Interviews with

Autonomous English Users

at Kyoto University

Transcripts AY2022

This project of interviewing autonomous English users at Kyoto University gathers the authentic voices of researchers and students who use English daily in various faculties and departments. The project is for students who are interested in raising awareness about learning and using English. It is also for teachers and administrators of English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) who want to deepen their understanding of English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP). The interviews were conducted in Japanese or English. They were translated into the other language by DELE. The interviewees' affiliation information, such as school year, department, and job title, was provided at the time of the interview.

Please select the interview that interests you below.


Faculty of Integrated Human Studies (Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies)

Yuuki Kitagawa (Graduate Student)   [Synopsis]  [Transcript]

Faculty of Letters (Graduate School of Letters)

Duncan Wilson (Lecturer)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]  Yoshifumi Minamitani (Associate Professor)    [Synopsis]  [Transcript]

Faculty of Education (Graduate School of Education)

Sachi Ando (Junior Associate Professor)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]

Faculty of Law (Graduate School of Law)

Please wait for a while.

Faculty of Economics (Graduate School of Economics)

Takafumi Kurosawa (Professor)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]

Faculty of Science (Graduate School of Science)

Kazutoshi Mori (Professor)  [Synopsis] [Video]  Hinako Murayama (Graduate Student)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]

Faculty of Medicine (Graduate School of Medicine)

Please wait for a while.

Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences (Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences)

Haruka Furuta (Graduate Student)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]

Faculty of Engineering (Graduate School of Engineering)

Mitsuru Honda (Professor)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]  Nao Yoneda (Graduate Student) [Synopsis] [Transcript]    Miwa Tobita (Graduate Student)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]

Faculty of Agriculture (Graduate School of Agriculture)

A.K. (Graduate Student)  [Synopsis] [Transcript]

Dr. Mitsuru Honda, Professor, Graduate School of Engineering (interview conducted in Japanese on July 19, 2022; approximately 5,000 words)

Mitsuru Honda


Graduate School of Engineering

“Smartphone translation is not a substitute for conversation between researchers.”

The interview was conducted in Japanese on July 19, 2022

The interviewer was Yanase from the Division of English Language Education (DELE).

DELE: Thank you very much for your time. I understand that you major in nuclear engineering.

Honda: Yes, my research major is nuclear engineering, which I studied in Kyoto University. However, I am currently affiliated with the Engineering Education Research Center.

DELE: Could you tell us how you currently use English in your work?


The Engineering Education Research Center conducts various projects that are related to overseas relations and the English language.

Honda: My work is divided between the Center’s operations and my own research. Recently, the Center had received donations from contributors based in the US for sending our students from the Graduate School of Engineering and the Faculty of Engineering to the US. The Center is overseeing the project. For instance, we will hold a send-off party on July 5, when the students will deliver their speeches in English. On this occasion, invited overseas researchers and lecturers from our Center will also share their previous experiences as students in the US.

I am also responsible for teaching English to the students. Over the past two years, I oversaw the running of a weekly course on “Exercise in Practical Scientific English.” I support students and facilitate discussions in English.

The Center supports international students and promotes the internationalization of the Faculty of Engineering, and ultimately, the university as a whole. For example, students from the University of Florida will be visiting us from the middle of June to the first week of August. The Center will host them, organize forums, and allow them to participate in English classes to interact with Japanese students. We are also planning a program to deploy them to various departments such as the Department of Architecture, the Department of Geoengineering, and the plasma-related laboratories of my department in the Graduate School of Engineering. The aim is to expose them to the atmosphere in the laboratories, and to interact with Kyoto University students. Brief presentations by the various departments will deepen their understanding of Kyoto University.

This month, an agreement was reached with the University of Florida at the university level. From the next fiscal year, we intend to promote more intensive exchanges between the two universities. For example, we held a meeting last week to discuss how Kyoto University can contribute to the University of Florida with the applications by its professors to fund internationalization programs in the US.

Besides these activities, we are also involved in a wide range of duties related to overseas relations and English language. This is the nature of work performed by the Center.


In my research, I serve on international project committees.

Honda: Another pillar of my work is research. My specialty is fusion plasma science. I first studied at the Department of Physics and Engineering before switching to the Department of Nuclear Engineering to obtain my doctoral degree. My research is very close to pure science. The ultimate goal of fusion plasma science is to utilize fusion plasma as an unlimited energy source to generate, for example, electricity. However, I deal with more fundamental issues, rather than the engineering process that leads to this goal. My research addresses the physical behavior of plasma confined in a fusion device through theory and numerical simulation.

As reported by the media recently, a device called ITER (The Way in Latin, formerly an acronym for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is currently under construction in southern France, and Europe and six countries (Japan, the US, Russia, China, Korea, and India) have pooled their money to finance the project. ITER is run as an international organization rather than as an international research project. For example, I hear that the Director-General of ITER is treated like the head of an international organization.

ITER is a huge project with a total construction cost of over 1.5 trillion yen. Since the project is based in Europe, half of the budget is held by Europe, and the rest is shared by the six countries. It is an extremely important project for Japan, as it has invested a huge sum of money in it. For this project, I serve as a member of the international committee in the study of physics. Since this is an international project, English is, of course, the working language. Recently, many meetings were held online due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Before the pandemic, I visited the site in southern France regularly, and often stayed for several days to hold meetings with researchers from around the world. I also presented my research at these meetings.

In addition, I was previously a fusion researcher at the National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology (QST), a research and development corporation in Japan. A new fusion device is being constructed as a joint project between Japan and Europe, which is expected to be completed soon. The device is funded by Europe at a cost of 20 billion yen.

This is the first time that Europe has invested such a huge sum of money in a device in Japan. In short, Europe invests over 20 billion yen and send European researchers to Japan to conduct joint research on nuclear fusion. As a big science, nuclear fusion has been transformed into an international project, and nothing can proceed without the use of English as the medium of communication. Whether you like it or not, English is the lingua franca [i.e., the de facto international language] of the world.


Students are aware that English is necessary. However, …

DELE: For researchers, the use of English is so commonplace that everyone accepts it as the lingua franca. Students are also aware of this situation, yet many of them either say “I will use it someday” or “I don't want to learn it right now.” They are unwilling to learn or use it. Am I right to say so?

Honda: Yes, that is correct. However, students today are different from those of my younger days. Their awareness is much higher than their predecessors. At the same time, Kyoto University offers excellent lectures in Japanese, even in specialized subjects. Therefore, from the perspective of undergraduates, English is only a language subject. It is not considered a tool to accomplish a task.

However, their perception changes after they become master’s students and begin to write papers or give presentations at international academic conferences. They also realize the need to describe their research outcomes in English. However, since presentations only occur once—or at most twice—a year, not many students consider learning English seriously.

