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Knowledge Co-Creation - Profiles of researchers

Towards Japanese Language Education for Acquiring the "Power to Live" and the "Power to Think"

Makiko Ikegami, Associate Professor
Waseda University Graduate School of Japanese Applied Linguistics

As a Japanese language instructor for Japanese returning from China

My expertise is Japanese language education as a second language. After graduating from university, I studied for one year in a long-term training course for Japanese language education. The course was held by The National Institute for Japanese Language. After more than 20 years of working as a Japanese language instructor, I assumed my current position. At the time that I was receiving training at The National Institute for Japanese Language, the "Japanese returning from China Self-support Training Center" was opened. This center supports the return to Japan and settlement by war-displaced Japanese children in China and their families. I worked part-time at the center during my summer vacation and found the work to be very interesting. This led to my assumption of a position as a Japanese language instructor.

Homepage for support of Japanese returning from China and Sakhalin: "Same Voices, Same Spirit" (operated by the Education Division of the Japanese returning from China Self-support Training Center)

The center provided support for Japanese who returned from China at the expense of the Japanese government. After arriving at Narita Airport, the returnees boarded a limousine bus and came directly to the center, where they would spend their first six months in Japan. As applied by the phrase "promotion of settlement", the mission of the center was to provide a "soft landing" for returnees in regards to their future life in Japan. Support was provided so that returnees could overcome any difficult situation which confronted them, and the center attempted to lessen the variety of worries felt by the participants. Furthermore, support was given so that returnees could enter regional Japanese society with confidence and desire.

I learned many things at the center, but one of the most important was not to seek immediate results in education. Of course, it is important how many words the returnees remembered, how much grammar they studied, and how fluently they became able to speak. However, even more important is whether they will be able to exercise the "power to live" and the "power to think" in an environment where they use their second language.

For example, children at the center will enter Japanese schools in the future, and they will have to study subjects such as science, social studies and mathematics while bearing a disadvantage in the Japanese language. In such a situation, the children will need the ability to think and communicate. This ability includes using Japanese to reason by analogy, to give an orderly explanation of that analogical reasoning, and to reassemble their thinking within their own minds while confirming whether their explanation has been understood by the other person. Children absorb new material rapidly, so they remember a great deal of Japanese and become able to speak quite well. However, just because a child gives the appearance of manipulating language, does this mean that the language has expanded to a cognitive level? When this question is ignored, coursework does not proceed as expected, and the children will always bear the struggle of being incapable of self-expression.

At the center, we focused on studying Japanese language in a context that conforms to the interest of children. For example, the children all participated in raising tadpoles and growing morning glory flowers. In terms of a child's development, the six month training period is actually not a short time. For half a year, children lead a lifestyle where they do not attend school and are separated from groups of the same age. They are also in an environment where they are separated from cognitive activities that are appropriate for their age. At the center, we experimented with many methods to address these points. On such method was obtaining permission from nearby schools to allow children from the center to attend classes on a temporary basis.

The problem of "moving children"

The situation encompassing Japanese returning from China has changed greatly in the last 20 years. Compared to when I first began working at the center in the 1980s, significant changes are being achieved by both the Chinese society and economy. In the past, returning to Japan meant giving up the entire lifestyle built during many years of living in China. Returnees liquidated all of their assets before coming to Japan. Today, this has changed so that an individual and flexible "return to Japan" is often seen. For example, returnees may bring their eldest son's family when they return to Japan, yet leave their second son's family in China and occasionally travel between Japan and China.

Furthermore, the situation encompassing foreign residents in Japan is changing dramatically. During the recent economic depression, there are many foreign residents who face a difficult lifestyle due to corporate restructuring. A great deal of these foreign residents faces the dire situation of not being able to return to their home country because they lack the money to purchase a plane ticket. This also has a great effect on the school attendance of children. The situation is such that families move in pursuit of better work, or that they lose their jobs and are forced to leave company housing, which means that they must move in search of inexpensive public housing.

As a result of these moves, children must change schools frequently. Due to education being interrupted both temporally and spatially, there is an effect on the children's acquirement of the Japanese language. These types of children often gather together in a certain region. When viewing actual data, it can be seen that there are regions in which foreign children registered at one school have an extremely high rate of entrance and exit. This phenomenon can be observed in prefectures such as Aichi and Shizuoka. Understanding of Japanese language education is required from the school and its faculty.

Against the backdrop of these problems, an international workshop entitled "Language Education for Children Crossing Borders -From the Implementation of ESL and JSL Education" was held in 2007 at the International Conference Center of Waseda University. The workshop was held by a research group named "The society of language education for JSL children". Due to the globalization of business, there are children who move throughout different countries of the world together with their parents, who are transferred to a number of overseas locations. On the other hand, there are children of foreign residents who repeatedly move to different regions within domestic Japan or within the same prefecture. As I mentioned earlier, the education of these kinds of "moving children" is interrupted by their movements, and their failure to acquire the necessary language skills is a major problem.

