As a result of becoming the
language of communication for many professional fields and industries, the
English language has become a ‘
, a language that is widely used as a means of communication among
people with different mother tongues. The spread of English through
globalisation has led to native standards, especially that of Britain or
America, being the goal for other ‘norm-dependent’ or “Expanding circle”
(Kachru, 1985:12) countries. In my experience of teaching English in Okinawa,
many young learners and even some Japanese teachers of English viewed native
English as a superior language to any other. Likewise, they considered English
culture to be superior to theirs. The effects of such views on English Language
Teaching (ELT) in those areas are salient, taking the form of native English
chauvinism, a very strong aspiration and assimilation of mainly American norms
due to historical tensions and occupation. American English has had a strong
influence yet, there are calls for ‘glocalisation’ in ELT that encourage
non-native English speakers to prioritise local knowledge, materials and uses
of English into their teaching.
Brief History of the English Language and of that
in Okinawan context
To understand the emergence of
English as a
, it is
important to acknowledge Kachru’s discussion of the “Three Concentric Circles
of world Englishes” (1985:12). He divided English into three circles: the
norm-providing “Inner circle”, the norm-developing “Outer circle”, and the
norm-dependent “Expanding circle”. I will further explain Kachru’s perception
on the spread of English around the world, from the powerful native speaking
countries such as Britain and America, as well as countries that used to be
colonies of “Inner-circle” countries, to countries like Japan where English is
a foreign language. This norm-providing influence is reflected in English
language teaching. In inner-circle-produced coursebooks such as
(Naunton, 2000) and
New Cutting Edge
(Cunningham, & Moor, P.2005),
European or American styles of living, learning and thinking are introduced as
standardised and desirable. As a result, many learners from “Expanding circle”
countries consider those cultures as superior to their own cultures and
lifestyles. It is not surprising that these famous textbooks have been affecting
English language learners for many decades.
In East Asia, particularly in
Japan, the demand for English language has dramatically increased. This derives
from what happened following Japan’s defeat by America in the WW2. This defeat
significantly affected Japanese people’s sense of value as they finally
realised the overwhelming difference between the two nations in terms of power
and wealth after the war. This change of people’s feelings from hostility to
admiration of America can be clearly seen in Okinawa, which was occupied by the
American army for 27 years after the end of the WW2. Okinawans’ freedom was
restricted under American occupation, but with each succeeding generation the
attitudes towards America and its culture softened and, many younger Okinawans
aspire to learn English in order to become a part of America. This native
English language imperialism especially in the Expanding circle is one of the
main challenges that contemporary ELT faces.
This raises important questions about the role of English in Japan as well
as in other contexts in East Asia.
Globalisation on ELT in East Asia
According to Kachru (1985), the core influence of globalisation regarding
ELT in the periphery occurs in expanding-circle countries such as Japan. In the
Cambridge Dictionary, the term ‘globalisation’ has two meanings. The first
definition refers to an economic situation and the second one defines the term
as: “a situation in which available goods and services, or social and cultural
influences, gradually become similar in all parts of the world” (Cambridge
Dictionary, n.d.). Japan’s relationship with the English language became
prominent in the 1980s when the country’s economic growth began to expand on
the global stage. Accompanied with this expansion, the government recognised
the important role of English as a
, and decided that Japan should aim to be one of the best English
speaking countries in East Asia by proposing to develop people’s communicative
skills to enhance the development of global human resources (Ministry of
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology-MEXT, 2014).
In the case of junior and senior high school education, MEXT set English as
a foreign language subject that should be taught at school and also laid out
goals for students to:
Deepen their understandings of languages and cultures,
Nurture attitudes towards active communications,
Foster the foundation for communicative skills such as listening, speaking,
reading and writing (for Junior high school).
