12 September 2009

TEFL Forum: Do Japanese EFL students need 'katakana eigo to learn and to read English?

Do Japanese EFL students need 'katakana eigo to learn and to read English?
by Charles Jannuzi, University of Fukui, Japan


'Katakana' is one of two syllabaries used in modern written Japanese; it is largely used to represent non-Chinese loan words, such as the numerous English loan words in Japanese called 'gairaigo'. It is also used in some contexts to stand for native onomatopoeia and other mimetic language, to show emphasis in a written text, to transcribe the readings of Chinese characters in legal documents, to provide a quickly input language for telegraphy, and to represent the popular names of animals and plants in native taxonomy, among other uses. However, katakana also finds widespread use in EFL in Japan in classrooms and materials as 'katakana eigo', which is a syllabic transliteration of English into a form that is more easily decodable for learners.

For the sake of this article's discussion, teacher attitudes toward katakana eigo can be summarized as the following three:

1. Katakana eigo is bad, and we should ban it.
2. Katakana eigo is not particularly useful, but it is part of the cross-lingual (L2 to L1)
reality, still let us not encourage it.
3. Katakana eigo is a useful crutch; helping students as a cognitive bridge to literacy in
EFL, so let us adapt it appropriately.

In this article I will explain why learners feel that katakana eigo is necessary in order to deal with the complexity and inconsistency of written English, and I will explain how teachers can plan and use content, materials and activities that will alleviate the need for such L1 crutches.

Katakana eigo: Is it natural?

It is natural for beginners to make substitutions and simplifications with the FL's sound system and sound tactics. Nonnative/JSL/JFL speakers of Japanese (many of them English teachers in Japan) are no different on this point. It is also a matter of course that students might take a very familiar, consistent, phonologically transparent, syllabic script like katakana and use it to transcribe a language written in one that is not so easy to decode for pronunciation (like the complex, alphabetic writing conventions of English). It does seem possible, though, that a persistent reliance on katakana eigo during beginning levels of instruction reinforces the idea that English does not have its own sound system and sound tactics. The impression that beginners might get is that the sounds and sound tactics of English are easily fitted into those of Japanese; they are not, not if intelligibility is to survive.

In standard phonological accounts, spoken Japanese has far fewer sound segments than English, and simpler tactics are used for putting these sounds together into syllables and words. A typical Japanese syllable is V or CV type; few consonant sounds can close a syllable, and there are not many consonant clusters. A writing system such as katakana that is based on an analysis of the syllable types of spoken Japanese, therefore, proves an ill fit for spoken English. What is at issue is the mental, phonological representations of the FL in the minds of the learners which enable them to learn and use it.

Here are two examples of how katakana eigo renders English into a Japanese form. Take the word banana. In Japanese, this word would be written as three syllabic characters,, which we can romanize as ba-na-na. In this case the written Japanese corresponds perfectly with the English (though note, the Japanese form of this word would be given fairly even stress across all three syllables, while the English word typically receives the strongest stress on the second syllable with fairly neutral vowels in the first and final syllables). But look what happens with a second example, McDonald's. In Japanese, this would be written as, which as romanized is ma-ku-do-na-ru-do. Now, both the words banana and McDonald's are well established loan words in modern spoken Japanese, and, as such, the nativized pronunciations of these for spoken Japanese are perfectly legitimate. But it is easy to see from these two examples what might happen to English words in an EFL setting if students used katakana to make target vocabulary more easily 'decodable'. If a word has a similar syllable structure to Japanese (V or CV), then the effects are not so profound. In the case of a word like McDonald's the English word with three syllables becomes a six-syllable word with all open syllables and extra, intruded vowel sounds.

Is it possible that once such word forms are learned for EFL, that they make a lot of vocabulary of English largely incomprehensible? First, students, having learned the Japanized version of a word, may not recognize it while listening (or even reading, if they find the katakana for more easily memorized than English spelling). Second, if students produce such forms, are most English speakers outside of an EFL classroom in Japan going to understand them?

Next, let us turn to possible solutions that we might consider for teaching methods and materials. If katakana eigo is banned in class, this decision is a school's departmental or teacher's choice. However, we must also remain aware of two separate parts of linguistic reality in Japan, where English is both an important source of loan words and a much-studied FL. First, students are still going to make sound substitutions from Japanese and their own developing interlanguage when speaking and reading English out loud.

