(Re)imagining Japan’s Internationalization via Akogare [Desire]

We recently published Transcending Self and Other Through Akogare [Desire] by Chisato Nonaka. In this post Chisato talks about the need to get the discussion moving on Japan’s internationalization.

A whirlwind of events have taken place since my recent move (back) to Japan. Settling into a new job, finding a new apartment, meeting new colleagues and students (and remembering their names!), etc. but above all, I’m experiencing a serious case of reverse culture shock on a daily basis. So much so that I’ve started to wonder if I’ll ever “recover.”

For instance, I stand out like a sore thumb at high-level meetings, full of male directors and professors—mostly middle-aged and well into their careers. These meetings follow the agenda to a T and few express support for or opposition to the speaker.

Why do we hold a meeting if nobody really discusses anything? I asked a senior professor point-blank (capitalizing on my “naïve” and “relatively young” “female” positionality). The answer I received from him was shocking – “because there is no reason why we shouldn’t hold a meeting.” This response in fact provides a clue to understanding the complex nature of Japan’s internationalization.

The author on her wedding day

In my upcoming book (Transcending Self and Other Through Akogare [Desire]: The English Language and Internationalization of Higher Education in Japan), I focus on Japanese higher education and its ongoing internationalization efforts. While I don’t necessarily take up the above case in my book, I show that the apathetic and strait-laced attitude towards something different, new, and/or the so-called “non-Japanese” is quite telling of Japan. In other words, for the meeting attendees above, not holding periodic meetings is perhaps more troubling than sitting through them. This may sound all too familiar to those who have done research and/or worked in the field of higher education within and outside of Japan.

The akogare framework

What is unique about my book, however, is that I showcase multiple versions of “Japan” that we need to acknowledge and honor, in order to finally get the discussion moving. Specifically, through the construct of akogare [desire], I demonstrate that Japan’s internationalization is more than what the statistics and bar graphs can show. It is more than just the range of internationalization policies and programs that the government is advancing. It is in fact “us”—educators, students, and others who may not even be living in Japan—that are responsible and accountable for (re)imagining what Japan is and where Japan is headed in the coming years. It is my sincerest hope that educators and students in similar circumstances will find a meaningful and constructive connection to my work, and in turn, I look forward to engaging in a further dialogue with fellow educators and students.

Chisato Nonaka

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learning, Gender and Desire by Kimie Takahashi.

Language Policy and Mother Tongue Debate in Iran

This month we are publishing Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan which explores multilingual education in Iran through a series of conversations with leading multilingualism scholars. In this post, Amir explains why the language situation in Iran is so unique.

Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?More than 70 languages are spoken in today’s Iran, yet by law all school textbooks are written in Farsi (Persian). Farsi is also the only language of instruction throughout the country, even in non-Persian areas with vibrant linguistic lives and solid cultural identities. My new book, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education?, tries to discover how ideological discourses in Iran have allowed the dominance of monolingual schools despite empirical evidence that advocates otherwise. The book examines arguments that doubt the effectiveness of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran and, through conversations with four respected international scholars, it compares the Iranian situation with global experiences with challenges of establishing multilingual educational systems that regard students’ plurilingualism as a valuable resource rather than an obstacle.

A focus on multilingualism in the Iranian context is worthwhile due to a number of reasons. Despite the current official systematic resistance against the demands of Iranian ethnic minorities for classroom instruction in students’ mother tongues (which has left Iran well behind India and even China, Iran’s civilizational cousins) Iran has a long history of multiculturalism and multilingualism. Diversity has always been an integral part of social life in the Iranian Plateau since the very beginnings of the formation of greater Iran (through Iranian empires) up to the contemporary Iranian society. On the other hand, minoritized Iranian populations – to the best of our knowledge – have not experienced the violence similar to what has been imposed on minority cultures in the West through colonialism and imperialism, such as attempts to eradicate aboriginal cultures and racial segregation in education systems. Up until the early 20th century, when the Iranian government of the time imported Western educational models along with European nation state ideologies, Iranian languages organically mingled and interacted in learning centers as well as everyday social interactions. Who is Afraid of Multilingual  Education? asks what discourses advocating mother tongue-based multilingual educational have rendered a heresy over the past 100 years in Iran despite the multilingual fabric of the country. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Jim Cummins, Ajit Mohanty and Stephen Bahry critique these discourses in the book drawing upon examples of the experiences of minoritized students in different parts of the world.

The arguments against mother tongue-based multilingual education discussed in this book include nationalistic one-language-one-nation discourses that deem the dominance of a single language a necessary factor in creating a national identity; political visions that advocate that imposing one single language on minorities would empower them by providing them the ability to communicate and to trade their skills and products in larger markets and thus “succeed” in life; linguistic theories that attempt to prove some languages are naturally wired to be superior to other languages and thus are to be shared by all the members of society regardless of their linguistic backgrounds; economic speculations proposing that mother tongue-based multilingual education is an appealing and perhaps moral idea but too expensive to put into practice; and finally, post-colonial and anti-imperial anxieties that help the state treat legitimate demands for receiving education in the medium of students’ mother tongues as separatist desires.

