European Journal of Language Policy

A historical analysis of modern Japan’s exclusively English-focused foreign language education policies

European Journal of Language Policy (2022), 14, (1), 109–129.

Abstract

This paper discusses foreign language education policies in the school system in the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras in Japan. The country’s current exclusively English-focused policies in secondary school foreign language education were officially established with the enactment of the Middle School Teaching Rule Outline in 1881, in which English was listed as the only foreign language subject. German and French were added later, but their status was not as stable. In several policymaking-related meetings, such as the Upper-level Education Committee (1896-1913) and the Research Education Committee (1913-1917), exclusively English-focused foreign language education received criticism. However, the outcomes of meeting discussions always favoured English education. By examining discussions in the two committees and the Extraordinary Committee for Education (1917-1919), which succeeded those two, this paper notes that two factors contributed to the policy consequences: the purpose of foreign language education and the number of foreign languages for students to learn. The purpose of middle school education was prescribed as to provide male students with the most important higher-level general education and that of higher school education as to provide the complete achievement of higher-level general education. The purpose of foreign language education was not necessarily compatible with general education. Moreover, by adopting the One Foreign Language Principle, Japan’s foreign language education inescapably became almost entirely English-focused to the detriment of other languages. The paper concludes by examining the assumptions that Japan’s foreign language education policies have made about the Plural Foreign Language Principle.

Cet article traite des politiques d’enseignement des langues étrangères dans le système scolaire de l’ère Meiji (1868-1912) et Taishō (1912-1926) au Japon. Les politiques actuelles du pays exclusivement axées sur l’anglais dans l’enseignement des langues étrangères dans l’école secondaire ont été officiellement établies avec la promulgation des grandes lignes sur les règles d’enseignement dans l’école secondaire en 1881, dans lesquelles l’anglais figurait comme la seule matière en langue étrangère. L’allemand et le français ont été ajoutés plus tard, mais leur statut n’était pas aussi stable. Dans plusieurs réunions liées à l’élaboration de ces politiques, telles que le Comité d’éducation du niveau supérieur (1896-1913) et le Comité d’éducation de recherche (1913-1917), l’enseignement des langues étrangères exclusivement axé sur l’anglais a été critiqué. Cependant, les résultats des discussions de ces réunions ont toujours favorisé l’enseignement de l’anglais. En examinant les discussions au sein des deux comités et du Comité extraordinaire d’éducation (1917-1919) qui leur a succédé, cet article constate que deux facteurs ont contribué aux conséquences politiques : l’objectif de l’enseignement des langues étrangères et le nombre de langues étrangères que les élèves doivent apprendre. L’objectif de l’enseignement de l’école secondaire était de fournir aux étudiants de sexe masculin l’enseignement général supérieur le plus important, et celui de l’enseignement de l’école supérieure de fournir l’accomplissement intégral de l’enseignement général supérieur. L’objectif de l’enseignement des langues étrangères n’était pas nécessairement compatible avec l’enseignement général. De plus, en adoptant “le principe de la langue étrangère unique”, l’enseignement des langues étrangères au Japon est inévitablement devenu presque entièrement axé sur l’anglais, au détriment des autres langues. L’article conclut en examinant les hypothèses que les politiques japonaises d’enseignement des langues étrangères ont formulées “le principe des langues étrangères plurielles”.

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Shimo, Etsuko