Ideologies of language at Hippo Family Club

Chad Nilep

Abstract

Ethnographic study of Hippo Family Club, a foreign language learning club in Japan with chapters elsewhere, reveals a critique of foreign language teaching in Japanese schools and in the commercial English conversation industry. Club members contrast their own learning methods, which they view as “natural language acquisition”, with the formal study of grammar, which they see as uninteresting and ineffective. Rather than evaluating either the Hippo approach to learning or the teaching methods they criticize, however, this paper considers the ways of thinking about language that club members come to share. Members view the club as a transnational organization that transcends the boundaries of the nation-state. Language learning connects the club members to a cosmopolitan world beyond the club, even before they interact with speakers of the languages they are learning. The analysis of club members’ ideologies of language and language learning illuminates not only the pragmatics of language use, but practices and outcomes of socialization and shared social structures.

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