Foster the communicative competence that enables them to accurately
understand and deliver the information and / or thoughts (for high school)
(MEXT, October 2014, own translation)
globalisation-conscious aims that intend to nurture human resources by
improving English skills. State, private, junior and senior high schools in
Japan are trying to achieve those goals. One example is people called ALT:
Assistant Language Teacher. Now that the government aims to improve
communicative skills, prefectures and municipalities in Japan have started
hiring teachers whose L1 is not Japanese, or, who have learnt how to teach TEFL
/ TESOL (Okinawa Board of Education, 2015). However, although the policy does
not make a direct reference to the nationalities of the teachers that schools
employ, many tend to look for native teachers rather than teachers whose
English is an additional / second language. This preference towards native
English teachers is very prominent in Japan and as Kubota (1998) points out;
“teaching and learning English taught and learned in Japan will continue to
gravitate toward the Inner Circle varieties and to promote Westernization in
various aspects of Japanese life while failing to provide global
socio-linguistic perspectives” (302). This is clearly illustrated in the MEXT’s
website (2016) where the most popular choice for people studying abroad in
2013, was the USA as 19,334 chose to go there. For Japanese people, it seems
that Westernisation relatively implies Americanisation.
Okinawa is in a particularly
unique situation in Japan. Once, it had been an independent country called
Kingdom of Ryukyu
, but in 1879 it became a part of Japan. This small island
was under American military rule for 27 years after Japan lost the war. During
the occupation, as it can be seen in many colonised lands, people started
working for American soldiers for better payments and better lives, which made
Okinawan people who had lost everything aspire to those affluent American
lifestyles. The return of Okinawa to Japan took place in 1972 but all the
American bases have remained in Okinawa. This historical background is crucial
when considering Okinawan ELT because, as explained, since the end of WW2,
Okinawans have been directly influenced by the American culture, lifestyle and
values, which have resulted in younger generations being more and more
Americanised. This is reflected in a place called
(American Village, 2013).One retroceded area from the US government was
utilised for tourism purposes and received attention from both local and
– a town in Okinawa - decided to create an
‘America’ within Okinawa so that people could experience how it would feel to
Another aspect that reflects
Americanisation in Okinawa is shown in school textbooks. Such an example can be
found in the grammar series
New Treasure 1
which is aimed at first year
students of junior high school. The content starts with a Japanese girl and her
family arriving in San Francisco, where she begins her new life at a new junior
high school. The textbook includes many topics regarding American culture such
as the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C. (70), volunteer activities
in the US (94), Denali National Park in Alaska (118) and so on. The first year
at junior high school is when students begin to study English as a compulsory
subject, so the contents can have a direct influence on students’ image of the
English language, which in this case is the dominant variety of American
English. This could lead students to homogenise the Englishes into one overall
westernised concept of English language. Nevertheless, current English
education in Japan focuses on passing university entrance exams by teaching
predominantly grammar rather than communication skills. There is a huge gap
between the government’s aims of communicative English education and the
English taught in schools. To fill in the
or simply because of their
strong aspiration for ‘America’, a large number of young Okinawans go to the
or to the bases to interact with American soldiers. Kubota
(2002:27) suggests that the “Japanese attitude towards learning foreign
languages has been influenced by an inferiority complex towards foreign
cultures, which promoted self-colonization or self-Americanization.” Therefore,
it can be argued that until the discussions of glocalisation emerged, the
strong demand and desire for Americanised ELT had been given importance by the
people of the Expanding circle, especially from East Asian countries. The
challenge in East Asia is balancing over-Americanisation with introducing
culture whilst teaching English. Having interests in the English language and
its culture is beneficial, but it is also important to preserve and distinguish
the different Englishes by interweaving local contexts so that English
education creates opportunities to broaden students’ minds and to give them a
chance to understand the importance of diversity.
One way of achieving this is glocalisation.
Opinions on Glocalisation
Glocalisation – reflecting local knowledge, aspects and cultures to the
globalised world is becoming an apt topic for discussion as globalisation has
reached its critical point. In the field of ELT in particular, scholars are now
focusing on the importance of introducing local aspects into classroom
teaching, especially in the countries of the Expanding Circle. Globalisation
has lessened the space, time and borders between people and at the same time
has allowed for cross-fertilisation, that is, mixing local and global elements
of the world (Kumaravadivelu, 2008). For that, Tsou (2015) expresses that in
Taiwan, there is also an increasing need for inclusion of local aspects and
cross-cultural understanding into ELT. Canagarajah (2005) points out that
although our positionalities have been based on Westernised values, it is
important to pay positive attention and take the local knowledge, value and
validity for language education into great account. Gray (2002) looks at this
view from the perspectives of material usage. Gray considers global English
textbooks as a source of spreading European/American dominance using the phrase
“one size fits all” and that those textbooks have been excluding the local
contents. To solve the problem and raise awareness for diversity, acceptance
and better understandings of the world outside the Inner Circle, he suggests to
include local aspects into coursebooks for “a better fit” (2002:166). From the
literature, it is illustrated that there is an increase in shared awareness of
certain importances for addressing local aspects in ELT worldwide. Localising
ELT does not only develop learners’ awareness towards their own cultures but
also draws attention to real world issues outside of the classroom, giving
both local and global perspectives in balance. This could help prevent further
dominance of the idea of English language superiority.