It is a natural linguistic phenomenon for beginners to struggle with the phonology of English when they start to learn the language. Construction and internalization of a FL's phonology goes along step-by-step with development in things like vocabulary and grammar (though sometimes the steps are backwards and not always forward). Second, English loan words become visible and usable in Japanese because they have been transcribed into katakana eigo form. Teachers working in an EFL environment have to recognize and affirm that there are quite legitimate processes going on when their students' L1 acquires a loan word from English. Moreover, it is expected for someone to use the L1's pronunciation of English loan words when speaking the L1 (including native English speakers when they speak Japanese).

Is Phonics a Possible Solution?

Phonics often refers to a set of methods for teaching beginning literacy to native English speakers, bilinguals and ESL learners in countries where English is the dominant language. In such methods teachers typically emphasize the rule-like nature of spelling-to-sound correspondences through direct instruction and practice. To many critics, the problems with phonics include the following: (a) too much emphasis on explicit rules and teacher-centered instruction of them, (b) a simplistic view of the nature of written English's complex and irregular spelling conventions, and (c) behaviorist drill and practice separated from real language use and meaning.

Given such problems, it might seem difficult to reconcile phonics methods with constructivist, student-centered, communicative EFL instruction. However, let us consider a different view of what phonics might be since it will help us to integrate phonics into our both our philosophies as well as our real world teaching. Goodman (1993) writes:

Phonics is always both personal and social, because we must build relationships between our own personal speech . . .the speech of our community and the social conventions of writing. It is always contextual because the values of both sound and letter patterns change in the phonological, grammatical and meaning contexts they occur in. And it's never more than part of the process of reading and writing. For all these reasons, phonics is learned best in the course of learning to read and write, not as a prerequisite. In fact, our phonics is determined by our speaking, listening, reading and writing experiences.(p. 51)

If we can agree with Goodman here, then we can see that phonics is not a set of simple rules for letter-to-sound correspondences "reversed engineered" from written English that teachers can then present and drill in to students. Rather, phonics is a complex system of relationships that the learner as reader and writer builds up and internalizes mentally; much like the other parts of a learner's FL language system, it could be said to exist only when language is being used in some way to make meaning.

A Few Notes on the Spelling of English

One of the reasons why doubts about phonics as something teachable arise has to do with the nature of English orthography and the ways it might be processed and read in real written text. The first fact that confronts us is inescapable: a simple alphabet relates one symbol with one categorical sound (sound segment, phoneme or phone). But the version of the Roman alphabet used to write English has only 26 letters, far short of the number necessary to represent spoken English's list of 44 to 48 sounds in simple one-sound-to-one-symbol conventions. This means that, while English is written alphabetically, these conventions are not limited to simple one-letter-to-one-sound correspondences. The second fact only makes matters seem worse: not only are the conventions complex, but there is a great deal of irregularity and inconsistency (more so than written French even, another literary language known to deviate from simple phonetic principles).

One reason for the complexity is that, at least in part, the spelling patterns do capture phonological aspects of the spoken language, but since there is a shortage of roman letters for English sounds, the conventions are by necessity complex. However, how do we account for the inconsistencies and irregularities? Historic and linguistic reasons can be given: at one time the writing conventions for writing Anglo-Saxon and British Danish were fairly phonemic, but these traditions died out and so are not really continuous with written English as we know it today. Then Norman French, after 1066, brought with it French spelling conventions and massive amounts of Latinate vocabulary.

Next, the subsequent age of mass literacy and printing accompanied the true emergence of modern English as a world language. During this period, English's strange mix of spelling conventions -- after infusions of even more Latinate vocabulary from writers such as Milton and exotic spelling conventions from Dutch printers and typesetters -- became frozen in place more or less. Written English curiously upholds both phonemic/phonological and etymological principles (the latter being a striking parallel with modern French). Most words have not lost their sound shapes in their written forms, but often spellings are stable across word roots, even though internal vowels change. For example, compare the stable spellings and unstable pronunciations of the related lexical roots of these words: phone, phonic, phonological, telephony, etc.

The tendency is for the complex processes of lexical derivation and grammatical morphology in English to produce many changes in pronunciation of syllable-internal vowel sounds while the spelling conventions refer more often consistently to word roots. It is this mix of conventions that leads some to theorize that English could be read at a word level in mature, fluent reading processes.

Ways to Cope in the Classroom

It may well be the case that written English as it is actually read, written and spelled forces the literate language user to juggle phonological and word-level principles. However, there is also the possibility that beginning literacy--especially in a SL or FL, where so much vocabulary is encountered for the first time in print, not speech--has to be more dependent on phonological processes in reading. The good news is that the spelling conventions for the English consonants sounds, while complex, are fairly consistent. The true source of difficulty is more centered on how the vowels of English are written.

