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  • Mainichi: First GOJ guidelines for teaching NJ the Japanese language so they can live here

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 27th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  Good news from the GOJ today.  There is a concerted effort to help NJ learn the language so they can live here.  About time.  Not clear who’s paying for it — the students or the governments.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    Gov’t drafts guidelines for teaching Japanese to foreign residents
    (Mainichi Japan) April 16, 2010 Courtesy JK

    TOKYO (Kyodo) — A government subcommittee has drafted guidelines for the first time on teaching Japanese to foreign residents of Japan in order to support them in their daily lives, government officials said Thursday.

    The draft guidelines compiled by a Council for Cultural Affairs subcommittee lists examples of words and phrases that foreigners should be encouraged to learn for smooth communication in 10 main types of situations, including health care, travel and activities related to consumption and safety.

    The main types are subdivided into 48 categories in which recommended words and phrases are situated in more concrete scenarios such as how to use trains and medicines in Japan.

    The number of registered foreign residents in Japan stood at around 2.22 million at the end of 2008, according to the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.

    Many government officials concerned with language education believe it would be desirable for at least 1 million of the foreign residents to learn Japanese so that they can live their lives smoothly.

    However, there has been no previous attempt to compile government standards on the extent to which foreign residents should learn Japanese.

    The draft, due to be submitted shortly to the Japanese language division of the Council for Cultural Affairs, estimates that the total learning period under the proposed guidelines would be around 60 hours.

    “(The curriculum) would mean a great deal if it serves to demonstrate the government’s intention to support foreigners living in Japan for a long period,” says Takeshi Yoshitani, a professor who heads Tokyo Gakugei University’s Center for Research in International Education.

    Public support will be necessary for foreign residents to secure the 60 hours of learning, he added.

    (Mainichi Japan) April 16, 2010

    20 Responses to “Mainichi: First GOJ guidelines for teaching NJ the Japanese language so they can live here”

    1. James N Says:

      That’s it?!!!! There should be a J.S.L. program implemented for all students in all schools, in addition to low cost courses offered at local community centers for all foreign residents. (I use the term “resident” loosely due to the fact that I personally don’t exist here despite having permanent residence).

      Other countries like the U.S. should set up reciprocal agreements with Japan in regards to language learning. For example, the U.S. offers work holiday visas, E.S.L. programs galore, a very open program for resident scholars from other countries to study the field of their choice, etc….. I know there are some foreign scholars here, but what opportunities are available to them upon completion of their work or graduation? I think it’s time for Japan to treat the NJ in this country as Japanese are treated abroad. When was the last time you saw an NJ working at a Docomo booth or a law firm…..even as a file clerk???? The double standards drive me insane sometimes.

    2. Alex Says:

      Even if nothing major comes from their efforts, I find it refreshing to hear that they are discussing the topic.

    3. Frank Says:

      “at least 1 million of the foreign residents to learn Japanese so that they can live their lives smoothly”?
      I would think that at least that amount knows rudimentary Japanese. 912,000 permanent residents should speak the language.
      245,000 spouses of Japanese, while some may not be very good, should know at least the basics if living here.
      That’s over a million there. While I applaud the effort, the number should be twice what it is. Unless this actually means the target is to teach to an additional million people. THAT would be a good idea.

    4. Mark Hunter Says:

      Until Japan has an immigration policy, a Ministry of immigration (or something like it), laws against racial discrimination, etc., this pathetic, patchwork attempt to show some concern for foreigners living amongst them is nothing more than a mirror of the true attitude of the old boy conservativism – the current ‘honne’- Japan shows the world. Until it is publicly palatable (i.e. politically safe) for those in power to propose the above reforms,
      forget about meaningful change. Aaargghhh! Rant over. Thanks, that feels better.

    5. Peter Says:

      Those who chose to come to Japan should use their own time and money to learn the language. Others have done it by themselves. See how many Nigerians in Roppongi speak Japanese fluently, and you get an idea about how the motivated people will make an effort to learn. Plenty of Japanese language courses are offered, so people should use their own money to learn. Government spending for language teaching would be a disaster, like road construction or other wasteful public spending. The DPJ would strike language programs down with a “shiwake” if this ever became a taxpayer-funded effort.

      — There are plenty of examples overseas of free language courses overseas for immigrants. Your assuming everyone can afford language education is presumptuous, and in my view quite insulting to those in very low income brackets in the 3K sectors. Comparing it to paved beaches or road building pork is even more insulting, not to mention ignorant.

