28 November 2010

TEFL FORUM: Teaching English /r/ and /l/ to Asian EFL learners: a lexical approach ( Part I)

Teaching English /r/ and /l/ to Asian EFL learners: a lexical approach ( Part I)

Teaching English /r/ and /l/ to Asian EFL learners: a lexical approach
Part I

Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui, Japan


English /r/, /l/ and contrasts between these two categories of sounds are often cited as pronunciation and listening perception problems for a variety of EFL learners, most from E. Asia. The language backgrounds most often associated with these problems are Japanese, Korean, Chinese and some languages of SE Asia (e.g. Thai but also Cantonese Chinese). Other language speakers have also expressed an interest in improving their pronunciation of English /r/ and /l/, including Russian and German EFL learners. 

Perhaps the most well-known group to have a problem with the two categories of sounds is Japanese EFL learners. This could be because their native language background creates the most difficult problems to overcome. It could also be because Japan attained affluence before most of the rest of Asia and hired native speakers of English to help teach and model the language. So a lot of information based on knowledge and experience of Japanese and Japanese learners of EFL has been exchanged and discussed in 'global ELT'. 

In the case of Japanese learners of English, just what is the issue? The most common account is based on a simple 'contrastive analysis'. Japanese is said to have one categorical sound (or phoneme) whereas English has two. The Japanese sound is often referred to as a type of [r] that is tapped, flapped or trilled.  The Japanese sound never closes a syllable and has a very limited distribution in Japanese. One form of the Japanese /r/ helps to form the syllables used in grammatical inflections (such as verb forms). Word-initial Japanese /r/ is limited to words of foreign origin.

English-speaker descriptions of the Japanese sound or of the Japanese learner of English's sound represent the Japanese sound as variably resembling English /l/, /r/, or /d/ (especially [d] in the middle of a word, like in the word 'middle'). Phonetic descriptions have also said that the American medial voiced [t] of words such as 'little' are quite like the Japanese /r/. 

However, it is not really clear how useful a cross-linguistic, contrastive analysis of phoneme inventories is in diagnosing the problems or in helping Japanese learners of English to overcome them. For one thing, the often-read argument that Japanese has only ONE phoneme, Japanese /r/, is arguably wrong. That is because, using structuralist criteria for determining what is and what is not a phoneme, we can isolate at least two Japanese [r] sounds that are distinct: initial [r] in the word 'rou' ('candle') from palatalized intial [r] in 'ryou' ('dormitory').

It is also misleading to teach EFL learners that there is one English /r/ and one English /l/. That is because they will hear native and fluent speakers of English make a wide array of both sounds in actual speech. In terms of articulation, there is a wide variety within both categories of sounds. Interestingly, the distribution in the lexicon of English [r] sounds strongly parallels English [l] sounds: word-initial ('right' vs. 'light'), word-initial cluster unvoiced ('crime' vs. 'climb'), word-initial cluster voiced ('grow' vs. 'glow'), post-vocalic ('fear' vs. 'feel'), medial ('correct' vs. 'collect'), and unstressed syllabic ('batter' vs. 'battle').

There is some complementary distribution if we consider clusters: [tr-] as in 'true' but no [tl-], [sl] as in 'slide' but no [sr-], [shr-] as in 'shred' but no [shl] (except some loan words), and [l] can cluster with [r] post-vocalically, as in 'girl' or 'world' but not vice versa. Moreover, since both of these sound categories tend toward 'vowel-like', it is not surprising that in some cases they might reduce to a vowel or vowel lengthening in some accents, dialects and word contexts (such as post-vocalic [r] in London, Boston and NY Englishes, or the lost [l] of the word 'chalk').

Given the variety of English /r/ and /l/ sounds and how they parallel each other in the lexicon of English, it is little wonder that EFL learners, even after they have practiced making an English /r/ vs. /l/ distinction, lose the ability when actually communicating orally. Therefore, it is best to teach--over a period of time and through a variety of activities--the full parallel variety of English /r/ and /l/ sounds as found in the most frequent words of the lexicon. A proposed sequence is this: first the variety of English /r/s, then the variety of English /l/s, then /r/ vs. /l/ contrasts in common words, then a follow up on the variety of post-vocalic [r]s in rhotic accents, such as US and Canadian Englishes.

In the next installment, we will look at an instructional sequence which includes explanation of basic classroom procedures and many examples from the beginner's lexicon of English.   

16 November 2010

TEFL Forum: Japan's Rakuten, Uniqlo opt for total immersion in global English

Japan's Rakuten, Uniqlo opt for total immersion in global English

The Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER) has published a report about how two new 'new economy' companies in Japan, Uniqlo (casual clothing similar to the Gap) and Rakuten (a web-based 'shopping mall'), are making English the official language of their company.

These bold, controversial decisions come about mostly because their executives see overseas markets as the key to future growth. Moreover, Uniqlo is a retailer centered in Japan, but its clothing and accessories are almost entirely manufactured overseas, in China.

Japan, with its low birth rate and aging society, has actually started to record decreases in population. Although the economy has been alternating between government-subsidized low growth and stagnation for the better part of two decades, Uniqlo and Rakuten have both experienced rapid (if at times uneven) growth. Long before this, Sony Corporation, an OLD 'new economy' company (they still relied on hardware manufacturing for most of their sales) said that it was going to use English as its primary language for international operations, but it didn't ban Japanese.

The JCER piece is here, and can be downloaded in .pdf.


Japan Times ran an article on the phenomenon, found at the link and excerpted below.


Why so drastic an approach? Rakuten says English skills will be critical to achieve its plan of entering 27 overseas markets, where it expects to become the leading player, particularly in the field of online shopping. That part of the plan isn't so surprising. Many of Japan's major corporations are eyeing overseas markets, having largely given up on Japan's, which has been stagnating for the last decade or so and where the population is graying rapidly.

