The theme of JALT2015—Focus on the Learner—is a timely one highlighting a major shift in our field, from one dominated by descriptions of language and teaching techniques to a greater consideration of the contributions learners make to their own language learning. It is particularly apt that JALT should choose this as a conference theme since researchers from Japan have been at the forefront of this shift. In fact, Japan-based researchers have been so prominent in recent years that it is very easy to forget that this has not always been the case and that for a very long time many researchers in Japan felt disconnected or even isolated from theoretical advances occurring elsewhere. A key figure in the rise of the international profile of Japanese research into individual learner characteristics is this year’s plenary speaker Tomoko Yashima. Her pioneering research into L2 willingness to communicate (WTC) and, in particular, her development of the concept of international posture inspired a generation of Japan-based researchers—myself included—to have the confidence to come up with our own theories and explanations of what is happening in our classrooms, as opposed to slavishly attempting—usually unsuccessfully—to apply models and theories developed elsewhere.
Recently I was fortunate to share a conversation with Tomoko, in which I had the opportunity to ask her about her work, her views on some of the main challenges and opportunities facing language educators in Japan, and her thoughts on JALT 2015.