Tokyo Tech News

Discussion on foreign language education in a Global Age


Published: April 8, 2015

Lecture series for the launch of the Institute for Liberal Arts

In line with Tokyo Tech's ongoing education reform, the implementation of the new education system in April 2016 will bring with it the establishment of the Institute for Liberal Arts.

In preparation for this, the working group of the Institute for Liberal Arts is holding a total of seven lectures to examine the Institute's global-oriented approach on liberal arts from various perspectives. These lectures are only open to Tokyo Tech graduate students, faculty, and staff, but this report gives everyone a glimpse of the Institute's efforts in liberal arts education.

Lecture 2
Discussion on foreign language education in the global age

  • Panelists :
    Yoshifumi Saito Professor, University of Tokyo
    Shigeki Hori Professor, Keio University
    Hiroko Masumoto Professor, Kobe University
  • Date :
    February 24, 2015

For the second installment of the lecture series, three panelists distinguished for their knowledge of foreign language education, Professor Yoshifumi Saito (English), Professor Shigeki Hori (French) and Professor Hiroko Masumoto (German) held a discussion on the role of language in the global age. Tokyo Tech Professor Tarou Yamazaki of the Tokyo Tech's Foreign Language Research and Teaching Center moderated the discussion.

Three distinguished professors discussing foreign language education

Three distinguished professors
discussing foreign language education

To kick things off, Professors Saito and Hori expressed concern about the pervasive claims that mastering one's first language and English, a sort of scanty bilingualism, is all that is needed to achieve globalization. Hori pointed out that universities are promoting degree programs offered only in English, which is meaningful but nothing to boast about. The goal of university education is to offer students a wide range of opportunities to learn various languages and cultures, not just to provide English language education, according to Hori. His opinion that universities should be proud of the extensiveness of their education, the true source of globalization, was convincing.

A foreign language is a mother tongue of others, but learning it is an experience of cultural surprise. This thought, both conventional and modern, lies behind the opinions of Saito and Hori. Both professors emphasized that the thrilling experience of breaking out of one's mold and meeting others is necessary for cultural accomplishments in the real sense of the term, and is an absolute necessity for civilizations.

Based on her experience in dispatching researchers abroad, Professor Masumoto highlighted the issue of language and power, instantiating that the language used has a huge effect on the power balance between participants at international conferences, indicating a need for English proficiency sufficient for academic discussions. Although Masumoto's point may seem different from the opinions of Saito and Hori, it is not. The three professors all agree that university education is not a choice between mastering foreign languages as practical tools or utilizing them to enhance one's knowledge of culture and people. It must be both.

Discussions at the lecture ranged from the role of faculty teaching foreign languages to the situation of language education in Switzerland, a country known for its multilingualism. On the topic of foreign language education as a means of meeting others, a participant asked, "Some faculty members are geeky researchers. Are they really open enough to meet others?" This brought an air of excitement to the room.

Participants' questions went straight to the point
Participants' questions went straight to the point

Overall, the discussion provided an opportunity to not only focus on foreign language education itself, but also think about what a university and what a language is. The lecture reaffirmed the present-day importance of foreign language education at universities in terms of internal and outbound communication, and opened the door for similar discussion sessions in the future.

Tokyo Tech's Education Reform

For an overview of Tokyo Tech's education reform, please visit here.

Tokyo Tech's Education Reform


Institute for Liberal Arts working group