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In the English education climate of Japan, the winds are blowing in two opposite directions. On the one hand, English has little to do with students’ daily lives and most of them ‘study’ it (as opposed to ‘learn’ or ‘acquire’ it) with a disproportionate emphasis on vocabulary, grammar and reading for entrance examinations.  In such a language learning environment, instruction in the classroom remains heavily based on the traditional grammar translation method. According to a 2009 Benesse Corporation survey, involving 4,718 participants, 55% claimed not to enjoy studying English and 90% said they were not confident in using English. In addition, the country is continuously found amongst the lowest ranks of the TOEFL international score board. Yet, on the other hand, a decline in Japan’s technological supremacy and a shrinking domestic market due to the falling birth-rate and rising elderly population are all contributing to increased pressure being placed on educational reform within the field of language instruction in order to make Japan a contender in the international business market. As in many parts of the world, the winds of globalisation are beginning to sweep through this rather conservative language teaching climate.

To ‘globalise’ Japan’s foreign language education, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has recently implemented several new policies. The teaching of English from the primary school level onwards started in 2011 and the new 2013 ‘course of study’ (the de facto national curriculum) for upper secondary school language education, decrees that ‘language activities should be conducted in English’, meaning the language used by teachers and students in the classroom is to be English. MEXT has also started to consider using TOEFL as part of a process for screening university applicants. Although these efforts can be regarded as a leap forward, they remain embedded within the long-standing CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) framework.

What we can see in the articles found in this issue of the ICRJ is that CLIL can play a role in positively influencing the current situation in Japan, as elsewhere, with respect to language learning, and education in general. Indeed, the potential of CLIL is recognised by many English teachers who have taken part in CLIL teacher training sessions held recently in Japan.  As one participant wrote in her workshop reflection: 'The modern world keeps changing. If educational institutions, which nurture children living in the future, hesitate to take in something new and stay unchanged, there won’t be a bright future ahead of them. As an approach to enhancing students’ learning, knowledge activation and intellectual exploration, CLIL is ideal and will contribute to producing valuable members of society.’

If CLIL in Europe is a toddler, CLIL in Japan is a new-born baby, but it is slowly and steadily crawling forward in Japanese education. Sophia University is leading the way as a centre for CLIL implementation, offering some of the first tertiary level CLIL courses in Japan. In addition to this, Sophia has a module about CLIL as part of its masters’ programme in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), and arranges annual conferences and training workshops with a regular focus on CLIL. Sophia is also the base out of which the CLIL-Japan initiative is run, and two CLIL methodology books for Japanese teachers (CLIL: New Challenges in Foreign Language Education at Sophia University, Volumes 1 & 2) were written by Sophia teaching staff and published by Sophia University Press. This is why most of the contributors and research contexts in this issue of the International CLIL Research Journal focussing on Japan are related to this university. Although CLIL practice and studies in Japan are not abundant yet, there are keen practitioners, researchers and teacher educators who endeavour to promote CLIL in the country, as reported in this special issue.

This volume carries five articles from Japan and two papers from other countries (Taiwan and Spain). The articles are arranged roughly from micro empirical research through to macro theoretical discussion. The works related to the Japanese context are written in terms of how CLIL can complement the traditional EFL (English as a Foreign Language) methodologies, such as the grammar translation and audiolingual methods, and CLT. In the in-focus article, Yoshinori Watanabe closely analyses vocabulary items used by the same teacher in two different courses (language-oriented versus content-driven) and identifies subject-specific words that work as a driving-force of lessons. Based on this finding, he proposes the development of a glossary for individual study areas to make CLIL teaching and learning more effective. He also suggests that CLIL offers better opportunities to acquire vocabulary because students are engaged in tasks full of meaning and requiring optimal levels of cognitive processing. In her article about pupils in a state primary school, Yuki Yamano examines whether CLIL is successful or viable in meeting the demands set out by MEXT that students should learn English from the primary school level. Similarly, Makoto Ikeda looks at the potential of CLIL in secondary schools, focusing on teachers’ classroom pedagogies and students’ language development. Approaching the issue of authenticity, Richard Pinner explores the role of authenticity in CLIL as opposed to that of conventional ELT (English Language Teaching) with a focus on what the students consider to be authentic in the CLIL classroom, particularly with regards to learning aims. Turning our attention from students to teachers, Shigeru Sasajima argues that CLIL can change EFL instructors’ mindsets about language teaching if they engage in collaborative action-based professional development. While these five articles from the Japanese context are mainly regarding the language-led CLIL, the last two from outside Japan concern content-led CLIL. Wenhsien Yang and Mark Gosling report on a nationwide appraisal of Taiwanese CLIL programmes in general and that of their own in particular, from which they raise key issues on implementing CLIL in a new setting. This volume concludes with the in-depth article by Victor Pavón Vázquez and Martha Gaustad, who develop an extended theoretical discussion about successful CLIL programme design. The following table is a guide to the contexts, contents, language focus and research topics of all the articles included in this volume:

  Context Content Language focus Research topic
Watanabe Japan
Study skills and literature Vocabulary CLIL lexis in teacher talk
Yamano Japan
Colours, animals and the environment Vocabulary
CLIL potential for primary ELT
Ikeda Japan
Global issues Writing CLIL potential for secondary ELT
Pinner Japan
Literature, linguistics and global issues Not specified Authenticity in CLIL
Sasajima Japan
Health sciences Not specified CLIL influence on teacher cognition
Yang & Gosling Taiwan
Tourism management Not specified CLIL programme evaluation
Pavón & Gaustad Spain
Not specified Not specified CLIL programme design

It is our great pleasure to welcome you to this special issue of the International CLIL Research Journal. Whilst being beneficial specifically to teachers in Japan and other similar Asian contexts, we hope that the insights and research presented in this issue will also be of interest to other CLIL professional communities around the globe.


Makoto Ikeda and Richard Pinner with Peeter Mehisto and David Marsh