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Campus Now

Spring Verdure Issue (May)


Cultivating international intellectuals capable of action

English education at Waseda University

Contemporary and future society requires professionals who use English as a tool for performance.
Universities have the important role of cultivating professionals who can perform in society.
Waseda University conducts a variety of English language education.
This report introduces the importance of English language education in society and actions taken at Waseda University.

Part.1 Three-way discussion

The mission of English education at universities

For several dozen years, our university has reformed English language education in order to instill students with the ability to debate in English. We held a discussion with Professor Nakano, the driving force behind the reforms, Professor Ono, who serves as Dean of Academic Affairs, and Professor Fukagawa, who gives priority to the English ability of undergraduate students.

Language is a tool: Seek the ability to debate in English

——First, would you please discuss why Waseda University began to focus on English language education?

Nakano  In the mid 1990s, there was talk that the low English ability of Waseda University students was a hindrance to gaining employment at some listed companies. Therefore, under the guidance of then-President Takayasu Okushima, the reform of English language education was started by former President Katsuhiko Shirai, who served as Dean of Academic Affairs at that time. From 1997, an experiment in small-group English language education was started in the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I. This experiment was the prototype for Tutorial English. Advancements in IT were also being made at that time, and our school started experiments which involved chatting with remote students via the internet. All of these actions produced steady results. Furthermore, in December 2000, the Open Education Center was established with the goal of realizing comprehensive and varied education which exceeds the framework of individual graduate schools. The course in General Tutorial English provided by the center became a required course in many undergraduate schools. Moreover, the program Cross-Cultural Distance Learning (CCDL) was prepared as a second phase in English education. CCDL is a joint lesson in which the internet is used so that our students can have direct communication with other students at overseas partner schools consisting mainly of prestigious universities in Asia. Students give presentations and hold discussion.

The state of English language education in each undergraduate school was clarified by the English Education Working Group affiliated with the Committee to Formulate 21st Century Educational and Research Grand Design, which was formed in 2000. The working group also discussed what kind of English language education is necessary in the future. This review resulted in a policy for English language education that enables debate in English. In addition to reading and writing, we have emphasized that students become able to listen and speak.

These types of reforms will not succeed or continue without the auspices of individuals in the position to mobilize entire organizations. I believe that reforms in English language education at Waseda were successful because our entire university responded as an organization. In order to further improve the quality of education in the future, we hope to refine educational systems while showing persuasive data for action.

Ono  Reflecting back about 15 years ago, students in the School of Science and Engineering also studied English using material such as English literature. Instead of acquiring English ability for actual use, English language education was positioned as something studied because it was a required course. However, from around the time that the English Education Working Group was formed, students in the School of Science and Engineering realized that English is a tool rather than an end in itself. Student realized that English is necessary for conducting research and writing theses. Although it is currently commonplace to view English as a tool, at that time such a statement was likely to be criticized as desecration of the English language. Current English curriculum at the 3 undergraduate schools of science and engineering is mainly composed of native instructors who specialize in language education and have a background in science and engineering. We have also standardized the questions used in final examinations and the progress of students is readily apparent. In addition to fundamental courses for 1st and 2nd year students, we also offer advanced courses for 3rd and 4th year students, as well as special courses for graduate students in the Master's and Doctoral Program. The infrastructure for education has been prepared. In the future, we need to increase the classes offered as necessary.

Fukagawa  Students studying the social sciences have special English language needs which are different from the humanities or science and engineering. In the case of science and engineering, a large amount of information during research presentations is provided through numbers and data. Conversely, in the case of social science research, numbers only are not sufficiently persuasive and it is necessary to speak while making logical generalizations. Furthermore, unlike students studying literature or education, students in the social sciences do not have an inherent interest in English. In this respect, it can be said that students studying the social sciences are in the most disadvantageous position when it comes to studying English. However, when performing in the business world after graduation, such students are in fields with the greatest need for "the ability to debate in English" which is the goal of English language education at Waseda.

It has been six years since I started teaching at Waseda. Compared to the standards at Waseda before my arrival, our university's English language education has reached extremely high levels. For current students, English language ability is no longer simply an advantage. Instead, students must perform in an age of globalization where the inability to communicate in English is a distinct disadvantage. Recently, there are an increasing number of companies such as Rakuten and Fast Retailing that have designated English as the official company language. I'm glad that our university worked in advance to strengthen English language education. I think that we have reached a point where the past several dozen years of work will now be rewarded.