In research, every paper is written and read in English. Students are well aware that they need to understand English in order to read textbooks and write papers. However, many of them upload English papers to DeepL and read them in Japanese. DeepL is, of course, useful and it translates technical texts very accurately. In fact, it seems to be getting better at doing so recently.

Science and Technology

If students rely on machine translation, they may not learn how to use technical terms.

Honda: Hence, I think that students today do not perceive English as a foreign language that needs to be mastered. They use AI tools to process it in a way that is not very much different from their mother tongue. Of course, it is important to obtain scientific information quickly. However, a reliance on AI translation can lead to various problems. For example, students may not know how to use technical terms in English. Although they may recognize English terms, they do not know how to use them in their proper contexts. Although they may be exposed to English, they are far from using it in their fields of study.

DELE: We—the older generation—only started using DeepL after we had gained a certain level of English proficiency. However, the younger generation has begun to use DeepL even before they become very proficient in the language. This generation has only a few years of experience with the use of AI technology. I am a little concerned about what this generation will experience later in life.

Honda: When they converse with English speakers, Japanese speakers may take out their smartphones to help them with translation. Smartphones have been developed to recognize the human voice and to aid translation. However, I do believe that communication done through the use of devices is a level below direct eye-to-eye communication. Research is based on the interaction between researchers, which is human contact. I am concerned that this foundation may be undermined by technology if we begin to believe that machines can replace human conversations.


Researchers should not talk to each other via their phones.

DELE: This is a hypothetical question: five or ten years from now, researchers who represent different countries gather at a plasma research conference. However, only the Japanese representatives take out their smartphones and participate in the discussion using AI technology. What do you think of such a scenario? Is it unavoidable?

Honda: I say no to that scenario. I have been telling my students that they cannot use their smartphones during their discussions with other researchers.

DELE: Can you elaborate on that point?

Honda: As I mentioned earlier, we do not talk through a device. Of course, a person with a hearing impairment, for example, may rely on written media. However, in most cases, devices only serve as barriers to communication.

When two parties speak through an interpreter, they may look at him or her. Technically, both parties are communicating between themselves, but they do not look at each other. Consequently, they fail to notice each other’s gestures. Hence, information is greatly curtailed in communication. This can lead to misunderstandings, and communication becomes more difficult.

It may be easier to understand literal meaning through the use of an interpreter or a device. However, it is difficult to create genuine human-to-human interaction through such means. Moreover, devices may not always be available. An over-reliance on machines can pose a very huge risk.


If a presenter's proficiency in English drops suddenly during a Q&A session, the audience may think that the presenter does not really speak English at all.

DELE: I also believe that the nonverbal aspects you have just mentioned, such as nuances and eye movements, are critical in communication. Nevertheless, there is a popular belief that presentation slides will suffice in a scientific presentation because they contain numbers and symbols. However, I am guessing that senior researchers make presentations that exceed this level.

Honda: Yes. However, there is a credible reason behind that belief. The slides are displayed in a large format, and the optical mouse or laser pointer helps to direct the audience’s attention. The audience is looking mostly at the screen, and not necessarily at the presenter who is only reading from a prepared script.

However, after a successful presentation, a glaring gap will emerge during the Q&A session if the level of spontaneous use of English by the presenter is very much below that of the prepared script. The presenter may suddenly stumble and fail to answer properly during the Q&A session. In a TED Talk, the speaker would move about and use gestures to address the audience. Although scientists are usually not that expressive, nonverbal communication does matter. A presenter who only reads from a scripted slide is, therefore, at a disadvantage.

The use of nonverbal communication is an important aspect of scientific presentations, even though it is not a primary concern. As I was saying, if an audience member who asked a question found out that the English proficiency level of the presenter dropped dramatically during the Q&A session, he or she may assume that the presenter did not understand English and concluded that it was pointless to continue the conversation. When this occurs, opportunities for future collaborative research will vanish. Since there is a shared belief by other countries that the Japanese are not proficient in English, I am concerned that an over-reliance on AI may turn that bias into an undeniable reality.

Machine Learning

AI technology allows Japanese lecture videos to carry subtitles in the original language and their English translation.

DELE: However, we cannot ignore the progress of AI technology. One of your projects involves the use of an automatic subtitling system in lecture videos. Could you talk about it briefly?

Honda: The subtitling system was originally developed for overseas KYOTO iUP students accepted by the Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences (ILAS). Although iUP students were admitted to the university without a need for them to meet any requirements for proficiency in the Japanese language, there is a need for them to acquire Japanese language skills to participate in specialized courses conducted in Japanese within two and a half years.

Although ILAS is primarily responsible for the development of multilingual general education courses for first- and second-year students, the Faculty of Engineering does offer several specialized courses to these students. I was, therefore, faced with a question: how can one create multilingual courses for iUP students? This was because it is impractical to ask Japanese professors to suddenly switch their language of instruction to English. Moreover, most Japanese students have an adequate understanding of lectures delivered in their mother tongue. Since English is also not necessarily the native tongue of our international students, lectures delivered by Japanese instructors who make a sudden switch to English are not a solution for all the parties involved.

However, support for international students was recently indexed in university rankings. Since the goal of the university is the attainment of internationalization, we need to take measures to address this situation. Consequently, we believe that the rapid advancement in AI technology may fill the language gap, and that was how the automatic subtitling system was born.

Non-Japanese students have benefited greatly from the lecture videos that carried English subtitles which were generated by AI. International students learning Japanese also appreciated the Japanese subtitles offered by AI, especially for technical terms.

With the consent of lecturers, the videos can also be accessed by Japanese students who may find them useful as a means to review their class lessons. Additionally, the videos can be used as teaching materials to support flipped learning in subsequent years.

Admittedly, machine translation is not necessarily accurate. However, it can be utilized as a test bed for technological development by incorporating technologies developed by academic institutions, such as the Graduate School of Engineering and the Graduate School of Informatics at Kyoto University. As the system continues to pick up the spoken words of lecturers, it will discriminate between their speeches through machine learning, thereby increasing its capacities to recognize words including technical terms.

We believe that the automatic subtitling system has reached the level of practical application, as it is increasingly being used by the Faculty of Engineering. However, Kyoto University does not have sufficient staff to oversee the daily operations of the server and the development of the user interface. Therefore, it has hired professional contractors to manage the system. The videos are uploaded to the contractors’ servers for subtitling, and students can access their servers to view the lecture videos that carry the subtitles. The servers can only be accessed through Kyoto University’s Learning Support Service. Due to intellectual property and copyright issues, the system cannot be accessed by the public over the Internet.

