Ryuko Kubota


Research Classification

Research Interests

language education
multicultural education
culture and language
race and language teaching
language ideologies
critical applied linguistics

Relevant Degree Programs


Research Methodology

Qualitative Research


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Master's students
Doctoral students

Historical study on meta discourse on language and language learning among Japanese students in China from 1900-1945.

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Such a great way to show our gratitude @youbc thank you Dr. Ryuko Kubota and Dr. Bonny Norton for being the #GREATsupervisor


When I was trying to balance between my family and study, Dr. Kubota always showed her understanding and support; when I was struggling with my research ideas and needed to talk, Dr. Kubota always spent the time helping me (re)construct my ideas and thoughts. She replies to emails in a prompt manner and she always offers support. Thank you, #GreatSupervisor Dr. Ryuko Kubota.

Jun Ma (2017)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (2008-2018)
From language learners to bilingual providers : second language socialization of bilingual mothers in South Korea (2018)

In the context of unprecedented globalization and migration flows, South Korea, known for promoting the modern nation-state’s ‘one-nation, one-language’ ideology, has undergone recalibration of its national identity and language ideologies. Since the mid-2000s, the South Korean government has developed a dual contradictory bilingual framework—assimilative Korean as a Second Language and celebratory multilingual development—particularly for damunhwa (multicultural) families consisting of international marriages between Korean men and foreign women and their children. Despite the government’s enthusiastic development of language policy, little is known of the grounds on which this bilingual initiative was established and how it is practiced in families. Adopting an approach that Bronson and Watson-Gegeo (2008) have called “language socialization as topic,” this qualitative study employed a document analysis and interviews to investigate the representational practices of foreign mothers across their lifespan in South Korea. I first address how the national-level language policy guides the regulation of foreign mothers’ four linear life trajectories: marriage, migration, childbirth and education, and home economics. Findings from the policy analysis represent the government’s (1) emphasis on damunhwa mothers’ exclusive use of Korean, (2) selective recommendation of heritage/foreign language for nationalistic purposes, and (3) discouragement of heritage language use in damunhwa families. They also demonstrate the government’s lack of concern with the roles of Korean fathers in family language socialization. The four damunhwa mothers in this study—from Japan, China, Vietnam, and Kyrgyzstan—presented their survival stories on learning to become dedicated mothers who are expected to use Korean with their children. Their narratives also demonstrate how the linguistic hierarchy is exacerbated and how they are demoralized in their bilingual workplaces. The mothers’ stated promotion of heritage languages often serves instrumental purposes rather than fostering bilingual and bicultural identities. These findings explain how damunhwa mothers have become the heart of linguistic nationalism in globalized times for South Korea, where the government has failed to recognize the fundamental importance of the situated nature of multilingual socialization of families. Through illuminating what has been neglected by policy makers, this dissertation calls for more equitable and gender-sensitive approaches to bilingual education in transnational and translingual times.


The writing center as a global pedagogy : a case study of a Japanese university seeking internationalization (2017)

The writing center is a common writing support service in North America with unique historical and theoretical underpinnings (Boquet, 1999; Bruffee, 1984; North, 1984). In the last couple of decades, it has truly become a global pedagogy, being implemented in around 65 countries worldwide (e.g., Archer, 2007; Bräuer, 2002; Tan, 2011). Although writing centers have been well received by international scholars, more studies are needed to discuss the economic and political imperatives of establishing writing centers in respective contexts and possible impacts on different student populations as a result. To address this issue, this multilayered case study explores how the educational philosophy, pedagogical rationale and concepts of the global writing pedagogy are interpreted by administrators and enacted in pedagogical practice at Maple Leaves University (MLU), an internationalizing university in Japan. To examine the language planning stage, data were collected from interviews with five administrators and relevant university documents. For pedagogical practices, primary data included audio-recordings and student interviews from four tutor-tutee dyads concerning three types of writing tutorials: (a) Japanese students seeking consultation on Japanese writing, (b) Japanese students seeking consultation on English writing, and (c) international students seeking consultation on Japanese writing. By looking at process of implementation from a language policy and practice perspective (Hornberger, 2005; Ricento & Hornberger, 1996), this study found that the MLU Writing Center was caught between ideal literacy/educational practices of a “world-class university” (Deem, Mok, & Lucas, 2008) and the local literacy realities at MLU. In the language planning, the internationalizing goals of a world-class university (e.g., English language policies, increasing international student enrollment, and student-centered education reforms) were the primary motives behind the establishment of MLU’s Writing Center. In tutorial practices, particular aspects of the Writing Center pedagogy were challenged by tutees’ disciplinary practices, beliefs towards non-native English tutors, and Japanese language learning needs. This study adds a policy perspective to the scholarship of writing centers, encouraging further research into the macro-context of writing centers and suggesting tutors be considered as key literacy educators who could better inform policy-making from the bottom-up.


