Thursday, December 13, 2007

Independent Learning Association Conference 2007

This is a wonderful collaboration by bloggers who were inspired by Independent Learning Association Conference 2007. It is a good means to reflect upon the conference. As someone who attended the conference, I enjoyed reading the entries. I believe it'll also be a new learning opportunity for those of you who failed to come to the conference .


Saturday, November 10, 2007

An optimist

Despite the conventional advice that it works to be an optimist, I don’t simply enjoy being optimistic, at least being solely so. It comforts me to ask the following questions myself when a trouble happens: What would be the worst scenario? ; What would be the effect of it?; How can I avoid it?

I sometimes feel even annoyed by a single-hearted person who is too complacent with his or her optimistic view of the world. Limiting imagination to a single perspective alone upsets me, even if it is someone else’s imagination.

George W. Bush might be a case in point. Here is his response to then-Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar one month before the Iraq War in 2003 (The New York Review of Books. November 8, 2007. p. 60).

Aznar: The only thing that worries me about you is your optimism.

Bush: I am an optimist, because I believe that I’m right. I’m at peace with myself.

An interesting view. However, I’d like to be at peace with reality, not just with myself.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Socio-cultural approach to CALL

Pardon me for the expression; many regard CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) as a toy for computer geeks. The geeks are specialists, many language teachers believe, who can help language teachers in technical troubles, but they’re more interested in technology than humans. According to this conception, CALL guys are like a different species from language teachers.

I disagree with this (mis)conception. Computers are indispensable tools for (post-) modern human beings. I, for example, almost always write on computer with the help of installed dictionaries, Google search and Wikipedia exploration. Expressing my thoughts either in English or Japanese is now part of my life, for I have a large number of friends whose friendship with me was (or will be) initiated by my writing but enhanced (or even made possible at all) by the internet. Without computers, I’ll lose much of meaningfulness in my life; I’ll cease to be who I am now. My language use and learning are assisted by computers, and I’m not a computer expert.

Prof. Klaus Schwienhorst (Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany, see below) seems to me a socio-cultural CALL scholar. He contends that the computer has built-in affordances that influence our thinking and thus our pedagogy as well: it is a two way relationship between technology and pedagogy. He even foresees Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL). Relating CALL to the issue of learner autonomy, he says “learner autonomy may be most effective when combining reflection [on learning], interaction [in the target language] and experimentation [on new language use.] This is where CALL can play a major role.” (square brackets added.)

Computer networks are what make (post-) modern human beings. Learning to use computers and other related gadgets for communication should be integrated in the framework of language learning. With satellite television, portable electronic dictionaries, mobile phones (with a camera, a browser, a TV and so on), iPods, in addition to the internet, we may have already entered the age of Ubiquitously Assisted Language Learning (U-ALL).


Prof. Klaus Schwienhorst (2007)

“Coming to terms: Learner autonomy, the learner, and (computer-assisted) language learning environments.” (A keynote speech in Independent Learning Association Third International Conference, Chiba, Japan, 7 October 2007)

Prof. Schwienhorst’s latest book is Learner Autonomy and CALL Environments.


This article is revised on October 11, 2007, according to Prof. Schwienhorst’s kind reply to my e-mail that asked for an ex post facto approval of uploading of this article. The revised part is “He contends that the computer has built-in affordances that influence our thinking and thus our pedagogy as well: it is a two way relationship between technology and pedagogy.” I regret and apologize for my misleading summary of his presentation.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wu Zongjie on words in practice

Words always leave something unsaid. You can recall the classic distinction of literal meaning and speaker meaning. While literal meaning is explicitly expressed, speaker meaning is just implicitly there without any form. The distinction is often explained by a typical (and rather boring) example of “It’s hot here.” Whereas the literal meaning is IT IS HOT HERE, the speaker meaning is often explained as something like ‘Would you be kind enough to open the window?” Here, the speaker meaning is simply something left unsaid for politeness or parsimony of speech. However, as Relevance Theory claims, not all sentences are like this. In fact, in our daily discourse, utterances more often have weak speaker meaning than strong speaker meaning like the above. Think of the weak speaker meaning when your spouse says on holiday, “Oh, how relaxing!” What does she mean exactly other than the literal meaning of the sentence? Certainly not something identifiable precisely. Rather she meant to express her being in a holiday resort, or understanding of the being, giving the mind of the listener ripples of multiple effects, of different kinds and degrees, the whole of which nobody, even the speaker herself, cannot enumerate. Words express what can be expressed and what cannot be expressed at the same time.

When I exchanged e-mail with Judith Hanks, she kindly told Dick Allwirght that I was interested in connecting Exploratory Practice with Heidegger’s philosophy. Dick in turn was kind enough to call my attention to Zongjie Wu, who wrote “Understanding practitioner research as a form of life: an Eastern interpretation of Exploratory Practice” (Language Teaching Research 10, 3 (2006); pp. 331-350). I thank Judith and Dick very much, for I read the article with excitement.

Wu connects Exploratory Practice with not only Heidegger, but also other Western philosophers like Gadamer and Dreyfus and Eastern philosophers like Zhuangzi and Laozi. As someone who learned many fables of Taoism from childhood and studied German philosophy in adulthood, I greatly enjoyed the argument.

The argument might be best summarized by the following quotation.

Following the route from being and understanding to naming, an inquiry is undertaken for the harmonization of teachers’ professional life, where (following Thomson, 2001: 259) teaching is revealing being though words embraced by understanding; and learning, conversely, is experiencing what a teacher reveals. Being is here conceived as life on an ontological basis. Quality of life means authenticity of being. Understanding takes the form of the unity of knowing and doing, where the unsayable intelligibility experienced by teachers is named in a language that vibrates with the silent call of learning. Language here serves the function of bringing understanding into consciousness and manifestation, but to make itself into the unknown in the sense that language itself offers nothing directly plausible and meaningful but helps transform life into essential insight. (p. 333)

I cannot resist the temptation of quoting the last three sentences of this article as well, which are also beautifully written.

In the practice of naming, understanding reveals itself as being in the nameless. Naming is to bring people together, not to fragment them into different parts in a hierarchical structure. Thus naming is ‘to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced’ (Palmer, 1998: 90). On the Way from being, understanding to naming, EP brings research and teaching, work and life into a harmonious wholeness. (p. 348)

I believe this is one of the very important articles in which the delicate and somewhat paradoxical nature of language use in practice is academically explored by way of connecting Eastern (Chinese) and Western (German) philosophies. As someone who appreciate Chinese philosophy and German philosophy, it was indeed a pleasure reading

Monday, September 17, 2007

A foreign language writer

What is it to be a foreign language writer?

As Prof. Lourdes Ortega (University of Hawai'i) said at the 2007 Symposium on Second Language Writing on Sept. 15, at Nagoya Gakuin University, "writing in a foreign language across the board is often characterised as a less purposeful and need-driven enterprise than writing in a second language." Then what am I doing here as a foreign language writer?

As I write this essay now, I'm away from my Japanese discourse communities where I usually belong with a sense of security and confidence as a native speaker. In this cyber-space of English, I'm stripped of my undoubted authority and comfortable capacity of a native speaker. I'm vulnerable here.

Yet, I belong to this English discourse community, too. My participation is only peripheral to the community, but I need this engagement for myself. I've met a large number of English speaking people and read not a few books written in English. Literacy in English, however insufficient it may be, is now part of me.

