Kokugo Kyoiku to Eigo Kyoiku o tsunagu (Connecting Japanese and English Educations - History, Methodology and Practice of the Cooperative Educational Enterprises)
The latest edition of Japan’s national curriculum standards, issued in 2020, recommends coordinating Japanese language education with English language education. Accordingly, I analyzed the historical background for coordination as well as approaches and practices for such, drawing on my experience in teaching both Japanese and English language classes. This is the greatest distinguishing feature of this book.
Both the Japanese and English language have been my favorite subjects since my high school days. For some time, I had wondered what I should study at university. Then, one day, my classics teacher advised me. “Masaki,” the teacher said, “since you love both Japanese and English, why not study them both at university?” Following this advice, I enrolled at the Department of English Literature, while earning the necessary credits at the Department of Japanese Literature, ultimately obtaining a teaching license in both subjects.
In graduate school, I decided to examine the following hypothesis: Japanese language and English language lessons deliver better language-learning outcomes when the two subjects are coordinated than when they are taught separately. For this thesis, I focused on the history and method of practice. I did so because there was a dearth of literature on the history and method of practice for Japanese-English coordination when I began my research project, in 2007.
Regarding history, I aimed to trace the origin of the idea that the Japanese and English language should be coordinated. In exploring this question, I visited the depository of the University of Tokyo’s General Library day after day. I found that coordination had been continuously advocated since the Meiji era (1868–1912).
I also discovered why coordination had nonetheless never materialized. The reason was the prevailing notion that the two subjects completely differ. Many teachers characterized the two subjects as follows: the English language covers English vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, and focuses on the mastery of basic communicative competence. Contrastingly, the Japanese language involves reading literature to cultivate aesthetic and emotional sensibility.
This situation began to change in the 21st century. Attitudes regarding Japanese language education changed amid mounting concern over the publication, at the end of 2004, of the results from the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) Survey. The results revealed that the reading performance of students in Japan had slipped from the 8th to the 14th place among the countries surveyed. Alarmed by this, educators began increasingly emphasizing the cultivation of transversal (non-subject-specific) competencies using practical texts.
Attitudes regarding English language education changed as well: increasingly, educators adopted the view that learning a foreign language requires competence in one’s first language. This change was precipitated by a 2003 action plan by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, whose title translates into “action plan for nurturing Japanese who can use the English language.” The plan included a section on improving competence in the Japanese language. The statements in that section inspired several articles advocating for English language education to be coordinated with Japanese language education.
Once the premise of coordination is accepted, the question then concerns what method of practice should be adopted. I felt that classroom experience would provide essential insights into this question. Accordingly, I first spent two years teaching the English language in high school. This experience made me appreciate how important it is that learners have competence in their first language before learning a foreign language. With this knowledge, I then spent eight years teaching the Japanese language in high school.
This book relates my experience of teaching both the Japanese and English language. I describe several initiatives for coordinated learning and evaluate their educational outcomes. Examples include the following: a team-teaching initiative involving collaboration between a teacher of the Japanese language and a teacher of the English language; an initiative in which a teacher of the Japanese language uses an English translation of Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro; and an initiative in which a teacher of the English language uses paragraph reading to parse a piece of critical writing written in Japanese.
Education, and especially language teaching, has a crucial role to play in building the future of the nation. It is essential to create new forms of language learning that fit the changing times. I hope that this book offers some insights about how language should be taught from now on.
(Written by: MASAKI Takayuki / April 21, 2023)
The 3rd UTokyo Jiritsu Award for Early Career Academics (The University of Tokyo 2022)