The system has potential to meet the needs of various groups of audiences. Although the videos uploaded by massive open online courses (MOOCs) in Japanese are restricted to a Japanese-speaking audience, they will get more viewers after English subtitles are provided. While this potential has yet to be realized, we believe that the system can be expanded by subtitling every Japanese lecture video on our open courseware. We want to promote this system to help the university achieve its goal of internationalization.


Teachers cannot set a standard on the use of technology by their students unless they learn its potential.

DELE: Earlier, you mentioned that future Japanese researchers should not rely too much on the use of AI devices. At the same time, you are creating a new social environment that utilizes advancing technology. It seems that a culture of using technology is necessary for students and faculty members.

An analogy that comes to mind is the use of calculators, which have been around for about 50 years. Parents and teachers do not allow first graders to use them to do arithmetic. They also never inform children that learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division is unnecessary because calculators are so widely available. Similarly, I believe that teachers should guide the younger generation on the use of technology, including machine translation, as it continues to develop. What are your thoughts?

Honda: I totally agree. Nowadays, “digital natives” are born, a generation raised through regular contact with digital devices since birth. My children, who attend junior high school, are part of this generation. They have been using iPads and other digital devices since their childhoods. Their first instinct is to swipe the screen when they see one.


Currently, it is the older generation who is finding it difficult to keep abreast of the advancements in technology. Younger people often know better. I am concerned that we cannot set an example of limiting the use of technology, unless we learn what is possible or acceptable. We often find that students are more adept in its use when they are provided with educational content that uses new technology. For example, in the current practice of “shiketai,” students who help their school community to prepare for the examinations would share videos of the class lessons they have recorded through cloud, unlike in the old days when they collected examinations papers from the previous years and made copies for other students.

Students are also not necessarily aware of the copyright issues that may arise through doing so. They may record a class lesson without the permission of the school or lecturer, and then share the recording by uploading it to YouTube or other media. They will likely limit its access to those who know the webpage link to the video. However, these links may become available to third parties, which can give rise to copyright issues. The copyright law states that no one can distribute copyrighted lecture videos without the permission of their creators.

As faculty members, we know how to record and upload videos onto YouTube. However, most of us are not aware that the new culture of “shiketai” is spreading like a meme among students. We cannot respond to this situation unless we have adequate knowledge of how technology is used in this instance.

DELE: There was a historical anecdote which reported that one of the inventors of the computer had declared that ordinary citizens would not use it. In other words, the creator of a tool cannot necessarily predict how it will be used. Rather, it is the user who will discover innovative ways to use it.

Honda: That is correct. Consumers will find different ways to use new tools.

DELE: The need to adapt to an emerging culture may be a future challenge or task that is faced by the university.

Honda: I agree. It is critical for a university to keep up with these changes, since its instructors are in regular contact with young people.

DELE: What we need to do is not to confine or force students to conform to traditional ways of learning. It is about setting policies that can develop their potential.


I could not understand the English of the foreign researcher in my laboratory at all.

DELE: Please forgive me for changing the subject, as time is limited. You are very active across national borders. Were you proficient in English when you were young?

Honda: Honestly, I do not think I was very good at English. My English grades in the university entrance examinations were probably mediocre.

When I was a student, people remarked that college students could not speak or understand English despite years of extended studies in middle and high schools. I wondered if that was true when I was studying in middle school. However, after I entered university, I realized the truth of this popular belief. I blamed it on the state of English education in Japan, although I was also responsible for my lack of proficiency in the language. Nevertheless, I only developed an interest to learn English as it was a mandatory course for graduation from university.

When I was assigned to a laboratory in my fourth year of college studies, an Indian researcher was stationed at the laboratory for an extended period. He would visit the student room to use the printer, for example, and talk to us in a friendly way. I could not understand a word he was saying, although, in hindsight, it was partly due to his accent. Again, I was shocked. He was trying to communicate with me by being friendly, but I could not say a thing.


My priority was reading, and I read aloud the English text I was perusing. Pronunciation is critical.

Honda: The researcher smiled at me and said, “Okay, okay,” and left, but the experience pained me. I told myself that unless I take appropriate action to address it, I would remain in this situation forever. I changed my mind and became diligent in learning English. My parents told me that they could afford to send me to an English conversation school for tuition. However, since I was a thrifty person, I thought it would be a waste of money to do so. Hence, I learned English on my own for a long time.

DELE: How did you learn English?

Honda: My priority was reading, and I read aloud the English text I was perusing. I believe that pronunciation is critical. Since high school, I have used the International Phonetic Alphabet to learn English words. Communication is difficult in English without the use of proper pronunciation and adequate liaison. When words are pronounced separately, as many Japanese do, the result is an inadequate rhythm, which makes it hard to comprehend a sentence.

Briefly, the focus of my self-study was on pronunciation and listening, as I was aware of my overwhelming lack of both skills. The learning strategy I undertook was to pronounce words, look at the International Phonetic Alphabet, and then pronounce them again.


Many people assess your intelligence based on your proficiency in English.

DELE: I would love to hear your thoughts on undergraduates today.

Honda: As part of the Center’s operations, we have a partnership with an English conversation school. I coordinate its program for graduate and undergraduate students, and I often tell them that English is essential to researchers. Similarly, due to globalization, many business professionals need to be proficient in using it. Some companies also use English as their working language. Under such circumstances, people are assessed based on their mastery of English language skills. Many non-Japanese evaluate the intelligence of the Japanese people based on their proficiency in the English language. A lack of proficiency in the language will contribute to a poor evaluation by them, and they will only provide the gist of a matter or end the dialogue politely. In order to avoid such outcomes, it is essential to become proficient in English.

I understand that rhythm, accent, and pronunciation are key elements that can lead to the attainment of proficiency in English. Students should abandon their habit of using Japanese-style English, and they should aim to increase the intelligibility of their utterances by attending to their pronunciation. Instead of reading English texts silently, they should read the texts aloud to practice pronunciation when no one is around. They should feel the rhythm of their own reading for themselves.

DELE: It seems to me that an utterance in English is only complete when it includes nonverbal information, such as articulation, rhythm, intonation, gestures, and body language.

Honda: Yes. It is like the information that lies “between the lines” of a text during reading. Nonverbal communication supplements literal meaning.

DELE: Perhaps this is an area that the development of AI can take on as a challenge from now on.

Honda: Correct.


The seamless integration of four English skills is critical.

DELE: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Honda: I think I have not answered your question on how I am learning English currently. I read English newspapers and practice pronunciation every day.

DELE: As self-imposed training?

Honda: Yes. I also learn new words. These days, American and British pronunciations can be heard after you have clicked on a word. I check my pronunciation for accuracy regularly.