Nor is Rakuten's take-no-prisoners approach to English unique. Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., purveyor of Uniqlo casual clothing stores, announced its own in-house English-only policy this spring. Meetings with at least one non-Japanese in attendance are all to be conducted in English, and internal reports will need to be written in the language. Staff are being asked to achieve a score of at least 700 on the Test of English for International Communication, or TOEIC.

CNN recently ran TV and online stories also, link and excerpt below.


By 2012, Mikitani's pledge is to make Rakuten an English-only corporation. All communication, verbal and email, would be sent not in Japanese, but in English. It's a daunting task for a Japanese company headquartered in Tokyo.

Last year's Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) rankings showed Japanese test takers scored second worst in the East Asia region, below North Korea and Myanmar. Only Laos ranked lower than Japan.

More multimedia coverage is available at Japan Probe.


05 November 2010

30 October 2010

Global University Web Rankings, Directory and Search Engine at 4ICU.ORG

While a university's 'webometric' type ranking might not mean much of anything in terms of the institution's overall quality, the 4ICU site is a very useful directory and search engine of universities and colleges worldwide. And a webometric ranking makes some sense in terms of a given institutions 'web impact', especially since prospective students rely on websites to find insitutions and programs.

Here is a sample of what you find at the 4ICU site:

2010 World University Rankings

29 October 2010


Check out all the latest content and links here and subscribe with your favorite RSS or Atom reader.


Japan Educational Seminar (for India and Thailand)


Japan Educational Seminar (India and Thailand)

In order to attract more international students to Japan, The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT) launched the "Global 30" Project for Establishing Core Universities for Internationalization and selected 13 universities to function as core institutions to receive and educate students from abroad. Under the Project, a student can obtain a degree from a prestigious Japanese university by taking programs taught in English, both in undergraduate and graduate levels.
To promote the Project and recruit prospective students, we are advertizing our newly established English courses abroad.
Note: Universities under the "Global 30" Project include
Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, The University of Tokyo, Nagoya University,
Kyoto University, Osaka University, Kyushu University, Keio University, Sophia University,
Meiji University, Waseda University, Doshisha University,
and Ritsumeikan University (13 universities total).
2.City (Country), Date, and Venue

(1) Deli (India)
Friday, January 28, 2011     (TBA)
Detailed information will be announced at a later date.

(2) Bangalore (India)
Sunday, January 30, 2011     1:00 to 5:00 pm
Taj Residency
41/3, M G Road, Bangalore, Karnataka - 560 001, India

(3) Bangkok (Thailand)
Tuesday, February 1, 2011     (TBA)
Chulalongkorn University
Chamchuri 1 Building, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand
Detailed information will be announced at a later date.

-Prospective undergraduate and graduate students
4.Contents of the Seminars

(1) Presentations by the "Global 30" Project universities.
Universities involved in the "Global 30" Project present brief overviews concerning their education systems, programs, admission procedures, etc.

(2) Lecture demonstrations
We hope participants will actively join in the lectures given by professors of the "Global 30" Project universities.

(3) Individual consultation
For questions concerning educational systems and programs, admission procedures, characteristics, etc., the "Global 30" Project universities will have booths for advice and to answer questions of participants who intend to study in Japan. Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) booth will l broadly inform participants about Study in Japan.
5.List of Universities

Deli (India) /Bangalore (India) (tentative)

    * Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, The University of Tokyo, Nagoya University,
      Kyoto University, Osaka University, Kyushu University, Keio University, Sophia University,
      Meiji University, Waseda University, Doshisha University,
      and Ritsumeikan University (13 universities total)
    * Japan Student Services Organization(JASSO)

Bangkok (Thailand) (tentative)

    * Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, The University of Tokyo, Nagoya University,
      Kyoto University, Osaka University, Kyushu University, Keio University, Sophia University,
      Meiji University, Waseda University, Doshisha University, and Ritsumeikan University
    * Japan Student Services Organization(JASSO)

6.Further Inquiries
Contact:     The University of Tokyo (Coordinating University for the "Global 30" Project)
Email:    See e-mail address at the website cited above.

7.Registration Form

This page will be posted online in December 2010.

New study opportunities in Japan, at Japanese universities


For further information regarding individual universities or specific courses, please directly contact the university:

Tohoku University
Department : 
Student Exchange Division, International Affairs Department
Address : 
41 Kawauchi, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8576, Japan
E-mail : 
Tohoku University
URL : 

University of Tsukuba
Department : 
Division of International Affairs, Department of Global Activities
Address : 
1-1-1 Tennodai, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8577, Japan
E-mail : 
University of Tsukuba
URL : 

The University of Tokyo
Department : 
International Exchange Group, International Affairs Department
Address : 
Kadokawa Hongo Building 5-24-5 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
E-mail : 
The University of Tokyo
URL : 

Nagoya University
Department : 
International Planning Division
Address : 
Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya 464-8601, Japan
E-mail : 
Nagoya University
URL : 

Kyoto University
Department : 
The Organization for the Promotion of International Relation
Address : 
Yoshida Honmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan
E-mail : 
Kyoto University
URL : 

Osaka University
Department : 
International Student Affairs Division, Department of International Affairs, Administration Bureau
Address : 
1-1 Yamadaoka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan
E-mail : 
Osaka University
URL : 

Kyushu University
Department : 
G30 Project Office
Address : 
6-10-1, Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka 812-8581, Japan
E-mail : 
Kyushu University
URL : 

Keio University
Department : 
Office of the Organization for Global Initiatives
Address : 
2-15-45 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8345, Japan
E-mail : 
Keio University
URL : 

Sophia University
Department : 
Office of Public Relations
Address : 
7-1 Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8554, Japan
E-mail : 
Sophia University
URL : 

Meiji University
Department : 
International Student Exchange Office
Address : 
1-1 Kanda-surugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-8301, Japan
E-mail : 
Meiji University
URL : 

