English Translation of the MEXT Guidelines

Below is the AJET translation of the 2013 policy guidelines provided by MEXT. They have been translated by AJET translator Clayton Fredrick.

The controversial provision from MEXT’s 2013 Senior High education policy (“COURSE OF STUDY”):

4. Regarding English classes, taking into account each subject’s special characteristics, in order to expand opportunities for students to come into contact with English, and make classes into sites of real communication, classes are to be conducted in English, in principle. In doing so, due consideration is to be given to using English that takes into account the level of students’ understanding.

MEXT explanation:

The phrase “Classes are to be conducted in English, in principle” should be taken to signify that by means not only of teachers conducting class in English, but also of students using as much English as possible in class, the conducting of language activities in English is to be made the focus of the class. The objective of this is not only to increase opportunities for students to come into contact with English and communicate in it, but also to enhance instruction which allows students to become accustomed to expressing themselves and understanding English in English.

The phrase “each English subject’s ‘special characteristics’” refers to making the acquisition of that particular linguistic skill the objective. However, the opportunities to use English necessary to acquire these skills are extremely limited in the course of Japanese students’ daily lives. From the above, in classes in each subject, it is necessary to take due care that English-Japanese/Japanese-English translations and grammar instruction not become the focus, and to expand opportunities to come into contact with and communicate in English.

In class, the teacher gives explanations, instruction and demonstration of how students are to conduct activities, assists students in understanding so that activities go smoothly, and provides criticism and encouragement regarding students’ performance. Conducting class in English means that instruction such as the above is also to be done in English. It is important, rather than to give only simple directions in English, to ensure that the class is conducted in English—for example, by rephrasing sentences into simpler language when explaining or assisting students in understanding.

In order to make language activities the focus of the class, with regard to reading, it is necessary to incorporate as many activities as possible in which students widely read English passages appropriate to their level of understanding, attempt to grasp the main points, and summarize rather than translate. With regard to writing, it is necessary to incorporate as many activities as possible in which students read, paraphrase in English what they have read, then write compositions based on the themes of their reading. Even when doing English-Japanese translations, it is important to conduct activities where students must sort out what content is important and devise ways to convey it using words and phrases which they know. Further, it is important to incorporate a balance of speaking, listening, writing, and reading activities in lesson plans for all Foreign Language subjects.

If it is found that instruction in English subjects is leaning toward explanation of grammar, the teacher should make an effort to revise these practices and to incorporate experiential language activities into class. As previously mentioned, consideration is to be given to effectively relating grammar to activities conducted in English. From the above, if language activities are the focus of the class, switching to Japanese for grammar explanations can be considered.

In order to conduct class in “English that takes into account the level of students’ understanding,” it is important to give due consideration to factors such as word selection and rapidity of speech. In particular, when students’ communication ability is a concern, the teacher must make efforts to adequately grasp their level of understanding and give due consideration to speaking slowly and using simple English. Even in a case where a student cannot understand the teacher’s explanation or instructions and the teacher switches to instruction in Japanese, bearing in mind the provision that in principle, classes are to be conducted in English, it is still important to strive to expand instruction which helps students become accustomed to the use of English.

In this way, this provision emphasizes the need to conduct class in English in order to expand opportunities for students to come into contact with English and to make classes into sites of real communication. However, it does not mean that without fail classes must be conducted entirely in English. If language activities are indeed the focus of the class, when necessary, even switching to Japanese to conduct the class can be considered.

Moreover, the emphasis of instruction for spoken and written communication is different. With spoken communication, it is important to convey meaning in a limited time, and so it is necessary to instruct students to speak and converse in ways that prioritize the flow of the class. Therefore, teachers may wish to take the approach of correctly rephrasing any language whose meaning may not be clear, taking care not to undermine students’ positive attitude toward attempting spoken communication. On the other hand, in written communication precise and appropriate language becomes more important, and the teacher may take a much more exacting stance in correcting students’ written errors and vague expressions in order to improve their ability to use grammar and vocabulary.