[From December Issue 2010]

A survey about Japanese language education at overseas academic institutions was conducted by The Japan Foundation from September 2009 through January 2010.

It was found that in 2009, 125 overseas countries and 8 regions taught the Japanese language. Total numbers indicated that 14,939 academic institutions with 49,844 teachers taught the language to 3,651,761 students. Compared to the 2006 results for the same survey, all number were up with an increase of 1,300 more institutions (up 9.5%), 5,523 more teachers (up 12.5%) and 671,941 more students (up 22.5%).

East Asia was the most active area accounting for 44.1% of the institutions, 54% of the teachers, and 57% of the students involved in global Japanese education. The number of Southeast Asian students studying Japanese also increased significantly. Their percentage rose from 14.8% in 2006, to 24.9% in 2009. East Asia and Southeast Asia alone account for over 80% of the total number of students studying Japanese worldwide.

The neighboring country of South Korea is the most active. Currently there are approximately 960,000 Koreans studying Japanese, or about 26.4% of the total students worldwide. Second is China, another of Japan’s neighbors. Approximately 830,000 Chinese students, or 22.7%, are learning Japanese. Coming third is Indonesia with 720,000 students, or 19.6%. Students from these three countries together account for 70% of the total number of global students learning Japanese.

So what kind of academic facilities are these students studying the language in? According to the survey, most students are studying at secondary schools, consisting of approximately 2 million students: equivalent to 54.9% overall. The next highest number is found in higher educational institutions at approximately 970,000 students, which is 26.5%. The third highest number is at approximately 47,000 students (13.0%), who are at non-academic institutions. And as for primary school children, there are approximately 20,000 pupils (5.6%) studying the Japanese language.

And why is Japanese being studied internationally? The top 4 survey reasons given were (multiple responses): “to gain knowledge and information about the Japanese culture (history, literature, etc.),” “to gain knowledge and information about the Japanese culture (anime, manga, J-pop, etc.),” “interest in the Japanese language,” and “to be able to communicate using Japanese.”

“To gain knowledge and information about the Japanese cultures (anime, manga, J-pop, etc.),” was a newly added response to the most recent survey. As a result, it can be concluded that Japanese pop culture has become one of the prime motivators for people to study the language. Additionally, primary and secondary educational institutes replied that, “students are required to learn it by their country or government” resulting in the increase/decrease in the number of students who are affected by government policies.

And who teaches the Japanese language in all these countries? According to the survey, out of the 49,844 Japanese language teachers, 14,044 (or 28.2%) people are actually native Japanese speakers. As for the remaining 35,800 (71.8%) teachers, Japanese is not their mother tongue.

And what concerns do international institutions face when teaching Japanese? Many cite inadequate teaching materials and equipment as their primary concern. While on the other hand, the newly added choice of “possibly, Japanese will be replaced by other languages” was not as concerning to these institutions.

Hiragana Times magazine offers a service called “JACS-Japanese Assisting Coach System” (free) to its subscribers. ISHIKAWA Shinobu, a public worker living in Tokyo, teaches Japanese to Tokyo resident Helio Galvao CIFFONI who is Brazilian. They meet for lessons once a week after work at a nearby coffee shop and use Hiragana Times as their textbook. After their lesson ends, they discuss their own cultures in English.

“A volunteer had taught me English while I was studying abroad in the USA. So because of that experience, I wanted to return the courtesy and decided to become a volunteer,” says Ishikawa.

In contrast, Helio says, “I do not use Japanese for work, but I am studying Japanese so that I can better communicate with my Japanese friends and colleagues. I go on business trips a lot, so it is hard for me to attend language schools regularly. But with this system, I can have lessons when it is convenient for me. And since we use Hiragana Times as our textbook, I can also learn about news in Japan which is a topic I can then discuss with my colleagues,” he explains.

SANO Hitomi is also teaching Japanese and interacting internationally via the Internet. She uses Skype to teach Japanese to a North American man, saying that “It is a social contribution that I can make while working during the day. And it strengthens my communication and teaching skills, so I am learning as well.”

Sano has already taught Japanese to 4 people. During her first class with a new student, she asks them their reason for wanting to learn Japanese, and then adjusts her teaching method accordingly. She also creates a quiz based on each lesson for her students to take during their next session. “I feel that Japanese education has broadened its horizon with the help of the Internet and with language teaching volunteers. As a Japanese person, I would feel proud to know that people think kindly about the Japanese language, and I would be even happier knowing that I have contributed even a little in spreading that thought,” she says.

The Japan Foundation

Text: SAZAKI Ryo

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