I'm a person who needs thinking to live. That's why language is vital to me. My language now includes this foreign language I'm clumsily using.

For each language (or to be precise, a genre of a language), there is a different discourse community. Different discourse communities offer different sorts of food of thought, and I often find it easier to use the same genre to respond and think together, even when I'm not as proficient in the genre as I wish.

Let me put this way. I need to think to live. Thinking requires a language. A language (or a genre) entails its own discourse community. Different discourse communities provide different language uses, which are reflections of different types of thinking. Perhaps I'm foreseeing more possibilities of who I can be by increasing the number of languages (or genres) and discourse communities in which I can engage myself. I'm trying to diversify myself.

Diversifying myself. Maybe this is my purpose to write in a foreign language. Maybe my need as well. I want to live better.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability 1/7

September 8, 2007
JACET 46th Annual Convention
in Yasuda Women’s College,
Hiroshima, Japan

JACET symposium

English Education at the Tertiary Level
– in Search of a Consistent Curriculum from Elementary School through University

Consistency and Diversity
-- A good understanding rather than a good test?--

Hiroshima University




1.1 Concept > Construct > Operational Definition > Measurement

Consistency should NOT mean the dominance of a paper-based standardized test because no paper-based test can capture the whole range of language knowledge and use. (Tests are only educated guesses of hypothetical constructs)

1.2 Understanding involves something immeasurable

Even a General English Proficiency Test may distort our understanding of communicative language ability because it only deals with readily measurable aspects of language and use.
Our understanding of second language communication goes beyond the notion of measurement.

"Oh, so you're not interested in communication, only language." (McNamara, 1996, p. 83)

The dog (our understanding) should wag the tail (a test).

Not the tail wagging the dog.

1.3 Education is more than measurable “objective” and contains immeasurable “aim”

“By objectives I mean the pedagogic intentions of a particular course of study to be achieved within the period of that course and in principle measurable by some assessment device at the end of the course” … “By aims I mean the purposes to which learning will be put after the end of the course.” (Widdowson, 1983, pp.6-7)

1.4 My contention

A good understanding of communicative language ability is more important than a good standardized test.

1.5 Expected results

A good understanding of communicative language ability would bring a good balance between consistency and diversity in curriculum.

Without it, English language education would end in uniformity and conformity, or in complete chaos.

Uniformity and conformity, particularly when harnessed by a standardized test, suppresses creativity and motivation of teachers and students.

Furthermore, neglecting diversity is to deny the different needs of different departments and colleges.

A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability 2/7


What is a good understanding of communicative language ability?

The understanding must be theoretically sound and simple enough to be a guideline for curriculum.


3.1 Descriptive approach

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment.

“Professor, your talk is too abstract and too general. Make it more specific!”

The opposite truth:
“Listen, your talk is too particular and too specific. Make it more abstract!”

A good theoretical understanding is also needed.

3.2 Theoretical approach

Development from Chomsky (1965) up to Bachman & Palmer (1996)

Problems in Bachman & Palmer (1996)
Not interactive enough
Mysterious 'strategic competence'
Obliterated 'psychophysiological mechanisms'

A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability 3/7


4.1 Addition of mindreading ability and physical ability to linguistic ability

Mindreading ability is involved in interaction.

Strategic competence can be demystified by the introduction of the mindreading ability.

The mindreading ability is a theoretical notion supported by “Theory of Mind” and “Relevance Theory” (To be explained later)

Making Physical ability more conspicuous: Linguistic and nonlinguistic physical ability.

4.2 A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability

A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability 4/7

4.3 Mindreading ability

4.3.1 Theory of Mind

According to Baron-Cohen (1997), Theory of Mind is an ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own, and, with that understanding, to explain and predict others' behavior.

Young children (under 3 or 4 years old) and autistic persons seem to lack Theory of Mind.

-> Theory of Mind is a basis of interpersonal communication.

4.3.2 Relevance Theory

"Given the particular nature and difficulty of the task, the general mind-reading hypothesis is implausible." "[Comprehension] might involve a sub-module of the mind-reading module, an automatic application of a relevance-based procedure to ostensive stimuli, and in particular to linguistic utterances." (Sperber and Wilson, 2002, pp.20-21)

The First, or Cognitive, Principle of Relevance:
"Human cognition is geared to the maximization of relevance."

"The relevance of an input for an individual at a given time is a positive function of the cognitive benefits that he would gain from processing it, and a negative function of the processing effort needed to achieve these benefits. (Sperber and Wilson 2002, p. 14)

In other words: The more benefit, the better: the less effort, the better. Strike a balance between the benefit and the effort for relevance.

The Second, or Communicative, Principle of Relevance
"Every utterance conveys a presumption of its own relevance."

Presumption of relevance

"The utterance is presumed to be the most relevant one compatible with the speaker's abilities and preferences, and at least relevant enough to be worth the hearer's attention." (Sperber and Wilson, 1986/1995, pp. 266-78. Emphasis added).

->Unlike the "knowledge of language" (Chomsky 1986), a speaker can increase her relevance by learning to do so. A better speaker can make a speech that produces more benefit with less effort on the part of the listener.

4.3.3 Mindreading ability

->Mindreading ability in communication is to anticipate other's mind and to infer the intention of the other successfully.

Mindreading ability in linguistic communication

->Mindreading ability in speaking and writing is for the speaker/writer to anticipate the listener's/reader's mind and to arrange words as the listener/reader would understand well, not as the speaker/writer would like to arrange.

->Mindreading ability in listening and reading is for the listener/reader to anticipate the speaker's/writer's mind and to understand his utterance as he meant it to be, not as the listener/reader would like to understand.

A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability 5/7

4.4 Physical ability

4.4.1. Linguistic physical ability

'Psychophysiological mechanisms' (Bachman 1990)

4.4.2. Non-linguistic physical ability

Body language (including indexical behaviors), tone of the voice, eye-contact, facial expression, etc.

4.5 Linguistic ability

Dual meaning of 'knowledge'
(1) 'usage' or 'conventions' as in 'language knowledge' by Bachman
(2) 'competence' as in 'knowledge of language' by Chomsky

4.5.1 Usage

Grammatical, textual, sociolinguistic, and functional

4.5.2 Competence

Underlying all the usages in language use

4.6 Interrelated independence of the three abilities

4.7 Different types of English Language Teaching

A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability 6/7

4.8 Coherence with the past theories

A three-dimensional understanding of communicative language ability 7/7


5.1 Innovating understanding

The standard assessment framework of accuracy, fluency and complexity cannot assess the mindreading ability, which is considered a basis of interpersonal communication or interaction.

Non-linguistic physical ability plays a very important role in actual communication, though it is usually dropped from the items of a paper-based standardized test.

Innovating our understanding of second language communication is crucial.

Imposition of a standardized test without a good understanding of second language communication is detrimental.

"Something that we know when on one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it, is something that we need to remind ourselves of (and it is obviously something of which for some reason it is difficult to remind oneself.) " Wittgenstein (1953, Section 88)

5.2 Consistency and diversity

Consistency and diversity in curriculum should be maintained and developed through innovating our understanding of second language communication.

5.3 Remaining issues

'Emergence' in interaction
Literacy and written language.
Integrity and humanity
Why communicative language ability alone?


