English as an International Language in Japan: A Threat to Cultural Identity?


Language performs many important roles in society by allowing people to form and maintain groups as well as transmit information. Language also composes a core component of our self-identity and mental structures. English is currently the most widely spoken language in the world (Crystal, 1997) and thus the role of English as an international language (EIL) has received much academic attention, particularly in relation to its effect on local languages and the possibility of language shift and extinction. Phillipson (1992) in particular has argued that EIL is imperialistic and diminishes local languages. In this paper I will outline the roles that language plays both on a societal and individual level, particularly in regards to Japan. English is currently the dominant foreign language in Japan, being taught in schools from the fifth grade onwards. There is also large demand for native English speaking teachers, reflected by the popularity of English conversation schools as well as the use of assistant language teachers in classrooms. I will specifically examine the role of EIL in Japan in regards to educational and corporate policies, as well as the effect of EIL on Japanese language and culture. I argue that Japanese is not threatened by English due to the large homogeneous population of Japanese speakers, the strength of their cultural entities, and the high prestige of the Japanese language in Japan. Thus, while English has out-competed other foreign languages to represent internationalization in Japan, Japanese will remain dominant.

Author Information
Philip Head, Kochi City Board of Education, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: ACSS2015
Stream: Globalization and Internationalization

This paper is part of the ACSS2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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