Here are three activities that teachers can run with beginning to lower intermediate level learners of all ages to practice and reinforce phonics, pronunciation and phonological skills related to beginning EFL learning and literacy.

Activity One: Pronunciation and Phonics Crambo (an adaptation of a traditional spelling game)

1. Preparation: Go through student word lists (e.g., the lexical part of the syllabus of a course book) and select words that fit major and minor spelling patterns. Also, choose key sight words (which are also a major part of a beginner's vocabulary). Think of other rhyming words that students may not know, but that fit the patterns that the course vocabulary illustrate.

2. Preteaching: Explain/show what an English rhyme is, as Japanese students may have difficulty with the concept. Young learners especially may be quite open to language play, but their linguistic sense of it will be geared to the characteristics of Japanese, not English. Rhyme is one of these characteristics on which English and Japanese (but also Romance languages like Spanish and Italian) differ greatly. Show them how words can rhyme and have the same spelling pattern: e.g., time, lime, dime, etc. Also show them how words can rhyme but have totally different spellings: e.g., time, rhyme, climb. You can also show them how common sight words complicate matters still further: two, you, who.

3. Divide the class into teams. I have used this activity a lot for classes that could be divided into two teams, but more teams than that are possible. Two players from each team can come to the board. One will write for their team, while the other can relay information from the rest of the team members. This activity can be run having students rely solely on memory, or they can be encouraged to use textbooks, glossaries and dictionaries for the words they will need. Begin play by announcing a key word and writing it top, center on the board. Repeat the word several times. The first team to write a correct rhyme wins a point. Continue play with different team members rotating for each round. Emphasize that this is a team effort, so the members who are at their seats should give assistance to the two at the board.

4. Variations: Practice words that have the same vowel sound but do not rhyme. Or words that begin or end with the same target sound, such as problem sounds like /r/ or /l/ (in this case you will want only to say the key word several times and not write anything on the board).

Activity Two: Spelling Concentration (an EFL adaptation of Concentration)

1. Construct a set of word cards from large pieces of cardboard (I have used A4 and B4 sizes). On one side of each card print a key word. The words on the cards should be organized so that there are matching pairs of rhyming words or words that share the same internal vowel sounds (e.g., same soundsame spelling, same sounddifferent spelling, selected sight words). For example, in one set of cards I matched in non-rhymes, five pairs of short vowels (bad-cat, bed-pet, sit-tip, not-top, cut-cup), five pairs of 'long' vowels (ate-day, feet-heat, kite-sight, note-boat, room-tune), and three pairs with other vowels (out-town, loop-soon, boy-oil) for a total of 26 cards. After you have written all the key words on the cards, shuffle the deck thoroughly, then number the cards at random on their reverse sides, from 1 to 26. Tape or magnetically fix the word cards to the blackboard with the numbered sides showing.

2. This game works best if played between two teams, but team sizes should be kept down to groups that are small enough for all to participate. If you team teach, you might want to split up a large class and run two different games. There is not a lot of preteaching required for this game if the previous activity has already been done (teaching what words rhyme, how they might share an internal vowel, how they might begin or end with the same sound, etc.). You might want to run a demonstration round to show how the Concentration game will go.

3. One of the two teams must begin play; this can be decided at random since going first does not increase the odds of winning. The side that starts picks any two cards by calling out their numbers (this also gives beginners a chance to say the numerals in English out loud in real communication). The teacher (or appointed M.C.) turns the cards over so that they display their key words. The teacher says the words out loud several times so that the whole class can hear. If the two words on the cards match according to the teaching point of the game (e.g., rhymes, internal vowel sounds, initial sounds, final sounds, etc.), the two cards are taken down and given to the side that chose them. If cards are won, play continues with the same side getting the chance to call out two more numbers. The turn changes if two cards are turned over but the words do not match. Keep playing until all the cards have been matched and given to a side.

4. Hint on making this game work: point out to the teams that they need to split up memorization duties among their members; however, do not let them keep any written notes.

Activity Three: Phonics Snap (an EFL adaptation of the card game, Snap!)