Bachman, L.F. (1990) Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford University Press.
Bachman, L.F. and A.S. Palmer (1996) Language testing in practice. Oxford University Press.
Baron-Cohen, S. (1997) Mindblindness. Bradford Books.
Chomsky, N. (1965) Aspects of the theory of syntax. The MIT Press.
Chomsky, N. (1986) Knowledge of language. Praeger
McNamara, T.F. (1996) Measuring second language performance. Longman.
McNamara, T.F. (1997) 'Interaction' in second language performance assessment: Whose performance? Applied Linguistics, Vol. 18, No. 4. pp. 446-466.
Sperber and Wilson, (1986/1995) Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Blackwell.
Sperber, D. and D. Wilson. (2002) "Pragmatics, modularity and mind-reading." In Mind & Language, Vol.17. Nos 1 and 2. pp. 3-23.
Widdowson, H.G. (1983) Learning purpose and language use. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical investigations. Blackwell.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Agony of Mother Teresa

The new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, would be a gospel to militant atheists. As TIME on September 3, 2007 previews, in the book of collection of Mother Teresa’s letters that she wished to be destroyed, she candidly wrote surprising confessions as follows:

When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convincing emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. – I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

Mother Teresa, whom we regard as someone who only solaces somebody else, was consoled by Joseph Neuner, a well-known theologian.

I can’t express in words – the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me – for the first time in … years – I have come to love the darkness – for I believe now that it is part of a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it [as] a ‘spiritual side of your work’ as you wrote – Today really I felt a deep joy – that Jesus can’t go anymore thorough the agony – but that He wants to go through in me.

Indeed, a faith might be a fake. Believers may be those who suppress and deceive themselves. At least, one can be pretty sure that a faith does not promise a perfect life.

So it’s not surprising that a devout Christian becomes agnostic, like a Los Angeles Times journalist William Lobdell (The Japan Times, August 2, 2007). After investigating a number of scandals – financial or sexual – involving religious institutions he began to question his firm belief and asked for help to a pastor by throwing tough questions, expecting a convincing answer. The answer the pastor gave, quoted below, did not satisfy the journalist.

My ultimate affirmation is let God be God and acknowledge that He is in charge. He knows what I don’t know. And frankly, if I’m totally honest with you, a life of gratitude is one that bows before the Sovereign God arguing with Him on those things that trouble me, lamenting the losses of life, but ultimately saying, ‘You, God, are infinite; I’m human and finite.’

The journalist concludes his article as follows:

Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. And there’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.

So, it seems that to some people, faith is simply given, no matter how she or he likes or dislikes it. The believer may become secularly happier or not for the faith – but that’s not a point. Agony is a part of a religious life, as it is a part of a secular life. After all, it is Jesus who said this.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Matthew 27:46

Friday, August 24, 2007

A tender painter of negative spaces

Until a friend of mine in England asked for my opinion in e-mail about Haruki Murakami's After Dark, I kept forgetting that I haven't read the novel. I've lost time and peace of mind to read a novel for many months.

TIME on August 20, 2007 carried a short article on the Murakami. One quotation in the article is worth citing here.

"Murakami is a tender painter of negative spaces."
John Updike

He is. That's why we read his works. In the blinding light of positive spaces of our secular world, I need darkness to keep my vision.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Pluralistic understanding of history

On July 3, 2007, Fumio KYUMA resigned as defense minister for saying what a majority of American people would agree with: the two A-bombs “could not be helped” as a means to end the war and block Soviet influence over Japan. The Japan Times ran a headline, “Attacks just bid to end war, keep Soviet at bay, or one huge atrocity?” I disagree with the use of “or” here. I believe that the A-bombs were a bid to end the war and keep Soviet away, AND one hideous atrocity. Pluralistic understanding of history is required.

Even in natural science, all claims are merely hypotheses. To borrow a Popperian term, scientific claims are the ones that have only survived the tests of falsifiability. It’s not the case that they are positively proven to be true. They are simply not proven to be false. Therefore, even in science, different claims on the same matter are possible.

Most historical claims are not even falsifiable: they are often interpretations quite compatible with other different interpretations. The above claims concerning the A-bombs are interpretations, not basic facts which are either true or false. It is not inappropriate to have different interpretations at the same time.

Rather, I fear the urge to have one true interpretation. You may have a better interpretation, but not the supreme interpretation. You may have more interpretations, but not the only interpretation.

It is the same with understanding. I fear a “correct understanding of history” by the “Ministry of Truth.”

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Ministry of Truth

On June 22, 2007, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously demanded that the Japanese national government retract its recent instruction to “correct” high school textbooks regarding the description of the involvement of the Imperial Japanese Army in the mass civilian suicides during the Battle of Okinawa.

The assembly protested, “It is an undeniable fact that mass suicides could not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military,” according to the Japan Times on June 23.

On June 20, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe succeeded in passing three education-related bills. One of the bills, the revised school education law, states that students must be led to a “correct understanding” of the nation’s history.

Taking these reports together, I wonder if the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly can be deemed as violating the new school education law, at least in spirit. The law states that an “attitude of loving the nation” is one of the important education goals, as well as a “correct understanding” of the nation’s history.

By the act of instructing the textbook publishers to “correct” their understandings of the Imperial Japanese Army’s involvement in the mass civilian suicides, the Japanese government claimed, I have to assume, that it holds the authority to decide a “correct understanding” of Japanese history.

One can argue, then, that the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly defied the “correct understanding, ” thus deliberately neglected the “attitude of loving the nation.”

As far as I know, recent comments by the Prime Minster and the Minister of Education were not so apparently oppressive. However, I regard deeds of politicians more important than their words, particularly in Japan, where words are often twisted or empty in politics.

The official English name of the Ministry of Education, Japan is extremely long: the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology. (The government invented a nice-sounding acronym, “MEXT.”)

In one April Fool article on my Japanese homepage some years ago, I once fabricated a false report and stated that due to public complaint that the name was too long to remember, the ministry decided to rename itself The Ministry of Truth.

I hope this April Fool article is still understood as a joke.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A beginning of the end of Chomskyan regime?

By John Colapinto
The New Yorker, April 16, 2007, pp. 118-139

The report by Daniel Everett in Current Anthropology is either revealing or disturbing depending upon your perspective in cognitive science. He claims that, in Pirahã, a language spoken by an indigenous people of Amazonas, Brazil, recursion is not observed. This The New Yorker article quotes the words of Steven Pinker on Everett’s claim, “a bomb thrown into the party.” The article deals with human aspects of the people involved in the investigation and the debate, as well as highly intriguing features of the language and the people who speak it. It is an intellectually entertaining introduction of the issue.

I never pretend to proclaim the end of the Chomskyan theory of language after only reading this 11 page long article in a weekly magazine. But surely something interesting is going on in linguistics!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The way we talk about ourselves

By Larissa MacFarquhar
The New Yorker, February 12, 2007, pp. 58-69

Neuroscience changes the way we see and talk about ourselves. Here is a quote from The New Yorker article on Paul and Patricia Churchland.

One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a miniute.” (p. 69)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

No-body is above the law

As The Japan Times reported on May 16, 2007, Japanese media were relentless when a former judge Norimichi Kumamoto broke the silence of four decades and went public to confess that he in fact believed that Iwao Hakamada was not guilty when he and his senior judges sentenced the defendant to death ‘by consensus’. The media was harsh not for the fact that the former judge was unable to persuade his seniors to acquit him in the social pressure of the time forty years ago. They instead blamed the former judge for flouting a law prohibiting judges from disclosing deliberations.

