The Japanese government’s policy on English education has been focusing on developing students’ communication abilities so that students can accurately understand and appropriately convey ideas and information. Administrators also strive to foster students’ positive attitudes toward communication in English. To fulfill the objectives, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture has set up some pedagogical guidelines not only for how the target language should be taught at schools but also for textbook development. In particular, guidelines have been provided for what range of English vocabulary students should learn in Japanese compulsory education. However, almost no research has shed light on the validity of the vocabulary list for officially-approved English textbooks.
The objective of this paper is to analyze the 507 vocabulary items that must appear in each officially-approved Japanese junior high school English textbook. For the purpose of this study, a vocabulary list was derived from an English speech corpus to capture how well the textbook vocabulary reflects a group of English words that most frequently appear in oral communication. A comparative analysis of the two lists reveals a number of interesting features of the English words which students learn in the early stages of their studies. This paper explicates characteristic groups of nouns and verbs in each vocabulary list, as well as some colloquial expressions observed in the speech-corpus-based vocabulary list.