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Home Journal Index 2021-3

“EFL + α”: Attitudes Towards English Use in Japan Around Necessity, Value, and Ability

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Eric K. Ku
Akita University, Japan

Gavin Furukawa
Sophia University, Japan

Mie Hiramoto
National University of Singapore, Singapore


English has a complex status in Japan. On the one hand, it is considered “foreign” in the sense of being the go-to, in-demand foreign language of study. On the other hand, it has had a strong influence in Japanese society in ways that are unique to Japan, such as the use of katakanago ‘Western loanwords’ as part of Japanese. This complex status is paired with equally complex attitudes towards the role of English in Japan. In this paper, we explore the connection between the status of English and attitudes towards English in Japan, or what we call “EFL + α” (meaning ‘with something extra or something special’ in Japanese). We examine data from a variety of sources in the public Japanese discourse relating to English use, ranging from online chat boards to official government documents. Based on our data, we notice three prevailing attitudes towards English use in Japan: English as an assumed necessity, English as unnecessary and overvalued, and English as a marker of general communication ability and intelligence. Finally, we suggest approaching the concept of “EFL + α” as a way of making sense of “English in Japan” not only as what is (i.e., variety of English is used in Japan), but also as what is being done (i.e., social and cultural practices around the role of English in Japan).

English as a Foreign Language, Japanese English, Asian English, World Englishes, Japan