    6. jim Says:

      maybe the GOJ should first get there own house in order and pass an anti-discrimination law and then NJ would be able to live in japan more smoothly. And then a human rights law ,and the hague treaty while there at it.The language is not the promblem, its the unequal treatment of foreignors that is the problem. The GOJ always talks about giving free language lessons, Ive heard the same thing just about every year since 1988 when I first arrived in japan. The GOJ needs to address the bigger issues facing NJ, like the quality of life and why does it still take the average NJ 15 visits to the fudosan to find a place to live? GOJ wakeup and stop ignoring the big issues again its 2010 already.

      — Proofread, Jim!! Any more sloppy comments like this and they’re not getting through.

    7. Chuckie Says:

      I used to go to a wee community centre in Yokohama where they held Japanese lessons for the princely sum of 300 yen per 90 minutes. There were classes every day at different levels. The tutors were either prospective teachers or retired folk and we used the ‘Minna no Nihongo’ textbooks. Great fun and genuine immersion because the other students were from non-English speaking countries. There’s quite a few in Tokyo and Yokohama area. More of these sorts of places – and the corresponding promotion and funding of them – would be great.

    8. bernard Says:

      I also believe that this effort should be targeting the larger issues that hamper integration between the NJ and native population. Whilst I think that highly motivated people from any income bracket will make the effort to learn by themselves, it is certainly a good thing to have a language program for those from lower income brackets. Money spent on the integration of society is money well spent, without doubt.

    9. Norik Says:

      I think that a major issue in Japanese language education is the unificatied approach to students from different language backgrounds. Chinese or Korean language bear greater similarity to Japanese, hence these nationals can learn certain grammar and vocabulary much easier than people from European or South East Asian countries, for example. And with less effort, I would add, which is essential when studying Japanese isn’t the main purpose of your stay in Japan.

    10. Kimberly Says:

      Great step in my opinion… yes, it’s possible for some people at least to learn a language to a certain degree without ever setting foot in a proper classroom, I’ve known several people who get by after a bit of self-study and “language exchange” situations. But some people are naturally better at language learning than others, and ANYONE will have an easier time of it if they’re being taught grammar and polite sentence stucture along with whatever they pick up from social situations.

      Also, this country as a whole needs to have higher EXPECTATIONS of long-term and semi-long-term residents. I don’t think every tourist or Working Holiday visitor needs to be fluent… but if people are livng here for 10 or 20 years and only speaking English (or whatever) in their daily lives… its not just the NJ in question, Japanese people seem to think that they SHOULD be able to speak english and feel embarassed when they can’t, while NJ residents who don’t speak Japanese seem to feel nothing of the sort. The government stepping up and saying “You should speak at least basic Japanese if you’re going to live here, let us help you” may encourage more people to give it more of an effort.

      Re: #3, I’ve met plenty of PR or spouse visa holders who really can’t hold a basic conversation in Japanese… or worse, CAN when they have to but still persist in going into stores and restaurants and babbling away in English without so much as an “eigo wakarimasu ka?” in advance.

      — As you infer, the point is, the GOJ at least has to TRY to help people assimilate. Language assistance in this regard is fundamental.

    11. Rachel Says:

      This is a good start, if anything. Drafting a set of guidelines should continue with setting up government-sponsored classes for foreigners around Japan (either free or at low costs). Of course, in the end the responsibility for learning Japanese rests almost entirely with the foreigners themselves, but any kind of government initiative would be helpful and show the GOJ’s willingness to do something more than just point and tell foreigners, “OK, this is what you need to learn, good luck with it.”

    12. Level3 Says:

      @James N.

      I’m fairly sure that the U.S. is the only major Anglophone country that DOESN’T offer work holiday visas, I’d always assumed the whole work holiday thing was reciprocal, thus Japanese can get WH visas in Australia, Canada, NZ, England,etc. but not the USA, and vice versa.

      As for NJ working file clerk and docomo jobs, I assume you mean you don’t see white people in such jobs and are turning a very blind eye to the Chinese, Koreans, other Asians, and more who DO have such jobs. But hey, maybe that black guy I saw at Yamada Denki was Japanese? No, seriously. Maybe he IS Japanese. And maybe those I assume are Chinese and Korean by birth I see working in offices are also Japanese citizens. There’s no way to tell unless you start demanding ID like a Koban Keystone. And in the end ,isn’t that the whole point?

