book notice: Language and Education in Japan: Unequal Access to Bilingualism
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Language and Education in Japan
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/19/19-1973.html
AUTHOR: Kanno, Yasuko
TITLE: Language and Education in Japan
SUBTITLE: Unequal Access to Bilingualism
SERIES: Palgrave Studies in Minority Languages and Communities
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
Chad Nilep, Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado, Boulder
Language and Education in Japan analyzes the education of bilingual students
through critical ethnographic studies of five elementary schools in Japan. The
author, Yasuko Kanno, argues that schools imagine their students' future social
positioning and socioeconomic roles, and that these institutionally imagined
futures have a large impact on school practices and on students' bilingualism
The book consists of nine chapters. A very brief ''Introduction''
mainly lays out
the structure of the book. Chapter 2, ''Framing the Study,'' positions the work
both with respect to Japanese society and education and with respect
literature in education and applied linguistics. The five central chapters of
the book offer critical ethnographic sketches of five bilingual schools in
Japan. Chapter 8 offers general discussion under the heading of ''Imagined
Communities, School Education, and Unequal Access to Bilingualism.'' The book
ends with a brief concluding chapter.
As Kanno points out in Chapter 2, the image of Japan as monolingual and
mono-cultural has never been a true reflection of the entire population. Ethnic
and linguistic minorities have been present throughout the history of the
Japanese nation-state, and hundreds of thousands of Koreans, Chinese, and other
''foreigners'' have been present at least since the twentieth century. Today,
there are also increasing numbers of guest workers, especially from South
America, and refugees from Southeast Asia and elsewhere. There is, however, no
systematic methodology for teaching Japanese second-language speakers;
educational practices are largely left to individual schools. Kanno therefore
sets out to describe five very different schools in order to offer a
perspective on the treatment of bilingual students in diverse
Chapter 2 also lays out the book's theoretical framework. A central concept is
the notion of 'imagined communities.' The term as it is used here is not the
same as Anderson's ''deep, horizontal comradeship'' (1991: 7) imagined to exist
among members of a nation. Rather, Kanno uses the term to describe teachers',
students' and parents' images of students' future social roles -- the
student may fill in some community when she or he becomes an adult. The study
also makes significant use of Bourdieu's notions of cultural and linguistic
capital and of cultural reproduction (e.g. Bourdieu 1977, Bourdieu and Passeron
1990). Finally, both in terms of research practices and theoretical
the book is positioned within the tradition of critical ethnographies of
education (Levinson et al. 1996).
Chapter 3 is the first of five critical ethnographies, an examination of
''Nichiei Immersion School.'' Like all names in the book, ''Nichiei'' is a
pseudonym; the practice of using pseudonyms not only helps to protect the
confidentiality of informants, but also serves, Kanno suggests, ''to
make a point
that it is not the actual identities of the schools that matter but the ideals
and realities of bilingual education that these schools represent''
Nichiei is a private school offering a partial English immersion program, as
well as a parallel non-immersion program. The presence of the non-immersion
program, as well as the fact that the immersion program's materials are English
translations of textbooks used in the official Ministry of Education
is thought to allay parents' concerns that enrollment in an English-medium
program may have a negative effect on their child's sense of Japanese identity
(Downes 2001). The program offers small classes and extensive English-medium
content instruction, though with increasing proportions of Japanese-medium
instruction in the higher grades to prepare students for Japanese high school
and college entrance examinations. The mostly upper- and middle-class Nichiei
parents expect their children to attend Japanese universities and to work for
Japanese companies and organizations, while also becoming ''international''
elites. This imagined future leads to students who are prepared for academic
success, and are dominant Japanese speakers with instrumental English second
Chapter 4 describes ''Zhonghua Chinese Ethnic School,'' a bilingual
the large Chinese ethnic minority present in Japan for generations, as
well as a
smaller number of immigrants from China and Taiwan, and a few 'mainstream'
Japanese students with no connection to China. Like all ethnic schools
Zhonghua is neither accredited nor funded by the national government.
Furthermore, tuition is low in order to allow all ethnic Chinese to attend,
regardless of socio-economic status. Nonetheless, the school imagines futures
for its students as part of an international Chinese community, and as a
''bridge'' between Japan and the People's Republic of China.