Yes, nobody is above the law. That principle includes the former judge. He should be under the legal obligation to remain silent about the decision process in the court.

But, I mean, no-body is above the law.

Then, God is above the law, for he/she/it is no-body.

If I were him, I would have chosen to confess the wrongdoing as he did, for I respect something above the law more. At least I don’t want to join the criticism of the former judge, for I believe he did a right thing after he had done a wrong thing. Confession of the secret may constitute a legal crime, but turning away from God is a sin.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

If medical doctors need more observation and reflection through communication...

What’s Wrong with Doctors
by Richard Horton
The New York of Review of Books, May 31, 2007, pp. 16-20.
(A review of How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, Houghton Mifflin)

Impressive as the recent progress of SLA research is, the progress of medical science is no comparison of it. The success of modern medicine is indeed phenomenal. It would take more than huge optimism to hope that SLA research will, say, in twenty or thirty years, reach the stage that current medical science has reached so far.

That does not mean that medical doctors, on the stage that SLA researchers and practitioners can only dream of, are free from any problems. In the review article by Hortton (the editor of Lancet), Groopman, a cancer specialist and occasional writer for The New Yorker, claims that “there is a common flaw that undermines much of contemporary medical education and training, as well as the partnership between patient and doctor and even the professional values of medicine.” (p. 16). In Groopman’s view, the evidence-based approach, with all statistics, guidelines, and algorithms, may be “ill-informed by the realities, complexities, and uncertainties of medical practice.” (p. 16). With more emphasis on the evidence-based approach in medical education and training, doctors may simply stop observing the patient carefully.

Communication between the doctor and the patient, which was not necessarily encouraged with enthusiasm in the past, actually helps the doctor to observe the patient more, and to reflect upon his own practice more.

More observation and reflection through communication.

Have we not heard this elsewhere? Isn’t this also what is required for language teachers? If medical doctors need more observation and reflection through communication with patients despite the heap of the scientific ‘evidence’ in medical science, language teachers, with far less scientific understanding of their field, need far more of them through communication with learners.

How much and how well have you communicated with your students today?

Are our professional values sound enough?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Understanding ‘understanding’

The following is a reconstruction of my oral report of the session “understanding ‘understanding’” on Day 3 of the 1st Oxford-Kobe Seminar (March 17th, 2007). The session was called for by Prof. Leo van Lier when he expressed some concern with the central notion of ‘understanding’ in Exploratory Practice after the plenary speech by Dr. Dick Allwright was delivered on Day 1. My oral report was presented in the final plenary session of the seminar.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is a report of the session “understanding ‘understanding.’”

For literally 90 minutes, we kept talking about the notion of understanding. For me, it was one of the best intellectual discussions that I’ve ever participated in. And now your request is to summarize the whole 90 minute argument in a few minutes. What a demand! So you have to forgive me that what I’m going to report from now is my version of summary.

OK, let’s start with a hypothetical episode.

A good teacher understands her class very well. When asked what she really understands, though, she may be lost for clever words. “I know my kids.” She may say. “I understand what’s going on in my classroom.” However, she may stop there.

Is she stupid? No, I don’t think so.

She knows what to do in her classroom and how to do it, both in usual situations and in problematic situations. She’s a wise practitioner with a good understanding of her practice. What does this discrepancy between words and deeds suggest?

What I believe it suggests is that we need to distinguish the following two: a representation of understanding and understanding itself.

A representation of understanding here means roughly articulated understanding or an explanation of understanding in words. My theory is that a representation of understanding is different from understanding.

First, let’s think about understanding itself. Understanding shows itself in perception and action in the world, as Prof. van Lier clarified this morning. A person with a good understanding knows what to do in the world. The better she understands, the better she sees and acts. The better she sees and acts, the better she understands. Understanding, perception and action work interactively in this ‘lived world.’ Understanding in this sense is acting in the world. It is living in the world. If we dare to use a Heideggerian term, understanding is being in the world.

If understanding is acting, living or being in the world, this explains how difficult it is for a practitioner to explain her understanding to an outsider or third person, someone who does not belong to the world, by means of words which are only abstraction from her being in the world. That someone does not act together in the world. He is not in the same world. If only he acts together, live together, is together, he’d probably understands better.

Is it impossible, then, to show our understanding to an outsider altogether? No, again. Understanding shows itself in our action, life and being in the world. If you’re making your classroom a better place to live in, it means your understanding is good and valid.

Also, a representation of understanding isn’t necessarily useless. Dialogue with your colleagues or inner dialogue with yourself in the form of reflective writing probably leads to a better understanding. By verbalizing your understanding, you become more explicitly aware of your being, living and acting in the world, although there always remains some part that is ‘too deep for words.’ What it is like to be in a classroom is a difficult question to answer in words. However, by trying to answer that question, you make your understanding clearer in a different way from leading and showing the life of your classroom.

Trying to understand understanding is a never-ending process (and perhaps a never-successful endeavor). To repeat, understanding is not equal to a representation of understanding. Relating to that point, I’d like to tell a joke about a ballet dancer who was interviewed what she wanted to express in ballet dancing. She allegedly answered that if she was able to express that in words, she wouldn’t dance! Any words would fail to explain your understanding completely, too.

To sum up, understanding is acting, living, and being in the world. It is different from a representation of understanding. But trying to represent our understanding may sometimes help us for a better understanding, thus a better life. Perhaps we should not stop trying to understand our understanding in our open dialogue.

On the last note, I’d like to mention what Prof. Dick Allwright said towards the end of our session. He suggested that perhaps in our discussion we limited ourselves to an intellectual or conceptual understanding. What we may need more may be an empathetic understanding.

Thank you for your attention.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A banal pacifist in Hiroshima

Having lived in Hiroshima for more than 20 years, I found it not easy to remain as a pacifist in this ‘Peace City.’ You receive criticism that to keep raising a voice for Hiroshima’s horror is only one sided. The A-bomb saved tens of thousands of the lives of American soldiers (and of course, battles in the mainland Japan, thus
Japanese lives). Plus, I used to live quite close to the A-bomb Dome. I saw the structure everyday on my way to and from work. The A-bomb became too familiar to me, as it were. To keep a critical awareness of nuclear issues was not easy.

Yes, being a pacifist in Hiroshima probably means living a life of cliché and banal peace talk. When critics said that the mantra of peace messages means nothing in real politics, I used to take their point. If becoming an intellectual requires you to stay away from banality, you cannot be a pacifist and intellectual at the same time.

But who assumed that you need to be an intellectual to be against war and nuclear armament? It may only take ordinary but determined and courageous citizens to prevent war and nuclear proliferation. Having read ‘Hurry up again please it’s time’ by Jason Epstein (The New York Review of Books, March 15, 2007, pp. 28-30), I once again realize that I am not, and choose not to be, an intellectual. I am naïve, impractical, blind and banal. I take the blame and choose to be a pacifist (I admit a minimum degree of self-defense, though).

