Concerns raised about language skills of Southeast Asians coming to work in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Trainees study Japanese in Hanoi on April 27.

HANOI — As pandemic-related border restrictions are eased, there is expected to be an increase in the number of Southeast Asians entering Japan on a government program for so-called “technical intern trainees” — effectively foreign workers who can gain experience at Japanese companies for a certain period before returning to their home countries.

However, concerns have been raised about the Japanese proficiency of some trainees, with the coronavirus pandemic limiting the amount of in-person language instruction they receive in their home countries before traveling to Japan.

As a result, employers that accept trainees are being urged to arrange additional language instruction after they have arrived in Japan.

Usually, trainees study Japanese several months before they travel to Japan through organizations accredited by the governments of the respective countries.

In some countries, trainees take Japanese language lessons while living in dormitories. However, some dormitories closed when Japan banned the entry of nonresident foreigners in January last year, and in-person classes were canceled.

Some organizations sending trainees to Japan held lessons online, but problems such as poor internet connection and sound quality meant some trainees were not able to practice Japanese conversation.

An official of an organization in Indonesia said students who were not self-motivated showed little progress.

Even though in-person classes have resumed in most countries, it is unclear whether trainees will be able to acquire the language skills necessary to live and work in Japan before they arrive.

At a language school in Hanoi affiliated to one of such organizations, Nhat Thanh, some trainees even confused the Japanese words for “yes” and “no” shortly before their scheduled departure to Japan.

“After a long absence, I’ve forgotten much of what I learned,” a 25-year-old trainee said.

Trainees are supposed to continue receiving language instruction in Japan for a certain period, but whether or not they do so beyond that depends on the employers that accept them.

“I hope employers will make efforts such as speaking slowly to trainees to help them improve their language skills,” said Manabu Kaneya, the head of the Nhat Thanh’s Japanese language school in Hanoi.