CLIL in the Japanese University Context

CLIL in the Japanese University Context

Michael James Davies (Ritsumeikan University, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5846-0.ch002

Abstract

The Japanese education system is currently in the midst of reforms, particularly with regards to way the English language is taught. At the university level, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) is not only endeavoring to improve Japanese students' proficiency in English but also their intercultural communicative competence. This comes at a time when universities in Japan are trying to enhance their international competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world. The chapter argues that the approach to English education known as content and language integrated learning (CLIL), and the principles on which it is based, will help to address many of these issues of concern. By adopting this approach, not only will students be exposed to a more motivating learning experience, they will also be encouraged to critically examine issues from different cultural standpoints. Finally, the chapter examines instances of CLIL in Japanese universities where it is already being used, as well as effective ways in which it can be implemented from now on.
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Japanese Education Reform

In recent years, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has been very active in its attempts to improve the quality of English language education in the Japanese education system. This has been in response to the traditionally low-levels of English proficiency attained by Japanese people, particularly with regard to international comparisons of standardized test scores. According to ETS data from 2015, the average score for the iBT TOEFL test was 71 in Japan, lagging well behind its neighbors South Korea (83), Taiwan (80) and China (78) (ETS, 2015). Indeed, the ministry even goes so far as to claim that such reforms to the way English is taught are crucial for Japan’s future (MEXT, 2014a).

As a result of this situation, root and branch reform to English language education has been proposed from the middle years of elementary school up to and including the university level. Whereas the teaching of English once began at the junior high school level, there has been greater focus in recent years on beginning English classes in elementary schools. Students in the fifth and sixth grades have therefore been experiencing rather unstructured English classes more directed at raising their interest in English and getting them used to the unfamiliar sounds of the language. The ministry now aims to expand elementary school English classes to embrace the middle grades, so that the upper grades can develop skills such as listening and speaking about a range of everyday topics (MEXT, 2014a). Furthermore, the ministry also aims to revamp English language education at both the junior high and high school levels, in effect, by encouraging more communicative classes and, at the high school level, placing an emphasis on activities such as debate, discussion and presentation to boost students’ communication skills (MEXT 2014a). All this education reform is being adopted in order to nurture students who not only have a high proficiency in the English language, but also a broader global outlook and sufficient intercultural communicative competence. While the reforms being proposed by MEXT cover the entire education system, this chapter will endeavor to focus more on the reforms that are being proposed at the university level.

Firstly, the education reforms planned by MEXT will be described along with the reasons associated with them. Following from this will be a brief introduction to the approach to English language education known as CLIL. Finally, the reasons why CLIL should be adopted at the tertiary level in Japan will be explained. This latter section will endeavor to draw upon the experiences of those institutions that have already introduced this approach to their English language programs.

Universities in Japan are currently in a state of flux, coping with a domestic shortfall in the numbers of young people, coupled with an increased need to attract foreign students from overseas. The government, for its part, is keen to see greater internationalization of universities in Japan, with the aim of increasing their global competitiveness and nurturing more outward-looking students. It is self-evident, however, that lofty and ambitious pronouncements from the government are one thing, and putting such ideas into practice at the coalface is quite another. Therefore, there is a genuine need to bridge this gap and make suggestions as to how such goals can be realized. The ministry’s view is to develop Japanese universities into truly global institutions and enable them to foster “global jinzai”, or global human resources, adept at thriving in this globalized age.

First of all, it may be useful to define what we actually mean by the term “global human resources”. According to a government interim report by the Council of Promotion of Human Resources for Global Development (2011, p. 7), there are three factors that need to be addressed:

  • Factor I: Linguistic and communication skills;

  • Factor II: Self-direction and positiveness; a spirit for challenge, cooperativeness and flexibility; a sense of responsibility and mission;

  • Factor III: Understanding of other cultures and a sense of identity as a Japanese.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Intercultural Communicative Competence: How successfully one is able to communicate with people from other cultures.

Content-Based Instruction: A communicative approach to learning English in which students study content.

Global Human Resources: Those individuals who are successfully able to work in a globalized environment, showing particular sensitivity to, and flexibility with, different languages, cultures, and communication styles.

Grammar-Translation Method: A method of teaching a language that relies heavily on grammatical construction and translating texts from the target language to the students own language/s.

Tertiary Education: Education after the secondary level that may include university, college, or vocational classes.

Globalization: The ongoing interconnectedness of countries around the world including in terms of economics, society, and culture.

Content and Language-Integrated Learning (CLIL): An approach to learning English that is largely content-driven but also relies on sufficient language support.

Task-Based Learning: An approach to learning a language by carrying out realistic tasks in the target language. Linguistic forms and vocabulary to be studied are not decided beforehand but arise organically from the tasks.

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