Zhonghua's goal is to
give students Japanese proficiency equivalent to mainstream, monolingual
students, plus Chinese abilities like those required of foreign students in
Chinese universities. In the early grades all subjects except for Japanese
language and fine arts are taught in Chinese, but as at Nichiei the proportion
of Japanese instruction increases in later grades so that the curriculum is
primarily Japanese by the junior high level. Since the school is not
students must transfer to mainstream, accredited high schools in order to
qualify to take college entrance examinations.
Chapter 5 examines ''Hal International School,'' which is situated in an
expatriate neighborhood and serves primarily the English-speaking children of
western diplomats and employees of multinational companies, as well as Japanese
children from affluent families who can afford the school's high
all classes -- with the exception of Japanese language -- are taught
and most students attend elite American universities upon graduation. Kanno
follows the practice of Hal students and teachers in calling students F, for
Japanese first-language (L1), or S, for Japanese second-language (generally
English L1) speakers. Students group themselves into social cliques primarily
along these linguistic lines, and secondarily along gender lines. In practice,
while F students must master English to succeed in the English-medium school, S
students -- especially those who do not plan to make their homes in Japan --
regard Japanese as an optional extra, even though it is the majority
the wider community. Some S students achieve only passive bilingualism,
understanding Japanese more than writing or even speaking it.
Chapter 6 treats ''Sugino Public Elementary School,'' which is located near a
subsidized housing project and has a large percentage of non-Japanese speaking
students, mostly the children of war refugees from Southeast Asia or
orphans. While teachers and administrators at Sugino celebrate
the linguistic trajectory for students is one of Japanese assimilation and L1
attrition. Students who have not achieved grade-level literacy in Japanese are
taught in pull-out Japanese Second Language (JSL) classes. These JSL
the medium of Japanese with no L1 support, and consist primarily of reading
aloud or copying passages from the Japanese textbook. A separate bilingual JSL
class for students who cannot speak Japanese is taught in a separate
part of the
school building, a run down wing far away from other classrooms. This physical
separation from the rest of the school excludes the students' native languages
from a 'mainstream' monolingual Japanese identity. At the same time, though, it
provides a sanctuary for students who may be undervalued and bullied elsewhere.
Chapter 7 is the final ethnographic sketch, a description of ''Midori Public
Elementary School.'' Many Midori students are the children of guest
Brazil or Peru. Unlike Sugino, where students' native languages are excluded,
bilingual aides at Midori work with the Japanese Second Language teacher, and
students unreservedly use Portuguese or Spanish in JSL classes -- though they
rarely do so in other content classes. Conversely, whereas content classes at
Sugino are student-centered and stimulating, classes at Midori focus on rote
learning and decoding the textbook.
Kanno suggests, in Chapter 8, that despite their specific differences, both
Sugino and Midori public elementary schools show an 'either-or' orientation to
bilingualism. For the refugee children at Sugino, 'subtractive bilingualism' is
the rule -- Japanese assimilation and L1 attrition. For the children of
temporary guest workers, Midori offers L1 support, but no vision of academic
success. Lower socio-economic status students are offered either
success in the Japanese educational system, but not both. This contrasts with
both the private Japanese Nichiei and Hal International. Elite
students at these
schools are offered both additive bilingualism -- the addition of a second
language with L1 support -- and access to higher education.
The notion that schooling under-serves students from lower socio-economic
classes is not a new one (e.g. Bourdieu and Passeron 1990, Heath 1996), but
Kanno makes a broader argument by adding Zhonghua to this comparison. Despite
its low tuition and large number of working-class students, Zhonghua offers a
'both-and' vision: additive bilingualism and academic success. Zhonghua
accomplishes this, Kanno suggests, by imagining a position for its
students in a
globally powerful international Chinese community.
Kanno has discussed several of the schools described in this volume in earlier
work (2003, 2004), but the broad comparison she undertakes here -- as well as
the greater depth of description -- makes this volume especially useful. Two
ideas in particular suggest refinements of the notion of cultural reproduction
in education (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990). First, as discussed above, the case
of Zhonghua Chinese Ethnic School suggests that 'imagined communities' in
Kanno's sense of jointly and diversely imagined possible futures effect
educational outcomes beyond the influence of class positioning. Ethnic,
linguistic, and other social identities appear from this example to be
in guiding students toward educational ends, as class position is.