Some English words contain unpronounced consonants. An example is the word “indict.” When you look at the letters, you are tempted to produce the “k” sound. However, the correct pronunciation does not carry that sound. This is not obvious to English learners unless they look up its pronunciation. Therefore, I take the time to verify the pronunciation of words when in doubt. In this way, I can at least prevent my English language skills from deteriorating.

DELE: That’s great to hear. In an elective course I taught this semester called “Test-Taking,” I recommended my students to use AI to recognize their English pronunciation. Although AI recognition is not entirely accurate, it can raise issues that learners may have with their pronunciation. Learners pay more attention to their pronunciation when they read texts aloud using AI recognition. They also have better recall of spelling. The inclusion of articulation in reading activities can have a significant effect on learning outcomes.

In Japan, a problem with the learning of English is that the four skills are taught separately when, in reality, they straddle a continuum: you read and understand a text, asks someone a question about it, listen to their response, and write a report on it. In the absence of a bridge that can exist between written and spoken English, the English literacy of Kyoto University students will be wasted.

Honda: Absolutely. It is critical to integrate the four skills seamlessly. What I have described earlier was a strategy that I had used to achieve this integration.

DELE: Thank you very much for your time today.


After the interview


I was impressed to hear from Professor Honda, who is a distinguished international researcher, that he still reads aloud from English newspapers every day to improve his pronunciation. He also recognizes the importance of nonverbal communication, such as eye contact and gestures. Through his experiences, he has learned that articulation, rhythm, intonation, and nonverbal behaviors are essential to the use of English in everyday life.

Under the “English Learning Consultation FAQ” page of this website, there is a section which describes the use of AI speech recognition on a smartphone when memorizing English words. Currently, I use my smartphone to record English sentences that I want to memorize through AI voice recognition. I have been posting impressive quotes from The New York Times, The Economist, or The Wall Street Journal on my Twitter account. I have also begun to read aloud to myself and use AI to verify my pronunciation. Although it takes several minutes of practice every day, it is very helpful in the development of English skills (after I rediscovered my weak pronunciation recently).

After my interview with a professor from the Graduate School of Economics, I renewed my subscription to The Economist. I encourage every reader to practice the strategies described in this interview to improve and master the English language.


Thanks to the skillful facilitation by Professor Yanase, I have spoken at length on my relationship with English, both as an instructor and as a researcher.

For most of us who did not grow up in an English-speaking culture, English is only a tool for communication. However, it is a very important tool since many people from around the world use it. As I mentioned in the interview, human interaction is critical in education and research. History has shown that interaction and networking among researchers have contributed greatly to the advancement of science.

The use of English enables us to communicate clearly with people from around the globe. Although you can convey your idea in broken English, it is much better to communicate it in fluent English. Rather than entertain the thought of having to learn English, just think of how enjoyable it is for you to be able to speak the language. I would be very happy if this interview has gently nudged those who want to learn English but have not had the opportunity to do so into doing it.

Dr. Duncan Wilson, Lecturer, Graduate School of Letters (interview conducted in English on March 24, 2023; About 2750 words)

Duncan Wilson

Lecturer in the Department of Psychology,

Graduate School of Letters

My slides are simple, with minimal text and plenty of pictures and videos.

The interview was conducted in English on March 24, 2023.

The interviewer was Yanase from the Division of English Language Education (DELE).

DELE: Dr. Wilson, it's a pleasure to meet you. This conversation is a part of our interview series aimed at encouraging Kyoto University students, particularly undergraduates, to use English more and broaden their horizons. Would you kindly provide a brief introduction of yourself?

Wilson: Certainly, my name is Duncan Wilson. I am from the UK and a Lecturer in the Department of Psychology in the Graduate School of Letters. My primary research interests lie in the visual perception and attention of non-human primates, such as great apes and monkeys. I examine and compare visual perception, identifying similarities and differences between primate species. My research endeavours to offer insights into the evolution of human visual perception.

DELE: How long have you been in your current department?

Wilson: I've been in the department for two years.

I teach E2 courses and E3 courses. The former is a content-oriented course where English is used as the language of instruction. The latter aims at developing English proficiency.

DELE: How many subjects do you teach, including E2 courses?

Wilson: I teach "Introduction to Comparative Psychology," and “Introduction to Primate Behaviour and Cognition” E2 courses. I also teach specialised topics to undergraduate psychology students in my department. These topics include animal cognition and welfare, brain and behavioural lateralization in animals (which examines the distinct functions of the left and right hemispheres) and face perception in humans and animals. I teach all my courses in English.

DELE: You also teach E3 courses, which are more language oriented, right?

Wilson: Yes, "Digesting Scientific English" and "Scientific Writing and Presenting in English."

Faces reveal much about how students participate in class.

DELE: Forgive me for asking a peculiar question. As an expert in animal psychology, do you discern anything from your students' facial expressions, body gestures, and vocalisations about their struggles in classes?

Wilson: When students are engaged and comprehend the content being conveyed in English, they typically maintain eye contact with the instructor, keep their head up, and remain attentive. They may also nod frequently and smile in response to a joke. Conversely, when students do not fully understand what is being said, they may frown and appear confused. They may also look down or away to avoid being asked a question by the instructor.

DELE: Do you utilise these behaviours as indicators for class management? Some experienced teachers argue that such indicators are more effective than Likert scale questionnaires administered at the end of the semester. Do you use these features to assess your teaching performance?

Wilson: To be honest, it is rather tricky because students have different personalities. More introverted students may be highly engaged, yet not necessarily exhibit this through body language or eye contact, whereas more outgoing students tend to display greater nonverbal communication or eye contact. So, it really depends on the student’s personality.

DELE: Are there any similar individual differences in non-human primates in terms of expressing their inner feelings?

Wilson: Absolutely. There are numerous individual differences in how monkeys and great apes respond to learning new information or encountering novel objects (typically with fear or excitement) and psychologists discuss these personality traits (conscientiousness, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and neuroticism) in the same way as we do for humans. So, human and non-human primates are very similar in this respect.

Students become relaxed and communicate as they become acquainted with one another.

DELE: Do you have any anecdotes to share about students? For example, do students change their academic performance from the beginning of the semester towards the end?

Wilson: Generally, students are much more confident by the end of the semester, particularly in the English classes I conduct for science communication. Students initially tend to be shy, but as they become acquainted with my teaching style and personality, and as I learn more about each individual, they relax and communicate more with their peers as well.

DELE: Are these changes gradual or sudden?

Wilson: I believe the changes are gradual. For instance, during one of my courses, students must deliver a 10-minute presentation on a topic of their interest (akin to a mini-symposium). After making a presentation they begin to engage more with both me and their fellow students in subsequent lectures. However, this observation is primarily from my E3 classes, which are smaller in size compared to E2 classes.