Tracked identities, resistance, and cultural production of yeongpoja : critical ethnography of tracked English classes in a Korean middle school (2017)

In South Korea, English is implicated in local political processes, mediating relations of class and social (re)production (Park, 2013). Unequal access to English restricts the prospects of the disadvantaged in education and the job market (Kubota, 2011). Tracking, an institutional practice which groups students by performance, is one way in which these inequalities manifest in the neoliberalized landscape of Korean education. Situated within the frameworks of cultural production (Willis, 1977, 2004) and language socialization (Duff & Talmy, 2011), this critical ethnography explores the language learning trajectories of ninth-grade students in a Korean school over one semester who have been tracked since entering middle school. Classroom interactions and interviews are analyzed using critical discourse approaches (Talmy, 2010a). This study finds that teachers oriented to the significance of English in high-stakes exams, and naturalized tracking to provide students appropriately leveled lessons. However, their beliefs about homogenously-constituted tracks steered them to conflate students’ language competence with track categories and prevented them from attending to the multiple levels and needs of learners within each track. More importantly, there were very few differences in the instructional materials used across tracks because teachers based their lessons on the same textbook in preparation for the same tests. Consequently, many students, regardless of track, deemed tracking unconducive to learning, engaging in acts of resistance to grammar-translation-oriented classroom practices. Nevertheless, students displayed disaffiliative stances towards detracking out of concerns of being held back or tacitly positioned as having deficits. In this sense, this study argues that socialization into tracking led students to track not only their abilities but also their habitus (Bourdieu, 1990) and identities. Such tracked identities created conditions to reinforce a school hierarchy in which many low-track students were discursively co-produced as yeongpoja, i.e., students who have given up on English. This study demonstrates that the yeongpoja identity is a consequence of socialization into low tracks, manifesting students’ resistance to their stigmatized identities as well as the test-oriented instructional practices. The study concludes with a call for reexamining tracking, suggesting implications for instruction which integrate and recognize the needs, interests, and knowledge of students from diverse backgrounds.


The internationalization of higher education as a site of self-positioning : intersecting imaginations of Chinese international students and universities in Japan (2014)

This study examines the construction of Chinese international students’ identities in the context of the internationalization of two Japanese higher education institutions. It employs a case study design. Two Japanese higher education institutions were selected because they had large international student bodies and English-medium programs. Both of these characteristics are central to recent Japanese internationalization policies and programs. At each institution, interviews were conducted with: 1) Chinese international undergraduate students; and 2) faculty and staff members who held leadership positions at their institutions in the area of internationalization. By using the concepts relating to imagination, the study analyzed how students saw their identities and future possibilities in and through their participation in international education in Japan. It also investigated how the institutions saw their social existence and translated it into their internationalization discourses and practices. An analysis of the intersection of the faculty/staff participants’ accounts of internationalization and international students’ stories illuminated the challenges and the potential of internationalization. Firstly, the findings revealed that the imaginations of both the institutions and students were shaped by their social positions and dominant social imaginaries of globalization. How the institutions with contrasting levels of academic prestige and international students with different socio-economic backgrounds participated in internationalization illuminated their self-positioning strategies in a competitive world. The closely linked self-positioning strategies of the institutions and students indicated the challenge of internationalization in disrupting the existing material and ideological conditions. Secondly, students’ stories indicated the potential and the limitations of the institutional environments, which are marked by many international students and the use of the English language. Some students described their transformative learning experiences emerging from the social, cultural, and political complexity of Japanese society and of their institutional settings. However, the majority of students tended to be disengaged from such complexity by seeing themselves living in an imagined pristine multicultural community on their campuses and feeling detached from the rest of Japanese society. The study concludes that internationalization in the paradigms of competition and a “creation of cultural diversity and a containment of cultural difference” (Bhabha, 1990, p. 208) holds limited potential for social transformation.


Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
More than a tape-recorder : negotiations of English language teacher identities in the JET Program in Japan (2017)

The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET Programme) is currently one of the largest government-sponsored programs for recruiting English language teachers in the world (Nagatomo, 2016). This year, 2017, marks the 30th anniversary since its launch, and the Japanese government has announced its plan to expand the scale of the program as a response to globalization (Uemura, Urabayashi, & Emoto, 2014). While the JET Programme’s contribution to the internationalization of the Japanese education system has been recognized (McConnell, 2000), scholars have also pointed out a number of issues within the JET Programme, such as lack of inclusion of assistant language teachers (ALTs) (McConnell, 2000), frequent miscommunications between Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) and ALTs (Muroi & Mochizuki, 2010), reinforcement of the perceived superiority of English over other languages (Kubota, 2002), and reinforcement of the essentialist view of culture (Kobayashi, 2011). However, few studies have investigated how the identities of ALTs are assigned, negotiated, and resisted. Through Gee’s (2014) D/discourse analysis, this study investigates how six ALTs construct their teacher identity—the way in which they come to understand themselves as teachers—during the program. This study highlights how issues within the JET Programme, such as the ones listed above, are discursively (re)produced. Drawing on Gee’s (2015) notion of Discourse (with a capital D), this study pays particular attention to how ALTs participate in the meaning-making practice in their schools’ community. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews conducted over Skype. Fine-grained analysis of discourse illuminates the interaction between the macro-level discourse (i.e., nihonjinron [theory of Japaneseness] and kokusaika [internationalization]) and language ideology (i.e., “monolingual bias”; Kachru, 1994), the meso-level structure of the JET Programme, and the micro-level practices at participants’ schools. The findings show various ways in which ALTs struggled to attain membership in their schools’ Discursive community due to their racial, gender, linguistic, and employment statuses. Even those who successfully attained a certain level of membership in their schools’ Discourses were under constant fear of delegitimatization because of their marked foreignness. Based on the findings, this study offers implications for the JET Programme and advocates macro-, meso-, and micro-level changes.


Japanese students’ reconceptualization of racialized English and English speakers through study abroad (2016)

Japan’s kokusaika (internationalization), despite its literal meaning, has been considered to be a form of Westernization, largely influenced by Western countries, especially the United States (Fujimoto, 2001; Kubota, 1998, 2002). As a consequence of the Western or U.S.-favored policies, Japanese people have developed racial attitudes toward the English language and English speakers. While Japanese people have a propensity toward white people and their English varieties, they tend to show discriminatory attitudes toward those who have other racial and linguistic backgrounds (Kobayashi, 2010; Kubota & McKay, 2009). At the same time, the number of Japanese study abroad (SA) students, specifically in Kachru’s (1985) Inner Circle countries, is increasing. While some research suggests that Japanese SA students tend to develop racial attitudes and stereotype certain racial groups, there is still a dearth of studies regarding how these attitudes and stereotypes change over time. For example, scholars have not yet examined how Japanese SA students’ interactions with an unfamiliar Other in Japan influence their attitudes during their SA, and how these attitudes change again once immersed in the SA site. Thus, drawing on intergroup contact theory (Pettigrew, 1998) and critical race theory (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001), this multiple case study investigated how Japanese students (re)conceptualize their attitudes toward racialized English and English speakers through interactions with diverse English speakers. Data were collected through semi-structured qualitative interviews with six Japanese SA students. This study found that the participants’ pre-departure intergroup contact situations had been constructed according to Japan’s skewed kokusaika, which resulted in their assumption that white people were the only legitimate English speakers. However, during SA, the participants experienced frequent intergroup contacts with various English speakers, reconceptualizing their racialized views, regarding anyone as an English speaker regardless of his/her racial and linguistic backgrounds. Additionally, the participants acknowledged that they would like to keep their transformed views after SA. This thesis concludes with implications for pre- and post-SA English language teaching in Japan so that the potential for SA to de-racialize Japanese students’ attitudes toward English and English speakers might be realized.