Speaking without nervousness: Practical small group lessons

——What are the features of General Tutorial English, the course which serves as the foundation for English language education at Waseda?

Nakano  When I first began teaching at the School of Education, there were up to 70 students in the English writing course of the Department of English Language and Literature. There were as many as 40 students in English conversational courses. As a result, giving presentations in class was the same as giving a speech in front of the general public! Such classes did not allow students to practice daily conversation. Waseda therefore began to focus on General Tutorial English which features small groups of 4 students. Until the high school level, English language education is passive and focuses on vocabulary and grammar. In General Tutorial English, students repeatedly practice using this vocabulary and grammar, seeking to master conversational use within half a year. Advanced classes offer instruction in idioms which are not found in normal textbooks, and students become able to explain mathematical formulas and graphs in English.

Fukagawa  After entering the work force and assuming a position of authority, students may be required to speak in front of large numbers of people. However, initial positions such as sales representative require the ability to persuade individual customers through direct communication. In that respect, there is great meaning in conducting English language education through small groups.

Nakano  I also feel confident in the teaching ability of our tutors. Observation (lessons are videotaped and reviewed by a senior tutor) is conducted once every term in order to maintain a certain level of quality. Waseda is also popular among tutors because it is located in an easily-accessible part of Tokyo and the high quality of students makes teaching rewarding.

Fukagawa  One of the requirements for studying in my seminar course is a TOEIC score of 800 or higher. However, I sometimes select students who are selections to this rule. One student had an initial score of 480 but increased to 850 simply by studying in Tutorial English. Obviously, such students are greatly stimulated by the class environment.

Nakano  In addition to university-wide fundamental education, the existence of policies such as those held by Professor Fukagawa in undergraduate schools results in even greater growth in students.

Fukagawa  Yes, I believe that it is important to increase motivation.

Ono  Our university also independently develops all of our textbooks. We can say with pride that English language education at Waseda University is the best in Japan.

Nakano  When viewing magazines on university examinations, Waseda is listed together with Sophia University and ICU as one of the top universities for studying English. In the past, Waseda was ridiculed for conducting "mass production" education. However, Waseda currently conducts nurturing and personalized education that is not limited only to English language education. The progress made in the past several dozen years was possible because our entire organization worked to enact reforms.

Making foreign friends without studying abroad

Nakano  However, we still need to make an effort when communicating with students at prestigious universities in Korea and China.

Fukagawa  Similar to Japan, China possesses a large domestic market. Therefore, even without English language ability, proficiency in the native language is sufficient to obtain employment. However, globalization is proceeding rapidly in recent times and English has become necessary, at least for the elite class. Of course, there are many parameters to education in China which make it possible for English to be acquired only by a portion of the elite class. In Korea, enthusiasm towards English has increased rapidly since the currency crisis. Still, the acquirement of English ability is more a question of individual effort rather than cultivation by Korean universities. Even foreign study is the complete responsibility of the individual student. This results in significant sacrifices and cannot be considered entirely as a positive system.

Nakano  Although Korean universities recommend foreign study, Waseda makes it possible to encounter English without paying expensive foreign study fees. Simply by studying on our campus, students can encounter English equivalent to nearly a year's worth of studying abroad.

Ono  Another strength of Waseda is that we have many foreign students studying at our school and our campus has an international flavor.

Fukagawa  You can make foreign friends without studying abroad. Once they have gained confidence in their English, many students are active as international volunteers and support staff for foreign students.

Acquiring international communication skills

——In closing, would each of you please discuss future themes and prospects for English language education?

Ono  The School of International Liberal Studies conducts all classes in English. As part of the MEXT's (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) Project for Establishing Core Universities of Internationalization (Global 30), classes which allow students to obtain credits in English are offered by the School of Political Science and Economics and the 3 schools of science and engineering. Similar classes will start in the School of Social Sciences in autumn. This means that Japanese students also have the opportunity to study in English. In the future, I think it would be great if becomes commonplace for Japanese students take classes, speak and write in English. The ideal would be the ability to take the same class in either Japanese or English.

