U.K. plan to limit Japanese worries language teachers

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

Japanese language scholars have expressed concern at proposed plans that threaten to marginalize the teaching of Japanese at schools in England.

At issue are proposals to focus on a narrow range of foreign languages in English elementary schools and possibly remove examinations in Japanese for 16-year-olds, currently called GCSEs.

Japanese teachers and the Japan Foundation — an independent administrative agency that promotes international cultural exchanges between Japan and the rest of the world — have written to the Department for Education expressing concerns as part of the consultation process.

Under the plans, which relate only to English schools, pupils aged between 7 and 11 will, for the first time, be compelled to study at least one language from a list of six — French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish or a classical language, specifically Latin or ancient Greek.

Schools will still be free to teach other less-popular languages, including Japanese, but experts fear that by not including Japanese on the mandatory list could lead to a perception it is no longer important.

The changes are due to come into effect in September 2014.

Japanese scholars are also anxious about plans to change the GCSE exam system for 16-year-olds.

In its consultation document, the government questions whether it is still economically viable to have examinations in 24 separate languages.

The document lists nine foreign languages, which it implies should be retained, but Japanese is not included. Scholars argue scrapping examinations in Japanese would inevitably lead to schools dropping the subject.

There are estimated to be fewer than 10,000 pupils studying Japanese in more than 300 British schools, and more than 1,100 students each year take GCSE exams in Japanese.

The Japan Foundation asserts Japanese lessons and qualifications should be maintained in schools because they have proved popular and useful for students.

The organization notes that over the last 15 years the number of pupils taking GCSE Japanese has doubled.

Japanese currently ranks as the sixth most popular modern foreign language in schools and is shown to boost job prospects and salary levels in later life.

Tsuyoshi Takahashi, director general of the Japan Foundation, said it “makes little sense to restrict the choice of languages” between the ages of 7 and 11 because schools should be allowed to “teach to their strengths and make use of their existing teachers’ language abilities.”

Helen Gilhooly, who teaches Japanese at Aldercar Community Language College in Derbyshire, northern England, said restricting the choice of languages offered to young people “limits their horizons.”

She said Japanese has proved to be “amazingly motivating for pupils where European languages don’t always hit the spot. In addition, students with Japanese have done well in securing jobs.

“Young people often already have an understanding and interest in Japan through technology, culture, local friendships, art and fashion to name just a few, and so their enthusiasm to learn the language is a natural progression.”

Helen Langsam, who teaches Japanese at Hendon School, north London, has written to the Department for Education stating any plans to drop Japanese as a GCSE exam will have a “devastating impact” on her school, where 400 pupils currently study the subject.

“Japanese has been a life-saver and an inspiration for our students, many of whom come from very challenging backgrounds,” she said.

In a statement, the Department for Education said it is currently reviewing the responses it has received over the two proposals and will “set out next steps in due course.”

  • Edohiguma

    You can have it, if you pay for it. Simple as that. And let’s face it, how many of them will ever use Japanese again? A fringe minority.

    I’ve learned French and Russian in school. French was a choice between Italian or French, and Russian was a voluntary course. Haven’t used either for 20 years. I still understand some when I hear it, but read and speak either? Not really. The old saying is true: if you don’t use it, you lose it. There was simply no reason for me to stay proficient in either.

    So yeah, how many of them will keep using Japanese after school? That would be interesting. Most won’t. Most won’t get even close to Japanology or having a job that deals with Japan in any connection. Besides, less than 10,000? Eat your heart out tax payer. How many of those even do the exam? Most likely not all of them. So no, I doubt it’s economically viable to keep it up.

    Apart from that, it sounds like a breeding ground of weeaboos. And I don’t like weeaboos. I see them every year here at my university, Department of East Asian Studies, Japanology, clogging up the place, some even believing that they’ll become manga artists in Japan (I wish I was kidding), and all of them usually anime-kiddies and Jpop fanboys (the most annoying kind.) And then they end up dropping out after one to two semesters, because, guess what, the language courses are too hard for them. We’re talking JLPT 2-3 after 2 years. It’s almost bootcamp style language drilling, because thanks to all the weeaboos clogging up the system there are too many people in the practical language courses of the first semester. Teaching Japanese in a class of 35+ is not how it should be. Smaller groups are better, but there’s no money or even space for that.

    Luckily the popularity is fading, the Japan craze is slowly dying off. Japan and Japanology (aka Japanese Studies) were a flavor of the decade, that is wearing off. There are less and less of them every year. Eventually we’ll go back to the days when it was a fringe department with a small staff and small numbers of students and I can only say “good”. Holding a lesson in theory of the Japanese language in front of 200+ students of which maybe 10% actually pay attention, while the rest is trying to look occupied so that they don’t have to translate anything or do anything else (ironically that’s usually the weeaboos), is no fun and I’m glad I’m not teaching that kind of course.

    • Scott86

      To be honest and blunt – I’m glad I’ve never had you as a teacher. Your
      post makes you sound so incredibly closed that I’m surprised the
      education sector appeals to you at all. There are way too many arrogant
      and condescending lecturers in universities these days (I had many of them)
      and I can tell you this: from the student perspective, that style is
      the worst. For your students’ sakes, I hope you are different to what
      your post leads me to believe.

    • EdwardAlchemist

      I don´t know what university you are a part of, but I study Japanology (and because of the anime, what you complain about), and I don´t like how you basically generalize, “don´t like” me and all my friends (who are nice people), and basically set us away as lazy non-studying idiots, so let me respond to your observations:

      1 – Japanese popular culture is only getting more and more popular here. Visitor numbers for the biggest convention in my country:

      2010 : 2200
      2011: 3000
      2012 : 3500 (and that´s only because of a very strict growth limit they put in place!)