Recently, I have been experimenting with flipped learning classes.

DELE: On average, how many students do you have in an E2 class?

Wilson: In E2 classes, there are about 50 students.

DELE: Tell me about the E2 classes. There must be quite a difference between teaching a class of 50 students and one with 10 or fewer students. How do social relations among students in a large class develop? Some E2 course instructors say that classes often divide into two groups: international students and Japanese students. Are there differences in where students sit in the classroom, for example?

Wilson: International students do tend to sit closer to each other, resulting in a noticeable grouping.

DELE: What is the ratio of Japanese students to international students?

Wilson: I would estimate that around 85 to 90% are Japanese, while 10 to 15% are international students.

Wilson: Recently, I have been experimenting with flipped learning classes*. I provide students with lecture materials, such as videos or articles, to study beforehand. During class, they are divided into mixed groups of Japanese and international students, usually comprising eight students per group. These groups then discuss the material and present their summaries to the class.

*Flipped learning classes: a teaching method in which students learn material independently at home before class. They use class time for interactive activities and teacher-guided problem-solving.

More confident students facilitate discussion.

DELE: What would be typical behaviour for a Japanese student who is not particularly confident in English?

Wilson: They might be quiet. However, if some international students are enthusiastic, they may try to engage the quieter students by asking for their opinions. I believe there is a natural tendency for the more confident students to facilitate discussion with those who are less confident.

DELE: There must be differences among students in terms of social skills. Some are adept at facilitating conversation, while others prefer to be independent. Do you observe these differences?

Wilson: Yes, but it is not limited to Japanese students. Even among international students, some can be quite reserved.

Academic discussion in English can be a novel experience for students who mainly have studied for tests.

DELE: Some people argue that social skills or psychological factors matter more than language proficiency that is reflected in a TOEFL score, for example. Communication is inherently social, whereas most standardised tests assess individual performance. I believe that the skills measurable in standardised tests may be overemphasised.

Wilson: Yes, this is related to the Japanese education system. Until senior high school, there is a significant focus on passing university entrance examinations. Then, students encounter a new environment at Kyoto University with ILAS courses led by international lecturers who encourage more discussion. It can be quite a novel experience for them, even if they have had an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in school. Some students may still be unaccustomed to the discussion-based approach preferred by some E2 lecturers.

DELE: The change is both linguistic and cultural.

Wilson: Yes. As I mentioned earlier, some students may have had English oral communication experience with foreign teachers in their schools before university, but generally, the focus is on passing the entrance exams within the Japanese education system. This could be why they may appear shy or hesitant.

My slides are simple, with minimal text and plenty of pictures and videos.

DELE: Many Japanese students struggle with listening comprehension. Do you find there are students who have difficulty with listening comprehension initially? They might find it challenging to listen to a lecture, even though their reading comprehension skills are quite high.

Wilson: In my lectures I try to keep the materials as straightforward as possible, particularly as these are introductory courses. My slides are simple, with minimal text and plenty of pictures and videos. Using these visual aids, students may find it relatively easy to understand my verbal explanation.

DELE: A multimodal presentation offers many clues, which can enhance listeners' understanding.

Wilson: That's correct. Fortunately, in animal psychology, it is easy to show videos of interesting animal behaviours; from Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiments with dogs to chimpanzees hunting colobus monkeys in the wild. I first provide a simple explanation with images, followed by a video that aids comprehension. Generally, students grasp concepts effectively using this method.

It is hard to generalize about different classes.

DELE: Nevertheless, one survey reported that approximately 40% of E2 course students found English “very much challenging” or “much challenging,” rather than “somewhat challenging” or “not challenging.” Do you feel the same way?

Wilson: I would say a higher proportion of students in my classes understand the content. It is difficult for me to comment on other instructors, other subjects, and other teaching methods. Some topics are easier to intuitively comprehend, while others (like particle physics!) may be more challenging. It is hard to generalize.

DELE: Do you talk about teaching with other E2 instructors in the same department or across departments?

Wilson: The main instructor I talk with is one of my friends, also a primatologist. We often discuss teaching methods. He has more years of experience at Kyoto University as a teacher.

DELE: How about beyond your personal domain? Do you have any chances to talk with lecturers at the Faculty of Economics, for example?

Wilson: Unfortunately, not currently.

I need to think more about AI use in classrooms.

DELE: Another question. I'm currently using an IC recorder to record our conversation and, concurrently, an iPad with an AI app to transcribe it. Do you allow your students to use such devices to record your lectures? Some instructors may decline the request.

Wilson: To be honest, I haven't noticed. Students may be using them, but I don't know.

DELE: I see. If students raise that question, would you allow them to use devices to record your lecture?

Wilson: What did you say your AI app does?

DELE: It automatically transcribes human voices into text. The conversion is not 100% correct, but quite satisfactory. It records the audio simultaneously, and users can transfer the transcribed text with audio to their computers or virtually anywhere. Would you allow your students to use such an AI app if they ask for permission? This is a hypothetical question.

Wilson: I don't see any immediate issue with it. What are the concerns other instructors have?

DELE: The files are easy to copy. If they fall into the wrong hands, they may appear on the internet without the instructor's consent. On the other hand, such an AI app would be a great advantage for someone who genuinely wants to learn the content with their limited language proficiency.

Wilson: I see! I need to think more about it.

I make myself as approachable as possible.

DELE: Thank you. A different question. How do you generally support students in terms of English? You said that you make simple slides with numerous visuals.

Wilson: My experiments with flipped learning classes taught me that student personality variations matter. Some students still prefer traditional lectures, where they can listen to the instructor, watch videos, and take notes on handouts in class. Probably, a mixture of traditional lectures and flipped learning is useful to accommodate students' different personalities and learning preferences.

Another thing I try to do is make myself as approachable as possible. At the start of my courses, I assure the students that they can ask questions anytime they do not understand something during my lecture. I also encourage them not to be afraid of making mistakes because this is how we learn and grow (including me!). Some students prefer to ask me questions after the class too. They want to ask me a question one-to-one. I also tell students that they can email me anytime after the lecture if they want me to clarify something I said. I try to set up an environment where students feel like they can approach me either during or after class.

However, some students lack confidence in asking questions. They might think, “Maybe I'm asking a stupid question” or “Maybe this question is too easy.” I emphasize to my students that no questions are stupid. I always try to create a positive atmosphere. Of course, some students are always shy. Yet, as the course progresses, I see more students actively participating. This can be due to becoming more familiar with the instructor and their classmates.

More Kyoto University students deserve to enjoy E2 courses.

DELE: Can you give some advice for students who are already taking courses where English is the language of instruction?

