with language challenges as a group, but having done so step back and allow the students to solve problems on their own or in small groups. The instructor should encourage learner development at a cognitive level, but do so in a fashion that at first guides students as in the behaviorist method, and then allows students the opportunity to take that knowledge and develop it utilizing the constructivist method of being more independent and collaborative learners.

3.3 The Meaning of Autonomy within the Japanese Context

Instructors need to consider how students past learning experience influence their present preparedness for autonomous learning. Lowe and Cook (2003) found that students’ past study habits continue to influence their present studying expectations up to a year after they enter university. Social influences have great bearing even before a student enters university. Students’ whose past experiences have emphasized the importance of maintaining group harmony and throughout their learning careers and have practiced various face-saving strategies are unlikely to have consciously thought of the steps they are required to take in order to obtain their learning goals. This is further complicated by the fact that within the educational system at university students’ programs of study have been almost completely mapped out; choice in terms of the freedom to choose from a selection of similarly credited courses within a program are limited. The basis of this is that students have not generally been encouraged to act autonomously within the confines of their education. This past experience coupled with students’ relatively low confidence in their communicative EFL skills and the fact that students are learning English in a foreign language environment, rather than a second language one, means that students have not necessarily addressed their own purposes for learning English beyond satisfying test or program requirements. Instructors need to acknowledge their students’ learning pasts. This must be a conscious exercise on the part of the instructor, not only in terms of how student’s pasts have influenced their present learning behaviors, but also how the instructor’s learning past influences their instructional styles and expectations of classroom behaviour.

Given this background it has to be questioned how learner autonomy can be facilitated in the Japanese context. Students should be encouraged to understand their own role in language learning, and they need to become active learners (Saito & Ebsworth, 2004). However, as Rivers (2011) notes, this turns a blind eye to the fact that this expectation has not been widely made of students before, and if it is to be made, it must be done within the perceived needs of the students. Thus, as Benson (2011) suggests, autonomy can develop in the language classroom when there is a conceptual shift in the notion of relationships, power, and control. Once this has been acknowledged, then instructors and students together can develop a learning paradigm within their own EFL classroom which is designed to enable students to develop the capacity to take charge of their learning.

Currently at the tertiary-level, English classes are expected to foster communicative skills in students. This would necessitate that students talk with each other, and not be passive in their learning. Yet, these are the very sociocultural learning traits which have not explicitly been valued in students’ past learning experiences (Saito & Ebsworth, 2004). According to Vygotsky, language as a cognitive process requires social interaction (Homayouni & Kadivar, 2009). However, additional influences on language learning including the learning styles whether they be visual, verbal, interactive, individual, and motivation cannot be factored out. These influences have multiple subdivisions and how they interact with each other can facilitate or hinder the learning situation. As instructors, we should consider how the paradigm in which we are teaching influences our perspectives of how we teach. Current EFL policies in Japan place renewed emphasis on the teaching of communicative skills (MEXT, 2014, 2011). Yet, it should be noted that this emphasis is decades old and has yet to alter Japanese perception of English as a content-based subject. This is a recurring complaint; Yashima, (2002) and later Seargeant (2008) and Kubota (2011) assert that Japanese policies on effective communicative English language instruction are incompatible with the system they are being implemented in. A lack of structural changes accompanying policy changes continues to inhibit any real change to the teaching of communicative EFL skills. The emphasis on the teaching and the learning of communicative English suggests that a structural change to the system of teaching EFL needs to also be considered. To foster communicative EFL abilities denotes that collaborative learning, a cognitive method, where student together are the co-creators of new knowledge taking from both their experiences and interactions should be highlighted.

This suggests the need to form new study habits. Students often use poor study habits to hide behind, as an excuse for lack of effort (Orbach, 1978). Many Japanese students complain that ‘English is too hard’ and ‘I’m not good at it’. This gives them the excuse that they do not need to put much effort into studying English, and as well as justifying the poor grades they receive. What is needed is the encouragement of new study habits, where students are at the center of their learning. Given students’ past learning experiences combined with cultural learning norms, it is important that the EFL instructor develops a classroom situation that fosters a collaborative learning atmosphere and which allows students to develop and expand their learning repertoires within their cultural learning comfort zones. Accordingly, developing learner autonomy is not likely to happen over night, and the extent to which one instructor is able to lead their students toward autonomy may be questionable. Yet, if an instructor takes students present learning preferences as a starting point and combines these with different learning paradigms this would facilitate students in developing a degree of autonomy and expand their learning comfort zones. This is where the visual thinking strategies technique comes into action.

4 Visual Thinking Strategies

4.1 EFL in the Japanese University

According to MEXT directives, the emphasis of foreign language teaching in Japan is supposed to be on communicative language skills. Realization of this is blocked by students expectation of what should happen in an EFL class as well as how this ideology clashes with expectation of their foreign instructors, students’ lack of confidence in their English ability, and cultural ideologies of what are appropriate interactions within the learning context. Furthermore, the fact that English is studied as a written test-taking subject, undermines students’ negotiation for meaning in spoken English, as they have been trained to search for the correct memorized answer (Felder & Soloman, 2010). Understanding these barriers should enable instructors to turn them to their advantage in creating a starting point from which students are encouraged to speak up in classroom discussion activities. Knowing, as Sato (2007) characterizes, that Japanese students tend to be shy and quiet in the classroom and that they favour small group learning tasks which maintain group harmony over large group or class activities, it seems logical that in creating communication tasks that instructors would take these points into consideration.

The context of the learning situation is also important from another dimension. Japanese students are learning English as a foreign language to use outside of the classroom, although opportunities may be limited. It is also likely that when student make use of English outside of the classroom or in their futures, it would be with another non-native speaker of English. Yet students have been drilled in supplying and listening for stock responses. These types of responses do not serve students well outside of a classroom situation nor in a situation where they constantly work with the same partner. In a communicative based class students need time to develop their oral and aural skills without the dependency on a textbook. In a classroom situation the most practical option would be to get students to practice with each other in small groups. Changing the composition of the groups each week ensures that students do not become overtly dependent on previous conversations. This also facilitates negotiation for meaning between students who might not otherwise interact with each other. Furthermore working in small peer groups is beneficial in three primary ways according to Sato (2007). First it encourages collaboration. Students together must help each other in creating a successful interaction to complete the activity. Secondly when misunderstanding arises, students use each other’s feedback to increase comprehensibility. Lastly, through working together and trying out alternative responses students can directly apply the new knowledge that they grappled with together and thus improving communicative abilities (ibid p. 201), thus highlighting the importance of developing new study habits.

4.2 What are Visual Thinking Strategies?

As mentioned earlier, Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) originated in the United States. Focusing on a learner-centered approach to teaching, it is a method of instruction which is designed to employ students’ background knowledge as well as to encourage deep thinking skills. This in part stems from the Vygotskian notion that learning occurs through interaction with others and is influenced by context. Understanding is an active construction which requires exploration and reflection on the part of the learner (Yenawine, 1998). Originally the purpose of the VTS technique was to develop students’ visual understanding of art through encouraging students to vocalize their thoughts and feelings regarding a carefully chosen piece of art (Housen, 2002). Using art, students are asked open-ended questions which facilitate discussions. Traditionally art has been used to in societies to communicate ideas and is a form of the socialization of a specific culture’s norms. As Yenawine (2013, 1998) suggests, traditionally artwork enforced socially accepted beliefs of a culture’s predominate spiritual connections. Art in the present time is a reflection of contemporary society, yet has been isolated from our everyday routines (Housen & Yenawine, 2005). This segregation of art in modern society has potentially beneficial educational functions particularly in regards to developing students’ thinking skills and comfort with ambiguity (Tishman, Jay, & Perkins, 1993). VTS aims to draw students away from reading and writing and is based on the idea that visual stimulation can give students a verbal outlet to share their knowledge and creativity with their classmates in a non-threatening atmosphere. This also increases students’ confidence in language use. Furthermore, this process draws the focus away from right/wrong answers, which while may leave some feelings of ambiguity, also encourages students to question each other to gain a level of comprehension that they would otherwise not have achieved. The content of the lesson then becomes student dependent, and it is their responses which structure the lesson (Housen, 2002). Thus, autonomy is achieved as students are the ones who are taking charge of the lesson within their capacity to do so. The lesson is automatically appropriate to the students’ present level as it draws from students current levels, yet it challenges them through questions which do not demand more than what they could do when they apply some effort (Yenawine, 2013, 1998).

A key point in selecting images is to ensure that the image is both accessible and provocative to the students (Housen, 2002). Using artwork, students search for meaning and give evidence for their observations. Art becomes a medium for learner development as the imagery itself is contained. Therefore, students must use that image to describe the situation. Art does not require training to voice an opinion, and it is thus accessible as we can all offer our opinion of our interpretation of what is happening in the picture. As this opinion is ours, it cannot be wrong. However, the more one looks at a picture, the more details can be seen, and this offers opportunities for more detailed opinions and thoughts to be expressed. In sharing opinions about artwork students can make connections to each other’s statements and use these to expand their own ideas. Thus, the activity is creative and developmental in nature. Furthermore, Housen (2002) makes the observation that in a world which is increasingly focused on standardized tests, the use of art allows students to go beyond the basics in learning and enables connections between materials and classes to be made. This process enhances not only creative thinking, but also critical thinking. These are important life skills. In the Japanese context, where students have good reading and writing skills, VTS can be used as a schema activating activity in a class which focuses on communication skills. This can lead to a content rich situation where students are not only utilizing the English that they already know in a way that is of relevance to them, but they are also learning from their peers.

When discussing art, we often make connections to what is concrete and tangible. Yanewine (2013) contends that when examining art, his American students use the visual imagery to make explicit connections to their own life experiences. When teaching English in an EFL environment some language use contexts are inexplicitly foreign to students. This may be a result of how the target language has been presented in the textbook or due to cultural barriers. The result is that students are unable to grasp the ideas or concepts presented to them and this can lead to misunderstanding and misuse in language. Art can become a connection between students’ experiences and potential language use. As Wolf’s (2013) research discovered, students who are in control of the discussion in terms of the topic and direction display greater levels of confidence and interest in the activity. This will increase student’s willingness to communicate and their confidence in doing so.