Waseda University
Department : 
International Admissions Office, Admissions Center, Academic Affairs Division
Address : 
1-104 Totsuka-machi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 169-8050, Japan
E-mail : 
Waseda University
URL : 

Doshisha University
Department : 
Internationalization Promotion Office
Address : 
Karasuma Higashi-iru, Imadegawa-dori, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-8580, Japan
E-mail : 
Doshisha University
URL : 

Ritsumeikan University
Department : 
Office of International Planning & Development
Address : 
56-1 Toji-in Kitamachi, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8577, Japan
E-mail : 
Ritsumeikan University
URL : 

JAPAN HIGHER EDUCATION OUTLOOK: Try free open-source run-anywhere software

JAPAN HIGHER EDUCATION OUTLOOK: Try free open-source run-anywhere software

JAPAN HIGHER EDUCATION OUTLOOK: Anti-foreign incidents near University of Fukui, Japan

JAPAN HIGHER EDUCATION OUTLOOK: Anti-foreign incidents near University of Fukui, Japan

Anti-foreign incidents near University of Fukui, Japan

Kyodo News recently reported two anti-foreign incidents in Fukui City. One incident on 20 October was a possible case of arson of a parked car in front of the small mosque near the western boundary of the campus of University of Fukui (Bunkyo Campus). There was a sign posted near the burnt car that read, "Foreigners get out".

The other incident, which happened in September, was the burning of an Indian flag at an Indian restaurant near the Fukui University of Technology (about 1.5 km west of University of Fukui), with a similar "Foreigners get out" message posted.

Such incidents are remarkable because there are not really very many foreigners living in Fukui or even staying here for a short time, such as tourism. It does make sense, though, that foreigners would be noticed in and around the university campuses. While there are a number of international students at the universities in th city (University of Fukui, Fukui University of Technology), most of these students are from China.

Only a very small number of the international students are from Islamic countries or countries with Islamic populations, such as UAE, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. However, many of these students and researchers have come to Fukui with other members of their family, so there is enough to sustain a community of worshippers having a mosque.

Links to the stories in English are here:



Link to the website of the Fukui Mosque is here:


A photo of the Fukui Mosque where the car-burning incident occurred:


28 October 2010

New era of strong yen (endaka) hurts foreign students in Japan

There are around 130,000 international students studying in higher education in Japan. While this doesn't make Japan an international superpower in HE or the HE hub of Asia, it does mean Japan is now a 'major player' in 'exporting' HE as a service. However, in 2010 the yen has risen dramatically against other major currencies, especially the US dollar. The rise in the yen seems unsustainable, but for now it is sure to impact international students and tourists here.

This report comes from Temple University, which operates campuses in Japan. Full article at the link below. Brief excerpt follows the link.  


Exchange rate raises cost of living in Japan

September 27, 2010 by Lee Miller 

With the yen rising in value, Temple Japan students can't live the way they used to.

TOKYO-- For many students, studying abroad is a dream, and with Temple’s abroad campuses, such as Temple Japan, students have a great chance to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Temple Japan is located in Tokyo’s Azabu Jyuban district, an upscale residential part of the city. Recent economic trends have caused the dollar to decrease in value and the yen to rise, which is making a semester in Japan more difficult to afford.

However, the current economic troubles have meant that the once quite-affordable semester in Tokyo has become rather expensive, as exchange rates have plummeted.

Three years ago, the Japanese yen was at 121 per dollar, which meant that, in spite of Tokyo being one of the most expensive cities in the world and Temple Japan being in one of the most expensive parts of Tokyo, many students could comfortably travel to Japan for a semester or even all fours years of their college career.

This month, however, the yen reached a 15-year high versus the dollar, reaching 83 yen per dollar in the midst of America’s recession. This is a staggering 32 percent change in value of the dollar in Japan.

The effect has been particularly devastating to Americans who attend Temple Japan for extended periods of time. Even though full-time American students pay tuition in yen, students’ financial aid still comes from the United States in dollars.

China set to overtake US, Japan in race to petaflop supercomputing

First, a New York Times article, with an excerpt after the link, and then a link to the Xinhua news article up at China's National University of Defense's website, quoted in its entirety.



For decades, the United States has developed most of the underlying technology that goes into the massive supercomputers and has built the largest, fastest machines at research laboratories and universities. Some of the top systems simulate the effects of nuclear weapons, while others predict the weather and aid in energy research.

In 2002, the United States lost its crown as supercomputing kingpin for the first time in stunning fashion when Japan unveiled a machine with more horsepower than the top 20 American computers combined. The United States government responded in kind, forming groups to plot a comeback and pouring money into supercomputing projects. The United States regained its leadership status in 2004, and has kept it, until now.


