Critical thinking in East Asian students’ English academic writing

James Mckinley

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The debate on East Asian students’ critical thinking skills involves claims ranging from scathing to heroic. In this paper, I focus primarily on Japanese university students. In order to get to a clear idea of the issues these students face regarding the need to display critical thinking in their EFL writing, which I argue is crucial for students to successfully develop as academic English writers, I draw on literature from three areas. First, I offer three main issues as they pertain to English L2 in the Japanese context, including what it means for Japan to be an “expanding circle” country, how Japan’s English education does not fit in to the BANA and TESEP contexts but rather the TiDC (Teaching in Difficult Circumstances) context, and finally Turner’s (2011) argument against using Confucianism as an excuse for faulting EFL in Japan. Next, I discuss two areas of issues in Japanese to English contrastive rhetoric with particular focus on first, some criticisms of Japanese writing made several decades ago viewed later as over-generalized and second, influences of socio-cultural theory on our understanding of Japanese EFL writing. The final section provides a discussion of Japanese students’ critical thinking skills in three parts: first, I highlight negative stereotypes; next I take a cultural perspective on defining critical thinking, return to the discussion on the impact of Confucian ideals on Japanese students’ thinking, and highlight some successful Japanese EFL writing cases; and finally I return to the issues regarding Japanese to English contrastive rhetoric that may prevent students from successfully displaying critical thinking in their EFL writing. The conclusion closes with some proposals for dealing with these issues and providing Japanese (and other East Asian) EFL students with better opportunities to successfully display critical thinking in their academic writing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Nov 2015
EventLanguage, Education & Diversity Conference - The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Duration: 23 Nov 201526 Nov 2015
Conference number: 4


ConferenceLanguage, Education & Diversity Conference
Abbreviated titleLED
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand
Internet address


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