The Quest for Authenticity in Japan

This week we are publishing Richard S. Pinner’s new book Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global Language which examines the idea of authenticity in English language learning. In this blog post, Richard  explains how his quest for authenticity developed.

Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global LanguageWhen I came to Japan, I had no idea that I was beginning a quest for authenticity. Before moving to Japan, I worked in London. If I wanted to give my students an authentic experience of the English language in use, I just had to ask them to look out of the window. Their lives were inherently entwined with meaningful interactions in English, because they were living in an English-speaking environment. Authenticity seemed to be part of the package.

However, when I moved to Japan I realised that things are not so straightforward for the majority of English learners around the world. Creating meaningful and relevant experiences of using English became my number one challenge. I also became much more aware of the ‘soft power’ effect my cultural upbringing was now having on my students, as I selected materials which presented certain worldviews and ideologies. Things I had not previously considered became problematic issues. In London I represented the local; the one with insider knowledge, links and cultural connections. Working in Japan I was now an outsider, and I had to adapt myself just as much as the materials I was planning to use for my lessons.

My research into authenticity grew out of my research into motivation, and hence I approach the subject from a complexity theory perspective. What this means is that I now try to avoid over-simplifying or compartmentalising things, and I try to make my teaching about contextualised experiences rather than about materials. In order to do this, I have to focus on the individuals in my class and help them to find their own authentic voice in English. I also have to find a way of helping these individuals to bridge their way into a social community of English users.

Japanese learners are often written about in terms of motivation (or lack thereof) and there are many workshops held at conferences in Japan which address issues such as ‘silence’ in the classroom. The stereotype is that it can be hard to encourage Japanese learners to speak as themselves. In my own experience, I think this is an issue related to authenticity, and overcoming such obstacles is as much about the teacher changing their perspective as the students learning new skills. In the book, I try to explain the global situation of English language education as it relates to the construct of authenticity, while providing relevant examples from my own experience as a language teacher. I hope that anyone who reads it will find it interesting and empowering, because authenticity is a central component to successful second language acquisition.

Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language ContextsFor further information about this book, please see our website. You might also enjoy another recent title Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language Contexts edited by Rémi A. van Compernolle and Janice McGregor.

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