It is my contention that students in an EFL environment could also benefit from the VST methodology. When discussing artwork students would do so through representations of their own past experiences. Utilizing Vygotsky’s theory that it is through speech that we understand and make sense of our world (Fahim & Haghani, 2012), when presented with artwork and open-ended questions, students are encourage to construct meaning together based on what they see. Working with their peers, discussing the imagery, and listening to others’ opinions means that students share their experiences and together become the co-creators of their ELF knowledge at a level of challenge within their grasps.

4.3 VTS at Work

Art, inquiry, and discussions are all used to engage students. This process allows them to activate their schemata and prepare students for the focus of the lesson. But how does this work? An important preparation step would be to find images which lend themselves to finding stories and visual evidence to support these stories. This is based on the notion that as social beings, we have a tendency to form stories in our discussions with others. Finding a piece of artwork which easily lends itself to the telling of a story and is related to the theme of the lesson would allow subsequent discussions to evolve through activating students schema and laying the base for the lesson.

Students are first presented with an image and given some time to look silently at it. Then the instructor, as Housen and Yenawine (2005) outline, asks three basic questions. It is through asking these three basic questions that the instructor is not only allowing students to become comfortable with a degree of ambiguity, but also allowing them the power to create a dialogue on their own. Instead of the instructor telling students the correct answer, students use the image to create a response collaboratively. This learner-centered approach to teaching discussion skills also encourages students to become more autonomous in their learning. As Wolf (2013) found, students in charge of the direction of discussions are both more interested and more willing to communicate. Conversations centered around images allow students the freedom of this direction and removes the fear of right-wrong responses. First the instructor would ask: “What’s going on in this picture?” After listening to students’ responses, instructors can then ask students to support their statements by asking: “What do you see that makes you say that?” To continue the discussion the instructor then asks: “What else can you find?” The instructor may find that as students become familiar with these questions over the course of the term that they might want to use variations. The purpose of these three questions is to get students to interpret the image and use it to support their ideas. In asking and listening to students’ responses, the instructor should remain neutral.

In an EFL situation, such as Japan, this encourages students to support their opinions with details and become active meaning makers (Fahim & Haghani, 2012). Through using the image to support their statements, the students have a shield. They can justify their statements and language use through their descriptions of the art, as the visual image complements the EFL students’ use of their verbal communication (Brumberger, 2007). While Housen and Yanewine (2005) make use of the VST technique as a class exercise, I propose that it could also effectively work in small groups. As discussed above, maintaining group harmony is valued in Japan. When students are asked to offer opinions in a space shared with everyone, they may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable (Brumberger, 2007). However, in small groups, where one student is assigned the role of the facilitator, students are more willing to collaborate and offer their opinions. Accordingly, working together in groups students can ask each other what they believe is going on in the picture and to validate that reasoning. Then they ask others in their group for their opinions. During this stage students are negotiating for meaning which is an essential step in language acquisition (Wolf, 2013). Once students have had an opportunity to discuss and create several meanings from the image, as a group they can present and share their ideas. During this stage the role of the instructor is to listen to the small group responses and respond by paraphrasing the student’s responses.

When the class rejoins the instructor continues in the role of the facilitator. The instructor can ask a group for a version of what they think is going on in the image. The instructor responds by paraphrasing, this ensures that what was said by the students is accurately understood. Then, the instructor asks “What makes you say that?” As the student responds, the instructor points to the image so the rest of the class can understand their classmate’s justification behind their story. Again, the instructor paraphrases what students have said in their justification to support their opinions. The importance of paraphrasing is that it encourages language development as the instructor demonstrates correct sentence formation and vocabulary use (Housen & Yenawine, 2005). At this point the instructor should try to share as many different possibilities or stories with the class from all the groups. Each of the ideas presented from the groups should be accepted neutrally. The point of the activity is to encourage students to think and justify their opinions. It is not about right or wrong answers. The images and discussions encourage students to identify not only what they see, but also to justify this with supportive statements. This also encourages students to consider difference through the ideas posed and supported by their classmates. Therefore, students are better equipped to communicate what they know, as this process encourages questioning, critical thinking and engagement with their peers. The collaborative nature of this activity thus puts students in charge of deepening their communicative abilities while maintaining the support of the group.

5 Concluding Remarks

As language instructors in a foreign language environment, cultural awareness of language expectations and stereotypes is of importance. This denotes that we must consider how culturally accepted learning paradigms can inhibit language acquisition. If communicative language skills are a priority in the Japanese learning situation, it is necessary that English classes adapt a learning atmosphere which encourages communicative skills acquisition. Past research has proven that unless students feel a connection, even just a remote connection to a topic, they are unlikely to be motivated to develop meaningful discussions, and this would thwart acquisition (Wolf, 2013). Using the VTS strategy, students are encouraged to take a position in the verbalization of their interpretation of an image and support it with justification found in the artwork. As students have had different life experiences their interpretations of the artwork may differ. This then sets up a situation where students are negotiating for meaning and the comprehension of others’ ideas. This challenge then pushes students’ learner capabilities as they reflect on their language use and comprehension of others’ opinions. These discussions thus engage students in meaningful interaction, and with their peers they are developing their language base as well as their confidence through the small group work. When working with the class, the small groups can appoint a group speaker thus avoiding demotivation amongst shyer members of the group. Using imagery to initiate discussions enables students to be in control of how their discussions develop. This allows students to create a bridge between their previous experiences, as well as their interests and knowledge in the direction which they choose to take their discussion of the artwork in. The benefits of this are that it increases students’ confidence in discussions while also increasing their conversational skills of not merely offering a statement, but opinions with justification. It is in this that students are developing an autonomous learning capacity within their cultural learning paradigm while improving their communicative capabilities.

Elizabeth Yoshikawa was born in Canada. She has also lived in Zimbabwe, England, The Netherlands, and France. She has been teaching EFL to students from pre-school through university ages in Japan and Thailand for over ten years. She has an MA in Linguistics specializing in TESOL from the University of Surrey. Her research interests include student motivation, creating student autonomy, and understanding how past learning experience influence present learning styles. Recently she moved to teach English majors in Tokushima, Japan. She is also in her second year of her doctoral studies.


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Globalization and English as a Foreign Language: Exploring Paths Towards Educational Change

Linamaria A. Valdivia

Keywords: Education Policy, EFL, Globalization, Global Englishes


Globalization is defined as an opening to westernization of countries (Burbules & Torres, 2000; Odora Hoppers, 2000). Globalization has sprung upon us the knowledge economy, and with it, the demand for people who possess creative problem solving capabilities, critical thinking skills, and the ability to communicate with others their opinions and ideas (Wang et al., 2011). In response, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) continues to revise its Language-in-Education Policy (Yoshida, 2013b). Mandating that effective methods to cultivate a Japanese citizenry with communicative ability in English be implemented, English language education is now becoming a priority within mainstream education in Japan.

As in the American context, pedagogical innovation that prioritizes higher-order thinking skills is becoming more necessary. Therefore, reform of teacher education to prepare a workforce with such abilities is quickly becoming even more imperative (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Spring, 1998). This is not only the case in America and Japan, but globally.

This paper provides a literature review and background of the English language education context in Japan and discusses the prominent issues within this context. This is followed by suggested paths towards educational change. I am not an expert here because I am not Japanese, but as an ethnographer, these are observations I have made over the years in my teaching career living and working in Japan. The recommendations specifically address English language education in Expanding Circle countries (Kachru, 1997), in particular the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) within Japan.

1 Introduction

The impact of globalization has lead to new challenges to educational systems worldwide (Zhao, 2010). The shrinking of distances by way of modern transportation, the spread of information technology, and global competition with a “dash of nationalism” (Bremmer, 2014, p.104) are changing educational systems of nations intensely competing for economic success and advancement (Stromquist & Monkman, 2000). Globalization has influenced migration and the proliferation of English as an International Language (EIL), which now gives students greater access to diversified social and educational contexts (McKay & Bokhorst-Heng, 2008). Globalization is affecting education through Language-in-Education Policy (LEP) policy revisions that are revamping the way teachers and educators do their work. This is wielding enormous pressure towards change.

In order to meet the demands of this challenging new global economic system, the following questions arise: what are the critical changes necessary for Japan? How can teachers succeed in achieving the goals set forth by MEXT? Specifically regarding teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in Japan, what are effective methods for fostering people with communicative abilities in English in the classroom?

When discussing the influence of globalization on EFL, two viewpoints will be contrasted: 1) the economic-imperative perspective, and 2) the critical-resistant perspective. This paper takes the economic-imperative perspective when comparing effects of globalization, the goals of LEP and the new national curriculum. A critical-resistant view of globalization is taken when discussing the historical context of EFL in Japan.

The economic-imperative perspective is based upon the notion that all nations are competing in the new global economy, and in order to stay competitive, must be able to continuously produce and innovate new products and services for the worldwide market (Spring, 1998; Zhao, 2010). The critical resistant perspective views the trend of globalization as based on global capitalism, a world vastly becoming polarized between the haves versus the have-nots, and the routinization of western hegemony (Burbules & Torres, 2000; Odora Hoppers, 2000).

2 Globalization

2.1 Globalization and Japan

Japan has been a fiercely competitive economic power, with Tokyo recently chosen as host for the 2020 Olympics, the pressure to have communicative competency in English has intensified. Although changes and reforms to the educational system, specifically regarding foreign language education, have been implemented systematically, the goals proclaimed have had unduly minimal success. This paper discusses the core influences and common themes within the body of literature regarding teaching EFL in Japan, and gives recommendations towards educational change from the ethnographic perspective of a non-Japanese educator working in the Japanese EFL educational system.

Under pressure from emerging global economics, society, and institutions of higher education towards educational reform (Goto-Butler, 2007), MEXT has revised the Foreign Language Course of Study (here after CoS), in 2008 and was enacted in 2011 (Yoshida, 2009). The goal of the revised CoS is not only to produce Japanese citizenry with communicative abilities in English, but also to encourage Japanese youth towards embrace of internationalization (Fujita-Round & Maher, 2008). Internationalization pertains to nationalities, borders, and international relations between nations; whereas globalization pertains to a global economic integration into what is known as the global economy. The two terms are often confused, and for the purposes of this paper both terms will be referenced.

To take a closer look at the effects from pressures to internationalize, the contrast between the goals of the MEXT and the current state of language education in Japan, requires careful analysis of historical and pedagogical issues past and present within the EFL context.