From the perspective of the development of children, this problem will not be solved unless we give serious reconsideration to Japanese language education. It is not enough to consider only the efficiency of language requirements when developing Japanese language programs. It is necessary to reconsider Japanese language education from the perspective of development and learning as a human being. The ability to use language for self-expression will enable social independence. As a result, it will be possible to stop children from being dragged into the loop of "reproduction of poverty".

The 2007 workshop "Language Education for Children Crossing Borders -From the Implementation of ESL and JSL Education" was summarized in a book.

Recently, our university has launched the "Plan for 8,000 Foreign Exchange Students" and is working to increase the number of overseas foreign exchange students. The Waseda University Center for Japanese Language conducts Japanese language education for foreign exchange students. However, I feel that it would be inappropriate for Waseda to take the stance of "we will treat foreign exchange students as university students after they have acquired the Japanese skills necessary to take university classes".

In order to accept large numbers of foreign exchange students, it is necessary to prepare a new system that integrates university education with Japanese language education. University faculty and students should change their way of thinking and accept foreign exchange students in their entirety, as both students and as human beings. I believe that questions are being directed regarding the stance of creating an academic environment together with understanding towards Japanese language education. We must accept the fact that encouraging internationalization and globalization means accepting inefficiency.

"WASEDA NO MORI"-Creating a classroom from nothing

Holding the WASEDA NO MORI class

At my graduate school office, I am having students implement an experiment called "WASEDA NO MORI", which calls for the creation of a Japanese classroom from nothing in half a year's time. Students make all decisions regarding how to assemble learners, what kind of leaflets to make and where to post the leaflets, and what kind of people to focus on for the project. From the sidelines, I shake things up by interrupting with questions such as "What will you do if no one comes?" and "What will you do if 100 people come? They won't be able to fit in this room."

All of the students held discussions, made leaflets, distributed the leaflets at city ward offices and restaurants, and waited nervously for the first day of the class. When the first day arrived, a wide variety of people came. There was also a broad range of Japanese levels. We were not able to divide classes based on levels, so we were faced with a number of problems. For example, how should we respond to the level of each individual? What should we do if a certain person is left out of the conversation?

However, when considering the essence of Japanese language education, it is very important to debate each one of these problems and develop a solution. It is also vital to learn that a classroom can only be achieved through cooperation with others and is something that can never be accomplished on the strength of one individual.

Seminar in graduate school office

Upon becoming university faculty, I have become actively involved in lectures and other activities outside of the university. I often give lectures to Japanese language volunteers within the community and conduct lectures or workshops for teachers at the request of school boards. I believe that these kinds of activities will lead to actions for the further development of a Japanese society that accepts people learning the Japanese language. Japanese language education is not something that is only for learners of Japanese.

In recent years, there has been debate in Japan regarding the establishment of a national immigration agency. Of course, issues such as how to integrate immigrant children into Japanese schools and how to secure employment for immigrant workers are very important. However, we must also seriously consider how to create an environment in which the community accepts immigrant families. Thought is also required regarding what kind of programs and systems should exist for the support of immigrants. I hope that my experiences will be of use in resolving such questions.

Firstly, more than anything, it is important to increase the number of people in society who have some degree of understanding regarding Japanese language education. If there is an increase in the number of school teachers, local government employees and corporate employees who understand Japanese language education, then foreigners and immigrants will become able to study Japanese more naturally within their daily lives while also engaging in scholastic study or employment. In order to achieve this goal, I have reaffirmed the importance of considering Japanese language education with students at graduate school and having those graduate students be active after assuming various types of employment.

Homepage for "Nihongo WASEDA NO MORI"

Makiko Ikegami, Associate Professor
Waseda University Graduate School of Japanese Applied Linguistics

Graduated from the Tsuda College Department of International and Cultural Studies. Worked in research of Japanese-language education at The National Institute for Japanese Language. From 1985, served as a Japanese instructor in the Education Division of the Japanese returning from China Self-support Training Center, which is part of the Foundation to Aid War-Displaced Japanese Children in China. In 1996, completed the graduate school course in Cultural Japanese Linguistics at Ochanomizu University. Doctorate in Cultural Japanese Linguistics. Assumed current position in 2005. Part-time instructor at the Japanese returning from China Self-support Training Center in the Foundation to Aid War-Displaced Japanese Children in China. Served as a committee member (1999 to 2003) and an advisor for instructor education (2003 to 2008) at The Society for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language. Also served as a member of the plenary session of collaborators involved in the development of JSL (Japanese as a second language) curriculum in school education (2001-2002 MEXT project "Development of JSL Curriculum in School Education"). Her works include "Creating Language Education for 'Children Crossing Borders'" (2009) and "Adaptation to Different Cultures and Japanese Language Education I: Experimenting with the Method of Hands-On Learning" (1991).

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