Second, Kanno suggests an additional advantage of middle-class students:
quantity of instruction. The author wonders why, despite the high quality of
instruction at Sugino Public Elementary, students under-perform on standardized
tests. She argues that part of the answer is simply the amount of time spent in
learning. While the mothers of Hal or Nichiei students spend a great deal of
time overseeing homework projects, the mothers of Sugino and Midori students
generally work full time outside of the home. ''For many children at Sugino and
Midori... the school presents the only opportunity they have for academic
learning. They do not have enough adults at home to provide them with the
individualized attention they need'' (159). Thus, in addition to cultural and
linguistic 'capital' (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990) and socialization in expected
ways of interacting in school (Heath 1996), upper- and middle-class students
have an advantage in time on task.
Several of my quarrels with the book are more a question of editing or format
than of content. For example, nearly every quotation in the book is labeled
''original emphasis,'' even when Kanno is quoting her own fieldnotes or
interviews. Such overzealous notation seems unnecessary.
More seriously, some of Kanno's minor arguments are not laid out fully in the
book. For example, in her discussion of code switching and identity at Hal
International, Kanno observes several grade 6 Japanese girls chatting with each
other in English during Japanese class, but making asides in Japanese during
English-medium classes. She suggests, ''In the English-medium class they are
positioned and probably identify themselves as 'Japanese' and they enact that
identity by speaking Japanese. In the Japanese class, however, they are
considerably more of an 'English speaker' than the boys and they play the role
by speaking English'' (101-2). The association of particular language varieties
with particular identities is common enough in the literature on code switching
(e.g. Gumperz 1982, Bailey 2002), and given more discussion of these girls'
behavior, Kanno's suggestion might prove convincing. There is, however, no
additional discussion of the girls' relative linguistic proficiency, ethnic
identification, or other social differences offered. No doubt such information
existed in Kanno's fieldnotes, but its absence here makes this surmise
It should also be restated that Kanno's use of the term 'imagined communities'
is distinct from that of Anderson (1991). Kanno is not interested in
nationalism, but the future roles that teachers imagine for their students
generally, and that students imagine for themselves individually. Since these
future identities are positions with communities, the term in not inapt, but
given the influence and ubiquity of Anderson (1991) it may be slightly
Overall, Language and Education in Japan makes a welcome contribution both to
critical studies of language education, and specifically to understanding
bilingualism in Japan. I recommend it to scholars interested in applied
linguistics, language education, and contemporary Japan. It may also be useful
for upper-level courses in language education or linguistic ethnography.
Anderson, Benedict. 1991. _Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and
Spread of Nationalism_. London: Verso.
Bailey, Benjamin. 2002. _Language, Race, and Negotiation of Identity:
A Study of
Dominican Americans_. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. ''Cultural reproduction and social
reproduction.'' In J.
Karabel and A.H. Halsey (eds.) _Power and Ideology in Education_ (pp. 487-511).
New York: Oxford University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1990. _Reproduction in Education,
Society and Culture_. London: Sage.
Downes, Simon. 2001. ''Sense of Japanese cultural identity within an English
partial immersion programme: should parents worry?'' _International Journal of
Bilingual Education and Bilingualism_ 4(3), 165-180.
Gumperz, John J. 1982. _Discourse Strategies_. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Heath, Shirley Brice. 1996. _Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in
Communities and Classrooms_. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kanno, Yasuko. 2003. ''Imagined communities, school visions, and the
bilingual students in Japan.'' _Journal of Language, Identity, and Education_
Kanno, Yasuko. 2004. ''Sending mixed messages: language minority education at a
Japanese public elementary school.'' In A. Pavlenko and A. Blackledge (eds.)
_Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts_ (pp. 316-338). Clevedon:
Levinson, Bradley A., Douglas E. Foley and Dorothy C. Holland (eds.).
Cultural Production of the Educated Person: Critical Ethnographies of Schooling
and Local Practice_. New York: State University of New York Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Chad Nilep is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the
University of Colorado, Boulder. His research interests include language
socialization, language and identity, and code switching and
bilingualism. He is
currently working on a study of Hippo Family Club, an international
foreign-language learning club, in Japan and the United States. His research
combines ethnographic methods and discourse analysis.
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