Improve quality of Japanese language education nationwide

A record high of about 2.96 million foreign residents were living in Japan as of June. With an increase in the number of technical intern trainees living in regional municipalities that are suffering from labor shortages, foreign nationals’ places of residence are expanding across the nation.

A certain level of Japanese language proficiency is essential for foreign residents and their family members in order to prevent issues stemming from isolation or miscommunication in local communities and workplaces. Efforts are necessary toward reducing the number of people who are hampered by language barriers in life and work.

According to a survey conducted by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan on foreign residents in Japan, a higher level of Japanese proficiency correlates to a higher satisfaction rating with the overall living environment.

Nevertheless, the environment is not conducive for learning Japanese. There were many responses that said, “I can’t receive lessons at my level” or “There are no schools nearby.”

The Law on Promotion of Japanese Language Education, which took effect in 2019, stipulates that the central and local governments are responsible for providing Japanese language education to foreign nationals. Making it easy for those who want to study the language to be able to do so is an indispensable foundation for taking in foreign residents.

In November, an expert panel of the Cultural Affairs Agency compiled a report on Japanese language education. The agency hopes that local governments will use the report as a guideline.

The report said it is ideal for foreign residents to acquire a level of language proficiency at which they can communicate and lead their lives. To reach this level, it is said to be necessary to systematically study a curriculum of 350 to 520 hours over a period of one to two years.

Clearly specified in the report is the division of roles, with prefectural and ordinance-designated city governments responsible mainly for securing Japanese language teachers and coordinating with Japanese language schools, while municipal governments are in charge of setting up and operating classrooms.

Due to tight finances, however, it is not easy for local governments to secure budgets and human resources. Many Japanese language teachers tend to be based in urban areas, where there are many universities and Japanese language schools, making it easy for them to have jobs. A shortage of human resources is serious in regional areas.

Nearly half of about 1,900 cities, wards, towns and villages in Japan fall into a “vacuum zone” where there are no Japanese language classes available. Volunteers often teach in these areas, thus uneven levels of language education have been highlighted as a problem.

It is necessary to secure learning opportunities by inviting teachers from neighboring municipalities and utilizing online classes. The central government should also strengthen financial support for local governments and get proactively involved in creating model curriculums and providing teaching materials.

Improving the quality of teachers is also necessary by having a national qualification for Japanese language teachers, which the central government is aiming to achieve, and improving how they are treated. It is hoped that the government will promote the creation of a system that will help increase the number of people who want to be engaged in Japanese language education.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 26, 2022)