2.2 Globalization and English Education in Japan

Globalization has created vigorous competition in the workplace known as the knowledge economy. According to an economic imperative perspective on globalization, the need for the skills of creative problem-solving are fast becoming absolutely necessary for success in the world of global competition (Wang et al, 2011). Thus the need for new pedagogical innovation along with the preparation of teachers to equip a workforce with these skills necessary to rise-up to par has become paramount (Darling-Hammond, 2010). Indeed, an article from the Economist, Coming to an Office Near You (2014), the ominous approach of new technological advances is putting today's jobs into danger of obseletion, therefore “schools themselves need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers”, calling for “less rote-learning” (the traditional Confucianist modal of education) and more critical thinking.

According to literature on effective teaching practice in an era of globalization, new pedagogical concepts should include the teaching of cooperation, teamwork, and leadership (Stromquist, 2002) and a “willingness and ability to understand different cultures” (Longview Foundation, 2008). These crucial skills along with changes in teacher practices are currently being called for by the LEP revisions in Japan.

Additionally, the reformation of assessment policy is also necessary as assessment, in other words the entrance exams to university, have been the gatekeepers of higher education and upward mobility in society (Sasaki, 2008). English language assessment practices at schools in Japan, are affected by numerous influences including political, economic, demographic, and paradigm shifts in educational practices. How Japan will be able to compete in the global economy depends on cultivating Japanese citizens with communicative abilities in English, embracing internationalization, and reform of current educational practices.

3 Historical Background of EFL in Japan

A critical resistant perspective on globalization is needed to understand the discussion on the influence of historical background and EFL in Japan. Research on LED policy history suggests that EFL in Japan was originally used to promote nationalist ideologies in resistance to western imperialism. In Japan, globalization and internationalization (kokusaika) have been perceived as a form of Americanization (Kubota, 1998a). According to Kubota in resistance to internationalization, or Americanization, the spread of English Language Teaching (ELT) has by and large caused a nationalistic fostering of Japaneseness (nihonjinron). This is described as a theory about the uniqueness of Japanese identity (Befu, 2001; Hashimoto, 2000; Kubota, 1998a; Okuno, 2007). As mentioned earlier, one of the effects of globalization has been the rising demand to cultivate citizens with more communicative abilities (Stromquist, 2002). In Japan, this pressure to globalize is felt as pressure to acquire English.

When Japan entered the modernization process in the Meiji era, the acquisition of English was promoted in the spirit of wakon yousai (Japanese spirit with western knowledge) as a means to obtain the knowledge of the west in the emerging world of globalization (Hashimoto, 2009). Then during WWII, from 1941 to 1945, English was banned as it was the ‘language of the enemy’ (tekiseigo). However, just after the war ended, and under American Occupation, the push to learn English resurfaced again (Torikai, 2005).

The rise of globalization gave way to the belief among both educators and policy makers that emphasis on teaching EFL would bring English-language imperialism to Japan (Kanno, 2007; Kubota, 1998a), and consequently the Anglicization of the Japanese language with the increasing use of ‘loanwords’, katakana words derived from foreign languages, but mostly English (Hashimoto, 2009; Kanno, 2007; Kubota, 1998a; Torikai, 2005).

On the other hand, historically there were numerous advocates for the adoption of English as an official national language starting with 19th century Minister of Education, Arinori Mori, a politician between 1947-50 called, Gakudo Ozaki (Kubota, 1998a), and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in 2000 (Hashimoto, 2009; Kanno, 2007). The adoption of English as an official language, however, was firmly opposed. Therefore, the acceptance and promotion of teaching EFL in Japan has been built upon two contradictory forces 1) nationalistic ideologies sprung from resistance to linguistic imperialism and 2) the pressing need to become a more global society.

4 Effects of Kokusaika and Nihonjinron on Language in-education Policy

Kubota (2002) summarizes the discourses of kokusaika and nihonjinron as nationalist ideologies affirming the distinct identity of the Japanese, or rather ‘uniqueness’ of Japanese culture as a way of preventing identity loss amidst the fostering of English (Kubota, 1998a). Thus, cultural preservation by cultivating Japanese citizens to be able to communicate the importance and uniqueness of Japanese tradition, to the world, became the raison d’etre for EFL; and in this way, Japan could not only resist the hegemony of western power but also accommodate globalization. In addition, by imposing a specific Japanese identity upon all Japanese citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, allowed nationalist discourse to simply ignore the fact that Japan is a heterogeneous multilingual society (Kubota, 1998; Kubota & McKay, 2009; Kanno, 2007). Hence, the historical context gives the impression that English, the contemporary global lingua franca, a means of economic success, as in accordance with the economic imperative perspective, was all fine and good as long as promotion of Japanese culture was at the heart.

Hashimoto (2000) raises the point that the nationalist values of nihonjinron, were thought to be in direct contrast to freedom of expression. There were some contradictions in the 2003 CoS between what was called for by MEXT regarding the characteristics of speaking English, and nationalist ideological views of what were considered the characteristics of Japanese people. Lo Castro (1991) argues that traditional Japanese education has purposefully sought to exclude students from adopting foreign ways of thinking, by occupying them with translation, and rote-memorization of facts. MEXT, in accordance with the goals of the governing Liberal Democratic Party at the time, published two official documents titled, Developing a Strategic Plan to Cultivate ‘Japanese with English Abilities’, and, Action Plan to Cultivate ‘Japanese with English Abilities’, (Hashimoto, 2009). This new focus on fostering communicative ability in English heralded the push towards “internationalization”, which meant that more and more Japanese universities have been under pressure to “internationalize”. Thus, the calls from government and higher education systems for reform of EFL education in Japan were ringing loud and clear, and have led to the revision of the new CoS, effective from April 2011.

5 Revisions to the Foreign Language Course of Study

From April 2011 – 2013, the new MEXT guidelines mandated that fifth and sixth graders at the elementary school level were to receive exposure to foreign languages (predominantly English), and a variety of intercultural communicative practices through language “activities” to develop basic listening and speaking skills in English (MEXT, 2011a). At the junior high school level, development of all four macro-skills commence, with a focus on using foreign language for self-expression. Teachers begin grammar instruction at this level, however here the guidelines specifically call for a focus on usage instead of the memorization of prescriptive rules, or translation (MEXT, 2011b).

At the senior high school level, a revised curriculum featuring mandatory English courses with the aim of developing integrated communication skills, fostering critical thinking skills for example debating and giving presentations, has commenced as of 2013. The most significant change, however, is that in principle, all English language courses are to be taught in English (MEXT, 2010).

Simultaneously, instructors currently are being encouraged to foster learner-centered instruction, thereby meeting the students’ needs and/or interests, rather than the traditional model of teacher-centered instruction. Furthermore, teachers are expected to incorporate multimedia resources such as Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and e-learning, as well as state-of-the-art teaching practices such as cooperative learning (MEXT, 2010, 2011a, 2011b). This leads to the discussion of the core influence of current classroom practices and teacher beliefs.

6 Current Classroom Practices

Globalization has lead to the worldwide trend of LEP reforms common in expanding-circle countries where English is learned as a foreign language (EFL) (Kachru, 1990, 1997) as opposed to English as a Second Language (ESL), with western pedagogies imported to the foreign language classroom (Goto-Butler, 2005; Liddicoat, 2004; Liu & Xu, 2011; Riley, 2008; Yoon, 2004). However, even though reforms have been set down by MEXT, what teachers are actually doing in their classrooms may be significantly different from what these reforms are calling for. The core influence on classroom practices can be boiled down to what the individual teacher believes is best for the students, based on his/her own language learning experiences. As mentioned earlier, Borg (2003) argues that one of the most significant influences on student learning is what the teacher actually does according to what they “know, believe and think” (p.81). It is evident in research that teacher beliefs play a very significant influence in TEFL by their role in the implementation of pedagogy. Lo Bianco (2010) argues that pedagogy, more so than policy, has direct influence on ideological discourses, identity, and communicative skills. Policy makers must realize that the implementation of pedagogy within what teachers, “know, believe and think” has fundamentally the greatest impact on classroom practices (Borg, 2003; Nishino, 2008).

MEXT is currently calling for more communicative abilities in English, however teaching practices, in particular yakudoku, a form of grammar-translation, have generally remained unchanged (Gorsuch, 1998; Goto-Butler, 2005; Hino, 1998; Kanno, 2007; Kikuchi; 2009; Nishino & Watanabe, 2008; Riley, 2008; Underwood, 2012). Despite the LEP revisions suggesting that English courses should be taught as “integrated skills” courses, incorporating all four macro-skills of listening, reading, speaking, and writing, more often than not these classes become just another grammar-translation teacher-led English course. In this scenario, students are passive learners and too often go through their English courses without ever getting a chance to actually use the language (Goto-Butler, 2005; Kanno, 2007; Nishino & Watanabe, 2008; Riley, 2008; Yoshida, 2008, 2009, 2013a, 2013b).

This was particularly highlighted in a presentation given by director of the Center for Language Education and Research at Sophia University, Kensaku Yoshida (2013), at The Japan Association of College English Teachers (JACET) conference at Kyoto University. Yoshida reported on a qualitative study done by a research company on 793 university students. In particular, the study found that 55.9% of the students felt their English education in high school was not useful (Sanno Institute of Management, 2013). An even more disturbing fact was that the percentage of students willing to study or work abroad has been declining since 2008 (Yoshida, 2008, 2009, 2013a, 2013b). In light of calls for educational change, perhaps what policy-makers fail to realize is that what actually happens in the classroom cannot be predicted nor determined by policy alone.

7 English Education in Japan

7.1 Transformation of Teacher Practices

In order to produce positive change within EFL in Japan, the re-culturing of schools, teachers, and teaching conditions is necessary to accommodate communicative language practices called for by the latest CoS (Underwood, Myskow, & Hattori, 2012). Furthermore, Liu & Xu (2011) suggest that transformation of teacher identity must go hand-in-hand with implementation of new pedagogy. Transformation includes the negotiation of new and imported methods among local teachers, teacher leaders, schools and boards of education at grass-roots, as opposed to a mere top-down imposition of policy. In other words, utilizing teacher training and development to work towards a culturally-integrated pedagogy while respecting identity. In this way, effective integration of teaching practice can be accomplished from both top-down and bottom-up.

In their article on competing teaching pedagogies in the ‘new work order’, Liu & Xu (2011) explain that foreign practices are often resisted in EFL contexts as traditional pedagogy is defined as being teacher-centered, whereas liberal pedagogy as learner-centered.