As the title of the article suggests, Epstein thinks that we now need to do something to prevent possible future nuclear catastrophes in advance:

Assume the worst and most likely outcome: negotiations and threats fail and Shiite Iran a decade or less hence, like North Korea today, tests a bomb with impunity provoking its Sunni neighbors – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – to arm themselves accordingly. Or the Musharraf government falls and jihadis come into possession of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and A. Q. Khan network. Or perhaps Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites, precipitating a Middle East arms race fueled by a nuclear industry revived by the rising cost of fossil energy. (pp. 29-30)

Sounds too pessimistic? Epstein also writes:

Today’s impending nuclear arms race echoes the frenzied militarization of a century ago when the European powers still had time to avert the senseless catastrophe that would soon befall their people, a catastrophe whose unforeseen consequences include, among others, the Bolshevik Revolution, Hitler, World War II, nuclear weaponry, the Holocaust, the cold war, and the unstable entity known as Iraq. Urgent disarmament proposals dismissed then as naïve, impractical, blind, and so on must be seen in light of the madness that followed to have been the greatest wisdom. It was the sleepwalking war makers who proved to be naïve, impractical, and blind as they led their countrymen into the abyss from which emerged the disasters of the twentieth century and beyond. The difference between then and now is that there may be no one left to render a similar retrospective judgment should the nuclear powers fail to disarm. (p. 29)

Again, some political analysts may well express reservation or disagreement. They may invite you to technical arguments. Technical arguments we need, but we need simple common sense more. We want no nuclear war. We want no nuclear proliferation. And in order to prevent nuclear proliferation, we must also urge the nuclear disarmament of the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France and China, as was agreed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty many decades ago.

No nukes! What a banal slogan! However, banality for goodness may be our way of resistance in a complex issue like international politics. Could common sense in the form of banality be the best policy? Here is a remark of Hermann Göring quoted in the above NYRB.

Naturally the common people don’t want war…. But, after all, it is the leaders… who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifist for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. (p. 30)

I’d like to keep receiving the denunciation as a banal pacifist in Hiroshima.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Inés K. Miller on Exploratory Practice

Some features transcend national boarders. As I learned more about Inés K. Miller (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) in the Oxford-Kobe Seminar, I just kept recalling the good teachers I meet in Japan, like TAJIRI Goro, for example. They’re all so enthusiastic, eager to convey something to us, always smiling, and ever trying to entertain us intellectually. Those who are good at teaching must share a lot of features in common no matter where they live.

Inés K. Miller was also a brilliant theoretician. Her presentation on Day 1, “Bringing Exploratory Practice into Teacher-Learner Development,” was full of insightful clarification and useful references. The following is my partial reproduction of her presentation material. I thank Inés K. Miller for her generous permission to publish this report on this blog. Any errors in this reproduction are of course mine.

Miller sees Exploratory Practice primarily as ‘work for understanding.’ She justifies this view by quoting the statement by Allwright (1997) that “understanding is the logical pre-requisite to any intelligent problem-solving or change for improvement, and that focusing on trying to solve a problem or change a situation before it is properly understood is a recipe for expensive mistakes.” She then extends the notion of Exploratory Practice as “discursive space that offers learning and/or awareness-raising opportunities for involved practitioners – learners, teachers, teacher-consultants and teacher-learners.” (cf. Allwright, 2005; Miller, 2001)

According to Allwright and Miller, Exploratory Practice “aligns itself theoretically with human, non-technicist, non-reductionist, as well as developmental, process-oriented views of education.” Exploratory Practice, therefore, is in line with a number of theoretical perspectives such as:

(1) The sociointeractional perspective on ‘what is going on’ in human interaction (Goffman, 1974) and interactional inferences (Gumperz, 1982)
(2) The inherent complexity and idiosyncrasy of classroom life (Gieve and Miller, 2006)
(3) The ‘situatedness’ of human learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991)
(4) The inextricability between participant involvement and understandings in knowledge-making (Bourdieu, 1977, in van Lier, 1994; van Lier, 2000).
(5) Learning as social interaction (Gieve and Miller, 2006) or as a process of participatory inquiry (Reason, 1994, 1998), in communities of pracitce (Wenger, 1998)

With these theoretical backgrounds, Miller claims “the teaching practice component of a teacher education course appears as a privileged moment for recontextualising the Exploratory Practice principles and for bringing a reflective, human and non-technicist posture—into teacher development.” She wishes to “engage future teachers in thinking of pedagogic practice as ‘work for understanding’, and as a way of ‘being’ in the classroom and of valuing the ‘quality of life’ experienced in it.” She also wishes to create space in which a critical and reflective posture, curiosity, courage, creativity and trust for personal professional ‘intuition’ are encouraged. This is to “familiarize future language teachers with such notions as ‘the post-method condition’ (Kumaravadivelu, 1994), teachers’ ‘sense of plausibility’ (Prabhu, 1990), the ‘tact of teaching’ (Van Manen, 1991), and with the move from ‘teaching points’ to ‘learning opportunities’ (Allwright, 2005).”

In Inés K. Miller, I see an excellent example of a teacher-researcher who listens to the voices of learners and colleagues. I very much enjoyed being with her, as much as other participants of the seminar did. Being together. Isn’t this most important in life?


Allwright, D. 1997. “Exploratory Practice.” Unpublished manuscript.
Allwright, D. 2005. From Teaching Points to Learning Opportunities and Beyond. TESOL Quarterly, Alexandria, Virginia. 39, 1: 9-31.
Gieve, S. and Miller, I. K. 2006. Understanding the Language Classroom. Hampshire, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Goffman, E. 1974. Frame Analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Gumperz, J. J. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kumaravadivelu, B. 1994. The Post-method Condition. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 1:27-48.
Lave, J. and E. Wenger. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, I. K. 2001. Researching Teacher-Consultancy via Exploratory Practice: A Reflexive and Socio-Interactional Approach. Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Lancaster University, United Kingdom.
Prabhu, N. S. 1990. There is no best method – why? TESOL Quarterly, 24, 2:161-176.
Reason, P. (ed.) 1988. Human Inquiry in Action. London: SAGE Publications.
Reason, P. (ed.) 1994. Participation in Human Inquiry. London: SAGE Publications.
van Lier, L. 1994. Some Features of a Theory of Practice. TESOL Journal, 4, 1:6-10.
van Lier, L. 2000. From Input to Affordance. In J.P. Lantolf (ed.) Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning, 245-259. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Being ambiguous and ambivalent

What I perceive as a beauty of the argument of Empire/multitude is that it retains the ambiguity of globalization.

Globalization, I believe, is both good and bad, therefore, neither good nor bad. It is not right or wrong, either.

Ambiguity is not accepted in classical logic of mutual exclusivity. If something is A, it cannot be non-A. It is a contradiction that something is both A and not A. So natural science argues, too (except for modern physics, perhaps). Human world, however, retains much area which cannot be properly dealt with by classical logic or science. It is not prudent, therefore, to extend the logic of science to the ambiguous and indefinite human world, much of which is dictated by meaning and value.

In the mid-90s, when Japan stagnated economically and politically, I was fascinated by Hayek’s philosophy. Unlike the popular perception of it as an ideology for simple-minded Reagan and Thatcher (Reagan, by the way, may have been simple, but not necessarily unwise, as a recent article of New York Review of Books on March 1, 2007 claims), Hayek’s philosophy is more delicate than people assume and recognizes the limit of free market. The concept of “evolutionary rationalism” for free market (or catalaxy, as he calls it) is well contrasted with and juxtaposed to the concept of “constructive rationalism,” although admittedly he was highly critical of the latter.

Anyway, when the concept of free market was not a dominant one in Japan, I appreciated that idea and learned much from reading Hayek. However, Japan experienced Koizumi-Takenana reform in the early 2000s, and the word “free market” gained so much popularity, even into areas such as welfare and education. In response, I became rather critical of that word.

