CELFS Teaching and Learning Network

English Medium Instruction (EMI) in Japan

emiby Kaz Yamamoto

The number of English Medium Instruction (EMI) universities and universities providing EMI courses has been growing dramatically. In 2004, “all public universities became independent administrative corporations,” which lead to promoting flexibility and uniqueness in their curricula (Taguchi and Naganuma, 2006, p. 2). This reform was attributable to the establishment of EMI universities to attract both domestic and international students. Brown stated in his 2014 article that at least 25% of universities provide some types of EMI courses to undergraduate students in Japan. In these circumstances, there is a growing demand for professors who are capable of conducting classes entirely in English. These professors can be non-native English speakers, including Japanese. They might face particular difficulties when delivering EMI classes due to language fluency and cultural differences.

Language fluency can be a hurdle for certain non-native teachers in EMI. Many Japanese people grew up in an education system in which they practice very few communicative skills. They might have had assistant language teachers (ALT), but usually students do not have much time to participate in interactive activities with them: games and songs are often used instead. Furthermore, those communication lessons still tend to be memorisation-oriented such as reading dialogues out loud instead of communicating and interacting in English. Therefore, delivering courses in English can be challenging for those who underwent English education in Japan.

Different writing styles can also be a challenge for Japanese professors teaching EMI. Taguchi and Naganuma (2006) interviewed students in EMI programmes in Japan, and one said that during high school English classes, there was no essay writing, and they were doing sentence by sentence translation. In addition, Japanese writing tends to be “reader responsible,” and it is “indirect, implicit, and inductive.” On the other hand, English writing rhetoric is “direct and deductive” (Kubota, 1999, p. 12). Knowledge of these differences is essential for both teachers and students in EMI if they are not used to English academic essay writing. I did a presentation on these differences when I was teaching Chinese students during the pre-sessional because Chinese writing is also traditionally inductive. After this presentation, my students understood the core differences in order to change their writing habits.

Critical thinking is a crucial part of academic writing in English; however, in Japanese culture, students usually do not question professors’ opinions. As Kubota (1997) states, self-assertiveness is somewhat discouraged due to the virtue of kenkyo (modesty) in Japanese culture. Consideration for other people and maintaining harmony is more valued. In addition, Japanese teaching methods value rote learning over creativity and innovation (Kubota, 1999). Due to these differences, it is important to inform Japanese professors and students in EMI that critical thinking is not all about disagreeing (some students misunderstand), and it is an essential element in writing academic essays in English.

Pinpointing these possible problematics is important in order for universities to provide useful workshops for the teachers and to design appropriate course materials for the students.




Brown, H. G. (2014). Contextual factors driving the growth of undergraduate English-medium instruction programmes at universities in Japan. The Asian Journal of Applied Linguistics1(1), 50-63.


Kubota, R. (1997). A reevaluation of the uniqueness of Japanese written discourse. Written Communication, 14(4), 460-480.


Kubota, R. (1999). Japanese culture constructed by discourses: Implications for applied linguistics research and ELT. TESOL Quarterly, 33(1), 9-35.


Taguchi, N., & Naganuma, N. (2006). Transition from learning English to learning in English: Students’ perceived adjustment difficulties in an English-medium university in Japan. Asian EFL Journal8(4), 52-73.


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