It is with great pleasure that we can announce the publication of the special edition of the International CLIL Research Journal (ICRJ) which focuses on the Japanese context. Guest edited by Dr. Makoto Ikeda and Richard Pinner, the special issue is available at http://www.icrj.eu/21/contents.html
The ICRJ is an open access online journal edited by David Marsh and Peeter Mehisto. This landmark issue recognizes that CLIL is not, as many people mistakenly believe, only a ‘European Phenomenon’ and profiles how CLIL is reshaping educational landscapes in Asian contexts, paying particular focus to Japan.
In Japan, English education is given a very high level of importance, as demonstrated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology’s (MEXT) recent decision to implement English education from primary school level as of 2011. The ability to speak English is held in high esteem. English language courses are sold as the missing piece in the struggle for success, a key to unlock the world (Seargeant, 2009: 107-131). However, despite the ideology of English and its prestige, Japan continues to feature on the lowest ranks of the TOEFL score board across Asia (Yoshida, 2009). Further, in a survey conducted by Benesse Corporation involving 4,718 participants, Yoshida noted that 55% claimed not to enjoy studying English and 90% said that they were not confident in using English. It is perceived as exceedingly difficult for the Japanese to learn English. It seems clear that the educational policy and instructional methodology being used in Japan to teach foreign languages needs to be revised. Unfortunately, in Japan, the nature of English instruction is fraught with difficulties and contradictions. There is a gap between MEXT’s criteria for communicative ability and actual classroom practise. Unlike other Asian contexts such as Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Hong Kong, contact with speakers of other languages is fairly limited in Japan, especially outside of Tokyo and other major cities (Kowner, 2002). Language classes continue to be sold on the premise of speaking to a ‘native speaker’ rather than an experienced language teacher (Seargeant, 2009). Mehisto emphasises that ‘native L2 speakers need training in teaching through student’s L2’ (2012: 50) and although change is coming slowly, Japan still places a great deal of emphasis on the ‘native speaker’ ideal. Japan’s current economic decline, falling birth-rate and rising elderly population are all contributing to a sense of increased pressure on educational reform within the field of language instruction in order to make Japan a contender in the international business market (Grove, 2012; Lamie, 2002). However, partly as a result of washback from university entrance exams and partly as a result of ingrained educational methodology (Watanabe, 1996), instruction in the Japanese language classroom remains heavily based on the traditional grammar-translation method, a method which clearly lacks the ‘authenticity of purpose’ present in the many successful CLIL programmes which have been implemented, particularly across Europe.
However, CLIL is finding footholds in Japanese education. The University of Tokyo has just launched the PEAK program, which offers classes on Japan & East Asian Studies and Environmental Sciences entirely in English. At Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, teaching staff are specifically informed that they should use a Content-Based methodology for many of the English language programs offered to both English and non-English majors taking language courses. Sophia University is also leading the way in Japan as a centre for educational reform and CLIL implementation, offering perhaps some of the first ever university level CLIL courses in Japan. Sophia University is also offering an entire degree in Global Environmental Studies, taught in English. In addition to this, Sophia offers a module about CLIL as part of its Masters’ Degree program in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and arranges annual conferences and training workshops with a regular focus on CLIL. Sophia is also the base out of which the CLIL-Japan initiative is run (see Ikeda & Pinner, 2011).
CLIL is certainly becoming more popular in Japan, as exemplified by the increase in Japanese-context CLIL books, such as Watanabe, Ikeda & Izumi (2011, 2012), Sasajima (2011) and the current special edition of the International CLIL Research Journal focusing on the Japanese context.
Watanabe, Y., Ikeda, M., and Izumi, S. (eds).: 2011, CLIL: New Challenges in Foreign Language Education. Vol. 1,. Sophia University Press, Tokyo.
Izumi, S., Ikeda, M. and Watanabe, Y., (eds).: 2012, CLIL: New Challenges in Foreign Language Education. Vol. 2,. Sophia University Press, Tokyo.
Grove, J.: 2012, Beyond those shores Times Higher Education, 7th June 2012. Available http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26andstorycode=420176. [Retrieved 5th September 2012].
Ikeda, M. and Pinner, R.: 2011, CLIL-Japan website. Available www.cliljapan.org [Retrieved 14th September 2012].
Kowner, R.: 2002, Japanese communication in intercultural encounters: the barrier of status-related behaviour. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 26(4), 339–361.
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT).: 2012, On the number of Japanese citizens studying abroad, the number of international students enrolled at Japanese universities, etc. Available: http://www.mext.go.jp/english/topics/1316751.htm [Retrieved: 11th September 2012].
Navés, T.: 2009, Effective content and language integrated learning (CLIL) programmes, in Ruiz de Zarobe, Y. and Jiménez Catalán, R.M. (eds.), Content and Language Integrated Learning: Evidence for Research in Europe, (22 -40). Multilingual Matters, Bristol.
Sasajima, S.: 2011, CLIL: New Ideas for Classes [in Japanese] Sanshusha, Tokyo.
Seargeant, P.: 2009, The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language. Multilingual Matters, Bristol.