Research in the field has suggested that in order to transform teaching practices, teacher identities must be reconstructed both personally and institutionally (Liu & Xu, 2011). Teacher identity is reconstructed personally in the sense of thinking outside the parameters of one’s experience, and institutionally by stepping out of the prescribed tradition of teaching. This study provides insight on merging imported pedagogies with local practices. It stresses the importance of respecting teacher identity and teacher agency when implementing imported practices.

6.2 Pre- and In-service Teacher Training

Until recently Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) were mostly literature majors with hardly any practical knowledge in ELT pedagogy (Goto-Butler, 2005; Nagatomo, 2011; Nishino & Watanabe, 2008; Sakui, 2004). Having learned English in much the same manner, the majority of JTEs have been generally taught to teach literature analysis and not English for communicative or academic purposes. In addition, very little teaching practice is received during the training period (Cook, 2009; Nagatomo, 2011; Nishino & Watanabe, 2008).

Only those who are motivated enough to incorporate new communicative practices in their classrooms participate in additional professional development. Despite learning new pedagogies, however, these teachers are often pressured by their peers to conform to traditional methods (Kikuchi, 2009). This pressure is described by certain researchers as a sociological condition resistant to change (Hino, 1988; Sato & Kleinsasser, 2004).

6.3 Preparation for Entrance Exams and Teacher Beliefs

Teachers most certainly have personal beliefs about what is important for students to learn, which is heavily underlined by the ritualized preparation for entrance exams into university. The heavy emphasis on yakudoku as a teaching practice is a wash-back effect justified as preparation for tests and has been perceived as the method for success on exams (Doyon, 2001; Glasgow, 2013; Kikuchi, 2009; Nishino & Watanabe, 2008; O’Donnell, 2005; Stewart, 2009). Centered on the practice of translating English grammar literally into Japanese (Hino, 1988; Gorsuch, 1998; Law, 1995; Riley, 2008), it does not facilitate communicative abilities as it is taught to be a one-way understanding of English in Japanese, to be understood in Japanese. The roots of this method stem back to the Meiji period, please refer to section on historical background of EFL in Japan. However, Gorsuch (1998) found that most university exams did not require students to translate. Thus, in reality, over-emphasis on yakudoku may be doing more harm than good.

A study done by Underwood (2010) comparing the National Center Test (NCT) with MEXT published textbooks revealed that the reading sections of the test demanded the student to be trained in reading strategy skills, such as speed-reading, and not just translation. In fact, he found that more and more exams are including long reading passages with a wide range of topics which demand that students be able to synthesize large bodies of text within a set time limit. Teachers may argue that not all entrance exams are the same, and there is some translation on certain university tests. However, analysis of the tests suggest that learners should not spend so much time memorizing unnecessary lexico-grammar and instead should focus on high frequency vocabulary enabling better comprehension of texts (Nation, 2001; Seki et al., 2011; Underwood, 2010, 2012; Underwood et al., 2012).

Even more worringly, a number of qualitative studies found that the extensive overuse of grammar-translation leads to demotivation for students who spend the majority of their years studying English in this manner (Doyon, 2001; Falout 2009; Kikuchi, 2006, 2009; Koga, 2010; Yoshida, 2008, 2009). The implications of these findings are that teachers dutifully implementing this method are not aware that too much grammar-translation, combined with the lack of practice in using the target language, may actually hinder the students’ success on the tests. This suggests that teacher practices might be the primary cause of decreasing numbers of students willing to study abroad, and diminishing motivation to continue the study of English.

7 Calls for Internationalization at University Level

This section briefly discusses the growing pressure from global competition upon higher education in Japan. Particularly at the university level, assessment policy has been criticized as becoming the LED policy by default (Menken, 2008; Shohamy, 2006). Riley (2008) takes a critical stance that the educational system in Japan, because of the presence of this assessment policy, has produced students who 'possess little to no critical thinking skills and lack creativity' after years of doing rote memorization for passing tests. Students lacking in critical thinking are becoming disadvantaged with rising global competition that fosters entrepreneurship. Thus the need to raise education to the new international standard is fastly becoming a priority in Japan (Doyon, 2001; Mori, 2002; Ninomiya, Knight, & Watanabe, 2009).

7.1 Recommendations

7.1.1 Towards Learner-centered Pedagogy

According to Tomlinson (2000) differentiated (learner-centered) instruction is generally defined as the development of curriculum that provides alternative ways to learn, process, construct and understand ideas for all students effectively within a classroom, regardless of differences in ability. Therefore, self-expression is a consistent focus in differentiated methodology.

The concept of cooperative learning has been investigated in second language assessment as a way to direct learning through peer-to-peer socialization and interaction (Cotterall, 1990; Dornyei & Malderrez, 1997; Forman & Cazden, 1998; Koga, 2010; Shaaban & Ghaith, 2005; Soto-Gordon, 2010; Watanabe, 2008). Learning through interaction is a Vygotskian socio-cultural theory of education, which dictates that social interaction leads to the development of the individuals' abilities in problem-solving, memory, and higher-order thinking processes (Forman & Cazden, 1998). Not only does it facilitate critical thinking, but also bridges the gap between learner ability, increases learner motivation, and promotes autonomous learning.

How can teachers create a more cooperative learning classroom environment? Hedge (2000) suggests that ‘interaction in small groups, provides a basis for language acquisition’ (p.62). Teamwork required for the completion of a project brings an additional dimension of cooperative learning, which benefits learners with more opportunities to learn from each other.

In the typical teacher-centered class, student differences in abilities are generally ignored (Falout et al., 2009), and this causes a portion of learners into either frustration or demotivation (Koga 2010; Joyce & McMillan, 2010; Falout et al., 2009). However, cooperative learning methods such as learner-centeredness can lessen the ability gap, as learners are encouraged to learn from each other. In this manner group work positively influences the affective environment within the classroom among learners, leading to increased intrinsic motivation (Koga 2010; Dornyei & Malderez, 1997; Forman & Cazden, 1998; Shaaban & Ghaith, 2005).

7.1.2 Motivation

Studies conducted by Gardner (2001) on second language acquisition and integrative motivation found that highly motivated learners, regardless of age and ability, achieve high results. Much research to date has mentioned the connection between group work, a positive affective classroom climate with an increase in student motivation. Motivation is enhanced within group cohesiveness and thus benefits all learners participating (Dornyei & Murphey, 2003; Tanaka, 2007). In teacher-centered classes, intimacy is discouraged among students and teachers, because it takes up too much class time (Dornyei & Malderez, 1997; Long & Porter, 1985). Therefore, a classroom bereft of interaction, stands to benefit enormously from the facilitation of cooperative group activities, because it inherently motivates learners. Motivation becomes more instrinsic, as students engage fully in their task while simultaneously immersed in the L2. According to Romano (1995), “Intellect enables emotion; emotion intensifies intellect.” And for him, the use of differentiated instruction allowing students the freedom to be expressive creators of language and SLA becomes a meaningful process.

7.1.3 Arts and Literacy

O’Day (2001) argues that language arts help English as a second language (ESL) students build literacy in their L2. In this study of an after school program with a first grade reading class, she created scaffolded plays from which her students then continued and developed their own plays. The results showed that these scaffolded plays were always unique and constantly evolving. Also, students found other reasons to read and write in the creation of the play for instance in peer-reading, learning about dialogue, sequencing events, and developing narrative a plot. Through using arts literacy, there is a lot of hands-on speaking, reading and writing involved. The students become immersed in their projects, so much so they forget they are actually applying new grammar structures and trying out new vocabulary unconsciously. They become involved in a creative process that cultivates their individual abilities within SLA (Beckman, 2008).

Another example of building L2 literacy through the arts can be seen in Shen’s (2009) investigation on the reading-writing connection in EFL college learners. She employed a variety of differentiated methods such as: explicit instruction of text structures, story elements, reflective reading journals and creative writing. After analysis of the results, Shen concluded that EFL learners had not only progressed in individual literacy, but also critical thinking and personal growth. Similar in context to that of Shen, Kubota (1998b) also did a study utilizing reflective writing with Japanese university students. This leads to further discussion on the effectiveness of differentiated instruction in addressing the learning needs of heterogenenous classes, critical thinking and personal growth. Most importantly, differentiated instruction effectively reinforces the L2 being learned in a manner that is natural and motivating.

Through these activities as the learner becomes more autonomous in his/her learning, and less dependent on teacher input, each learner can then have the freedom to progress as far as s/he can which is effective for a typical heterogeneous level EFL class.

7.2 Professional Development of Teachers

In educational systems of EFL, particularly in countries where English is the compulsory foreign language and teachers of English are mostly nonnative speakers of English, maintaining a standard of proficiency is essential (Andrews, 2007; Kamhi-Stein, 2004; Nakata, 2010). Previously, the minimum score on TOEFL required of Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) in Japan to obtain teaching certification was 550. However, the bar has been raised and now JTEs must achieve a score of 780 for TOEIC or the pre-first level on the EIKEN STEP test. In the past, statistics published by the MEXT concluded that less than 50% of secondary school teachers in Japan have met this requirement (MEXT, 2006). Mandating JTEs to acquire the minimum benchmark, or attain higher education such as a masters degree in English language teaching, rather than degrees in English literature, may amend the problem of low proficiency among teachers and also demand more subject training and knowledge, improving the chances of effective teaching practice.

Improving the quality of teacher training programs in Japan has become a much needed change (Amaki, 2008; Jimbo, Hisamura & Yoffe, 2009; Kizuka, 2006; Willis, 2011). Incorporating current language teaching practices and learner centered pedagogies, adding relevant coursework, including self-reflective practices in teacher training, would allow for transformation of entrenched teacher beliefs to happen. In addition, issues with teachers’ confidence in their abilities to put new theoretical coursework into practice such as an integrated skills approach could be addressed.

8 Assessment Policy Reform and Adoption of Transparency

Issues with widespread exclusion of intercultural communicative components from university entrance exams, and more importantly, general low-test validity and reliability have been criticized by scholars as the cause of negative wash-back effects upon education and society (Seargeant, 2008). In response to this, recently the Japanese government has been entertaining the idea to establish the TOEFL test as the standard assessment policy, replacing the current National Center Test for University Admissions (Hongo, 2013). One recommendation suggests establishing an official board of test specialists, whose sole purpose would be to uphold a professional standard of assessment, collaborating with universities nationally to maintain entrance exam validity standards (Murphey, Kato, & Fukuda, 2010). This would give power to a select group of assessment professionals who would be responsible for maintaining that tests meet a certain degree of validity and reliability. By implementing formal test analysis to their own tests, universities can diminish the impact of negative washback effect upon secondary school education.

