Recently, the word “globalization” has become firmly established in the Japanese language. Over twenty years ago, when I was l a college student, I was excited at the freshness of the sound of the word internationalization, but that has now become outdated and supplanted by globalization. Economically speaking, national boundaries have become weak between countries, and it has become possible for people, money and information to move and circulate on a global scale without going overseas, and via the internet, people around the world can communicate in real time (and for free!) However, recently, not only the abundance and convenience that globalization has brought us, but also the negative side has been gaining prominence. There is especially a sense of danger in losing the diversity of regional languages, culture and industry etc. that humans have cultivated over a long history. If the standardization of culture and values progresses, the dangers of taking the wrong course and being suddenly mind-controlled could easily expand. There are also voices being raised that as a result of chasing these new riches, we are losing the riches that we used to enjoy. However, resisting the tide of globalization is futile. The time has come for us when we should recognize that globalization is a double-edged sword, and investigate, from every angle, what fortune globalization brings to global citizens.
University and global human resource development
Loud calls are coming from the government and companies for universities to train global talent! There isn’t a single definition for global talent as such, but one example that can be given is, “people who, in a modern society where worldwide competition and coexistence are progressing, possess communication skills, cooperativeness, skills to create new values, and a sense of social contribution with a view toward the next generation while maintaining an identity as Japanese. They should also have high-level education and specialization cultivated in a wide range of fields, and have the ability to develop relationships with others by overcoming language differences, cultures and values, (the Council on Promotion of Human Resource for Globalization Development through industry and academia cooperation, April 2011). While some questions remain into what identity as Japanese actually indicates in this definition, the keywords here are communication skills, cooperativeness, creativity, specialization, and social contribution. In addition keywords such as energy, problem solving skills and independence are also often heard. Chuo University also recognizes the importance of global human resource development, and after repeated deliberations, applied for the 2012 Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development. That resulted in being selected for the whole-university type (Type A), and from last autumn, we began various projects campus-wide (see http://globalization.chuo-u.ac.jp/ for details.) In times when the inward-looking tendency of young Japanese is being pointed out, students’ interest was greatly boosted by seven short-term exchange program introductions, including the overseas internship training which was introduced this spring, which attracted more than 400 students. Compounding new experiences is effective to be able to think about things in a wide range of fields. While not limiting it to overseas exchanges, I want students to break out of their comfort zones and endeavor to expand their range of activities. Also, in order to do so, universities must not neglect providing motivation and support.
Demand for intercultural English communication skills
In the giant wave of globalization, there has been a rapid rise in the number of English speakers. Currently there are 400 million native speakers of English, and is a much larger figure of 1.5 billion speakers who use English on a daily basis as their second or third language. The expansion of English use throughout the world has been called English imperialism, and at times is considered to be a threat, but unfortunately, many of those criticisms are unconstructive. In the background of the global expansion of English use is the rising need for communication and mutual understanding between people due to globalization and those needs can not be ignored. Of course, we have to give our undivided attention and avoid the extinction or belittling of other languages due to the expansion of English use, not to mention the neglect in development and use of native tongues. Because the expansion of English use is also a doubled-edged sword, on top of taking a close look at the negative aspects, we need to take measures.
In Japan, English education is always caught up in controversy. The traditional grammar-translation method lesson has long been criticized for not developing students’ communication skills, but it does have a role to play in developing reading comprehension skills. Concerning lessons being fundamentally conducted in English, which was set out in the 2009 new curriculum guidelines for high schools, there have been critical comments from specialists regarding the effectiveness and results of such a plan. There has also been incessant debate both for and against the introduction of English education in primary schools. It is true that children have a disposition to imitate pronunciation and talk with no fear, but I do not believe that we can simply say that the earlier the better. In the wake of globalization, it has become clear that what Japanese learners should be doing is not to limit themselves to highly qualified native English speaker models as in the past. What is important, even if Japanese have a slight accent, even if we make slight grammatical errors, is the ability to adapt their own intentions to the situation, convey them appropriately to the listener, and build mutually friendly relationships. This, as a result of advancing cognitive function with age and developing emotions, is the skill that can be acquired in stages, and requires time to acquire.
English skills required for use in a global society can not be developed alone through learning English grammar and vocabulary, and solving problems that have only one answer. In order to develop students’ English skills, I have assigned various projects within and outside the classroom. A few years ago we had a pen pal project where our students exchanged emails with university students in Taiwan. The Japanese students not only had trouble writing emails in English, but they also encountered the frequent misunderstandings and troubles created due to a lack of knowledge of Taiwanese culture or the knowledge regarding historical relations between Japan and China. For example, the Japanese students would call the Taiwanese Chinese, instead of Taiwanese, and their pen pals would often point out their stereotypical views such as Japanese must be hated by Taiwanese for being a former aggressor nation. I believe that these kinds of experiences aided in giving important perspectives that need to be considered when communicating, that is to say, it made them aware that language users are social agents. This month (February 2013) I took the first year students of my different culture communication seminar to Singapore. I hope that the students, who had the opportunity to experience the various types of English used in a multicultural society and engage in communication activities using their limited English skills, will grow as independent learners in the future.
Targeting multilingualism and multiculturalism
The conceptual platform Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (published by the Council of Europe, 2001), which has been gaining attention in Japan , is seen to be a concept of multilingualism and multiculturalism. The European Union (EU), which boasts 27 signatory nations and 23 official languages, has a language policy which aims to have children use two languages (fluency not a requisite) other than their native tongue by the end of compulsory education. This has the aim of having the individual learner break away from ethnocentrism and promoting peace and development as a community through effective association of knowledge and experience of multiple languages and cultures.
Japan, unlike the EU, does not have many opportunities for learners to come in contact with multiple languages and cultures on a daily basis. However, instilling a multilingual and multicultural viewpoint and cultivating new values and versatile thinking ability among Japanese learners through foreign language acquisition processes is a course of action that is in accordance with the demand for global human resource development. This leads to the nurturing of human resources who can confront unprecedented events and complicated issues and take constructive action to aim for a solution, and I hope that there is further debate and practice in regards to foreign language education, including languages other than English.
Yukio Otsu (editor) (2009). Kiki ni Tatsu Nihon no Eigo Kyoiku (Japan’s English Education in the Face of Danger). Keio University Press
Council of Europe (2011) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, David (2003) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and English Education, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Born in Hiroshima Prefecture. Graduated from the Department of English, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Tsuda College in 1990. Completed her master’s degrees (linguistics) at Georgetown University in 1992, and her doctorate (education) at International Christian University in 1998. Assumed her current position in 2007 after entering the Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University in 2001 and working as a full time lecturer and an assistant professor. Belongs to the Japan Association of College English Teachers and the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research etc.