English Language Learning in Japan: Representations of the English Language and the Worlds of English Language Users

Date created: 
World Englishes
Critical Discourse Analysis
English language education in Japan

The English language is changing due to the global spread of the language, and it is now used in culturally determined local contexts with culturally specific meanings (Kachru, 1991). The local contexts of English use also influence global communication. Due to these simultaneously global and local phenomena, or “glocalization” (Robertson, 1997), the needs of English language learners in Japan also diversify. In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) regulates education and authorizes textbooks used in schools. Since English is not an official language in Japan, textbooks can be the main source of learners’ input of the language, and therefore, may have the power to disseminate certain ideologies of the language and construct learners’ “realities” of their learning (e.g. Matsuda, 2012; Tajima, 2011). This dissertation research examines the extent to which the diversifying needs of learners are addressed in the curriculum guidelines of MEXT generally, and in English language textbooks used at junior high schools more specifically. My research questions address the power of textbook discourses and their possible influence on how learners speak and behave (Gee, 2005). Using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Fairclough, 1995), I investigate more deeply how textbook discourses may be constructing learners’ realities and constitutive of those realities. This study reveals that the English language is often represented in textbooks as being owned by native speakers particularly from the United States, Canada, or Australia. Thus, the language is presented as independent of Japanese social and cultural influences. This conforms to MEXT discourses of English as a “foreign” language and seemingly denies the ownership of the language and the linguistic identity by learners in Japan. These representations may be perceived as static realities by learners despite the varied uses of English in the world today and the ongoing changes and hybridization of languages and cultures. When learners accept the essentialized realities made available in textbooks and act accordingly, the realities of the discourses surrounding English language learning can be intensified and reproduced through classroom practices and the learners’ conforming behaviours, thereby being stabilized by the learners’ own participation in the discourses.

Document type: 
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Senior supervisor: 
Suzanne K. Hilgendorf
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Linguistics
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.