However, I never intend to throw away the word of free market from our discourse. No. I’d like to keep using the word, always retaining the ambivalence about the word. Free market must be counterbalanced by politics, but politics alone is not enough, either. Whether it is free market, politics, globalization or the spread of English, I’d like to remain ambivalent.

However, here is an example of a highly distinguished scholar who seemed to have forgotten the virtue of ambiguity and ambivalence. It is Milton Friedman.

In an essay entitled “Who was Milton Friedman?” (New York Review of Books, February 15, 2007, pp. 27-30.), Paul Krugman gives a threefold description of Milton Friedman as (1) the economist’s economist, (2) the policy entrepreneur, and (3) the ideologue. Krugman’s verdict is “there’s an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual.” (p. 27). A case in point is Friedman’s laissez-faire absolutism. It “contributed to an intellectual climate in which faith in markets and disdain for government often trumps the evidence.” (p. 30)

Toward the end of the essay, Krugman concludes:

What’s odd about Friedman’s absolutism on the virtues of markets and the vices of government is that in his work as an economist’s economist he was actually a model of restraint. As I pointed out earlier, he made great contributions to economic theory by emphasizing the role of individual rationality – but unlike some of his colleagues, he knew where to stop. Why didn’t he exhibit the same restraint in his role as a public intellectual?
The answer, I suspect, is that he got caught up in an essentially political role. Milton Friedman the great economist could and did acknowledge ambiguity. But Milton Friedman the great champion of free markets was expected to preach the true faith, not give voice to doubts. And he ended up playing the role his followers expected. As a result, over time the refreshing iconoclasm of his early career hardened into a rigid defense of what had become the new orthodoxy. (p. 30)

Orthodoxy and iconoclasm. Restraint and political movement. Isn’t being ambiguous and ambivalent important for everyone?

Monday, April 2, 2007


This article is to promote the activities of WITNESS.

WITNESS uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations.

WITNESS was founded in 1992 by musician and activist Peter Gabriel and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation.

I see in WITNESS an example of empowerment of multitude, diversified yet networked individuals.

The combination of human rights awareness and advanced technology gives power to individuals as multitude to change the courses of the policies of some nations. English serves here as an extremely convenient means of global communication.

I am proud that I am a teacher of that language.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Judith Hanks on Exploratory Practice

Workshop “International Perspectives on Exploratory Practice” and Symposium Speech “Inclusivity and Collegiality in Exploratory Practice”, both by Judith Hanks (University of Leeds, UK) on March 15th, 2007, the first day of the Oxford-Kobe Seminar, were very helpful for illuminating the concept of Exploratory Practice. The following is my partial report of the two presentations (Some materials are reproduced as quotations from her handouts.). I appreciate Judith Hank’s kind permission to let this reproduction appear on this blog. Any mistakes in this article are of course entirely mine.

In her workshop speech, Hanks introduces the principles of Exploratory Practice as follows:

(1) Put ‘Quality of Life’ first
(2) Work towards understanding (not problem-solving or ‘improvement’; reject change for change’s sake)
(3) Work collegially (share with colleagues)
(4) Work inclusively (work to bring people together)
(5) Work for mutual development
(6) Put learning first, and make the research help the learning, and so avoid burn-out through overwork.
(7) Work towards a sustainable enterprise of learning, teaching and research.
Judith Hanks (2007)

It seems to me that Exploratory Practice can be interpreted as a third wave of research movement in TESL research. The first wave, scientific research, established itself in the 1980s probably, but its rigorous approach turned out to be sometimes frustratingly irrelevant for practitioners. Action research as a second wave in the 1990s was in one sense a reaction to the rigorous first wave in that it promoted actions than truth-finding. However, when action research becomes extremely action-oriented (or action-obsessed), it does not prioritize the quality of life of those involved. Contemporary educational institutions are indeed under heavy pressure for constant changes and reforms. Plans are always prepared for ‘problem solving’ and ‘improvement’ must be measurably demonstrated to a third party for ‘accountability.’ However, this trend sometimes leads to burn-out of the practitioners. In the long run, an unsustainable enterprise (‘change for change’s sake’) benefits no one. Furthermore, if the problem is a misconceived one due to lack of proper understanding, neither the result nor the process of the action will be of any help for anyone except, perhaps, for an administrator who only reviews the action on paper. Rather a teacher should be encouraged to better understand herself and her colleagues. Together with her colleagues, she should involve her students (and some researchers as well) for their mutual development in the language classroom. A joy of fellowship and mutual cooperation must be brought back to the practice of education. Quality of life, sustained by deeper understanding of the practice of education, must come first, for without it, no proper action or improvement is possible.

In the conclusion of her workshop speech, Hanks writes as follows:

In many ways, EP is not trying to do anything new or radically different in the classroom. Rather it is advocating the integration of classroom language learning research with teaching and learning. In this way, we hope to harness what we already do in order to find out what we (teachers and learners) want/need to know about our lives in the classroom. The aim is to deepen our own understandings of what it is to be involved in classroom language learning – to ‘live’ the experience.
Judith Hanks (2007)

The expression of “to harness what we already do in order to find out what we want/need to know” just reminded me of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigation. Wittgenstein gives a more radical view of description (taken here by me as verbalization of understanding) as opposed to explanation (as advancement of a new theory). Perhaps his contrast between description and explanation or between philosophy and science is sharper than necessary, but it is helpful (and even therapeutic) to neutralize our urge to theorize everything by scientific method.

It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientific ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically 'that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think such-and-such' ---- whatever that may mean. (The conception of thought as a gaseous medium.) And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations Section 109)

Indeed we may not have to advance a radically new scientific theory to know our classroom language learning properly. Teachers and learners may already know enough, if only tacitly. All we need may just be to communicate with each other to learn ourselves in the classroom better. Researchers may promote that communication by providing proper terms and expressions, or by translating spoken discourse of practitioners into written discourse for publication.

As Hanks cites Flybjerg (2001: 2), “phronesis goes beyond both analytical, scientific knowledge (episteme) or know-how (techne) and involves judgments and decisions in the manner of a virtuoso social and political actor.”
Bent Flyvbjerg (2001) Making Social Science Matter

I wonder if we may roughly correlate scientific research and episteme, action research and techne, and exploratory practice and phronesis. Episteme (in the sense of scientific knowledge), revealed by scientific research, may be very fundamental to the practice of education. Techne, demonstrated by action research, may be very useful for those who need some new action for improvement of teaching. Yet, episteme and techne may not reach the heart of the matter. Phronesis, which is often tacit and implicit in the understanding of practitioners, may be the real potential for truth and action. It may be the case that unless episteme (scientific knowledge) and techne are incorporated into phronesis (understanding) of practitioners, episteme and techne are not properly understood in the context of practice. As practitioners, teachers and learners have their own phronesis. Their phronesis lies in the core of their judgments and behaviors, waiting for our explication. Exploration of that phronesis through proper use of language in communication may be our priority.

Forthcoming is her coauthored book with Dick Allwright, The Developing Learner (Palgrave Macmillan).

Judith, we’re very much looking forward to this book!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

“Exploratory Practice” in the Oxford-Kobe Seminar

The following is my first report on the Oxford-Kobe seminar (see the bottom of this article for the detail of the seminar). On behalf of all the participants of the seminar, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to the chief organizer, Tatsuhiro YOSHIDA (Hyogo University of Teacher Education), other organizers and financial and non-financial supporters. For me, it was by far the best academic conference.