Based on the above discussion, I would like to introduce
my suggestions as to how ELT in Okinawan context could support the element of
Suggestions for Glocalised ELT in Okinawan Context
Okinawa, as a part of Japan, receives strict guidelines for English
education for junior and senior high schools from the Japanese government.
Although both the local and national governments aim at developing
communicative skills and international human resources, education at school
still remains grammar-centered. This derives from an entrance examination
system that is quite common in East-Asian countries. No matter what schools
they go to, students generally have to take entrance examinations for junior
and senior high schools as well as for university acceptance. As academic
credentials are still important for job-hunting, it is necessary for students
to concentrate on gaining the grammatical knowledge and skills whilst they are
at school through government-approved textbooks. Thus, it is not practical to
abruptly change the entire English educational system at school and adopt a
glocalised English Language Teaching approach. So what can be done? I suggest
English books into ALT lessons. Currently, English communication lessons take
place at school once or twice a week with foreign teachers, to make up for the
lack of teaching, speaking and listening skills in normal English lessons. In
those lessons, it could be useful to use books or materials that reflect local
aspects. For example, there is a book called
which introduces Okinawan local vegetables, recipes and
indicates where to source those vegetables (Ryukyu Shimpo, 2016). The book is
written for foreigners (mainly Americans living in Okinawa) so some
explanations or dialogues are written in Japanese, therefore it is convenient
for ALTs to use them in classroom as it will make it easier for students to
understand the content and to learn about local aspects in both English and
Recruiting more non-native
teachers with ELT experience. As for ALTs, there is still a tendency to hire
native speakers with less teaching experience over non-native teachers with
more experience. This derives from the widespread idea of native-supremacy. For
students to recognise the existence of
outside the classroom,
it is advisable to hire more non-native English teachers with experience of
teaching English as ALTs. This could help students assimilate the importance of
many other elements of the “Outer-circle” in the world of English.
Introducing some materials
from locally-based licensed guide studies (Okinawa Convention & Visitors
Bureau, n.d.). To get approval from the local government to be a licensed
guide, candidates need to pass both language and local knowledge examinations.
ALTs could introduce materials that draw on and make use of local knowledge
into their lessons so that students can be aware of their own history and
Glocalisation of ELT is not an easy business. In fact, it does need a lot
of attention and effort from schools, the local governments, public
administration and the national government. However, if they can hybridise
their own ‘locality’ with traditional globalisation and link it to local
business, economy, society and daily lives, it can be a strong selling point of
Okinawa/Japan/East Asia. Taking local knowledge and aspects into account in
classroom materials and practices will definitely help the future of ELT.
For school education, it can be possible for Japanese teachers of English
to discuss glocalising ELT with ALTs and gradually introduce small elements of
local aspects into their grammar-centred lessons. Glocalising ELT should not be
down to ALTs only, but, ultimately, full-time teachers of the English language
should also be able to involve some kind of glocalisation into their own
classroom teaching. Through a more glocalised ELT approach adopted by both
Japanese teachers of English and ALTs who know other worlds of Englishes,
students will not only be able to avoid learning only Americanised English but
they will also grasp the concept of English diversity. Diversity in many ways
can enrich humanity and foster a better understanding towards other cultures,
people, and different values. If Americanised/Westernised mindsets in education
were prevented from dominating and diversity was embraced and encouraged
through glocalisation in ELT, students and their effect on society, not only in
Okinawa but also around the world, could stand to benefit themselves and others
in the future.
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© Marina Higa.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
Licence (CC BY).