Wilson: Don't be intimidated by English. Don't be afraid to ask simple questions because I can almost guarantee that there will be somebody else in the class who has the same question. Most ILAS instructors are friendly and are interested in encouraging you to learn, so don’t be shy. The more you engage in and put effort into the class, the more you get out of it. Enjoy communicating with other students from different nationalities and cultures. This way, you can gain different perspectives from your own. Learning such differences is critical for intellectual growth. You will have opportunities to use English both in Japan and abroad later in your life, so using English opens up lots of different possibilities.

DELE: Kyoto University is offering about 350 E2 courses. At a particular conference, participants from other universities were astonished when they heard that. More Kyoto University students deserve to enjoy these classes.

The E2 course is like studying abroad in Kyoto.

DELE: Could you give some message to those students who have never taken content courses where English is the language of instruction? The survey I mentioned shows that about 30% of Kyoto University students take no E2 course. It also indicates that more than 30% of such students cite English as the primary reason for not participating.

Wilson: My message is quite similar to students who have already decided to take E2 courses. If you have any questions you want to ask, other students will most likely have very similar questions. So don't be afraid to ask. Use the opportunities in the class to engage with other students from different cultures and countries. These opportunities are going to be really helpful for your future. This is a great chance for you to develop those communication skills, which will be useful for your future careers.

DELE: I believe the E2 course system is a golden opportunity for students. It is like studying abroad in Kyoto. Thank you very much for your time. It was a very interesting conversation.


After the Interview


Dr Wilson welcomed me into his office for this interview, although he had just returned from his research trip to India the previous day. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I regret the transcript above does not include episodes from that trip or his teaching experience in Japan before joining Kyoto University, which he shared before and after the interview recording. I strongly recommend students to take courses where English is used as the language of instruction and communication. They will undoubtedly expand academic and cultural perspectives.

Dr Yoshimi Minamitani, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Letters (interview conducted in Japanese on 8 March 2022: approximately 4,100 words).

Yoshimi Minamitani

Associate Professor

Graduate School of Letters

“If You Always Want to Conform to Others, You will Fail to Notice the Voice that Expands your World”

The interview in Japanese was conducted via Zoom on August 3, 2022.
The interviewer was Yanase from the Division of English Language Education (DELE).

DELE: First, can you tell us how you currently use English as a literary scholar?

MINAMITANI: I teach at the Department of English/American Language and Literature at the Graduate School of Letters. My specialisation is the Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941), whose works are widely acknowledged for their intricate complexity and difficulty, and I strive to make his works more accessible through my educational and research activities. One such attempt is “Ulysses in 2022 – a Stephens reading group”, a project to read the challenging novel outside academia. Since 2019, I have been collaborating with fellow researchers to organize this project with the goal of reading the entire novel over this period. Approximately 50 people attend each session, and we just finished the 18th session three days ago. This has been very successful thanks to the cooperation of active participants.

DELE: I was surprised that 50 people gathered for Ulysses.


Approximately 200 people participate in every 22 Ulysses event

Minamitani: I was surprised too by the overwhelming attention that these events have garnered. But one of the reasons can be attributed to the online culture that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. In parallel with that event, I jointly initiated the project “22 Ulysses - An Invitation to James Joyce’s Ulysses. It began in February this year, the centenary of the publication of Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922. Furthermore, the number 22 holds symbolic value in this event as it corresponds with Joyce’s birthday on 2 February and the project offers 22 online courses over a year, in which 22 or more Joyce researchers will elucidate the book’s mystery and provide valuable insights on how to read it. We have covered half of the novel so far, and this project has surprisingly attracted a large audience, with approximately 200 people attending each time.

DELE: That is impressive, is it not?

MINAMITANI: It surprised 13 initiators, including myself. We sensed a strong desire from the participants to read something challenging or to understand literary works with someone else. This is a great source of hope for the humanities. It is crucial to deepen research within academia and simultaneously render that specialist knowledge accessible to the wider public.


The publication of my paper in James Joyce Quarterly inspired my research

Minamitani: Returning to the question of how I use English as a literary researcher, I naturally read and write papers in English. James Joyce Quarterly, one of the most prestigious journals in Joyce studies, published one of my papers. This publication presented a great opportunity for me to advance my research.

It is advantageous to write a paper in English immediately when a CFP (Call for Papers) focuses on your own research interest, as CFPs often cover a wide variety of topics. Although I specialise in Joyce, my broader research framework includes literary representations of animals and pain. When the topic ‘Joyce and animals’ was announced, it was a great opportunity for me to contribute to the field. However, it was challenging research as publications in international peer-reviewed journals typically take several years to complete, and indeed my paper took approximately three years because of the rigorous peer review process.

English is critical when communicating abroad, although proficiency in a few other languages is desirable. Last June, I attended a weeklong international symposium in Dublin to celebrate the centenary of Ulysses. English is essential when Joyce’s researchers and devoted readers from all over the world gather and interact. I exchanged contact addresses with some, and I still communicate with them. During Q&A sessions at conference presentations, I asked several questions and was glad to receive positive feedback from other attendees.


I gain knowledge of collocation and logical construction from prior studies

DELE: I guess that a paper in James Joyce Quarterly, one of the summits of Joyce scholarship, must also excel in style. Have you acquired a sense of style through your extensive reading and writing experience?

MINAMITANI: Thank you for your comment. It is crucial for us to not only construct sound logical arguments but also use appropriate collocations and phrases when writing academic papers in English. Japanese researchers who write English papers tend to build logic in a Japanese manner. Reading a considerable amount of previous research in English is essential to learn the style and logic required to write lucid papers.

DELE: You make your original academic contributions while respecting the wording, ideas, and logical construction within the community of English-speaking researchers.

Minamitani: I make a conscious effort to avoid directly translating expressions and constructions that are formulated in Japanese into English. International journal editors request revisions to papers that have passed the peer review process. The requests I received included the use of more authentic collocations and clarification of the sections that I believed made sense. I also learned that one or more words could replace redundant expressions. From this experience, I began to take notes on critical set phrases, collocations, and argument construction while reading previous studies. I aimed to apply these in my doctoral dissertation.


Incorporating an element of humour in research presentations or not

DELE: You conduct your research, read and write papers, and communicate at conferences, all in English. Do you write your papers in Japanese, too?

Minamitani: Yes.

DELE: Do you feel that there is a gap between English and Japanese research activities? Do these two languages make differences?

Minamitani: Writing can be different even on the same subject. However, these days, I often write Japanese in a style that is readily translatable into English. I also employ the English logical construction that I mentioned earlier. Therefore, I no longer feel a huge gap when writing academic papers.