Xinhua News: Defense university builds China's fastest supercomputer

    By Xinhua writers Yu Fei, Bai Ruixue and Wang Yushan
    CHANGSHA, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- The National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) unveiled Thursday China's fastest supercomputer, which could rival the world's most powerful computing devices.
 The supercomputer, named Tianhe, meaning Milky Way, is theoretically able to do more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second (one petaflop) at peak speed.
    A single-day task for Tianhe might take a mainstream dual-core personal computer 160 years to complete, working non-top -- if it can last that long.
    NUDT president Zhang Yulin said the 155-ton system, with 103 refrigerator-like cabinets lined up on an area of about 1,000 square meters, is expected to process seismic data for oil exploration, conduct bio-medical computing and help design aerospace vehicles.
    China's national high-technology research and development program and the Binhai New Area, a major economic development zonein the northern port city of Tianjin jointly financed Tianhe, which cost at least 600 million yuan (88.24 million U.S. dollars).
    Tianhe's peak performance reaches 1.206 petaflops, and it runs at 563.1 teraflops (1,000 teraflops equals one petaflop) on the Linpack benchmark, which was originally developed by U.S. computer scientist Jack Dongarra and has become an internationally recognized method to measure a supercomputer's real performance in practical use.
    Zhang said the technical data of Tianhe had been submitted to the world Top 500 list, compiled by the University of Mannheim, in Germany, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee in the United States.
    The next Top 500 supercomputer list will be released in November.
    The performance of Tianhe would have made it the world's fourth most powerful supercomputer in the most recent ranking in June.
    "I was shocked at the milestone breakthrough, which was beyond expectation," said Zhang Yunquan, a researcher with the Institute of Software of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and an organizer of the China Top 100 list, which was released at a national conference on high-performance computers Thursday.
    "I previously forecast China's first petaflop computer no earlier than the end of 2010," Zhang said.
    The giant device, a product of 200 computer scientists and two years' work, was housed in the NUDT campus in Changsha, Hunan Province, and would be moved to the National Supercomputing Centerin Tianjin at the end of 2009, said Li Nan, chief coordinator of the program.
    Equipped with 6,144 Intel CPUs and 5,120 AMD GPUs, Tianhe was able to store all 27 million books in the National Library of China four times over, said Zhou Xingming, an academician of CAS and a professor with NUDT.
    "As far as I know, a combination of CPU and GPU is something new used to make a petaflop computer. A GPU, or graphic processing unit, plays a role as an accelerator to make the computer run faster, but reduces its power consumption and cost," Zhou explained.
    "After it's installed in Tianjin, we plan to add hundreds or thousands of China-made CPUs to the machine, and improve its Linpack performance to over 800 teraflops," Zhou said.
    Although its annual electricity bill can be as high as 18 million yuan, Tianhe could have been ranked the world's fifth greenest supercomputer, according to Green500 List in June, compiled by researchers at Virginia Tech aiming to provide a ranking of the most energy-efficient supercomputers in the world and serve as a complementary view to the TOP500.
    Of the world's fastest 500 supercomputers, the United States alone has invented 291, including the top 10, Europe has 145 and Asia 49, the June World Top 500 List said.
    In the same list, the Chinese mainland has 20 high-performance computers, with CPUs all supplied by foreign manufacturers.
    China's Dawning Information Industry Company is attempting to build its own supercomputer that overcomes the petaflop barrier by2010.

Consumer credit reform impacts student loan program in Japan HE

One of the consequences of the 'massification' of higher education in Japan is the total cost of financing that education for 3 million students. Moreover, even as Japan's recessionary economy has experienced long-term price deflation, the costs of higher education and health care have gone up.

One reason for the increase in these areas is a reduction of government subsidy. Japan is consistently cited as having one of the lowest government contributions to education and higher education in the OECD. However, government contributions to higher education overlap with government spending on scientific and medical research, so sometimes it is hard to keep track of this as a social or educational indicator.  

The long-term recessionary economy has meant families tap into household savings to pay for education and health care. In the case of working class families who are trying to put a family member into higher education for the first time, savings are often lacking. So are enough scholarships. So universities, students and their families are turning to student loan programs. However, one loan program has hit a snag because of the unintended consequences of a consumer credit law reform.   

Read the entire Yomiuri article at the link below. Excerpts follow.


Banks bail on low-interest education loans

The Yomiuri Shimbun

In an unexpected side-effect of new regulations meant to deter aggressive sales practices, some banks, including Resona Bank, have stopped accepting applications for low-interest education loans designed for university and vocational school students.

Three banks operated by Resona Holdings, Inc. and some regional banks have terminated the low-interest loans, designed to help pay admission, tuition and other fees. The loans are extended to students' parents in cooperation with the educational institutions, which sometimes act as guarantor or contribute to interest payments.

It is the first time a major bank group has been known to withdraw from a cooperation loan program of this nature.

The cooperation loan program hit a snag when the revised Installment Sales Law was enacted in December.

27 October 2010

Shiga University president: Japan's scientific research, universities in decline

In a recent Japan Times opinion piece, Takamitsu Sawa, the president of Shiga University and frequent contributor to the Op-Ed of the newspaper, laments the overall decline in research and research at the universities, linking the decline with small government budgets and the 'corporatization' of the national university system.

Key excerpts:

1.  The poor performance shown by Japanese universities [in recent global rankings] is a clear indication of the dwindling standards of the nation's science and technology. A dramatic decline has  been noted in recent years in the number of academic papers written by researchers at national universities and inter-university research institutes and printed in science journals.  Indeed, the number in fiscal 2008 was 10 percent less than in fiscal 2005.

2. What accounts for this rapid decline in Japan's share of scientific research?

First of all, I would like to point to an unusually small budget allocated to science and technology compared with other countries. In Japan, the amount of public money allocated to higher education is equivalent to a mere 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, which makes it 27th among the 28 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development....

The second factor is the 2004 policy of turning national universities into bodies called independent administrative corporations. Ever since then, university instructors have become so busy drafting documents stating medium-term targets, medium-term plans and annual plans, as well as preparing papers needed to secure funds to make their institutions more competitive, that they have had to drastically sacrifice time that otherwise could have been used for research.

The entire article can be read at Japan Times online at this link:


20 September 2010

ARWU rankings somewhat kinder to Japan

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), out of Shanghai, China, has its merits: it comes out in August, and when differences across universities are not statistically significant, it places them in a tie rather than letting the chips arbitrarily fall where they may.

This year's list is somewhat kinder to Japanese universities, which clearly still dominate their designated region, the Asia-Pacific.

Full information is at the links below. The quoted material after the links highlights how Japanese institutions did in the top 200. Nine make the list. To summarize, Todai/U. of Tokyo is number 20 worldwide and top in Japan and Asia. Japan's number 2, Kyodai/Kyoto U., is still in the top 30 at a respectable 24.