Researchers have concluded that until reform of the entrance examination happens, current conditions are unlikely to change. Murphey et al. (2010) suggest one way towards reform of this system is to mandate assessment policy to include high school records, extracurricular activities, and other achievements for admission, instead of the current procedure relying exclusively on a test score. Simply by upholding and maintaining standards of transparency of assessment would significantly improve the teaching and learning conditions of English language education in Japan.

Recently, a new exam has been created by Sophia University's Center for Language Education Research, headed by Kensaku Yoshida (2013a) called the Test of English for Academic Purposes (TEAP) exam. Working in tandem with both Japan's longstanding English language test developer the Test in Practical English Proficiency (EIKEN), and the University of Bedfordshire (CRELLA), it is the first test for university admissions purposes that tests all four macro-skills of English. Utilizing standardized can-do criteria and transparent specifications, the goal of the TEAP exam is to improve the quality of assessment approaches on university admissions, and to have a positive impact on EFL education in Japan. Piloted in 2014, the TEAP is the first university exam to adhere to an international benchmark standard, as it assesses language ability according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). It is the first university entrance exam in Japan to include a speaking component.

This is revolutionary considering the entrenched historical dominance of a default assessment policy, and the longstanding existence of impractical items testing discrete and random grammar knowledge. Indeed, the TEAP exam is a very positive indication of a step towards reform and these types of four-skills tests, if adopted by universities nationwide, will most certainly push EFL education closer towards the goal of fostering Japanese citizens with communicative ability in English.

9 Conclusion

The body of literature on the core influences on EFL education in Japan strongly indicates the following:

  • past historical context suggests that English language education has been a part of the nationalist agenda, and taking a form of resistance to internationalization, a theme entrenched in the history of Japan's modernization.

  • globalization defined by the emergence of a global economy, has brought pressures to develop communicative ability in English, and the demand to foster individuals with the skills necessary to compete internationally.

This has resulted in the current revisions to the LEP. However, as previously discussed, in order for successful implementation of these policy revisions, teacher practices must be transformed. Here, CoPs are essential and powerful avenues through which teacher beliefs can be renegotiated together in a collaborative effort, along with a new integrated pedagogy.

Finally, in order for examinations and tests not to become the default policy as Shohamy (2006) describes, making efforts towards transparency of assessment on the same level as with standardized language benchmarks is necessary. Here in Japan, step by step assessment policy reform is being addressed, and once entrance examinations are held to a higher standard of quality and transparency, other factors towards educational change may fall into place. Now is the critical time to do so, as Japan struggles to keep pace with and gain ground in the rise of the global economy.


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Effects of Teaching Pedagogies on Motivational Variables of Japanese English L2 Learners: A Comparative Study

Alan G. Harper


Keywords: motivation, attitudes, teaching pedagogies, international posture


This study serves as a pilot for a PhD dissertation study examining Japanese university English L2 students in different learning environments, their perceived future self-concept as English speakers, how their self-concept is affected by teaching pedagogies and the relation to language learning motivation in the classroom. This study compares Japanese English as foreign language (EFL) university students studying at Tokai University in Hiratsuka Japan and Japanese English as a second language (ESL) university aged students studying at three private English language institutes in Canada. The main focus of the study is to examine differences and similarities between the two groups in the way teaching pedagogies used in the classroom affect motivational variables such as attitude and international posture and generate data for future L2 motivation research in the classroom.

1 Introduction

English as second language (ESL) students studying abroad experience firsthand the culture of English speaking countries and the opportunity to communicate with native English language speakers on a daily basis. English as a foreign language (EFL) students studying in their home country in various classroom environments have limited exposure to the culture of English speaking countries and limited opportunity to communicate with native English language speakers. It has been argued that due to close proximity to the target language (TL) and the TL community ESL students may have stronger motivation and more positive attitudes toward studying English L2 than EFL students who study in their home country. Gardner (1985) refers to this type of motivation as integrative stating that it is an important predictor of how much effort (motivational intensity) the second language (L2) learner will exert. More recently Yashima (2002) introduced the concept of international posture which contends that attitudes influence motivation, that in turn influences achievement. Attitudes are not directed at the L2 community as suggested by Gardner but directed toward intercultural communication, international jobs or activities and foreign affairs. She links students’ international posture with how much students are willing to communicate (WTC) in the L2 and contends that international posture as a latent variable affects WTC, which in turn affects motivation and proficiency in English.

This study examines the relationship between teaching pedagogies, defined as teaching materials and learning activities, used in the classroom and motivational variables such as attitude and international posture of Japanese English L2 students. The study explores the following research questions:

  1. What are the differences or similarities between Japanese EFL and ESL students’ opinions of teaching pedagogies used in the classroom and attitudes toward studying English as L2?

  1. In what way do Japanese EFL and ESL student opinions of teaching pedagogies correlate with motivational variables such as attitudes and international posture?

For the purposes of this study motivation is defined as favorable attitudes that include effort, desire and positive attitudes toward learning an L2 (Gardner, 1985). The study provides a pilot for future research of Japanese EFL and Japanese ESL students and how their imagined future English L2-self-concept, defined as their perception of self and identity, can be influenced by the teacher through teaching pedagogies in the classroom. The intention of this pilot study and related future research is to give some ideas to teachers with regard to how they might influence English L2 student motivation, specifically Japanese English L2 students, by accessing their imagined future English L2 self-concept through a variety of teaching pedagogies.

2 Background

For close to five decades L2 motivational research has been based primarily within the framework of the integrative orientation theory first introduced by Gardner and Lambert (1959). A majority of research conducted on L2 motivation in the 1990s and 2000’s has centered on the socio-educational model developed by Gardner (1985) this model contends that integrative orientation is an important predictor of how much effort (motivational intensity) the L2 learner will exert. Integrative orientation is defined as positive attitudes toward the TL community, towards learning the language and the desire to learn the L2 in order to contact and/or identify with members of the TL community. Over the last decade Gardner’s socio-educational concept of integrative orientation has come under increased scrutiny and has been questioned with respect to learning English L2 for students in many countries including Japan. In a country such as Japan where English L2 students have little or no contact with English speakers (either native or L2 English) students may lack the experience with the TL community to form an attitude for or against it (Dörnyei, 1990). Integrative orientation for learning English L2 does not adequately explain reasons for studying English as an L2 especially for students who are studying English L2 in their home country (Ushioda, 2011; 2013). Due to the ever increasing globalization of English students studying English L2 in their home countries may have difficulty identifying with one specific English language community (U.S., UK, Canada etc.) (Ushioda, 2013). Individual differences exist in the interest level or attitude toward what English symbolizes, this inclination is defined as international posture and includes interests in overseas travel for study or work, international affairs and being prepared to interact with intercultural individuals (Yashima, 2002). International posture is a construct relating mainly to EFL students studying in their home country due to limited opportunities to interact face to face with native English speakers (Yashima, 2013). In this study the concept of international posture is also applied to Japanese ESL students studying abroad in order to make a direct comparison with Japanese EFL students regarding motivational variables such as overseas travel for study or work, international affairs and being prepared to interact with intercultural individuals. The researcher believes variables identified in international posture can be relevant to ESL students even if they may more easily identify with one specific English language community due to close proximity. It is the contention of this study that variables identified in international posture may be indicators of possible ways English L2 students see their identity as English speakers in the future or see themselves using English in the future.

3 Methodology

3.1 Participants

Data collection occurred at three private language schools in Canada, two in Vancouver and one in Victoria in the summer of 2012 and at Tokai University Shonan campus in Hiratsuka Japan during the fall 2012 semester. Participant groups were randomly selected in naturally occurring groups and consisted of two content based EFL international studies program classes conducted at Tokai University and randomly selected classes conducted at the three private English language institutes in Canada. The total number of participants was 63; Japanese ESL students in Canada (n=41), Japanese EFL students in Japan (n=22). Both participant groups were small samples of Japanese university English L2 students studying in Japan and Canada but provide an adequate sample for the purposes of piloting the survey and examining the research questions of this pilot study. Participants were divided into two groups; Japanese ESL students in Canada (ELI-Canada Group 1) and Japanese EFL students at Tokai University (Tokai-U Group 2).

3.2 Data Collection

Data collection was conducted in a quantitative cross sectional method using a survey containing 33 Likert scaled items indicating how often certain teaching pedagogies (teaching materials and learning activities) were used in the classroom and 36 Likert scaled items indicating students’ opinions on teaching materials, classroom activities used in the classroom and attitudes toward studying English in general (Appendix A). The survey was modeled after the Attitude Motivation Test Battery (AMTB) originally developed by Gardner (1958; 1960) and modified numerous times in subsequent studies (Gardner & Lambert, 1972; Gardner & Smythe, 1975; Gardner & Smythe, 1981). Qualitative data was also collected in the survey using two open ended questions to qualify the Likert scaled items (Appendix A). Surveys were distributed to the participants by their classroom instructor under the supervision of the researcher. Teaching pedagogies used in the classroom were divided into three groups according to participant response; teaching materials defined as anything that can be used to facilitate language learning including course books, videos, graded readers, games, websites and printed materials (Tomlinson, 2012), tasked based learning activities defined as specific tasks in which participants experience free and meaningful use of the TL focusing primarily on meaning to achieve a specific outcome (Ellis, 2003; Skehan, 2003 & Willis, 1996) and structural functional learning activities defined as tasks that teach learners the forms of language and the meanings they embody (Widdowson, 1991). Tables 1 and 2 show a summary of the most common teaching materials and learning activities used in both participant groups as reported in the survey.

*For tables and more, please download the PDF available here*

Table 1 ELI-Canada Group 1- Three language institutes in Canada (Vancouver (2) and Victoria (1) )

Table 2 Tokai-U Group 2- Two international studies classes at Tokai University Shonan Campus Hiratsuka Japan

Participants’ Likert scale survey responses were calculated for average (mean) response using the formula application on Microsoft Excel 2010 and were grouped into four groups; teaching materials (TM) (Appendix A #1-7), tasked based learning activities (TBLA) (Appendix A #8-15), structural functional learning activities (SFLA) (Appendix A #16-23) and attitude toward/reasons for studying English (ATRFSE) (Appendix A #24-36) as shown in Chart 1.

Chart 1- The mean scores for responses in each category from both participant groups, higher scores indicate more positive responses.