On the other hand, preparing a manuscript for an oral presentation in English is an altogether different experience. Recently, I delivered an oral presentation in Japan, then went to Dublin to attend presentations at the international symposium. It came as no surprise that many English-language presentations began with humour, with presenters continuing to entertain the audience throughout their talks, but what was notable at the symposium was that the spirit of humour continued throughout the presentations, and presenters entertained the audience at various points. I would not regard humour as essential in Japanese presentations, as far as I can see from Joyce’s research in Japan. Nevertheless, Japanese researchers must maintain the audience’s attention rather than reading out the manuscript monotonously.


Japanese students often acknowledge a counterargument before developing their position

DELE: I often feel that the logical construction of my first-year students’ English essays is distinct, although the students and researchers are obviously different. English paragraph writing typically begins with a topic sentence that informs the author’s claim, followed by a sentence that supports this point. However, many students mix it with the Japanese argumentation style, although I teach this English construction in class. Their first sentence introduces their claim, and yet the second sentence often begins with “It is true / Of course / Certainly”, that introduces a counterargument, not a supporting sentence. They first assert their position, then acknowledge a counterargument, and reassert theirs after saying “However”. Do you find such differences in argumentation?

MINAMITANI: Through my experience reviewing English passages written by my students, I have observed that they tend to overuse the conjunctions ‘though’ and ‘although’. This may be due to the fact that they are translating the Japanese conjunction “ga” into a contradictory conjunction in English. Additionally, the logic employed by Japanese students often involves beginning with a concession or alternative perspective before presenting their own position. Such “meandering” construction can be confusing for English-speaking readers attempting to understand the core of the argument. Quite simply, Japanese students are inexperienced in writing English papers. Instructors must teach students what should follow a topic sentence and present various samples.

DELE: Apparently, your papers establish your position first, not adopting the Japanese rhetorical pattern that can be paraphrased as “Well, well, well. Let’s not be uncompromising”.

MINAMITANI: To ensure clarity in academic writing, it is crucial to follow the principle of paragraph writing. I strive to limit each paragraph to one topic, thereby preventing my argument from digressing or becoming overly complex. In order to maintain my position, I often highlight the significance and originality of my argument by comparing it with prior studies. Additionally, I avoid using pronouns at the beginning of a paragraph, as this can create ambiguity and make it more difficult for the reader to understand the argument.


The ‘noise’ that does not make authentic Japanese is precious in translation

DELE: A different subject. One stereotype of Japanese scholars of English literature is that they constantly translate English into Japanese and strive to make the translation as authentic as possible. How do you approach translation?

Minamitani: No translation can completely reproduce the original language in terms of its unique narration, usage, collocation, pronunciation, rhythm, and historical connotation. Some unorthodox Japanese features may remain in the translation as a result, serving as a reminder to readers that they are reading a translated work, and I see those as a necessary element of the Japanese language. It is this peculiar translation-specific style that can expand our understanding of the language.

Limiting oneself to stereotypical Japanese language can prevent us from encountering the unfamiliar, the noisy, and the mysterious, closing the door to different linguistic, grammatical, and sound systems present in other languages. In this sense, it is acceptable to leave unnatural or untranslatable parts in translations, as these can raise critical questions and introduce new perspectives to readers. Of course, fluent Japanese translation is not a problem if it is attainable.

DELE: I see. It is valuable to note that translations contain expressions that extend conventional Japanese. The Japanese language expanded its range of expression in the Nara and Heian periods with Chinese and since the Meiji period with English and other European languages. Your research activities involve such translations.

Minamitani: Yes.


Knowledge of the grammar and sound systems of other languages advances our understanding of English

DELE: I hear you use German for academic purposes.

Minamitani: This is part of my general educational background. I studied German as a second foreign language during my undergraduate years. During my master’s program, I researched the topic of ‘Joyce and his unfinished works’. Around that time, I attended with permission a German class dealing with Kafka, and I found it increasingly intriguing. This led me to establish a study group with German literature students where we read Kafka’s works together. I was so absorbed in Kafka’s work that I probably spent more time in the German Literature Department than in my major, the English Literature Department.

Eventually, I collaborated with Professor Ikuo Seo, a scholar of contemporary poetry and German literature, and another German literature researcher to translate Martin Buber’s Ich und Du (I and Thou) into Japanese. We named our work a ‘three-dimensional translation’ because the three of us translated the same part and juxtaposed the three translations side by side.

I later came to realize the usefulness of the concept of the “three-dimensional translation” as well as the ability to understand three languages. Recently, a German researcher with whom I translated Buber brought his partner to Japan, and we conversed in a bar in Kyoto using Japanese, English, and German, with translations in between. It was like a ‘three-dimensional translation’. I often hear that second foreign language courses are being removed from the compulsory list and are becoming free electives in college general education curricula. Not learning a second foreign language is very risky in terms of language learning. Knowledge of the grammatical and sound systems of other languages advances our understanding of English. I strongly encourage students to learn a second foreign language, even at a superficial level or with the aid of a dictionary, as it can greatly enhance their understanding of English.


[To be continued]

[Continued from the previous part]

One of the obstacles to teaching English in Japan is the shyness of students

DELE: As such a literary scholar, what are your views on contemporary English language teaching?

Minamitani: As a former English language teacher, I have observed that one of the obstacles to teaching English in Japan is related to the shyness and reservedness of students. In comparison to students from other countries, Japanese students are often hesitant to express their views in public. Few students respond to the instructor’s invitations, such as ‘Does anyone have an opinion?’ and ‘How would you express this sentence in English?’ This can be challenging for teachers who want to encourage active participation in the classroom. While the pedagogical trend of Active Learning was encouraged in the 2010s, I did not want to force students to participate if they were genuinely unfit for such activities.

Another challenge in conducting classes is the prevalence of smartphones among students, which can often distract their attention. My solution was a collaboration with a system engineer to create an app that attracts their attentive interest and lowers the threshold for communication in class.

The app is an anonymous chat board called OUTIS, designed to capture students’ attention and encourage communication in class. Students can access the board by loading its URL with a QR code and obtaining a password, ensuring that only students in that classroom can join the chat board. Once on the board, users can anonymously type messages using their smartphones, and many of these messages appear on the board without identifying the writers. The board is projected onto a large screen in the classroom, turning students’ attention from their smartphones. This app attempts to create a sense of a learning community in the classroom.


Minamitani: Before using the app, I was not entirely satisfied with my writing classes. When I asked students to write English sentences on the blackboard, only a few students would volunteer. However, the application ensures simultaneous writing by approximately 40 students, and I can also provide immediate feedback. Students are less likely to feel embarrassed about their mistakes and can observe other students’ typical grammatical errors. The app provides students with more opportunities for trial and error, increasing the amount of output in the end. The success of this application in teaching English led to an invitation to present at a symposium at my former university.

