What Makes Students Speak Japanese in Immersion Programs?

State Policy, School Curriculum and Individual Learners in Australia

Keywords: Japanese immersion, bilingual education, background speaker, heritage language, Australian curriculum, language policy


Language immersion programs, which are a form of bilingual education, are shaped by multiple factors, including the specific characteristics of the region, the language, the community and the learners, as well as national and regional policies on language education. While the underdeveloped production skills of immersion students have been identified as the product of teacher-centred and controlled learning environments, it is not known what role background or heritage language students play in the Australian one-way immersion context, where their presence itself potentially enhances the speaking environment. This paper, based on a project on developing speaking strategies for a Japanese immersion program in Australia, argues that the speaking performance of students in immersion classes is also determined by other factors, such as peer interactions with background students, whose treatment in education systems in Australia remains ambiguous, reflecting the history of separation between foreign language education in schools and the maintenance of mother tongues in the community. By applying Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), this paper analyses language policy and educational documents and discusses how the language performance of individual learners could be influenced not only by the curriculum but also by policy makers’ improved understanding of individual learners with diverse linguistic backgrounds within schools.

Author Biographies

Kumiko Katayama, Griffith University, Australia

Kumiko Katayama is a Lecturer in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University, Australia. She holds a PhD in applied linguistics from University of South Australia. Her research interests include second language acquisition (Japanese language), work integrated learning and most recently the roles of consumer co-operatives in rural Japan.

Kayoko Hashimoto, University of Queensland, Australia

Kayoko Hashimoto is Senior Lecturer at The University of Queensland, Australia. Her main research areas are language policy and Japanese language teaching in Asia. Her latest publications include an edited book, Japanese Language and Soft Power in Asia (2018, Palgrave Macmillan). She is a thematic editor (language and education) of Asian Studies Review.