Journal of Social Sciences

From "Foreign" Language Education to Plurilingualism: Challenges for Language Education Policy in a Multilingual Japan

Teja Ostheider

DOI : 10.3844/jssp.2012.109.115

Journal of Social Sciences

Volume 8, Issue 1

Pages 109-115


Problem statement: With a 41% increase in foreign residents over the last 10 years, the long-neglected issue of domestic multiculturalism and multilingualism cannot be ignored anymore in Japan. Nevertheless, there is still a deep gap between common images created by mass media and education regarding “internationalization” or “globalization” and the actual condition of Japan as a migrant country. By discussing the sociological background of this gap and its sociolinguistic consequences, this study points out present problems and challenges regarding language education policies in Japan. Approach: Based on data out of field-work, I analyze language attitudes derived from a language education which is mainly restricted to the “National Language” and English and discuss their impact on actual language behavior towards different groups of Non-Japanese people in Japan. Results: The data shows that “communication with foreigners” in Japan is widely associated with the use of English. However, the respondents reported communicating primarily in English only with people from Western countries, while with people from Asian countries-who make up the vast majority of foreign residents in Japan-Japanese is the primarily used language. Besides common images and stereotypes regarding “foreigner” and “foreign language”, different attitudes and experiences concerning communication with these two groups were found as significant factors in this contradiction. Conclusion: I summarize by pointing out the necessity of a more objective education and awareness regarding the multilingual and multicultural situation in Japan. The inclusion of languages of domestic minorities and neighboring countries in education policies is an important step to abolish stereotypes and linguistic discrimination based on one-sided orientation towards the West and myths about Japanese homogeneity. Concerning the Japanese language itself, I discuss its growing importance for intercultural communication and emphasize the necessity of education policies fostering native speakers’ ability in “Japanese as an international language”.


© 2012 Teja Ostheider. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.