DELE: You developed and used the application to alleviate students’ unwillingness to express themselves and fear of making mistakes, which are negative features of English learning in Japan.

Minamitani: Most Japanese students lack the opportunity to use English in their daily lives, which can make them feel nervous and self-conscious when speaking or writing in the language. Providing a space where they can write and communicate in English without the fear of making mistakes can help them feel more comfortable and confident in their language abilities.


Too much conformism excludes the voices of others who may expand one’s world

DELE: What advice would you provide first- and second-year students at Kyoto University?

Minaminatni: As a literary scholar, I am interested in discussing the general use of language, particularly in contemporary Japanese society. In recent years, there has been a trend towards homogenization and a reduced vocabulary, as well as a cultural shift towards prioritizing brevity. This has led to the development of new forms of communication, including the creation of jargon and other instant sharing of ideas within a community. Young people, in particular, have adapted to the communication styles, and tend to believe that carefully crafted passages take too much time for the reader and writer.

Social Networking Services developed the culture of transforming a user into an icon or content that attracts followers. They often force users to always appear as the ‘typical me,’ the character that the followers want to see. Some users may wish to act in this manner, but such type of language that develops in such an SNS culture tends to be closed and limited in its scope.

I am not entirely against all these tendencies as it can be enjoyable to communicate with peers using popular phrases on TV or social networking sites, or characterise oneself in a certain way. However, I want students to be conscious of the fact that such language creates an isolated universe. If they only use the language of the isolated universe, they habitually see the world through stereotypes. Furthermore, they will only receive what they expect from the people around them, which blocks the voices of others who may expand their world. They may make themselves exclusive before they know it.

We live in an age in which we are connected through social networks, but individuals should also have a sense of self that is not instantly connected to the community. In a sense, each person should have a his/her own world within themselves that might make themselves solitary, establishing a unique sensibility and language that may not be understood by others.

Language emerges from noise and misunderstanding in an attempt to communicate when a person does not comprehend another person without much shared context. It is more gratifying to feel connected in the midst of uncertainty than in a constant state of mutual understanding. While the state of being ‘connected’ is valuable, I want people to go outside their comfort zone to experience the language of a different universe.

In this respect, literature has the potency to make our language solitary from conventional communities. Literary language is often an enigmatic, complex entity containing particles of past and present history and culture. Studying such a language can significantly change our language and sensibilities and provide an opportunity to move away from the community in which we are locked. This isolation is a learning process to connect with strangers again. This process of isolation should happen numerously.

Real world

Read the book and experience the real world at the same time

DELE: Isolated language use is not limited to young people. Middle-aged and older people speak a closed language.

Minamitani: Yes, that is right.

DELE: The English expression, ‘filter bubble’, represents a situation where other voices are not heard in a small, isolated space. However, it is critical to listen to others’ voices and make efforts to connect with them.

A few decades ago, many students shared a culture of seeking different voices and reading as much as possible from the prestigious Iwanami Library series, although there was an element of intellectual vanity. They valued struggling with cryptic translations for understanding. This culture seems to have disappeared recently.

MINAMITANI: Students can be arrogant to imagine that they alone are reading something worthy. Such intellectual vanity can serve a purpose when students seek to break free from their habitual patterns of language use, which tend to align with those of their peers. Students may justify themselves in whatever way they like, but they should seek a place where they can experience exposure to different languages and sensibilities to forge them anew each time.


DELE: You said that reading the language of literature, which is different from everyday language, may make readers solitary. However, I was a solitary boy from the beginning, so I experienced joy upon discovering a literary figure who understood me. Literature saved me from loneliness (laughs).

MINAMITANI: Literature also contains that dynamic. Literature produces isolation and reconciliation incessantly.

DELE: To put it very simply, read as many books as possible.

MINAMITANI: I strongly encourage students to broaden their horizons by reading a variety of literature and engaging with unfamiliar languages. Equally important, however, I advocate for them to engage with the real world that is connected to the language in these books. For instance, upon encountering the word ‘bonfire’, it is good for students to have the actual experience of building one; when they read the word ‘waves’, they should visit the seaside and dip their hands in the waves. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has deprived young people of these opportunities. Nonetheless, I urge them to experience reality as much as possible.


University students should know the variety of knowledge and be exposed to unfamiliar fields

DELE: I wish we had another two hours for this interview; unfortunately, the time is limited. Is there anything else you would like to mention?

MINAMITANI: Concerning education in general, it is possible that certain students who have been educated almost exclusively online during the Corona pandemic may harbour discontentment or resentment toward what they deem to be inadequate education, and such negative perceptions may be directed toward university institutions, individual teachers, the Ministry of Education, and the government. I am concerned that these students might carry these sentiments into their future professional and personal lives. Given the limited education they received, it is not surprising that they would say something like, “University is not much. They do not teach you anything interesting”.

I want young people to enter the university environment and discover the excitement of exposure to diverse resources, knowledge, and different ways of thinking from individuals coming from different backgrounds. While it is true that online learning poses challenges to intellectual engagement, I am committed to establishing an online educational platform where the joy of learning can be fully experienced and appreciated.

This concept brings us back to the first point, which concerns sharing expertise and learning beyond the confines of the university rather than solely within it.

This may be a simple statement, but I would like to say that learning is thrilling

DELE: I read two related articles in The New York Times this morning ("Elite Universities Are Out of Touch: Blame the Campus." "Why Is America Fractured? Blame College, a New Book Argues"). These articles criticised American universities for becoming too distant from the rest of the population geographically, socially, and culturally. You are opening up more knowledge produced by the university through the study groups that you mentioned at the beginning of the interview. Your message, in short, is “Learning is exhilarating”.

Minamitani: Yes, that is correct.

DELE: I presume that you are also attempting to convey that learning a foreign language is a tremendous joy that cannot be replaced by anything else, although it is undeniably hard work.

MINAMITANI: Though a simple statement, I would like to say that learning is a thrilling experience to broaden our perspectives and enhances our understanding of the unknown world around us. I wish for my students to experience the joy of attending university.

DELE: Thank you very much.


After the interview


What ran through Dr Minamitani’s talk was that one should not close off one’s own language and that learning is exhilarating. The former is a belief he gained from his research on Joyce and other works of English literature, whereas the latter seems to have emerged naturally from his research engagement. I also concur with Dr Minamitani when he highlights the danger of contemporary individuals confining themselves to a limited language universe. While human interactions are increasing globally, exclusive attitudes are expanding in many places. Students should not restrict themselves to the Japanese way of feeling or thinking. They should acquire different perceptions and cognitions of English and other foreign languages. I believe that this learning will be an essential aspect of education for living in peace in the future. I thank Dr Minamitani for taking time out of his exceedingly tight schedule and providing valuable suggestions.