1. Prepare a list of words from student vocabulary. Select these words on the basis of the spelling patterns they illustrate (for example, the most basic patterns of the five short vowels and the five long vowels). Think of words that both rhyme and illustrate the same spelling patterns and add them to the list (they may be from previously studied vocabulary, or they can be new words that should be decodable if phonics skills are used). Using the words you have collected, construct a set of 72 cards, one word on each card. The object of this game depends on randomly matching rhyming words, so be sure to include a large number of only a few rhymes (for example, a deck that is limited to the major patterns for the five long vowels). In short, this game does not work if there aren't enough examples of each rhyme. Because of the complexity of English spelling, it is possible to construct games to emphasize many different points. Some possibilities might include: rhymes with the same spelling, rhymes with different spellings, or rhymes with various spellings along with an occasional sight word, which should always come from known vocabulary (for example, eye might be matched with pie, my and buy).

2. This game is best played in pairs. Decks for an entire class could be used while the teacher checks how students are doing. Also, the teacher could play this game with a student who needs extra practice with English spelling and pronunciation. Team teaching would allow for this game to be used with a larger class. The two teachers could demonstrate it better, and they could cover more of the classroom when helping students learn to play it.

3. Have students form pairs. Distribute one deck of cards to each pair. After shuffling and dealing the cards (face down), one player begins play by placing their top card face up on the desk and pronouncing the word (e.g. light). The other player then lays a card on top of the previous one and pronounces it (e.g. late). Play continues in turn until a rhyming card has been laid on top of the previous one (e.g., seen then bean). At that instant, the first player to recognize the rhyme and say 'Snap!' wins all the cards that have been laid. Players should not cheat by looking at their cards before they lay them, a point that should be stressed when the game is demonstrated and monitored. Players keep doing this until one player has won all the cards.

4. Other principles could be practiced with this game; for example, the same internal vowel sound in nonrhyming words ('feet' and 'bean').


It is understandable that students would want to resort to using katakana transcriptions of English to make the language they are studying clearer for decoding into pronunciations. Also, it is perfectly legitimate when this process is used to bring English loan words into Japanese. However, katakana eigo is of limited use for beginning literacy in real written English, and may well hinder language development, since it distorts perceptions of English pronunciation. Phonics can be used to lessen the need for things like katakana eigo, but it must be remembered that phonics is not simply some neat set of rules that teachers give to students. Rather, just as with the acquisition of any generative, patterned, rule-like aspect to a language, students must be given the opportunities to build up skills and abilities that they can actually apply to understanding and making meaning in the FL. Activities such as the three outlined in this article should help teachers to do just that.

Goodman, Kenneth S. (1993). Phonics phacts. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Breaking down the 'theory vs. practice' distinction

Breaking down the 'theory vs. practice' distinction
by Charles Jannuzi, University of Fukui, Japan

What separates 'academic theory' from 'effective practice' in language teaching is this: the academic tries to make things explicit in the form of 'air tight' arguments conforming to the requirements of genres accepted for publication.

This means that the academic presents 'theory' in rather formulaic discourse away from the classroom. Academic discourse is often sold as 'objective science or 'substantiated knowledge', but often it only presents the outward appearance of objectivity (indeed, most science is actually dogmatic arguments supported by selective evidence). Academic prose, even in the form of the 'research report' often presents overgeneralized theories which are uncritically accepted as 'objective' only because the formal trappings of academic genres have been met faithfully. Little or no research results from current second language acquisition research, for example, actually generalizes to real language teaching and learning worldwide. However, the theories or meta-theories put into service of turning such evidence and results into truth assertions are built on the assumption that they are generalizable. Hence generalizability is actually a begged question.

On the other hand, teachers' 'theories of practice' arise while performing in classrooms where students are effectively learning. Effective teachers must build up their body of guiding theory from their past experiences both teaching and learning a language--as well as from their formal professional training and career development activities. It also takes patience, creativity and commitment. It is a set of bootstrap learning processes whereby the more one knows the more one is able to learn and improve. Teachers' theories (although often never made explicit in the form of 'airtight arguments' in academic genres) often apply in real schools and classrooms in ways far too inter-related and complex to be decontextualized and presented in academic discourse. It is a shame of academic discourse that often the concepts, processes and actions that are the most difficult to describe and explain are the very ones ignored by academics (because of their need to put things into airtight arguments that satisfy fellow academics, such as editors and article reviewers).

Teachers should still present their knowledge in formal outlets like articles and conference presentations, but, when they do so, we must realize we get only 'snapshots' and partial static insights from what it is they actually do when they teach in real learning situations. Perhaps the best people to make sense of this incomplete information and integrate it into existing mental schema for language teaching and learning, though, are practicing teachers.