Despite all the government money now going to Waseda and Keio, no private university is in the top 200 (the main weakness: science and technology). This is really a list of elite national universities (now 'national university corporations' or 'NUCs') in Japan. However, it is important to note that most NUCs are not elite, and it's interesting that the top universities in Taiwan and S. Korea were also national universities (of Japan--national imperial universities!).   



in top 100

20 The University of Tokyo Asia/Pacific 1

24 Kyoto University Asia/Pacific 2

75 Osaka University Asia/Pacific 6

79 Nagoya University Asia/Pacific 7

84 Tohoku University Asia/Pacific 8

in top 200


101-150 Tokyo Institute of Technology Asia/Pacific 10-18

151-200 Hokkaido University Asia/Pacific 19-26

151-200 Kyushu University Asia/Pacific 19-26

151-200 University of Tsukuba Asia/Pacific 19-26

19 September 2010

Should the JET Programme be axed?

Should the JET Programme be axed?
by Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui
(and JET Programme ALT 1989-1992)

The JET Programme (official site: http://www.jetprogramme.org/index.html ) is a teaching and cultural exchange program in Japan that brings over 4400 people from overseas (for a detailed breakdown of the stats, see: http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/statistics.html ). It then places most of them as 'assistant language teachers' (ALTs) in middle schools and high schools all across the country. While there are a small number of people from countries where English is a foreign language (officially 36 countries participate), and there are posts for 'coordinators for international relations' (CIRs), who specialize in things like translation, the vast majority of JET Programme participants are natives of an anglophone country, young adults, recent graduates from university, and they will team teach as ALTs.

There has been a lot of discussion online and in newspapers recently about the purposes and usefulness of the JET Programme because the program is quite likely to be either drastically cut or eliminated altogether. In terms of money spent and personnel employed, JET is already past its earlier peaks anyway.

It should be noted that discussions like this one here at ELT in Japan are usually held because the rationale for the program is being questioned--indeed, its reason for being has always been questioned, since the program's inception 25 years ago, back in the bubble 80s. However, these sorts of discussions have no effect on whether or not the program is increased, maintained, curtailed or eliminated. Rather such disucssions are more like: Who do you think will win the World Cup next time? We are spectators who must speculate.

Defenders of the program have often argued that, even if the JET Programme is relatively low impact in terms of teaching and language learning, its main goal is something called 'cross- cultural exchange' (or often 'cross-cultural understanding'). One problem with this notion is that it is difficult to pin down just what that is or how to quantify it (even roughly quantify it). Since the program only employs people by the few thousand and scatters them thinly across the country, that really doesn't seem to be much of a population for cross-cultural exchange compared to the large numbers of Chinese, for example, who have come to Japan to work or attend school.

Another problem with the idea of the JET Program as 'cultural exchange' is that it supports a major prejudice that pervades Japan and its thinking about the rest of the world. That is, for Japan, cross-cultural exchange consists of maintaining good relations with anglophone countries like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

A last weakness in the cultural defense of the program could be stated thus: Isn't the whole idea of foreign language education based, at least in part, on the rationale of furthering cultural understanding? So wouldn't the needs of cross-cultural exchange be met equally or better by emphasizing foreign language teaching and learning?

I predict that the ongoing economic, monetary and fiscal crises that Japan has will lead to the JET Programme being abolished or cut to a size that most will forget the program exists. However, I would like to hope that the program could be revised or transformed so that something worthwhile could be scraped up from the ashes.

Japan as a country needs a foreign policy independent of the hegemon, the United States. Perhaps a step towards that would be to achieve some sort of real mutual understanding with the rest of Asia (including Russia). This could also be expanded to include non-anglophone countries all around the world, but perhaps most significantly Latin America and Africa. However, the economic and cultural significance of developed and developing Europe (outside of the UK) would justify as much a focus as the US or the UK or other developed English-speaking countries get now in Japan in terms of 'international relations' and cross-cultural exchange. 

With that in mind, the JET Programme could be revised to something along these lines: It should become a true EXCHANGE program of EFL and foreign language teachers, from the primary to the university level. For example, language teachers from China, S. Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Italy, Russia, etc. come to Japan for one year. Japanese EFL and foreign language teachers go abroad and work in schools in such countries for one year.

All this is not to say that the current JET Programme (or its antecedents) has been a failure.    It is not really a matter for me to judge. I am only offering here an idea that might help make such exchange a venture with a deeper educational impact.

If the JET program has failed, it seems most likely just another aspect of Japan's inability to reform and improve foreign language education at all levels of education. If the ALTs comprise a 'token foreign element' at public and private schools in Japan, the same thing could be said for the foreign nationals teaching EFL at the thousands of universities and colleges in Japan. So if Japan, its education system, and its government can not come to a collective understanding of what they need in terms of foreign language education, THAT--as has been made clear to me numerous times--is a matter for Japan and the Japanese.


Note: for more detailed statistics and facts about the JET Programme, see the following sources:

Yomiuri Newspaper reports 54% of Japan's PhDs unemployed.

However, online Yomiuri articles are quickly 'firewalled' so Japan HEO will look for corroborating articles at other sources, such as Kyodo, Japan Times, etc.

The 54% refers to those who finished a PhD and joined the already dismal job market this spring.

In a nutshell, the trends with PhDs in Japan are: (1) most hope to get a post in Japanese academia and/or a government-funded research institute (most of which overlap significantly with academia here), (2) there simply isn't enough growth in jobs to match the increase in PhDs, (3) companies have always been reluctant to hire PhDs (too old, speciality irrelevant, etc.) while they have given up on more and more research due to the two-decade-long bad economy, (4) more and more PhDs have to settle for jobs that do not require a PhD and/or are outside the speciality of the degree holder.

Some background reading is available at these two Nature.com articles:

Scientists to spare

Employing Japan's postdocs


Japanese universities do even worse with THES world rankings

In the new THES global rankings, Japan higher education only manages to place 5 universities in the top 200. No institution in Japan makes the top 10 or 20. Only one university makes the top 30--that is Toudai/University of Tokyo. No private universities placed. Kyoudai/Kyoto University's rank of 57 seems out of place because we are used to seeing Kyoudai as a top 30 institution in the old THES-QS tables. These results are even more disappointing than the QS results summarized and posted here last week. Also, China has placed SIX institutions in the top 200--a result that will be interpreted as China overtaking Japan in still yet another area. On the other hand, the top university in China, Beijing University, has yet to crack the top 30.