A T-test was applied for each response category related to teaching pedagogies in order to determine significant differences or similarities in participants’ opinions of teaching materials, learning activities and attitudes toward and reasons for studying English.

Table 3 T-Test- A level of probability (p-value) lower than .05 indicates a significant difference between the two participant groups

Two open ended questions on the survey (Appendix A) were used for analysis; 1. Why are you taking this class? (Table 4 and Table 5) 2. What are your future goals? (Table 6 and Table 7). These questions were selected because responses to these questions can best represent variables related to imagined future self-concept as an English L2 speaker and international posture as outlined by Yashima (2002; 2013). The open ended questions were analyzed by organizing responses into categories related to international posture; immediate goals such as grades, tests and academic achievement or international goals such as overseas travel, study/work overseas and communication/culture (Yashima 2002; 2013) with the purpose of identifying goals common in both participant groups. Participant responses were categorized into two main categories each consisting of three sub categories, the main ideas of each participant response (key words, key phrases etc.) was categorized and given a point value of either 1 or .05. A comparison between the two participant groups is made that identifies the goals which are prevalent in each group, illustrate how participants see themselves using English in the future and identify international posture variables of participants in both groups.

*For photos and more, please download the PDF available here*

4 Results

ELI Canada Group 1 participants had favorable opinions of both tasked based learning activities including pair and group work, debating exercises etc. and structural functional learning activities including textbook based activities (Table 1; Chart 1). Tokai U Group 2 expressed favorable opinions of teaching pedagogies such as tasked based learning activities that include interaction with classmates in a pair or group work format and student presentations (Table 2; Chart 1). ELI Canada Group 1 and Tokai U Group 2 differed slightly on reasons for taking the class, a majority of Group 1 participants indicate mainly integrative motivational reasons such as finding foreign friends and speaking face to face with English speakers (Table 4) while a majority of Group 2 participants indicate more instrumentally motivated reasons such as meeting academic requirements stating:” I am taking the class because I have to” or “it is a required course for my faculty” etc. (Table 5). Responses for future goals were similar in both participant groups emphasizing international goals over immediate goals particularly in the area of communication with foreigners and learning about foreign culture. A majority of participants from both groups indicate making foreign friends, talking to native English speakers and learning about foreign cultures as future goals (Table 6; Table 7 ). Results from the t-test (Table 3) indicate there is no significant difference in overall survey responses between participants in the two groups, participants’ opinions of structural functional learning activities were the most different and attitudes toward and reasons for studying English were the least different.

5 Summary

The types of teaching materials and learning activities used in participant classes generated generally positive survey responses from both groups and are associated with positive attitudes among a majority of participants toward studying English (Chart 1). There was a significant difference in reasons for taking the class, Tokai U Group 1 participants expressed mainly immediate goals while ELI Group 2 participants expressed mainly international goals. Future goals produced similar responses as a majority of participants in both groups indicated international goals, particularly international-communication goals, as future objectives. Participants in both groups displayed high levels of international posture according to Yashima’s (2002, 2013) definition especially with respect to a willingness to communicate in English with native speakers. Results from this study indicate international posture correlates with positive attitudes toward teaching pedagogies used in the classroom to some degree for both of these specific participant groups. Teaching pedagogies used in participant classes may contribute to a stronger English L2 self-concept where participants envision themselves using English in an international setting in the future and the high level of international posture and generally positive attitudes toward teaching pedagogies displayed by both participant groups may indicate higher levels of motivation as defined by Gardner (1985). By implementing these particular teaching pedagogies in their classroom it seems teachers in both participant groups were able to assist students to some degree achieve higher levels of motivation for classroom activities.

6 Conclusion

The main goal of this study was to generate data to be explored further in future research conducted by the researcher related to Japanese university English L2 students in different learning environments, their perceived future self-concept as English L2 speakers, how their self-concept is affected by teaching pedagogies and the relation to language learning motivation in the classroom. The results of this study suggest the positive opinions of both Japanese EFL and ESL students toward certain teaching pedagogies and positive attitudes toward studying English L2 may be related to a higher level of international posture represented by the willingness to interact with foreigners using English which includes overseas travel, studying or working abroad. It can be suggested a stronger vision of English L2 goals provided by the classroom teacher through a variety of teaching pedagogies may enhance student motivation and increase participation in classroom activities. The results of this study are not entirely conclusive therefore the researcher will continue research in this area with Japanese ESL and Japanese EFL students that includes classroom observation, one on one or focus group interviews conducted in Japanese and translated to English and surveys in Japanese to ensure more accurate responses from participants. Future research will focus more on how student imagined future English L2-self-concept can be influenced by the teacher through teaching pedagogies to increase or at least maintain motivation to participate in classroom activities in the present. It is hoped that findings from this pilot study as well as future research can be used practically by English L2 teachers in the classroom to create a more enjoyable English L2 learning environment for their students.


Alan Harper is a Junior Associate Professor of English in the Foreign Language Centre at Tokai University Shonan campus Hiratsuka Japan. He is a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Education program at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. Mr. Harper’s dissertation research looks at teaching pedagogies, how they affect student’s future self-concept as English speakers and the relation to student motivation in the classroom. Mr. Harper is from Vancouver Canada and has lived in Asia for 14 years teaching English as a foreign language in S. Korea, Malaysia and Japan.


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Yashima, T. (2002). Willingness to communicate in a second language: The Japanese EFLcontext. The Modern Language Journal, 86 (1), 54-66.
Yashima, T. (2013). Imagined L2 Selves and Motivation for Intercultural Communication. InM.T. Apple., D. Da Silva, T. Fellner (eds.) Language Learning Motivation in Japan.(pp.35-53). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

*For photos and more, please download the PDF available here*

L1 Pragmatic Transfer in English Meetings: An Analysis of Japanese Turn-taking and Consensus-building Behaviors

Josef Williamson


Japanese company employees of all proficiency levels are sometimes required to participate in English meetings in which pragmatic transfer - i.e. the inappropriate use of Japanese ways of performing and responding to speech acts in English - as well as linguistic ability can impact negatively on communication outcomes. This research investigates the extent of pragmatic transfer in two English meeting scenarios performed by low to intermediate proficiency Japanese company employees in the context of a business English training program. A comparative analysis of the two meeting tasks by the Japanese groups with groups of native speakers of English showed that there were significant differences in turn-taking and consensus-building techniques. Implications for communication outcomes are discussed and the potential for instructional intervention is explored.

Keywords: Pragmatic transfer, turn-taking, consensus-building, intercultural communicative competence, Japanese business English meetings


英語能力に関係なく英語を必要とするミーティングに参加が必要とされる日本人の会社員は少なくありません。そういった場面では英語能力だけではなく、語用論(Pragmatics - 実践的な言葉の使用)もコミュニケーションの成果に影響を及ぼします。英語には日本語の表現方法をそのまま使用するとトランスファー(Pragmatic transfer)が 生じ、誤解を生む恐れがあります。本論では、二つのロールプレイミーティングを通じて英語研修中の英語能力の低レベルから中レベル程度の日本人会社員のトランスファーが調べられました。同じロールプレイミーティングを行った英語のネイティブスピーカーの使用した言語との比較分析の結果、合意形成(Consensus-building)の方法と参加者の会話参加方法(turn-taking)の違いが明らかになりました。職場での日本人とイングリッシュスピーカーのコミュニケーションの影響及び研修対策の可能性について述べます。

1 Introduction

1.1 Background

Many Japanese employees, regardless of proficiency level, are required to participate in English meetings in which English is either a lingua franca or the first language of other participants. At the same time, dynamics of meetings in large Japan-based corporations are gradually evolving. Whereas for most Japanese company employees English meetings will tend to still mainly be an ‘us versus them’ experience, i.e. a team of Japanese participants positioned across a table from a counterpart team from a foreign company, gradually more collaborative, intercultural types of meetings are taking place in Japan. Many large foreign multinationals have well-established local operations in which foreign employees and Japanese staff work together as colleagues at all hierarchical levels. The last few years have also seen many Japanese companies moving towards a more internationalist philosophy resulting in more foreign recruitment and moves by companies (e.g. Rakuten and Uniqlo) to adopt English as an ‘official’ workplace language (see Kojima, Suzuki, Fukazawa, Wakita & Mine, 2014, for a range of Japanese language articles on the current status of English skills and training in the Japanese corporate world). However, the emphasis on explicit instruction of English linguistic knowledge in the Japanese education system and companies’ continued reliance on a similarly linguistic knowledge based test - the TOEIC test - to evaluate English communicative competence contributes to a lack of awareness of English pragmatics amongst Japanese speakers of English (hereafter JSE) in such communications. There is frequently a consequent negative impact on communication outcomes (Kojima et al., ibid.).

Pragmatics in linguistics has been defined as ‘sociocultural communicative competence in performing L2 speech acts’ (Takahashi & Beebe, 1987). It is both a social skill and a culturally dependent one. The way speech acts are performed, and indeed, whether it is acceptable or not to perform them in a particular context, can be seen as a manifestation of the norms of the culture in which they take place – the explicit ‘outer layer’ of culture according to Fons Trompenaars (1998: 21). Pragmatics in one language may differ from that of another in many ways and can extend to entire patterns of discourse involving turn-taking routines (Du-Babcock & Tanaka, 2010; Johnstone, 2010, p. 102). Therefore, pragmatic development in L2 is in a more general sense, partly an expression of the development of intercultural communicative competence (see Byram, 1997 for a frequently cited theoretical model of ICC). It is a challenging undertaking and particularly so in an EFL context – a context in which, for the most part, learners are immersed in the L1 culture rather than the L2. Learners must first somehow gain an awareness of English pragmatic norms and then learn to adopt suitable behaviors. In the meantime, reliance on L1 pragmatic knowledge is a common strategy and an easy alternative and transfer from L1 is a well-documented and common feature of learner speech (Takahashi & Beebe, 1987; Kaspar & Schmidt, 1996).

1.2 Objective

This study was undertaken as part of a classroom-based action research project which seeks to address the author’s concern as a teacher about the perceived impact of JSE business learners’ pragmatic transfer in meetings. It was hoped that this first investigation will point towards a more effective instructional approach in the classroom in teaching business meeting skills – specifically the skills required in intercultural collaborative discussion between JSEs and native speakers of English (hereafter NSE). The objective of the current study was to investigate whether and to what extent pragmatic transfer from Japanese can be observed in English business meeting situations. To this end, it was decided to analyze the turn-taking and consensus-building techniques of JSE company employees in decision-making meeting contexts and compare them with those of native speakers of English in the same context.

