Learning Across Generations: A Small-Scale Initiative

  • Stephen RyanEmail author
  • Kay Irie
Part of the New Language Learning and Teaching Environments book series (NLLTE)


This chapter reports on a small-scale cross-generational learning initiative instigated by a group of high school students in the historic city of Matsue in the western part of Japan, a region with a rapidly aging population. In this project, the students developed and organized a series of lessons to teach English to seniors in the community with the aim of providing English language guide services to international tourists visitors to the town. The chapter begins by considering some of the contextual factors that prompted this innovative approach to English learning, focusing on both demographic changes and the Japanese government’s ongoing attempts to reform education. In the subsequent section, we describe the process in which this innovation was developed by interpreting and sharing the stories told by the key players, and finally consider some of the wider implications and possibilities suggested by the project.


Aging society Educational policy Intergenerational learning Lifelong learning Out-of-class learning 


  1. Benson, P., & Reinders, H. (Eds.). (2011). Beyond the language classroom. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. Block, D. (2014). Moving beyond ‘lingualism’: Multilingual embodiment and multimodality in SLA. In S. May (Ed.), The multilingual turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL and bilingual education (pp. 54–77). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Cabinet Office. (2017). Heisei 29-nendoban koreisyakai Hakusho (gaiyoban). Dai issho: Korei-ka no jokyo [2017 White paper on aging society, Chapter 1: The status report on aging]. Retrieved from
  4. Gabryś-Barker, D. (Ed.). (2018). Third age learners of foreign languages. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  5. Increasing Inbound Tourism. (2018, January 16). Japan Times. Retrieved from
  6. Karasawa, M., Curhan, K. B., Markus, H. R., Kitayama, S. S., Love, G. D, Radler, B. T., & Ryff, C. D. (2011). Cultural perspectives on aging and well-being: A comparison of Japan and the U.S. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 73(1), 73–98.Google Scholar
  7. Kessler, E., & Staudinger, U. M. (2007). Intergenerational potential: Effects of social interaction between older adults and adolescents. Psychology and Aging, 22(4), 690–704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Koureishamuke eigo kyoshitu: Menba ga sasaeai chiiki eno omoi wo katachi ni shiteiku. [English language class for seniors: Members supporting each other to realize their concern for the local community] (2016, June). View 21, 28–31. Retrieved from
  9. Matsue City. (2017). Matsue-shi Kanko Hakusho [Matsue City Tourism White paper]. Retrieved from
  10. Matsue Kita High School.
  11. MEXT. (2002). Chapter 2 towards advancement of “academic ability”, Section 3. The new courses of study 1. In The new courses of study which aims to develop “academic ability”. Retrieved from
  12. MEXT. (2009). Kotogakko gakushu shido youryo kaisetu: Sogoteki na gakushu no jikan hen [Guide for the period of integrated study in high school course of study]. Retrieved from
  13. MEXT. (2011). Courses of study: Chapter 5 the period for integrated studies. Retrieved from
  14. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Statistics Bureau. (2018, July 13). Japan statistical yearbook, chapter 2: Population and households. Retrieved from
  15. Murray, G. (2011). Older language learners, social learning spaces, and community. In P. Benson & H. Reinders (Eds.), Beyond the language classroom (pp. 132–145). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. NIER. (2017). Heisei 29-nendo zentoku gakuryoku gakusyujyokyo chosa chosa kekka shiryo todofuken-betsu [The course-prefectoral results of the 2017 national assessment of academic ability]. Retrieved from
  17. Nunan, D., & Richards, J. C. (Eds.). (2015). Language learning beyond the classroom. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Pearson Foundation. (2013). Strong performers and successful reformers in education. Retrieved from
  19. Ramírez-Gómez, D. (2016). Language teaching and the older adult: The significance of experience. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Richards, J. C. (2015). The changing face of language learning: Learning beyond the classroom. RELC Journal, 46, 15–22.Google Scholar
  21. Ryan, S. (2009). Ambivalence and commitment, liberation and challenge: Investigating the attitudes of young Japanese people towards the learning of English. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 30(5), 405–420. Scholar
  22. Sánchez, M., Whitehouse, P., & Johnston, L. (2018). Intergenerational learning and education in schools and beyond. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 16(1–2), 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Culture, Media and SocietyWaseda UniversityTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Faculty of International Social SciencesGakushuin UniversityTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations