Model schools for language immersion programs in Japan: Katoh Gakuin; Gunma Kokusai Academy; Seiko Gakuen; Uji Ritsumeikan High School; Ota Kokusai Academy

The first documented language immersion program in Japan was established in 1992 at Katoh Gakuin in Numazu, Shikuoka. This partial immersion program began with a mere 28 students, and currently enrolls over 570 (Katoh Gakuen 2006). The success of the Katoh program has been widely documented in the popular press and professional literature (Yomiuri Shimbun 2005, Cummins 2000). The program has not only been successful in promoting high levels of English proficiency, but has also been documented to have promoted in students “more positiveattitudes towards another culture and heightened sense of their own cultural identity” (Downes2001:178). Graduates of the Katoh Gakuen immersion program have gone on to study at topuniversities both in Japan and abroad. The ability of its graduates to enter either English orJapanese-medium institutions of higher learning speaks to the high level of language proficiency attained through this particular immersion program.Following the success of the Katoh Gakuen immersion program, other schools in Japan have adopted similar approaches to bilingual education.

One such example is Gunma Kokusai Academy, a private school supported by the Ota Municipal Government which began a partialimmersion program in 1995. This program centers on the provision of almost 10,000 hours of English content instruction between the first and twelfth grades (Japan Times 2005).

Another example is Seiko Gakuen in Tokushima, which has been gradually expanding its partial immersion programs from primary through to junior and senior high school levels (DailyYomiuri 2005).

A further model is that of Uji Ritsumeikan High School in Kyoto, which has been operating an immersion program since 2000. Students entering this program with TOEFL scores in the range of 350 to 400 go on to achieve scores in excess of 600 upon graduation (Arai2006) – a proficiency level well in excess of the 525 to 580 range required for entry into mostuniversities in English-speaking countries. Ritsumeikan has also developed a university unique within Japan, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, in which university content is delivered in English to a student body consisting of over 40% foreign students. Other immersion programs are currently in planning stages in Chiba (Asahi Shimbun 2006) and Hokkaido.

The successful immersion  programs in Japan serve as a model for realizing just the kind of English language outcomes desired by the Ministry of Education. Programs such as Katoh Gakuen and Ritsumeikan Uji High School illustrate that immersion programs can be successful in Japan. While staffing such programs may initially be difficult, a slow and sustained buildup ofimmersion programs would produce teaching candidates with the experience and bilingual abilities required to staff new programs. While Japan’s educational system and curriculum has traditionally been highly rigid and centralized, the establishment of ‘special educational zones’provides increased flexibility in curriculum and program structure (Arita 2003).

It was within such a zone that the aforementioned Ota Kokusai Academy was established. In contexts where a full immersion program may not be feasible, the core method of immersion delivery, ‘content-based instruction’ (the use of the L2 as a medium of conveyingcontent information) could also be adopted in lesser degrees. The learning of language through content-based instruction promotes high levels of cognitive processing while simultaneously fostering motivation through the intrinsic nature of engaging new content (see Grabe & ).

— excerpted from: Immersion Language Education: A Model for English Education in Japan

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