See the full list of 200 and total score at the link below. The excerpt after that shows only the Japanese universities that made it into the top 200.


26    University of Tokyo  

57    Kyoto University  

112    Tokyo Institute of Technology  

130    Osaka University

132    Tohoku University  

08 September 2010

Japan gets 10 institutions in the QS World University Rankings Results for 2010

Japan gets 10 institutions in the QS World University Rankings Results for 2010

This year it is the 'THES-less' QS rankings. THES is pursuing a different methdology with a different partner.

The results for Japan are about the same as last year with a bit of 'slippage' down in the rankings for most all the institutions. Japan does not rate any in the top ten or top twenty. Todai and Kyodai are neck-and-neck in the top 30 now. Waseda is the only private university to make the top 200.

While we can not say conclusively that Japan's university reforms of the last two decades CAUSED the deterioration of its institutions' rankings, we can say they obviously didn't help (unless someone wants to make the forlorn argument that the reforms ameliorated the deterioration somewhat).  

See link below for the full list of 200 at the QS website.


Top 30, which includes TWO universities from Japan (Toudai and Kyoudai):

1    University of Cambridge    United Kingdom   
2    Harvard University    United States   
3    Yale University    United States   
4    UCL (University College London)    United Kingdom  
5    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)    United States       
6    University of Oxford    United Kingdom   
7    Imperial College London    United Kingdom   
8    University of Chicago    United States   
9    California Institute of Technology (Caltech)    United States  
10    Princeton University    United States 
11    Columbia University    United States  
12    University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)    United States   
13    Stanford University    United States   
14    Duke University    United States   
15    University of Michigan    United States   
16    Cornell University    United States   
17    Johns Hopkins University    United States   
18    ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)  A*    Switzerland   
19    McGill University    Canada   
20    Australian National University (ANU)  A*    Australia   
21    King's College London (KCL)    United Kingdom 
22    University of Edinburgh    United Kingdom  
23    University of Hong Kong (HKU)    Hong Kong   
24    University of Tokyo, The    Japan   
25    Kyoto University    Japan   
26    Northwestern University    United States   
27    University of Bristol    United Kingdom   
28    University of California, Berkeley (UCB)    United States   
29    University of Toronto    Canada   
30    University of Manchester    United Kingdom   


THREE more Japanese universities making the top 100:

49    Osaka University    Japan  
60    Tokyo Institute of Technology    Japan   
91    Nagoya University    Japan  


FIVE more making the top 200:

102    Tohoku University    Japan   
153    Kyushu University    Japan   
172    University of Tsukuba    Japan  
175    Hokkaido University    Japan 
182    Waseda University    Japan 

01 September 2010

TEFL Forum: ELT in Japan, Issue #3 (August 2010)

27 August 2010

ELT in Japan, Issue #3 (August 2010)

Feature 1: Schema theory: Is this set of concepts relevant to TEFL?

Feature 2: Truespel - the English-Based Phonetic Notation  for ESL and EFL as Well

Feature 3: Writing Systems Across Languages and Cultures: Implications for Language Teaching and Learning

Feature 4: Japanese publishers of EFL books for self-study/ 自習のための言語・英語材料の出版社 

And then there were 13

In 2008 the Japanese government announced its ambitions to increase the number of  international students in higher education from around 120,000 to 300,000 by the year 2020.

At the same time, the higher education system was supposed to working collectively on forming a core global 30 of top universities in internationalized undergraduate programs, post-graduate education, and research. However, Japan seems to lurch from government to government and has never really got very far out of the economic doldrums for nearly two decades. This economic stagnation has compounded fiscal and monetary crises, which were also deepened by the global economic turmoil of the past several years.

Now the government has scaled back its plans for 30 world-class universities to 13--mostly because it can't really afford to fund even 13 and also because most other universities probably didn't think it was worth jumping through all the hoops in order to qualify for the funding. Meanwhile the goal of 300,000 international students seems more remote than ever in light of the fact that so much funding for international students has fallen through this year because of the ongoing fiscal crisis at the national level as well as the funding shortages at the universities.

Finally, it is this publication's opinion that the language policy goals of the '300,000 International Students Plan' are also dubious. First, most Japanese universities do not have enough faculty prepared to plan, teach and evaluate courses in English. Second, since most of the international students come from countries where English is a foreign or supplementary language, the Japanese universities and programs are completely unprepared to teach and guide the research of students who have beginning to intermediate English proficiency. And since the vast majority of international students in Japan come from China, this issue is hardly a trivial one. Still it seems unlikely that the Japanese government and the universities will be able to dig themselves out of the fiscal and financial crisis well enough for the language policy issues to get worse than they already are now (with 120,000 international students and most from China).     

Further reading at the Ministry of Education's website is at the following links. Excerpted content (in italics) follows the links.



Japan formulated the 300,000 International Students Plan in July of 2008, with the aim of receiving 300,000 international students by 2020. The “Global 30” Project for Establishing Core Universities for Internationalization is being implemented to realize this goal by selecting measures for the internationalization of universities including the recruitment of international students, along with forming Japan’s centers of internationalization. Selected universities will receive prioritized financial assistance of 200 to 400 million yen per annum over the next 5 years. Endowed with this aid, each university will strive to recruit 3000 to 8000 international students.

In 2009, the following 13 universities were selected as global centers:

Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, The University of Tokyo, Nagoya University, Kyoto University, Osaka University, Kyushu University, Keio University, Sophia University, Meiji University, Waseda University, Doshisha University, and Ritsumeikan University

Core universities will take the following steps to create an attractive educational and research environment for international students.