I'm not arguing those who theorize and write can't or don't teach. What I am saying, though, is that once we engage in the 'academic discourse' language game, we have to realize the limitations--and hopefully push the conventions (especially if we become editors). And a note of warning: playing the research and discourse games of the academic can actually seriously detract from our teaching!

09 September 2009

Government in Japan Spends Less than Other OECD Countries on Higher Ed

As of 2006, Japan ranked next-to-last overall among the OECD's 28 member countries in terms of public spending on education as a percentage of GDP. It was LAST for public spending on higher education (although this could be muddled somewhat, since money is channeled in various ways to universities and colleges and not just through the enormous Ministry of Education).

At most, public expenditures on higher education amount annually to only .5-1%, with most subsidy going to the former national universities and medical and teacher training colleges (numbering less than 100 institutions nationwide).

This lack of government support makes a university degree, especially at the more numerous private institutuions, a major expense for families' finances.

Excerpts of the Kyodo article below highlight the HE aspects:


Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Japan 2nd Lowest In OECD In Education Spending

TOKYO (Kyodo)--Japan had the second-smallest expenditure on education in 2006 among the 28 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of the ratio of such state spending to gross domestic product, the OECD announced Tuesday.
Breaking down the ratio of spending by level of schools, Japan ranked third from bottom for elementary, junior high and high schools at 2.6 percent, while ranking bottom for higher education including universities at 0.5 percent, about half the average of other members.

The results indicate that Japanese households have to compensate for the lack of state expenditure on education. Notably, the ratio of Japan's private spending on preschool education was 56.6 percent, the highest among the members, and 67.8 percent for higher education which was the second highest.

The DPJ pledged to make high school education effectively free of charge and transitionally make preschool and higher education free in a bid to lighten financial burdens on households.

Waseda University at Center of Efforts to Produce Super Green Processor Chip

If you think of computing and Japanese universities, University of Tokyo comes to mind as being the strongest--in some ways surpassing anything the US has (e.g., TRON OS embedded computing, GRAPE supercomputers, etc.).

However, some large Japanese electronics manufacturers have got behind a government-backed initiative to create an alternative CPU to Wintel. Suprisingly, this initiative is centered on Waseda University, an elite private institution.

Ironically, the end result, if it were to catch on with electronics manufacturers in Japan and the rest of Asia might actually compete more with the TRON project's embedded computing technology at cross-town rival, Todai (embedded TRON OS runs most Japanese electronics).

First below are excerpts and links to two articles giving details on the project and the chip. Last is an excerpt and link to an article that explains how the chip may face problems with manufacturers in others parts of Asia, such as Taiwan and China, a problem for Japan because Taiwan has eclipsed them in portable computing. At stake is the future of mobile and ubiquitous computing and IT, much of which is set to converge on 'info-appliances', which will replace conventional computers in our lives but will also require leaner energy use at the same time.

1. http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2249049/japan-spending-42m-develop

Japan spending $42m to develop solar-powered ‘super CPU’

Leading domestic companies to jointly work on chip aimed at challenging Intel’s dominance
Yvonne Chan in Hong Kong, BusinessGreen, 08 Sep 2009

A consortium of Japanese companies is developing a CPU for electronics that will use 70 per cent less energy than conventional chips and run on solar energy.

Electronic and IT giants Fujitsu, Toshiba, Panasonic, NEC and Hitachi, along with imaging specialist Canon, are among the firms that have agreed to work on the so-called ‘super CPU’. Their participation in the project will help ensure that standards for the chip, if realised, will be adopted in a broad range of consumer electronics.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is backing the initiative. It will provide $32m to $42m (£19.4m to £25.4m) in initial funding, according to Forbes magazine, which cited a Nikkei Business News report published last week.

2. http://www.forbes.com/2009/09/03/japan-chip-alliance-markets-technology-intel.html?partner=yahootix

Japan Fashions Super Chip
Vivian Wai-yin Kwok, 09.03.09, 07:00 AM EDT
To beat their common rival-Intel, Japanese chip producers are sitting down together to design a super CPU.

HONG KONG -- A new super central processing unit (CPU), jointly developed by Japan's big chip makers and funded by the Tokyo government, is coming up to challenge Intel.

Intel's ( INTC - news - people ) engineers might be imagining months of overtime just from hearing the list of allies behind the unprecedented Japanese coalition, which is aimed at inventing an easier and universal software programming across various devices.

