t never ceases to amaze me how foreign language teaching norms 
vary in the places where I have lived, taught and worked.  I 
grew up in small town in the southeastern United States where 
foreign languages were optional in elementary and secondary school.  
My older friends told me that foreign languages were not required to enter 
the university and my parents let me make my own choices so I opted out.  
I chose not to study any foreign languages during elementary or high 
school.  When I entered the university, I became interested in languages 
and studied Russian.

In the mid-80s, I moved to Finland to study Russian, Finnish and 
international relations and found, to my surprise, that in Finnish 
schools all students must begin studying their first foreign language 
at around age nine.  They have a choice of which language to study and 
they usually choose English.  

Language planners in Finland feel choices during basic education are 
made by parents, not students.  Educated parents tend to make educated 
choices while others may not.  Education is usually linked to economic 
prosperity.  So if given the choice better-off may choose to study 
languages while less well-off students may chose not to study foreign 
languages and thus limit their opportunities for the future. 

In addition, Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish.  
The Finnish native-speakers (around 92% of the population)  must begin 
studying Swedish and Swedish native-speakers (around 7% of the population) 
must begin studying Swedish at around age 11 so everyone can understand 
both of the nation's official languages.  Students must begin another 
foreign language at around age 12. Usually by the end of junior high 
school, all students have studied the country's other native language 
and at least two foreign languages. In order to graduate from college 
or university, students must speak, read and write both of the country's 
official languages and at least one foreign language and sometimes more 
depending on their major subject.  This is very different from Tennessee 
where I grew up.

I studied, worked and taught in Finland until the early 90s when I 
moved to Japan to teach English in junior high school through the 
Japanese Ministry of Education's Japan Exchange Teaching Program which 
I highly recommend.  In Japan I found that university and college 
admission tests include an English section.   Japanese students usually 
study English in elementary and secondary school.  Many do so in the 
hopes of gaining admission in a good university. Unlike their Finnish 
counterparts, relatively few Japanese learners studied additional 
foreign languages in grade school.  Although there is an increased 
interest in teaching communication skills, English language teaching 
in Japan has tended to focus on the grammar skills needed to pass the 
college entrance examinations.  When I was in Japan in the 90s, 
students began studying English at age 12.  Now they begin at age 8 
or 9 in elementary school.  Most Japanese English teachers that I met 
had a keen interest in improving language education in their country 
because they cared about their students' futures. 

Somewhere along the line I found myself becoming a language teacher.  
I did a MSc in Teaching English for Specific Purposes and then a 
doctoral degree focusing on how culture influences English language 
teaching in Finland and Japan.    For the past 5 years have been 
teaching English and translation in Finnish universities.  During 
this time I have been an exchange teacher and/or guest scholar in  
the United States, England, Estonia and Belgium.  I have found that 
in each country I visit the foreign language education system is different.   
Considering this, one could argue that because the systems are different, 
concepts about language teaching and learning are probably different 
across national and cultural boundaries.

In my opinion, the cultural variability between language teachers from 
different backgrounds enriches  the language teaching community.  We 
can take advantage of forums such as Academic Exchange Quarterly (AEQ)
to learn from one another.  In this Fall issue, almost all of the 
authors have revised their articles at least once in order to take into 
account the comments of the reviewers.  This has meant cooperating via 
the Internet with scholars, teachers and educators from all over the 
world.  I hope that you will enjoy the articles that are presented and 
that they will help you improve and help enhance your own classroom 
teaching and the way that your students learn.

Mike Garant, Ph.D.
University of Tampere, Finland
Issue Editor