1)Expansion of course programs by which degrees can be earned through English-only classes

⇒ Establish courses at the universities selected through which English-only degrees can be obtained: 33 undergraduate courses and 124 graduate courses over the next 5 years

2)Enhancement of systems for receiving/hosting international students

⇒ Enhance systems for receiving/hosting international students, such as specialist support in studying and academics, as well as for completing various procedures and formalities both in/out of the university; and provide internship programs at Japanese corporations, etc.

3)Provide international students with opportunities to learn about Japanese language and culture

⇒ A plan to provide high-quality instruction in Japanese language and culture

4)Promotion of strategic international cooperation

⇒ Establish two separate overseas offices per core university, to enable local recruitment through admissions tests, etc., and boost the number of Japanese students studying abroad through exchange study programs, etc.

18 August 2010

'ELT in Japan' is the sister publication of 'Japan HEO'

If you teach EFL in Japan or are interested in doing so, by all means, check it out:



The latest issue of ELT in Japan is located here:


ELT in Japan's feature articles are archived at the links below:


Overview of original content published at Japan Higher Education Outlook

09 July 2010

Tokyo Tech to take lead in supercomputing in Japan

AP - Kyodo News report that the Tokyo Institute of Technology plans to have its new Tsubame 2.0 ('tsubame' is Japanese for the fast-flying bird, the swallow) operational later this year, giving it the lead in speed and processing power in Japan. Japan, however, has taken a backseat in supercomputer progress in recent years in terms of global rankings. Still, Japanese manufacturers NEC, Fujitsu and Hitachi remain world class developers of technology for supercomputing. For example, NEC recently announced development of a computer chip that is the world's fastest, surpassing anything Intel has. And Fujitsu plans to increase sales of supercomputers to European institutions and companies.

RIKEN, the supergroup of research institutes in Japan, plans to construct the world's most powerful supercomputer, which would put the country back in the top spot. However, this extravagant undertaking faced suspension due to proposed budget cuts. The project has received enough of a 'lifeline' to keep going, but the 2012 deadline looks questionable.    

See article at link below, excerpt follows link.


TOKYO, June 17 (AP) - (Kyodo)—The Tokyo Institute of Technology said Wednesday it will commence in November the full-fledged operation of Tsubame 2.0, which would become Japan's fastest supercomputer.

The computer can calculate 2,400 trillion times per second, or 12 times faster than a supercomputer at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which is currently the fastest in the country.

Tsubame 2.0, however, is expected to be overtaken once Riken, a comprehensive research institute for natural sciences, starts operating a next-generation supercomputer in 2012. The Riken supercomputer project had faced suspension under a decision by the waste-cutting panel of the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan but was later allotted a budget to continue development.

Study at a university in Japan

This is the Japan Times directory of universities:


Bicycles as far as the eye can see

Rows of bicycles in front of the College of 
Science and Technology, 
University of Fukui, Bunkyo Campus. 

How do most students get to university in Japan? The number one choice for travel is the bicycle. Regional commuting students who drive their cars are a minority, since most students live in private apartments and dormitories near the campuses.

Believe it or not, bicycles have created an environmental problem for crowded urban campuses: thousands of abandoned bikes left on campus. Japan's numerous urban campuses are troubled by 'sodai gomi'--large items of rubbish, such as bicycles, motor scooters, motorcycles, kitchen appliances, etc.--left by students or dumped by people over the schools' walls.

Row of bicycles in front of the College of Education 
and Regional Studies, 
University of Fukui, Bunkyo Campus

A truckload of abandoned bicycles being taken
away from Univ. of Fukui campus.

08 July 2010

Get Japan Higher Education Outlook Widget


Who evaluates the evaluators? University rankings face shake up and more competition

Nature reports that university rankings are set to change for the better, with more sophisticated tools used to rank the world's HE and research institutions. As we have been following global rankings of universities and how they appear to be prejudiced against Asian institutions (except Hong Kong and Singapore), we thought we would point out this article published earlier this year.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the THES rankings will be based on data from Thomson Reuters from now on, not QS. Meanwhile, QS plans to press on and improve its own methodology. Moreover, other rankings and more nuanced and balanced methodologies are going to challenge the dominance of THES and ARWU (compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China). The former is often criticized as too unbalanced toward 'reputation' and volatile while the latter is said to emphasize scientific research results above all else. However, Japanese institutions fare about as well on both (which is, not very well) even though you might think a research bias would help them on ARWU.    

Url and excerpt follows:


Published online 3 March 2010 | Nature  464, 16-17 (2010)


Several approaches to university rankings now being developed are switching the emphasis away from crude league tables and towards more nuanced assessments that could provide better guidance for policy-makers, funding bodies, researchers and students alike. They promise to rank universities on a much wider range of criteria, and assess more intangible qualities, such as educational excellence. And the THE ranking list is trying to remake itself in the face of the criticism.

end of excerpt, for entire article see link

Japan Higher Education Outlook at FEEDBURNER


14 June 2010

Japan's elite, well-funded advanced research institutes forced into austerity

A Nature article reports that the research institutes in Japan were in the 'hot seat' of government oversight and being asked to justify their huge costs. Now that the former finance minister has become the new prime minister, the pressure on these hugely expensive institutions will most likely increase. This is especially problematic for the fledgling Okinawa Institue of Science and Technology (OIST), which isn't yet a a fully functioning institution. When it was first conceived a decade ago it was probably seen as an effective way to finish off regional development because Okinawa is considered an economically backward part of Japan (regardless of what Okinawans think).

The national government had wanted to make the OIST a showpiece for its efforts to develop Okinawa beyond tourism and military installations; however, the location of OIST is too remote for an international research institute (adding to its costs for bringing researchers to Okinawa and subsidizing them to travel overseas from such a remote place). Okinawa and its people would have been much better served with institutes aimed at integrating Okinawa with its historical economic partners (Taiwan, S. Korea, and China) and providing more educational and training opportunities for the youth of that entire region. Moreover, Okinawa's future is being frustrated by the continued obtrusive presence of the American military, which is actually expanding its activities under the guise of reform.     