1.3 Pragmatic Awareness and Transfer in JSEs

The development of L2 pragmatic techniques appears to be one of the more difficult aspects of second language acquisition and lags behind linguistic development. It requires frequent and diverse input and can be negatively affected by poor models and instruction (Kasper & Schmidt, 1996). Takahashi and Beebe (1987) in a study of refusal techniques found pragmatic transfer by JSEs based in Japan to be ubiquitous at all levels of proficiency and only noticeably improved at higher levels of JSE learners resident in a native English culture (USA), in which immersion in target language pragmatics is more likely to occur. In EFL contexts, the assumption by many learners is that pragmatic knowledge is universal rather than culturally dependent (Kasper & Schmidt, 1996, p. 155) and it is therefore no surprise that L1 pragmatic transfer is a common strategy.

1.4 JSE and NSE Attitudinal Differences to Decision-making in Meetings

Business training programs have long incorporated an intercultural aspect both in second language training and intercultural communication training (Byram & Feng, 2004). Such programs are often limited in scope and focus on a ‘culture-as-knowledge’ (e.g. the ‘dos and don’ts’ of everyday behavior) approach to a particular target community in order to prepare employees for specific overseas assignments. Theoretical support for intercultural training approaches tends to be drawn from authors working specifically in the business training field (for example Hofstede, 1991; Trompenaars, 1998).

In Hofstede’s collectivist – individualist dimension (communitarianist – individualist in Trompenaars, 1998: 8) Japanese and Anglo-western cultures rest on opposite poles (1991, p. 49-78). According to Hofstede, individualist and collectivist cultures communicate in different ways based on their members’ allegiance to the interests of the individual or the group. It follows then, that for individualist NSEs, multi-party decision-making tasks are likely to be seen as competitive opportunities in which each speaker is expected to advance his/her personal view. For collectivist JSEs on the other hand, multi-party decision-making tasks are likely to be seen as collaborative tasks fraught with threats to group harmony. If this assumption is true, different behaviors should be observable for JSEs and NSEs in the main features of decision-making meetings.

1.5 Turn-taking in Decision-making Meetings

The turn-taking model proposed by Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974) in which turns are usually one-speaker-at-a-time, transitions are basically seamless and interventions disruptive has largely been supported by subsequent research in many native English contexts (e.g. Petuhova & Bunt, 2009). However, it has proved less applicable in different cultural and L2 settings (e.g. Makri-Tsilipakou, 1994; Wolfartsberger, 2011). In fact, decisions about turn-taking appear to depend somewhat on the speaker’s beliefs and attitudes (Petuhova & Bunt, 2009), including those dictated by culture.

Gaps in competitive multi-party discourse have been found to be shorter than in collaborative multi-party discourse (Trimboli & Walker, 1984). Also, in general, the well-documented difference in the way silence is viewed and used in Japanese and English: as an integral part of critical communicative behavior in the former (Lebra, 2007; Hall, 1976; Endrass et al, 2008) and as often awkward and unpleasant in the latter (Johnstone, 2011, p. 144) would suggest that gaps at turn transitions in JSE meetings would be longer and more strategic than those in NSE meetings although proficiency level would also be expected to be a significant factor.

An individualist competitive approach to decision-making meetings is also likely to result in different types of turn-assignment than those of a collaborative approach and turn-grabs are likely to be more prevalent in NSE meetings. It might also be expected that the role of the chairperson in managing turns may differ. For example, Du-Babcock and Tanaka, in a study of meetings between JSEs and Hong Kong Chinese speakers of English, observed that there was a tendency on the part of JSE facilitators to ‘micro-manage’ the interactions (2010) whereas the Hong Kong Chinese facilitators were more tolerant of intervention.

1.6 Consensus- building

This study examines JSE behavior in decision-making meetings. This type of meeting was chosen due to the perceived cultural difference in attitudes to consensus-building between JSEs and NSEs. Consensus-building involves the exchange of opinion followed by an attempt to reach a position acceptable to the group through some kind of implicit or explicit persuasive process.

The author’s past classroom observations of patterns suggest that JSEs use different consensus-building strategies to NSEs. Support for this observation can also be found in Du-Babcock and Tanaka’s Hong Kong Chinese SE – JSE study which found different patterns of participation, with JSEs starting more slowly than the Chinese, and different strategies of disagreement, JSEs being less assertive, more likely to hedge and preferring to find common ground rather than directly criticize. In other words, JSEs tended to use more politeness strategies.

The most often referred to theory of politeness was put forward by Brown and Levinson in their ground-breaking paper (1987). The theory states that speakers attempt to maintain their public view of themselves or ‘face’ and avoid harming the face of others’ when communicating. When performing acts that are perceived as face threatening (hereafter FTA), communicators tend to politeness as a means of redressing the threat. They propose a formula in which the ‘weight’ of the FTA is dependent on the power relationship with the interlocutor, the social distance between speaker and interlocutor and the perceived imposition of the act (ibid.).

W (weight of FTA) = D (social distance) + P (power relationship) + R (Perceived imposition)

Gender has also been shown to affect politeness choices (e.g. Ide, 1982; Lakoff, 1975) and so another variable, G, can be added.

W = D + P + R + G

Criticism of the applicability of the theory to the Japanese context (e.g. Ide, 1989; Matsumoto, 1988) has focused mainly on the system of honorifics in the Japanese language as a restriction on the scope for spontaneous facework and therefore would seem to be specific to the L1 context in Japan and in any case, there is also evidence to support its applicability in Japanese (Kiyama, Tamaoka & Takiura, 2012).

Pomerantz (1984) describes agreement with an interlocutor as basically the preferable option. Therefore, according to Brown and Levinson’s model, disagreement per se, is an FTA. But for speakers who hold that consensus-building is competitive the imposition factor R of disagreement acts would presumably be much less than for those holding a collaborative view. In the same way in which aggressive physical contact may be acceptable in sports but not in other social contexts, for subscribers to a competitive view, there is a license and an expectation to break the rules. Consensus-building for presumably collaborative minded JSEs, in which disagreement is often necessary, holds more threat to face than for NSEs and therefore more politeness strategies from JSEs compared to NSEs should be observable in this study (as was the case in Du-Babcock and Tanaka’s meetings study (2010).

1.7 Hypotheses

This study sets out to test the validity of the following four hypotheses about the behavior of JSEs compared to NSEs in decision-making meeting contexts:

  1. JSEs are likely to transfer Japanese techniques of turn-taking and consensus-building to English decision-making meetings

  1. JSEs are likely to tolerate longer gaps between turns than NSEs and be more strategic with silence, although due to different linguistic proficiency levels this will be difficult to observe

  1. JSEs persuasive techniques are likely to be less direct than the NSEs

  1. JSE chairpersons’ roles and responsibilities may differ from NSE chairpersons in the way they manage turns and participate in consensus-building

2 Methodology

2.1 Participants

The study was carried out in August 2014 in the context of a corporate training program at the head office of a Japanese manufacturing company. The participants were 26 (24 male, two female) business English learners enrolled in a 6-month, multi-skill program. Proficiency levels ranged from beginner to intermediate and were assessed at the beginning of the program by oral interview and ages ranged from mid-twenties to late forties. For comparison, four NSEs also participated in the study. All were male English teachers from Canada (1), USA (1) and UK (2) with ages ranging from late thirties to mid-fifties.

All JSE participants had received six years in junior high school and high school English education as well as varying degrees of university English instruction. Some had participated in previous corporate training programs, but not all. All showed a high degree of extrinsic motivation most likely due to the obligation to attend class made explicit by company management, the widespread, albeit occasional, need to use English in work contexts and the real potential for sudden overseas transfer.

2.2 Materials

Two decision-making meeting scenarios were chosen. In one, the group needed to choose one employee to lay off from five candidates. In the second, the group needed to make three decisions about a retirement party (venue, time & day, present) (see Appendix 1). These two tasks were chosen because they require group decision-making, are a good contextual fit with the working lives of the participants and are straightforward to administer.

2.3 Procedures

The two meeting simulations formed part of a ‘Meetings and Discussions’ section of a multi-skill business English training program. Prior to the scenarios, the participants had received instruction in suitable language to perform each task and had either been given (in the case of Scenario 1) or self-prepared (in the case of Scenario 2) a chairperson’s introduction script.

Each task was performed six times by groups of similar level JSEs and once by a group of NSEs. Each group consisted of between three and five participants. Learners received language feedback in a subsequent session. Two performances of each task were discarded due to an insufficient number of participants.

Data was collected in three ways: by observation and note-taking in order to collect significant non-verbal actions, by audio recording and its subsequent transcription to enable detailed analysis of language, as well as by informal post task discussion to collect participants perceptions of each meeting.

2.4 Analysis

*For access to tables and more, please download the PDF version available here*

Table 1

The meeting transcriptions were analysed quantitatively according to the features of turn-taking listed in table 1. These were also analysed qualitatively for consensus building strategies and behaviours and task observation and post-task discussion notes were referred to and compared with the transcripts for corroboration at points of interest.

3. Results

3.1 General Data

The results from the analysis of turn-taking can be seen in Table 2, while the participants are referred to by an initial in capitals, while the chairperson is marked in bold. The meetings are numbered 1 to 10, where meeting #1 to meeting #5 are task 1 and meeting #6 to meeting #10 are task 2. Meeting #5 and meeting #10 are NSE meetings. Meeting #1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are JSE meetings. The number of turns and turn-transition data can also be seen in Graph 1 and Graph 2 respectively.

Table 2


3.2 Observed Differences in NSE and JSE Turn-taking

3.2.1 Turn change was managed by the chairperson much more in JSE meetings than in NSE meetings

The techniques for changing turn can be divided into two groups – those in which turn change is the responsibility of the chairperson, by either nominating someone or assuming the turn themselves (Ch<nt> and Ch<at>), and those in which turn change is the responsibility of one of the other participants by either grabbing a turn, assuming a turn or being nominated by another participant (<gt>, P<at> and P<nt>). It is notable in these meetings that the former chair-centric techniques made up only 40% of the turn changes in both the NSE meetings but apart from meeting #2 (44%) accounted for the majority of turn changes in the JSE meetings. In one case (meeting #3) the chairperson was responsible for all turn changes (see graph 2).

3.2.2 NSE participants were more assertive in turn-taking than JSE participants who tended to conform to a ‘wait-to-be-nominated’ system.