One of the important features of Exploratory Practice is inclusiveness. Exploratory Practice tries to incorporate the lived understanding of learners into the practice of teaching. It regards learners as full collaborators in the research process because they are recognized as practitioners in their own right.

This is, in a sense, a declaration for a new direction for language teaching research. It is important that this statement is made by one of the most renowned TESL researchers in the world, Dr. Dick Allwright. I may paraphrase the statement as “Researchers should listen to the voice of teachers who listen to the voice of learners.” A friend of mine further paraphrased it jokingly as “Researchers should have a listening skill!”

Over many years, researchers have tended to preach to teachers without really understanding teachers. They often select their favorite theoretical topic and impose their perspective upon the practice of teachers as if they knew better. Teachers, in turn, often preach to learners and give unsympathetic criticism without really understanding what it is like for them to learn a second/foreign language in their local context. They tend to pay less attention to their students’ identities.

This “pecking order,” as you might say, may represent our hierarchy of control and dominance. Researchers protect their social authority by trying to control and dominate teachers, and teachers, then, protect their own by doing the same to learners. This is not a structure of mutual cooperation.

It is not of course true, though, that learners always know better than teachers, and teachers than researchers. They are all puzzled by the reality of the practice from their own point of view. This is why they have to bring their understanding to the mutual arena for joint-exploration. Some researchers may have better academic skills for exploration than teachers and learners, but that does not mean that they should take control of what teachers and learners should think and do.

This direction of language teaching research may not be entirely new, though. I, for one, have been trying to understand competent teachers in Japan over the past 10 years. I listen to what they say. I also observe what they do to further listen to what they don’t say. This approach, however, has not always been accepted as an academic inquiry, as it has often been regarded not as “scientific.” I refrained from writing for academic publication by this approach for the fear of being rejected with unkind words of non-understanding. Instead, I kept writing reports and essays on my Japanese homepage. The text of the homepage now exceeds 8 MB.

This sheer amount of the text may partly explain my joy when I heard the Plenary Lecture by Dick Allwright, the Workshop by Judith Hanks (University of Leeds, UK), and the Symposium by Judith Hanks, Assia Slimani-Rolls (European Business School London, UK) and Ines K. Miller (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), all on Exploratory Practice. My joy turned into excitement when I had a conversation over dinner with Prof. Leo van Lier (Monterey Institute of International Studies, USA), with whom I shared much philosophical interest.

Exploratory Practice, as I understand it, a democratization of the practice of education. Democracy is preferred here because it will explore more truth and justice in the complexity of the interwoven life of education. Natural science reveals truth in a highly rigorous way, but the highly regimented scientific truth may not always be relevant for exploring our pluralistic life in its socio-cultural context.

Exploratory Practice is a humanistic enterprise as well. It seeks a better life of learners, teachers and all those involved in education. I, as a researcher-teacher, would like to join in this practice of exploration.

The 1st English Education Seminar
KOBE, JAPAN, 14-17 MARCH 2007


In August 2005, St. Catherine’s College (University of Oxford) Kobe Institute, Hyogo Academic League, and Hyogo University of Teacher Education planned an international seminar on innovative research in the filed of English language teaching by inviting scholars from UK, Europe, USA, and Asian countries.
In the seminar, “Understanding the Language Classroom and New Directions for Language Teaching Research”, will invite leading scholars of ‘classroom research’ to discuss various issues for three days. The main feature of the seminar is Exploratory Practice (EP), emphasizing the ‘quality of classroom life’.
Other topics are research on learner strategies, experiential learning, teacher education, ecological approach to language learning, and English language teaching in Asian countries. Poster sessions also are held.
It is our expectation that the seminar will give an impact on both academic and practical language teaching worldwide.

The organizers are grateful to the Daiwa Japanese-Anglo Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation for their grant; and Hyogo Board of Education, British Council and Hyogo Academic League for their support.

Key organizers:
T. Yoshida, Hyogo University of Teacher Education
D. Allwright, Lancaster University
E. Macaro, University of Oxford


Speakers are by invitation only: they are all famous researchers who are working actively in each area and present their work for discussion. Poster presentation is also set for younger researchers. We will help and encourage young researchers, undergraduates and postgraduates to attend and present the poster.
The following scholars have agreed to present papers at the Seminar:

Dick Allwright (the former professor of Lancaster University, UK)
Naoko Aoki (Osaka University, Japan)
Judith Hanks (Leeds University, UK)
Yongsuk Kim (Daegu National University of Education, Korea)
Viljo Kohonen (University of Tampere, Finland)
Ernesto Macaro (University of Oxford, UK)
Ines Miller (Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Yoshiyuki Nakata (Hyogo University of Teacher Education)
Assia Slimani-Rolls, (the European Business School in Regents Park, UK)
Craig Smith (Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Japan)
Osamu Takeuchi (Kansai University, Japan)
Ken Tamai (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Japan)
Ngo T. P. Thien (University of Social Science and Humanities - Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam National University, VietNam)
Leo Van Lier (Monterey Institute of International Studies, USA)
Shinichiro Yokomizo (Saga University, Japan)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

John Lennon, the Darfur crisis and you

Maybe I get excited just too easily.
Maybe I like John Lennon just too, too much.

But just take a look at this site by Amnesty International.
Look John in the eye.

Learn about the Darfur crisis, as I did a couple of minutes ago.

A frivolous guy like me can have a surging interest in one of the global issues like this. The phrase “the Darfur crisis” will certainly catch my attention from tomorrow. This learning, superficial though it is, is driven by John Lennon / Yoko Ono, R.E.M., and Amnesty International, but made possible by the internet.

A Japanese friend of mine in the U.S. let me know about this through Mixi, a social networking service in Japan. She and I have only in common one mutual Mixi friend and love of music. (I’ve never met her or the mutual friend in person.) This rapid spread of the news is unthinkable without the internet.

No, it’s not the internet that spreads the news. It is an open network, or a rhizome as you might say, of so many different individuals that hold certain similarities and relations with each other. These freely networked citizens with different identities can be called multitude.

And now you’re reading this article. (Who ARE you, by the way?)

We are one and many, or many and one.

Or am I just being manipulated by something or someone?
Do you like a conspiracy theory?

Monday, March 12, 2007

About my English in this blog

This blog was updated on March 12, 2007, for linguistic improvement. Special thanks to a Japanese blog which gave a critical view on my use of English in this blog. A specific correction of the word order in my article (Reading Haruki Murakami in English) was very helpful. I regret the mistake.

However, regarding the use of a phrase “cultural icon,” my quick Google search found a description in the National Geographic magazine.

“A handful of men and women are important enough that they are remembered for decades, even centuries, after their deaths. This lesson links geography with world issues of the 20th and 21st centuries by identifying cultural leaders or icons from around the world who have impacted the social, political, or environmental views of their countries. Students will explore the definition of "cultural icon" and study at least one cultural leader and his or her part of the world in detail.”

The use of the phrase “cultural icon” in this quotation may support my use of the expression in the article of “Reading Haruki Murakami in English,” although the above Japanese blog article (the version of March 12, 2007) says the phrase “cultural icon” should be avoided in the context of my article (See the Japanese quotation below).

