The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Campus Now > A WASEDA Miscellany : Spring Verdure Issue (May)

Campus Now

Spring Verdure Issue (May)

A WASEDA Miscellany

Laurence Anthony

Linking language to science

Laurence Anthony
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering

Since I am a founding member of the Faculty of Science and Engineering's Center for English Language Education, most people would probably describe me as a language specialist. But, when I reflect on my life to date, I have had a very unusual relationship with languages. I grew up in the very rural town of Huddersfield on the edge of the bleak but beautiful Yorkshire moors. At school in the 1980s, I never enjoyed studying foreign languages and escaped from French, German, and Latin at the earliest opportunity. My passion was in the sciences and the new exciting world of computers. In those days, the only way to use a computer was via a programming language. It's quite ironic that after giving up all foreign languages, I ended up spending all my days learning a different kind of foreign language called BASIC. I continued programming through junior and senior high school, and it became an integral part of my university degree.

It was also during this time that I began to develop a passion for Japanese culture. In the 1980s, Japan was a very, very distant place to a Yorkshire man like myself. But, through movies like The Karate Kid and the TV drama The Master, I became interested in martial arts and very quickly the country itself. At university, I entered the Wado Ryu Karate club and in my second year became the club captain. This was also the year that I visited Japa n for the first time. My image of Japan had been based on movies and books, but nothing could prepare me for the real thing. Everything was different; the people, the buildings, the sounds, the smells... I was addicted. I soon decided that I wanted to live in Japan after graduating and experience it on a daily basis. I returned to Britain and for the first time in my life began studying a foreign language seriously. Japanese is certainly not the easiest language to learn, but it is amazing what motivation can achieve! I returned to Japan in 1991 and have never left.

After arriving in Japan a second time, I began working with scientists and engineers here, editing their papers and bringing their research results to publication. Like me, many of them had not enjoyed foreign language education at school and often their skills were quite weak. But, in their case, the foreign language was English; they could not simply give it up. To me, the need to improve scientific English education in Japan was obvious. So, I began thinking how I could make a contribution and I found the answer in a rapidly growing field called corpus linguistics.

A corpus is a large database of electronic texts that can be analyzed using software to reveal frequent words, common patterns of language use, keywords, and so on. However, in the early 1990s, not only was the software quite limited, but also few researchers had collected samples of scientific English or analyzed it in a principled way. Realizing this, I set about developing new software tools that could be used for this task. I also began using these tools to analyze scientific writing and thinking how they could be introduced into the writing classroom.

Today, I continue to develop software tools, including AntConc, a more general corpus tool that is installed on all the Waseda computers. In the Faculty of Science and Engineering, our center has now introduced a coordinated technical writing course in which students first learn how to use corpus software before proceeding to analyze the language of their own specialized fields. What gives me the greatest pleasure is to see our students improve so much. Perhaps this is a result of our course, but then again, it could simply be that students today realize how important English is when finding a job. As I found for myself, it is amazing what motivation can achieve!

AntConc software for analyzing writing

Laurence Anthony
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering

Born in Huddersfield, UK. Received the M.A. degree in TESL/TEFL and the Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Birmingham, UK, and the B.Sc. degree in mathematical physics from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), UK. Currently serving as the coordinator of the Faculty of Science and Engineering Graduate School technical English program.