In some JSE meetings, participants grabbed turns (meetings #1, #2 and #6) but in other JSE meetings there were no examples of this behavior or it was rare (meetings #4, #8 and #9). This compares with both NSE meetings in which turn grabbing was common. When JSE participants assumed a turn from an open floor they usually did so carefully and hesitantly as if taking a turn without direct nomination from the chair were a violation of the norm. Observations from different JSE meetings offer examples of widespread respect for a ‘wait-to-be-nominated’ system. In meeting #8, K raised his hand to request permission for a turn from the chairperson, despite the fact the floor appeared to be open at the time. In meeting#3, H was careful to check that he had been nominated (“, me?”) before proceeding.

3.2.3 JSE chairpersons took more turns in comparison with other participants (apart from meeting #2) while NSE chairpersons’ number of turns were more or less equivalent to other participants.

3.2.4 Besides the chairperson, participants in the JSE meetings tended to take an equivalent number of turns whereas in the NSE meetings there was more imbalance.

In the JSE meetings apart from meeting 1 and 2, participants other than the chairperson received roughly an equivalent number of turns. Whereas in both NSE meetings one of the participants took roughly half the number of turns as the other two participants.

3.3 Observed Differences in NSE and JSE Consensus-building

3.3.1 The onus on deciding how consensus would be reached was with the chairperson in JSE meetings while in NSE meetings it was shared by participants and chairpersons.

Participants other than the chairperson almost never made strategic suggestions but almost always waited for instruction by the chairperson as to how to proceed. In the NSEs however, suggestions were offered readily such as this example from participant B in the NSE meeting #10 in which he offers a suggestion to change the order of discussion:

B – yeah should maybe we decide the if; if we do it outside of the office should we maybe choose a time and date first?

3.3.2 The chairperson seldom offered an opinion or participated directly in argument in JSE meetings but often offered opinions and participated directly in argument in NSE meetings.

In JSE meetings there were very few examples of participation in persuasive argument by the chairperson. Rather the chairperson tended to restrict themselves to eliciting and clarifying the opinions of others. In the following example from meeting #1 the chairperson M is directly asked for an opinion by H (in Japanese) but declines to do so and moves on to ask an opinion of another participant, W:

H – Facilitator no iken wo kikun desuka? (What’s the opinion of you, the facilitator?)

M – Oh.. (laughs) .. yes, er thank you er … Mr W., er .. other people er.. about other people, er what do you think?

In NSE meetings on the other hand, opinions by the chair were given frequently including expressions of agreement:

(From meeting #10: J is the chairperson) J – yeah, er I feel the same way

And counter-arguments:

(From meeting #5: R is the chairperson) R - Ok. Um, but in terms, don’t you feel that in terms of productivity, I see your point, but in terms of productivity don’t you think that there’s a risk in keeping unproductive people?

3.3.3 The most common strategy used by the chairperson in JSE meetings to build consensus was one of carefully gauging participants’ respective positions and then exploring their willingness to move towards each other by searching for common ground. In NSE meetings responsibility for building consensus was more widely shared and featured more persuasive argument.

JSE chairpersons’ main technique was to look for common ground as a technique of building consensus. In many cases, they assumed and were allowed to assume the sole responsibility for doing so. The search for common ground sometimes involved complex formula. In meeting #7, chairperson S created a diagrammatic representation of each opinion and respective pros and cons on the whiteboard. This resulted in significant periods of silence as participants waited for her to complete each addition and consequently also so restricted time allowed for participant discussion that participant G made the following request:

G – ahh., in my opinion (S – yes) we need more discussion to er.. (S – narrow down?) yes, .. and then (S – the decision?) let’s vote..

3.3.4 In JSE meetings, participants were rarely critical of others’ positions while in NSE meetings all participants engaged in critical commentary of others’ opinions such as in these two example exchanges:

(Meeting #10: Chairperson J directly criticizes B’s choice of party venue) J – These rooms’re pretty small and er .. (D – for six of us) it’d be kind of like having a meeting (laughs) don’t you think? We wouldn’t be able to move.

(Meeting #5: Participant J directly contradicts chairperson R’s comment) R – it’s irrelevant. (D – Um), So I think that (J – oh ok) at this point um the…

J – It’s not it’s not irrelevant.. is it? It’s not irrelevant to our personal situations.

4 Results

Differences between JSE and NSE meetings were observed in both turn-taking and consensus-building procedures, demonstrating that hypotheses 1, 3, and 4 (See 1.7) were supported. Hypothesis 2 expected longer and more strategic gaps in JSE turn-taking. Gaps were found to be longer than in NSE meetings but it cannot be ascertained from observation how much of the difference was a result of pragmatic transfer of Japanese strategic silence and how much a result of cognitive processing of language. Therefore support for this particular hypothesis cannot be claimed from this study.

4.1 Differences in Turn-taking

1) Turn change was managed by the chairperson much more in JSE meetings than in NSE meetings.

2) NSE participants were more assertive in turn-taking than JSE participants who tended to conform to a ‘wait-to-be-nominated’ system.

3) JSE chairpersons, in general, took more turns in comparison with other participants while NSE chairpersons’ number of turns tended to be equivalent to those of other participants.

4) Besides the chairperson, participants in the JSE meetings tended to take an equivalent number of turns whereas in the NSE meetings there was more imbalance.

4.2 Differences in Consensus-building

1) The onus on deciding how consensus would be reached was with the chairperson in JSE meetings. Other participants tended to follow the lead of the chairperson. In NSE meetings responsibility for consensus-building was shared by participants and chairpersons.

2) The chairperson seldom offered an opinion or participated directly in argument in JSE meetings but frequently did so in NSE meetings.

3) JSE chairpersons tended to opt for a strategy of finding common ground in which they took the lead. In NSE meetings the strategy was often one of persuasive argument with responsibility shared by all participants.

4) In JSE meetings, participants were rarely critical of others’ positions which was common in NSE meetings.

5 Conclusion

This study has found significant differences in the way that JSEs and NSEs approach decision-making meetings. It is clear that pragmatic transfer is common in this context and produces behaviors that are often at variance with NSE norms. For Japanese employees like the participants of this study, this presents a number of potential risks should they engage in similar meetings with NSEs.

Firstly, there is the risk that long pauses (strategic or otherwise) such as longer than expected gaps at transitions could be misinterpreted by NSEs whose culturally conditioned response to silence is often to fill it with a turn of their own (Cassell, Nakano, Bickmore, Sidner & Rich, 2001). Secondly, there is the risk that pragmatic transfer of Japanese turn-taking techniques might lead to a reluctance by JSEs to engage in competition for turns with NSEs – for example by waiting to be nominated rather than grabbing turns or assuming the floor. Thirdly, there is the risk that pragmatic transfer from Japanese of turn-taking strategies such as ‘wait-to-be-nominated’ may be misinterpreted by NSEs as a reluctance to collaborate in the meeting tasks. And finally, there is the risk that transfer of face-saving politeness strategies to deal with disagreement may be perceived as vague or unclear communication of opinion by NSEs.

An examination of the other variables in the Brown and Levinson formula, namely social distance (D), power relationship (P) and gender (G), in this context, which is beyond the scope of the current study, might also throw up additional areas of pragmatic difference and would be an interesting area of future research.

In a wider sense, in a time when the effects of globalization are being felt by more and more employees in Japan, and when both the public and private sector are reforming long-static educational policies concerning English (Kojima et al., 2014), more research on intercultural encounters in Japanese business contexts is much needed. This limited study has shown how much impact pragmatic transfer can have in one particular business context. It is reasonable to suspect that it will also occur in other business contexts. Further research would be valuable. Of great interest, although no doubt fraught with issues relating to access and privacy, would be in-depth studies into the collaborative interactions between JSEs, and non-Japanese English speakers at companies like Rakuten which have adopted English as an in-house language and at the Japanese offices of global companies in which JSEs, NSEs and other non-native English speakers collaborate in English. Teachers need more information about the kinds of communications taking place and the kinds of difficulties being encountered by all parties in order to develop an appropriate pedagogy for their teaching context.

Pragmatics is a notoriously difficult feature of language to learn in EFL (Kasper, 1997). It is sociocultural in nature and as such depends to some extent on the development of intercultural communicative competence. Although a detailed analysis of the various instructional approaches to teaching ICC is beyond the scope of this paper (see Byram & Feng, 2004 for a comprehensive review of ICC theories and approaches current at the time), business English teachers in Japan will have to, and no doubt already do, engage with its development at some level in order to progress L2 pragmatic skill development. The contextual circumstances of a lot of business English training in Japan place certain constraints on ICC pedagogy but at the same time there are inherent opportunities for teachers in the context. Business learners tend to be curious about the cultures they are in contact with and they often have experiential knowledge based on domestic and overseas intercultural encounters both they and teachers can draw upon. Learning groups tend to be small and instructors are more likely to be seen as peers rather than remote authority figures enabling a dialogic exploration of culture, that is, a dialogue of equals with the potential to be transformative for both teacher and learner (Byram & Feng, 2004:160; Matsuo, 2012). But the distinction between knowledge and skill – rather ambiguous in Byram’s savoirs (Byram, 1997, p. 50-53) – is a key issue for teachers when dealing with pragmatics. It is not enough for learners to know how a speech act should best be performed in a certain cultural context, they also need to be able to do it. Such a skill can involve a change in behavior that learners may be uncomfortable with and may see as a threat to their identity (Coperias Aguilar, 2010: 94). For example, turn-grabbing behavior or direct disagreement within the context analyzed in this study for many Japanese learners may pose a challenge to their sense of themselves – ‘I’m not the kind of person who behaves like that’. As teachers we should bear this in mind and balance such challenges with the potential benefit of more effective English meeting performance outcomes and proceed carefully.


Josef Williamson is a teacher and independent researcher of twenty years’ experience in the UK and Japan currently working in the corporate language training field in Tokyo for Linguage Intercom (formerly Sumikin Intercom). His research interests are pragmatic development, intercultural communication and discourse analysis. Course design and material development are also a major part of his work and he is the author of a wide range of in-house and published teaching materials. Josef holds a DELTA and is currently balancing work towards an MA in TESOL with the challenge of nurturing English-Japanese bilingualism in his two elementary school children at home.


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Call for Papers

Tokyo Chapter is looking for contributions from its members for the next issue of its chapter publication, the peer-reviewed Tokyo JALT Journal, or TJJ.

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