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date: 22 October 2021

Foreign Language Education in Japanlocked

Foreign Language Education in Japanlocked

  • Ryuko KubotaRyuko KubotaUniversity of British Columbia


Historically, foreign language education in Japan has been influenced by local and global conditions. Of the two major purposes of learning a language—to gain new knowledge from overseas and to develop practical communication skills—the latter pragmatic orientation became dominant toward the end the 19th century, when access to foreign language learning increased and English became a dominant language to learn. The trend of learning English as an international language for pragmatic purposes has been further strengthened since the 1980s under the discourses of internationalization and neoliberal globalization. An overview of the current status of foreign language education reveals that there are both formal and non-formal learning opportunities for people of all ages; English predominates as a target language although fewer opportunities to learn other languages exist; English is taught at primary and secondary schools and universities with an emphasis on acquiring communicative skills, although the exam-oriented instructional practices contradict the official goal; and adults learn foreign languages, mainly English, for various reasons, including career advancement and hobbyist enjoyment. Such observations include contestations and contradictions. For instance, there have been debates on whether the major aim of learning English should be pragmatic or intellectual. These debates have taken place against the backdrop of the fact that the learning of a foreign language—de facto English—is much more prevalent in society in the early 21st century compared with previous periods in history, when access to learning opportunities was limited to elites. Another contradiction is between the multilingual reality in local and global communities and the exclusive emphasis on teaching English. This gap can be critically analyzed through a critical realist lens, through which multilayers of ideology in discourses and realities in the material world are examined. The predominance of English is driven by a neoliberal ideology that conceptualizes English as a global language with economic benefit, while testing and shadow education enterprises perpetuate the emphasis on English language teaching. The political economy of foreign language education also explains the longstanding socioeconomic disparity in English ability.


  • Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Education, Change, and Development
  • Education and Society

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