Whose karate? Language and cultural learning in a multilingual karate club in London

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Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University College London
  • Institute of Education


This article explores language learning as a process of translanguaging and of cultural translation. We draw examples from a sociolinguistic ethnography of translanguaging practices in a karate club in east London, UK. Formulaic Japanese is taught as part of karate techniques, practised as the language of performance and rituals and valued as the key indicator of karate expertise over other languages. Key karate verbal routines such as osu and kiai, while linguistically difficult to translate, bespeak core karate values such as respect and confidence, and equally important, the embodiment of these verbal routines is well integrated into karate moves, breaking down the dichotomy of verbal and physical dimensions of the interaction. The predominant use of formulaic Japanese in rituals, along with other semiotic resources, creates an imagined karate world characterized by hierarchy and guarded through the value of respect. In examining whose karate and how cultural traditions, values and practices are translated and why, we broaden the concept of language and regard it as a multifaceted sense- and meaning-making resource and explore the theoretical implications of taking language teaching and learning as a process of cultural translation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-83
Number of pages32
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number1
Early online date10 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Translanguaging, Karate, language and culture learning