For that purpose, I have recommended that our university consciously select individuals who are proficient in English when hiring instructors. Our university has also developed a support system that allows existing instructors to improve their English. Many instructors tend not to conduct classes in English because they don't have confidence in their English ability a little. Every year, approximately 14 or 15 instructors undergo training in America to raise their English level and acquire practical skills for classroom use. In addition to the English language, instructors also study educational methods and heighten their teaching ability.

Nakano  In addition to General Tutorial English, the Open Education Center currently offers classes such as Discussion Tutorial English and Business Tutorial English. All of these classes are conducted in small groups of 4 to 6 students. We are also working to develop a class in Critical Reading & Writing. At famous American universities, students are trained so that they can give intelligent presentations and write intelligent articles. In Japan, such skills are only taught a little by debate instructors and there is no systematic method of teaching. Japanese people tend to be modest and back away from debate. Personally, I have had regretful experiences in which I couldn't express myself in front of intimidating individuals at international academic conferences. As a result, I believe in using English language education as a way to acquire the habit of speaking with emphasis on personal opinions and ideas.

Occasionally, there are some people who make empty statements simply in a vain attempt to show off their English skill. This is most unfortunate. There is no point in speaking with perfect English pronunciation if there is no substance to your speech. Since our capacity to acquire new skills is limited, I recommended giving priority to your message over pronunciation.

Fukagawa  It's fine not to speak perfect English. It is unreasonable to acquire high-level English ability at the cost of ignoring the history of your native country or losing your own identity. In the future, the ability to speak English will be expected. Recently, a student who had decided to study abroad asked me if he should study in America or China. Students are worried about how to spend their limited time and resources. The student in question must absolutely avoid acquiring partial skill in both English and Chinese. I believe that acquiring a certain level of English language ability should be the top priority. Of course, Chinese language ability is a plus for professionals involved in Chinese history or Eastern history. Still, even in such fields, academic presentations are made in English. However, students who have been traumatized by English study until the high school level may be better served to learn Chinese first and thus gain confidence in their language ability.

Nakano  Since the Meiji Period, Japan has worked to translate difficult concepts taken from overseas in the Japanese language. This has been done to enable study in the Japanese language. In African countries, specialized knowledge has not been translated in the native languages and therefore must be studied in the French language. In Japan, even topics studied in graduate school are usually translated into Japanese. However, it is pointless for researchers to become involved in a discipline which is only pertinent within Japan. It is therefore necessary to write theses and exchange opinions in English. Businesspeople and technicians must also engage in constant study in order to keep pace with this era of globalization.

Fukagawa  The English spoken by French and German people isn't perfect, but they speak with great composure. Therefore, I believe that perfect pronunciation and grammar isn't important as long as meaning is communicated. Communication skill and language ability are completely different. Global communication skills are now necessary. English can be thought of as a tool for such communication.

Nakano  That's right. It is most important to acquire communication skills which can be used throughout the world. Even Americans who lack communication skills undergo training to improve their ability. I hope that students will enjoy communication with people throughout the world.

Professor Takahiro Ono, Dean of Academic Affairs (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

Graduated from the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Waseda University. Holds a PhD in engineering. Served as an Assistant Professor and an Associate Professor at the School of Science and Engineering before assuming the position of Professor in 1995. Became Director of the International Affairs Division in December 2007 and Director of the Academic Affairs Division in November 2010.

Yukiko Fukagawa, Director of Office of Information and Public Relations (Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics)

After graduating from Waseda University, held positions at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan. Also served as Assistant Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University and Professor at the University of Tokyo. Assumed her current position in April 2006. Completed the Master's Program at Yale University. Studied in the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Commerce, Waseda Univerisity. In April 2008, appointed as Director of the Office of Information and Public Relations.

Michiko Nakano, Director of Distance Learning Center (Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences)

Graduate from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Tsuda College. Completed the Master's Program at Tsuda College and the Master's Program/Doctoral Program at the University of Edinburgh. Holds a PhD in applied linguistics. Served at the Stanford University Center for the Study of Language and Information. After serving as Professor at Aichi University, became Assistant Professor at Waseda University in 1990 and Professor in 1992. Appointed as Director of the Distance Learning Center in 2002.