"If you wait, nothing will come" : returned Japanese student sojourners' shifting identities and perceptions of English (2014)

In Japan, discourses of globalization have come in chorus with an urgency in educational policy to raise personal and national English proficiency for individual and economic success (e.g. Kobayashi, 2011; Kubota 2013; Yamagami & Tollefson, 2011). Given that “study abroad” is often perceived as the ideal environment for both language acquisition and personal growth (Kinginger, 2009), short-term sojourns abroad in English speaking countries are promoted aggressively in many Japanese contexts. While much research has been conducted regarding Japanese sojourners during their study abroad, the impacts of study abroad after returning to Japan have yet to be explored in depth. Drawing on Norton’s (2000) theoretical concepts of identity and investment, this study investigates how experiences abroad affected the current identities of Japanese university students who previously participated in short-term English-medium study abroad programs. Participants’ views on the importance of English in their lives since returning to Japan is also examined in relation to common discourses of linguistic instrumentalism. Data were collected through semi-structured qualitative interviews with six Japanese university students over three months. This study concludes that while participants were ascribed undesirable identities abroad, their abilities to exercise agency within their social worlds during their sojourns impacted their identities both abroad and in Japan. Among male participants, interviews display challenges to perceptions of personal desirability and masculinity while abroad. Furthermore, while participants who plan to use English in the future endorsed discourses of linguistic instrumentalism, a general lack of ownership over Japanese varieties of English was also observed in participant accounts. This study’s findings imply that sojourners’ shifting identities abroad have a lasting impact on how they view themselves in relation to their social world once returning to Japan. It also illustrates how common discourses surrounding English education in Japan may contribute to delegitimizing Japanese varieties of English, and how English-medium programs abroad in non-Anglophone countries may increase ownership over personal varieties of English. Lastly, this study advocates that by study abroad programs offering debriefing sessions for returned sojourners, returnees may achieve a deeper understanding of the influences of their experiences.


Beliefs about English: Korean postsecondary short-term study abroad learners in Canada (2010)

English has been associated with “development” and “globalization” (Pennycook, 2007; Phillipson, 2008) and the importance of English education has been emphasized in many countries including South Korea. As the notion of “English as a global language” spreads, skills in English are emphasized as compulsory to live in a global world and an increasing number of students leave their home countries to acquire such skills (Park & Bae, 2009; Waters, 2006). Their motivation to pursue language learning is closely related to their beliefs about the target language; these beliefs are not neutral or objective but ideologically shaped. However, English language learners’ beliefs in relation to ideologies have not been sufficiently explored. Drawing on the concept of language ideology (Thompson, 1990; Woolard, 1998), this study investigates the beliefs of English language learners—specifically, postsecondary Korean adults who participate in short-term study abroad in Canada—toward English, learning English, and using English. It also examines how these beliefs influence the learners’ notions of their mother tongue and study abroad experiences. The study identifies two core values that such learners place on English: (1) English is a competitive tool which enables them to get a job in Korea and (2) English is a global language which enables them to connect to other foreigners throughout the world. The study found that the participants viewed Korean—their mother tongue—as a local language only for Koreans. In addition, they believed they would acquire English skills at a native speaker’s level of fluency through simple exposure and in a relatively short time. Thus, they struggled with negative self images as ashamed and inferior learners. These results indicate a need for a critical approach to English education.


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