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English language education reform in pre-2020 Olympic Japan: educator perspectives on pedagogical change

  • Michiko Weinmann EMAIL logo , Ryo Kanaizumi and Ruth Arber


This paper reports on the perspectives of English language teachers and teacher educators on the most recent English language education policy and curriculum reform in Japan, implemented in preparation for hosting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Previous research has comprehensively analysed how language ideologies based on national imaginaries, native-speakerism and deficit views of Japanese teachers’ pedagogy and practice continue to frame debates about English language education in Japan. Through select thematic episodes derived from the interview data with English language practitioners located in Japan, this paper brings into focus the views of English language educators who articulated insightful counter-positions to taken-for-granted understandings of effective English language use and teaching. The authors argue that in order to effect a paradigm shift in global English language education, in Japan and internationally, it is important to incorporate a critical examination of teacher perspectives that challenge and augment prevalent tropes about English language teaching and learning. The paper concludes with implications for addressing the policy-practice and theory-practice divides in English language education. It argues that a continued engagement with educator perspectives is an important space for bringing about a transformation of language ideologies and pedagogical change at the grass-roots level of the English language classroom.



Corresponding author: Michiko Weinmann, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, E-mail:


This research has been supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship awarded to Ryo Kanaizumi.


Overview of documents included in the policy and curriculum analysis of the overarching project English Language Education in Pre-2020 Olympic Japan (2017–2020), from which the study in this paper is derived.

Date of release Title of policy/curriculum document and author (in round brackets)
12 July, 2002 Regarding the Establishment of a Strategic Plan to Cultivate ‘Japanese With English Abilities’ (Authors’ translation) [「英語が使える日本人」の育成のための戦略構想の策定について ‘Eigo ga tsukaeru nihonjin’ no ikusē no tameno senryaku kōsō no sakutē ni tsuite] (MEXT).
12 July, 2002 Developing a Strategic Plan to Cultivate ‘Japanese With English Abilities’ – Plan to Improve English and Japanese Abilities [「英語が使える日本人」の育成のための戦略構想 ー英語力・国語力増進プランー ‘Eigo ga tsukaeru nihonjin’ no ikusē no tameno senryaku kōsō -eigoryoku kokugoryoku zōshin puran-] (MEXT).
31 March, 2003 Action Plan to Cultivate ‘Japanese With English Abilities’ [「英語が使える日本人」の育成のための行動計画 ‘Eigo ga tsukaeru nihonjin’ no ikusē no tameno kōdō keikaku] (MEXT).
March, 2008 Course of Study for elementary schools [小学校学習指導要領 Shōgakkō Gakushūshidōyōryō ] (MEXT).
Course of Study for lower secondary schools [中学校学習指導要領 Chūgakkō Gakushūshidōyōryō] (MEXT).

(partially revised version, November, 2010)
March, 2009 Course of Study for upper secondary schools [高等学校学習指導要領 Kōtōgakkō Gakushūshidōyōryō] (MEXT).
30 June, 2011 Five Proposals and Specific Measures for Developing Proficiency in English for International Communication (Authors’ translation) [国際共通語としての英語力向上のための5つの提言と具体的施策 ~英語を学ぶ意欲と使う機会の充実を通じた確かなコミュニケーション能力の育成に向けて~ Kokusai kyōtsūgo toshiteno eigoryoku kōjō notameno itsutsu no teigen to gutaiteki shisaku – eigo o manabu iyoku to tsukau kikai no jūjitsu o tsūjita tashikana komyunikēshon nōryoku no ikusē ni mukete -] (Commission on the Development of Foreign Language Proficiency (Authors’ translation) [外国語能力の向上に関する検討会 Gaikokugo nōryoku no kōjō ni kansuru kentōkai]).
4 June, 2012 Strategies for Nurturing Global Human Resources (Council for Nurturing Global Human Resources – Summary of the Discussions) (Authors’ translation) グローバル人材育成戦略(グローバル人材育成推進会議 審議まとめ) Gurōbaru jinzai ikusē senryaku (gurōbaru jinzai ikusē suishin kaigi shingi matome)] (Council for Nurturing Global Human Resources [グローバル人材育成推進会議 Gurōbaru jinzai ikusē suishin kaigi]).
13 December, 2013 English Education Reform Plan corresponding to Globalization [グローバル化に対応した英語教育改革実施計画 Gurōbaruka ni taiōshita eigo kyōiku kaikaku jisshi keikaku] (MEXT).
26 September, 2014 Report about Future Improvements of English Language Education - Five Suggestions for English Language Education Reforms responding to Globalization (Authors’ translation) [今後の英語教育の改善・充実方策について 報告~グローバル化に対応した英語教育改革の五つの提言~ Kongo no eigo kyōiku no kaizen jūjitsu hōsaku nitsuite hōkoku – gurōbaruka ni taiōshita eigo kyōiku kaikaku no itsutsu no tēgen - ] (MEXT).
March, 2017 Course of Study for elementary schools [小学校学習指導要領 Shōgakkō Gakushūshidōyōryō] (MEXT).
Course of Study for lower secondary schools [中学校学習指導要領 Chūgakkō Gakushūshidōyōryō] (MEXT).
March, 2018 Course of Study for upper secondary schools [高等学校学習指導要領 Kōtōgakkō Gakushūshidōyōryō] (MEXT).


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Received: 2020-06-29
Accepted: 2021-03-15
Published Online: 2021-09-15
Published in Print: 2021-09-27

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