The big names in the campaign include Fujitsu, Toshiba ( TOSBF.PK - news - people ), Panasonic, Renesas Technology, NEC ( NIPNY - news - people ), Hitachi ( HIT - news - people ) and Canon ( CAJ - news - people ), which all agreed to pool their resources together to create a new, standardized, power-saving central processing units (CPU) which could be used within the entire industry for a wide range of consumer electronics by the end of fiscal 2012, the evening edition of Nikkei Business News reported Thursday.

The super CPU project, supported by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, with an initial capital of 3-4 billion yen, will enable the allied Japanese manufacturers to challenge the dominant market share of Intel in the U.S.

Hironori Kasahara, professor of computer science at Waseda University, is the major designer of the Japan's super CPU. In the early development stages, each firm will produce its own CPU that is compatable with the innovative energy-saving software invented by Kasahara.

3. http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20090908PD210.html

Motherboard makers pessimistic about new CPU force from Japan
Monica Chen, Taipei; Joseph Tsai, DIGITIMES [Tuesday 8 September 2009]

Taiwan-based motherboard makers hold a pessimistic attitude toward recent news that several Japan-based semiconductor players plan to form alliance to develop a new CPU architecture and cut off their heavy dependence on x86 CPUs, due to uncertainties in terms of the total costs of R&D manpower and funding.

More background on the 'academic harassment' issue

For more background on the issue of academic harassment, the Ogoshi case is illuminating. In this case the individual who was wronged brought a suit against the institution.

I found this article from Science reproduced in full at the Sciencemag.org site. The one thing the case shows is that even if you win a court case against a company or school in Japan, it is often hard to get any enforcement of the settlement. The article is excerpted below.


excerpt (see link for full text):

The Job Market
Academic Harassment

By Dennis Normile

February 02, 2001

This article appears in the February 2, 2001 issue of Science magazine.

TOKYO-- For most people, winning a court case is the end of the battle. But for Kumiko Ogoshi it was just another round in her fight against discrimination and harassment in Japanese universities, a problem that many women faculty members say has marginalized them at institutions throughout the country. And victory seems far away.

Last fall, Ogoshi, a research associate at Nara Medical University, made Japanese legal history when a district court found her supervising professor guilty of harassing her in an attempt to get her to quit (Science, 27 October 2000, p. 687). The court ordered Nara Prefecture, which runs the school, to pay $5000 in compensation. But the verdict didn't have the impact that she had hoped. "There was no reflection [by university authorities] upon the significance of the court ruling," she says. "They filed their appeal the next day, and they seem to think they can just go on as they always have."

06 September 2009

Academic Harassment Issue Yields Bizarre Case

Universities and four-year colleges in Japan have long been male-dominated. When higher education here began hiring more women into career track positions, it seems cases of workplace sexual harassment were inevitable. When they started recruiting more female undergraduates, professor-on-student harassment cases were also a result. With the expansion of graduate schools (to include more female professors and students), sexual harassment remains a buzzword and a reality.

However, recently talk has also shifted to harassment without an overt sexual component (if you believe that possible). The concept is a term referred to as 'academic harassment'. It is actually a higher education version of 'power harassment', otherwise more commonly known as 'workplace bullying'. And Japan is a country known for dominant groups and cliques in just about any social situation or organization dumping on minority groups, losing cliques, and individualists, although I doubt that this is unique to Japan. Still it is often thought to be rampant in higher education here, where competition for funding and staffing can be fierce and faculty are often comprised of people who are far more interested in research and accomplishments that bring acclaim, such as supervising others' research, than they are in the usually anonymous drudgery of teaching undergraduates.

This month the Times HE reports on a rather strange-appearing case in Hokkaido, the northern most part of Japan which has a lot of higher education institutions because of the abundant open land and green field sites for campus development.

This would appear to be a complex story. The university alleges the fired professors are guilty of academic harassment of students. However, is the professors' exploitation of students for research purposes that different from what other professors are doing? If so, is it a justified or wrongful dismissal? And if the professors are not guilty, is the university itself engaging in its own forms of academic harassment and abuse of power? It seems quite possible.

Read more about the case at THES online; link and excerpt below:


>>Language of power is focus in legal action over sackings

3 September 2009

By Melanie Newman

Professors who taught dying tongue say university 'fabricated' claims. Melanie Newman reports

Three academics who were sacked by a Japanese university on charges of "academic harassment" have claimed that they were ousted for attempting to teach an indigenous language.

The professors of educational linguistics, who have asked not to be named, are bringing legal action against Hokkaido University of Education after being fired by the institution in February.<<

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