      As a tangent, I sort of assume that NJ who don’t speak English might have more opportunities and motivation (out of necessity) to learn Japanese on their own. In a way, English speakers have a disadvantage in learning. I believe I am not alone in the daily struggle to NOT speak English with J colleagues who want to practice. But I do prefer this minor struggle to the much more real struggle to pay rent working minimum wage while picking up Japanese as I go.

    13. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      I have to agree with James N re: a JSL program, possibly in place of the regular kokugo lessons. Failure to implement this leads to a skill-impoverished underclass.

      My experiences of cheap language classes are similar to Chuckie’s. Unfortunately, such classes tend to be held on weekdays during work hours. They are also hit-and-miss – I’ve heard horror stories of incompetent teachers who couldn’t teach anything beyond これ、それ、あれ.

      Bernard also has hit several good points, particularly about money spent on social integration being money well spent.

      Finally, it is a message to the wider community that their language is learnable, not genetically inherrited, and that immigrants might have plans to integrate.

    14. GiantPanda Says:

      @James N – I work in a law firm. I assure you I am very NJ. Big Camera employs a ton of NJ, especially in their Yurakucho store. Combini stores everywhere are a treasure trove of Chinese and Korean NJ. Yoshinoya, McDonalds, etc. all employ NJ. They are everywhere. Perhaps, as Level3 points out, a lot of them are “stealth” NJ and fly somewhat under the radar.

      — You mean Bic Camera, right?

    15. Behan Says:

      I am glad to see the government in interested in teaching Japanese to NJ. I experience the same thing as Level3. I want to speak Japanese but co-workers and people I meet around town often want to practice their English on me. Some days it’s a struggle to get much Japanese in at all.

      — We’re getting off topic.

    16. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      a lot of them are “stealth” NJ and fly somewhat under the radar

      I have no idea how widespread it is, but I’ve heard of Asian-looking NJ working in convenience stores and getting nametags with Japanese names on them so that customers will interact with them without hesitating and wondering if they can speak Japanese or not. Not sure how I feel about this.

      I’ve also seen lots of katakana names in conbini too, and often strike up a conversation with them and find out where they’re from. Plenty of exotic places like Uzbekistan and the Uighur region.

      Okinawans are particularly happy when I spot an Okinawan surname on their tag and correctly guess where they hail from. Most of these jobs are boring and not much fun, so if they’re not too busy, liven up their day and get to know them!

    17. Allen Says:

      Yes, I am glad that the GOJ is attempting this effort. Although, if you have plans to live in the nation, I would imagine that you should learn the language BEFORE you enter the country. Of course, there are many exceptions, such as the student who is coming to the nation TO learn it, but for a lot of people, they should just learn the language first if they have the opportunity. Back on topic, I hope that the GOJ will continue to acknowledge the NJ and PR’s in this nation.

    18. CNevinT Says:

      I have no idea how widespread it is, but I’ve heard of Asian-looking NJ working in convenience stores and getting nametags with Japanese names on them so that customers will interact with them without hesitating and wondering if they can speak Japanese or not. Not sure how I feel about this.

      I worked in a pizza delivery shop in rural Japan in the late 1990s. I made pizza, answered the phone, took orders, ran the cash register, and did deliveries. No one batted an eye, and I’m a big white guy. I’ve also worked construction in Japan, and have worked in the hotel industry. Once again, no big deal, and it was hardly “stealth”.

    19. CNevinT Says:

      Malaysian and Russian university students also worked in convenience stores in the region where I lived. Once again, no big deal.

    20. James Annan Says:

      “Although, if you have plans to live in the nation, I would imagine that you should learn the language BEFORE you enter the country.”

      Sorry, but that is just a complete non-starter for most people. Why on earth would I (when working in the UK a few years back) have chosen to spend a few years learning Japanese, just on the off-chance that my next job might be here? It might equally well have been in Chile, where I also applied for a job. Given the (typically) short stay and poor career prospects here, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would devote any significant effort in advance of actually coming – apart from those already interested in Japanese as a hobby, or due to other connections, etc. It’s pretty pointless even now I’m here, given that I’m very likely to be leaving in a few more years (whether by choice or not). Nevertheless, I support action by the GoJ to help those who are trying to learn.

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