For further mistakes or other sorts of linguistic deviations, I will revise them when I notice or am notified by other kind readers. I’d appreciate your kind cooperation.

Incidentally, no proof-reading by a native speaker is done when articles in this blog are written. I regret and apologize for the errors and linguistic deviations in advance. I believe international communication is more important than perfection in language, although I fully acknowledge the responsibility of TEFL professionals for improving their proficiency in the target language.

Thank you for your attention.

The quotation from the article at
On March 12, 2007

★ cultural icon という言い方は通りがいいのか

そもそもcultural icon という英語を耳にしたことがないので、ネットで検索したら、まっさきに Wikipedia のエントリーが挙がりました。その説明では、An object or person which is distinctive to, or particularly representative of, a specific culture.(特定文化を他とはっきり分け、あるいは、格別、象徴的と言える物品や人)となっていますので、「文化の象徴」に相当する言葉であることがわかります。これは例として、イギリスの山高帽、アメリカのジョン・ウェイン、そしてアップルパイが挙がっていることからもわかります。

たかがウィキペディアですが、いちおう、これを基準とする限り、夏目漱石、樋口一葉、そして福沢諭吉を指して、「日本文化の象徴」とは言えないでしょうから、この cultural icon は使えそうもありません。

お前ならどうするんだと言われたら、作家と評論家をひとからげにして literary and cultural figures といったところでしょうか。おおぎょうになってもよければ、luminaries も使えます。

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Multi-voices in TAJIRI Goro's classes

Below is the proposal of my poster presentation at The 1st English Education Seminar, KOBE, JAPAN, 14-17 MARCH 2007

This presentation is partially based upon my article available at:

Multi-voices of a “charismatic” Japanese English Teacher

Hiroshima University

In the classroom of TAJIRI Goro, who has been featured as a “charismatic teacher” by the Japanese edition of Newsweek, NHK (the Japan Broadcasting Corporation), The Daily Yomiuri, and other medias, different qualities of voices are heard from him and his students. This presentation is an analysis of the multi-voiceness of his classroom. I offer two cases for analysis.

Case 1 is public speech-making by his three junior high school students. It was recorded in the very last lesson of the three years of their junior high school life. The school life had started in a very uncomfortable, even hostile atmosphere. In the agonizing days of troubles in the first year, Tajiri decided that the troubles were due to the lack of proper communication. He pledged himself to drastically improve the quality of classroom life by teaching English, a foreign language as it was for the students. He anticipated that English lessons for communication would contribute much to the students’ daily communication in the first language. The three speeches of the students clearly show that the speeches are more than the result of the mastery of one school subject: The students revealed themselves honestly or even courageously to the classmates. The speeches in a language which was foreign to the students created a new horizon of communication.

I quote from the philosophy of Hannah Arendt to analyze the quality of the voice of the speeches. The speeches were human actions in Arendt’s sense in that they enabled the students to appear in the human world. That is, by showing who they were in a classroom, the classroom became a public realm for them, where they could safely express and appreciate their different identities. It is also inferred that this creation of a new identity and relationship would have been probably very hard in Japanese, which was too familiar and direct to the students.

Case 2 is a videotaped material of Tajiri’s recent lessons (the first grade: the video was recorded by the current reporter). They were no special lessons and the ordinary reality of the classroom was observed. The lessons were three successive ones which shared almost identical format. However, they were anything but monotonous. The classes were full of human voices, which were quite unlike the stereotype of Japanese lessons, which are sometimes compared to a “factory” of knowledge. Of particular interest were Tajiri’s multi-voices. He used Japanese, English and body language, but they were to be further divided into subcategories. Japanese was sometimes the standard Japanese, other times、Kansa-dialect or Izumo (local) dialect. English had no regional variations, but the tone, speed, prominence, and acting varied a lot. Body language had different varieties and all of them were quite expressive. These varieties of the three languages were not randomly used or merely juxtaposed incoherently. They varied according to the demand of the situation and educational purposes. They were integrated in the personality of Tajiri and the classroom atmosphere.

After presenting the analysis of these different voices, I argue that it is comparable to the notion of plurilingualism proposed by the Council of Europe. It sees communicative language ability as a complex or even composite one on which the user may draw as he or she wishes in the changing context of the situation. It seems as if Tajiri draws his best voice among his versatile repertoire to best serve his current purpose.

All in all, the classes of Japan’s “charismatic teacher” are much of human experience, full of different voices, each serving its purposes best. We may argue perhaps that classroom should be a free and public sphere where different human identities are shared for better communication, either in the first, the second or even some other language. The development of total and integrative communicative language ability is necessary for language teachers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Reading Haruki Murakami in English

One of the books I read on my way home from England about two weeks ago was a book by NATSUME Soseki, “Kusamakura,” known as “The Three-Cornered World” in English translation.

Natsume is one of the three Japanese cultural icons who are featured on yen notes along with FUKUZAWA Yukichi and HIGUCHI Ichiyo.

The book is a portrait-like description of a resort place in Japan by a protagonist as an amateur painter. It takes a form of a novel, but it is more an essay than a novel, from which readers usually expect some plot. Rather, it depicts scenes and people he saw. Between the descriptions, he inserts his thought on life. He is, or wants to be, detached from the human bond of the 19th century Japan. He calls his cool attitude towards life as “non-humanistic,” but not “anti-humanistic,” meaning that he is away from the secular human relationships of Japan, but nevertheless a human as an individual.

The Japan of the late 19th century was supposedly separated from the feudal samurai Japan, but it was far from a full-fledged “western” modern country. The protagonist is a symbol of the late 19th Japan, something hard to be identified in between the old feudal Japan and the modern westernized Japan. The dilemma is expressed by his occasional quotations from classical Chinese poetry and the 19th century English poetry. It is interesting to note that although the protagonist is such a modern intellectual as to recite English poetry as he walks along, he sympathizes more with Chinese and oriental taste. He is an ‘individual,’ not a common being in the old Japan, who still feels much sympathy with the old culture.

But for Haruki MURAKAMI, or MURAKAMI Haruki as we usually call him in Japan, cultural heritage of old Japan or China, or indeed things Japanese in general are not much of importance (see my article on March 4, 2007, ESL Empire of, by and for Multitude). He embodies a new Japanese icon of the 21st century, but he perhaps inherits the detachment and coolness of Natume Soseki as well. His protagonist is detached from the craze of money-monger society of contemporary Japan. He is “non-capitalistic,” but not “anti-capitalistic.” He retains his cool-style as an urban solitary person, yet is decent (and sometimes brave enough) in various matters. The hope you can feel from his novels is that decency in daily or routine matters of life leads you somewhere even in a troubled time. He dislikes self-righteous cliché and is ever trying to find laconic words to express his being. That style is readily translatable into various languages of this global society where people seek a hiding place of decency in the turbulence of global mega-competition and loud voices of self-righteousness.

My late 20s was very much influenced by Murakami Haruki. He ranks as one of the very few authors whose books have been all read by me several times. I identified myself with protagonists of his novels. I liked the life style described in his essays. My Japanese language was also very much influenced by the rhythm, tone and melody of his style. I still keep buying his books.

As I read Natsume Soseki’s Kusamakura on my way back from England, I wondered what it was like for him to be in the 19th century Japan. Perhaps on the next trip to England in April, it would be interesting for me to read Murakami Haruki, this time in English, the language of global convenience, wondering what it is like to be in Japan of the global world of the 21st century.