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Japanese English as an international variety of English


English is being used more and more as a language for international communication. Everyday people use English as a common language for business and tourism in countries all around the world. In fact, there are now more people in the world who speak English as a second language (L2) than as a first language (L1).

This widespread use of English is resulting in new international varieties known as World Englishes. L2 speakers use their first language knowledge and adapt the language to meet their needs. Sometimes words and expressions are used in new ways. Sometimes the sounds and rhythms are modified or substituted. Singaporean English and Malaysian English are two well-known examples of World Englishes.

So, how about Japanese English? Prof Nobuyuki Honna from Aoyama Gakuin University is President of the Japanese Association of Asian Englishes (JAFAE) and Chief Editor of the Asian Englishes journal. He and his colleagues propose that Japanese English should also be considered an international variety of English. According to Prof Honna:

“Japan’s Anglophile English teaching program has strongly indoctrinated Japanese teachers and students with the concept of English as an American language. Japanese teachers and students underestimate Japanese English, a product of their strenuous learning efforts, simply because it is different from native speakers’ varieties, most probably from American English. However, once Japanese teachers and students of English discover what possibilities this international language can give them, they gradually come to understand the concept of English as an international language and develop confidence in Japanese English. They also display increasingly positive attitudes toward other non-native varieties of English.

Diffusion presupposes diversification. Specifically, a common language has to be a diverse language. This principle is essential in recognizing English as an international language. Japanese students can contribute to this cause by using the language as Japanese English. And all of us, who know more about English as such, should devise effective ways to explain the idea so that our students can a better understanding of the language they are learning as well as creating.”

[Honna, N. and Takeshita, Y. (1998). On Japan’s propensity for native speaker English: A change in sight. Asian Englishes, 1(1), 1-19.]


What do you think about Japanese English as a World English? How would this view influence English language teaching in Japan?


(Leah Gilner)