See the article at the link below for its entirety.


Japan's research institutions in the hot seat

Government oversight committee urges scientists to make savings.

excerpt 1:

In four days of hearings that began on 23 April, some of Japan's most prominent research institutions and funding agencies came under fire from government-appointed budget watchdogs. But the harsh words and suggested cuts were aimed mostly at administrative operations....    

In the first round of hearings last November, the major cuts recommended at facilities such as the SPring-8 synchrotron in Harima and a planned supercomputer caused a storm of protest among researchers, but the budgets that incorporated the recommendations, which went into effect on 1 April, reflected only modest decreases.

excerpt 2:

The audits started last Friday, with geneticist Sydney Brenner stroking his beard as he sat opposite Renho, the parliamentary representative of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, who is known by her first name only. With her sharp haircut and pointed comments, she has become the symbol of the working groups.

Through an interpreter, Brenner described his vision for the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), of which he is president. He spoke only a few sentences before being cut off. Renho said: "We all agree that science and technology is a fantastic thing. But we are here to discuss whether taxpayer's money is being wisely spent, for example, with regard to your board of governors."

The OIST's board of governors is composed of ten scientists, including five Nobel laureates. They receive an annual US$10,000 honorarium: $5,000 for each of the biannual meetings they attend (to which they fly first class). Overall, the OIST spends between \30 million to \36 million (US$320,000?$384,000) per year to get feedback from these luminaries. The working groups called for a reduction in the costs and a "strengthening of governance".

end of excerpts

12 June 2010

Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology finds home with UTM

The much-delayed, slightly re-named 'Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology' (M-JIIT) seems to be taking steps forward in 2010 towards full-blown establishment. The reasons are a top university in Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), will host and oversee the institute, and the government of Malaysia is stepping up with a RM 300 million grant to fund it. UTM has been a leader in HE in Malaysia at international cooperation with Japanese universities, so it was deemed as the most suitable institution to host the M-JIIT.

For more details and background information see the links and texts below:   


And in order to upgrade technical programmes in line with industry requirements, the Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology will be established as an independent institute under Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.


Japanese tech institute for Johor     
Tuesday, 08 June 2010
The first Japanese-based technological institute will be set up in the state with over 10 post-graduate courses being lined up. The Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology is expected to be placed at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and under purview of the university, said Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Khaled Nordin. The setting up of the institute is the result of an agreement between our Government and the Japanese Government,” he said, adding that the matter was discussed during the visit by the Prime Minister to Japan two weeks ago. Khaled said the courses would allow students to learn about Japanese technology, especially those related to the field of engineering. We have obtained the support of several Japanese companies which will provide the institute with equipment. Besides, we are in the process of discussing student placement and attachment programmes for both countries,” he said at a press conference after attending a community development workshop in Pasir Gudang. Source: The Star, May 9th, 2010


UTM honoured with Japanese Commendation Award      
Friday, 04 December 2009

UTM’s outstanding contributions in promoting mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and Malaysia gained recognition when it was awarded “The Japanese Foreign Minister's Commendation Award” at a dinner ceremony at the residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Malaysia, His Excellency, Masahiko Horie on November 25th, 2009. The UTM Vice Chancellor Prof. Dato’ Zaini Ujang in his acceptance speech stressed that as part of its internationalization initiatives, UTM has the most number and high-impact initiatives ranging from research collaboration and publications, staff and student exchanges, joint academic programmes and seminars with universities from Japan compared to other universities around the world. The good rapport between UTM and Japanese universities has been strengthened further to greater heights.

Other initiatives include research collaborations with Tokyo University and Kyoto University, and a joint MBA programme with Meiji University. UTM has also signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with more than seven Japanese universities since 1991. Among these are Meiji University, Toyama University, Tokushima University, Shibaura Institute of Technology, Tokai University, Nagaoka Institute of Technology, and Nagoya Institute of Technology. In addition, several collaborative agreements with other universities are in the pipeline such as with Kyushu University and Hiroshima University.

Zaini further highlighted that the Japanese government has also long supported Malaysian academics in a number of ways. The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science or JSPS was one of the earliest Japanese organisations that has supported joint academic research with Malaysian universities and many Malaysian academics have benefited from such programmes. “The Japan Foundation and Japan Science and Technology (JST) are examples of organisations that have supported the mobility of experts between the two countries for many years already. In addition there have been a number of Japanese companies that have also supported our universities in providing scholarships and fellowships for higher degrees and joint research such as Hitachi and Panasonic. “UTM is also proud because due to the strong collaboration with Meiji University, the university had awarded Honorary Doctorates to two of our Prime Ministers when they were still in office, Y. A. B. Tun Dr. Mahathir, and Y. A. B. Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,” he said.

In addition, UTM is the only university in Malaysia that has a Japanese University setting up its satellite office at the university. In December 2006 Meiji University launched its satellite office at the UTM International Campus in Kuala Lumpur. Resulting from this, several other universities have expressed interest to set up their satellite offices in UTM including Shibaura Institute of Technology, Tokyo University and also Hiroshima University. UTM has also supported the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan in the establishment of the Malaysia-Japan University Center (MJUC). Due to UTM’s collaboration with many Japanese universities, the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) of Malaysia had identified UTM as the most appropriate university to set up the Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology or MJIIT.

A cabinet paper is now underway for the approval of the G-to-G project to set up a Malaysia-Japan Institute in UTM with a RM300 million grant. If this is approved by the Malaysian cabinet, there will soon be more Japanese professors in UTM and several joint programmes will be realized for the benefit of our students and Malaysians in general. UTM is also proud to be the host for the PPKTJ (Preparatory Programme for Japanese Technical Collaboration) which has been conducted in UTM for more than fifteen (15) years. Many students have graduated from Japanese universities and colleges under this programme.
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