Unfortunately, empirical evidence supporting the benefits of multilingual education for students and society at large is often comfortably ignored by politicians and mainstream media. Traditional academic publications also often fail to find their way out of closed professional circles and remain unread by the public, typically fed by more popular but less accurate forms of dissemination such as TV shows and mainstream news websites. As a result, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education? reviews the issues that the international language research community has struggled with in a more accessible interview format. Hopefully, the inter­views offered in this book and the analyses that follow them can open new horizons in the mother tongue debate in Iran, establish better communication between Iranian and international educators, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about multilingualism in the inter­national research community.

LDLR covers 2016For further information about this book please see our website. For other books in our Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights series take a look at the series page on our website.

Multilingual Art Studio

Last month we were delighted to announce that the winner of our 2013 Multilingualism in the Community Award was a project for a Multilingual Art Studio organised by RCS Haven based in Glasgow, UK. Here, Nina Ivashinenko, director of RCS Haven, tells us a bit more about the project and how the prize money will help them to develop their scheme further.

RCS HavenLocated in Glasgow, RCS Haven has become a beacon of hope for multiculturalism and multilingualism in a city filled with cultural isolation. Initially set up in 2004 to help people from ethnic minorities integrate into Scottish society, the centre has gone from strength to strength in recent years thanks to the tireless work of our volunteers and our members. It is our wish to preserve Russian language and culture for our children and for posterity while simultaneously providing a platform from which émigré Russians living in Scotland can better integrate themselves into Scottish and UK culture. We do this primarily by providing both Russian and English language lessons for adults and by educating our younger members in Russian language and traditions. The centre is now a hub for cultural exchange in Scotland. Through teaching, discussion, research, and building a community we hope to make RCS Haven an environment in which all Russian speakers can come together to exchange knowledge and help each other to integrate effectively into UK culture.

RCS HavenThe importance of such a centre existing in Scotland cannot be underestimated. The population of émigré Russians currently living in Scotland has risen by 70% in the past six years. The estimated population of people from Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union living in the UK is thought to have increased by over 300,000 in the same period. Without the kindness and support of groups like Multilingual Matters RCS Haven would struggle to continue to provide such a wealthy cultural exchange.

RCS HavenAs well as promoting and preserving Russian culture for everyone in Scotland, RCS Haven endeavours to provide more and more facilities for children. These facilities will include Russian and English language classes, maths and art tuition.

It is our intention to provide a cross-cultural, bilingual arts and crafts studio for children of diverse backgrounds. We encourage local children to engage in multicultural artistic traditions, while also promoting the use of language in a fun and creative way. The classes, for children aged 4 – 8, are opened every Wednesday from 5pm.

RCS HavenThese classes provide an exciting and unique opportunity for the children to become acquainted with multilingual art and artistic techniques through different languages such as English, Russian and Polish. Russia, for example, has a rich artistic history ranging from traditional Slavonic art, to socialist realism, to matryoshka doll painting.  For the children of the Russian and Polish speaking diaspora, the classes also provide an opportunity to meet and socialize with other children from the local area. It will also provide valuable practice for their English language skills and build their bilingual confidence. For the other children, the classes provide an opportunity to mix with children from the Russian diaspora and learn more about Russian culture.

This is a very exciting time for all of us here at RCS Haven and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Multilingual Matters for their generosity and support. Spasibo bolshoe!

Update from the Language Cafés Project

The Christmas Language Cafe
The Christmas Language Café

Although we’ve just announced the winner of our 2013 Multilingualism in the Community Award we haven’t forgotten our previous winners. We’ve just had an update from Mandy Bengts the organiser of the Language Cafés project (2012 winners) and she’s filled us in on what they’ve achieved this past year.

I have continued as organizer of the university’s cafés since our winning of the prize, for which I once again thank Multilingual Matters. Just last week, we held an event at the local library where we brought together international students, Swedish people and new arrivals to Sweden from countries as far apart as Nigeria and China, Iran and the USA. It was a Christmas café, where traditions and languages were shared, as well as some Swedish glögg (mulled wine) and saffransbullar (saffron buns), typical to a Swedish “jul” or Christmas, all financed by the prize money.

We have decided to add a “new” language to our language café menu each term, financed once again by the winning money. Last term and the one prior, we had cafés in Persian, hosted by a lady from Iran and attended by mainly Swedish people, which was very much our aim. Next term, I hope to add Thai as there are many people from Thailand in the local community, and what is more, Thailand as a holiday destination is extremely popular among Swedes. We have also added a few more items to our stock of café paraphernalia, such as flags and games.

So the idea is to use the money slowly and wisely and allow the café concept to grow alongside the concept of Multiculturalism in the Community.

For more information on the Language Cafés please see their website.

Winner of Multilingualism in the Community Award

Multilingual MattersWe are pleased to announce that this year’s winner of the Multilingual Matters Multilingualism in the Community Award is a project for a Multilingual Art Studio in Glasgow. The project is a cross-cultural, bilingual arts and crafts studio for children of diverse backgrounds. It aims to encourage local children to take part in multicultural artistic traditions, while also promoting the use of language in a fun and creative way. We will be posting further details about the project soon.

We received a lot of really good proposals this year and we’d like to thank everybody who took the time to apply for the award. It was a tough decision as all the entries proposed interesting ideas and initiatives and we’d like to wish all the applicants good luck with their projects.