      And I this hobby, and I am pretty sure I won´t grow tired of it anytime soon! I have dozens of friends and acquantances, *all* of which are cosplaying (hardcore) anime/manga/game fans like myself, and quite a few of them are pretty new to the sub-culture. They all say that they meet the nicest people they know there. Also, a museum had an exhibition on us last year, and next year, there will be a big exhibition somewhere else, with the help of the manga kissa.

      Finally, three new yearly conventions have sprung up since 2010. There are now a total of 7. There are multiple cosplay meets per week (each in different parts of the country offcourse), a numbers of clubs, and a manga library. (And the “regular” public libraries (the manga kissa legally speaking *is* registered as a public library, too). also stock tons of manga and anime ^^
      Thrust me, the subculture is in no danger of dying out here; in fact, one of the staff members of the biggest three day convention told me by far the biggest treat they faced was that they were growing far too quickly (hence onlt 3500 people last year; this year probably the same.) And the more anime fans here, the happier I am, since it means more nice, enthousiastic and crazy cosplayers and anime freaks for me to make friends with! (^_^)

      2 – About university: the number of students are only ever increasing. the drop out rate is less than 30%. There are almost only anime fans (luckily, I have lots of fun people to tak with there XD), and by far most of them pass all courses and work just as hard as the other students.

      Also awesome: out of 10 third-year students (including me) taking the computer science minor this year, 7 are Japanologists! Same people xD (and yes, computer science, mathematics, *and* physics are also mostly made up of Otaku XD)

      Long story short: no-one cares wether you like them to study Japanology or not, you do not have (I assume) the legal right to remove students from university, so live with it. The 140.000 people going to Japan expo in Paris, or the 3500 going to my favourite con in my own country this year, well, none of them are gonna stop doing what we love and enjoy and are passionate about because someone writes on the internet there are too many Japan fans. End of Story.

      (Be happy tough; in 6 months, I Will leave the Japanology department! With a degree, that is ;-) )

      • katsuobushi

        I’m not sure I share your brisk assessment of all things Japan-y – especially when you consider it in the context of higher education and in the working world.

        My old East Asian studies department has just had its funding slashed and as I said in my previous post the number of departments and teaching staff for these subjects is dwindling. Mandarin is only just about surviving thanks to the Confucius Institute. Korean may also have this short little boom thanks to some guy crazily jumping around next to some horses on youtube, but its not bringing in the required number of people studying it.

        Likewise the Japanese government is practically begging people to come over to the point where it can’t even give away the 1000 working holiday visas that are issued every year. Given that people in the UK can simply hop over to any number of European countries without any visa restrictions, this puts a huge limit on the possibilities of teaching non-European based languages in schools.

        My worry is, we are going down a path that is discouraging potential linguists to study something like Japanese in favour of languages that are already slightly over-saturated in the marketplace.

        Japan is always going to be interesting to your pop-culture fanatic, but its not going to produce any type of serious academic or linguist – which is what we should be able to produce through our education system.

        I can understand Edohiguma’s grievances to be fair. Mandarin has basically overtaken Japanese as a main business language and has been pushed out into the ‘niche’ market and merged into a very unusual sub-culture. Which is sad in many ways.

        What’s interesting is that the GCHQ – who basically do all the analysis work for the Ministry of Defence, hire people with Japanese language skills in their arsenal, mainly so they can then be retrained in Farsi or Uzbek. I don’t think they are hiring them on the basis of their love of anime or manga reading skills.

      • EdwardAlchemist

        Japanese in my country has the advantage that universities are funded with public money here, and receive money based on the number of students. This prevents the situation where departments don’t have enough money to properly teach a popular study.

        So around here, as long as people studing Japanstudies, whether because they´re otaku (like me and my friends, and like I said, I am certainly not gonna become less enthousiastic anytime soon (^_^) , or some other reasons, the money they receive will automatically keep going up as well. I believe they even pay for other very unpopular studies right now (such as Germand and French for example. which are European countries like us , but actually attract less than 1/7th of the students Japanese does! LOL )

    • katsuobushi

      There are only around 5 or 6 dedicated East Asian departments in the UK and most of them are tiny compared to other language departments.

      I think it makes more sense to identify people who want to go down the languages route and offer specialised Secondary and post-16 qualifications. Its all about engineering a very niche but top-class workforce without wasting public money.

      Gove and the Tories have the chance to do something interesting here but will no doubt mess it up.

      Interesting that Hendon and Derbyshire were mentioned. Two big Japanese communities around there.

    • Ross123

      You seem to forget that Japan is the third largest economy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Whats the point in learning european languages when their is no prospect of employment?

    • TomPringle

      Edohiguma, your ignorance is matched only by your arrogance. I won’t waste words refuting your bilious whinging – that would be as pointless as your original post. Suffice it to say, providing children with a broad and rich education is not only laudable but is our responsibility as the generation who have come before them.

      I have seen first hand how much enrichment my students get from their studies of Japanese, their visits to Japan on exchange trips, their broadened mindset and friendship network from hosting Japanese peers and skyping with them. Narrow-mindedness such as yours adds nothing to the curriculum, indeed, if you really wish to make a valid contribution to this discussion, get in front of a classroom of Japanese students and see what they are getting out of it instead of clogging up internet space with pseudo-intelligent diatribe. If you truly are a teacher you are a disgrace to the profession.

  • Ron NJ

    If not for my wife I would never use Japanese after finally getting out of the country.
    I’ll never be hired to do translation because I’m not Asian.
    I’ll never get to use it with clients because the Japanese side will always hire someone with (expectedly terrible) English skills to communicate with us.
    About the only time it will be useful is when browsing 2chan reading racist rhetoric or listening to Japanese tourists talk smack about me in front of my face, thinking that I can’t understand them.