Panel plans strategy for overseas Japanese language education

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

A panel of experts discussing ways to increase the number of Japanese language learners overseas proposed Wednesday promoting “Cool Japan” pop culture and online services to provide more opportunities for speaking the language.

The panel stressed the importance of drawing young people to Japanese through popular culture, such as manga, anime, fashion, music and food. One tack, they said, is to develop more online language learning materials with cultural content.

At the same time, the country has to incentivize learners by cooperating with companies and universities, the panel said. An example might be to prioritize people highly proficient in Japanese in screening candidates for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or in hiring foreign grads by Japanese firms.

The panel also proposed opening online chat rooms for language learners and using TV conference systems and Skype to train nonnative Japanese teachers.

The panel was launched amid worries about the recent slow growth in the number of Japanese learners as the country’s economic power wanes.

Last year, there were a record high 3.98 million people studying Japanese abroad, according to the Japan Foundation. Though 30 times more than in 1979, the panel called attention to the recent slowdown in growth. The government aims to raise the number to 5 million by 2020.

By country, China topped the list for the first time, with around 1.04 million learners, followed by 872,000 in Indonesia and 840,000 in South Korea.

  • Nancy Foster

    If the Japan Foundation wants more middle class mexicans to study Japanese which would be a smart idea for Japan, how about expanding the amount of places in Mexico City than can teach the language. There’s about 5 universities in Mexico City that teach the language and all of them only teach up to JPLT N4 if you are lucky which is pretty much worthless if you want to go to Japan, I’s pretty sure the classes at most of the school barely breeze trough JLPT N5. The schedules are also highly constrained for busy people like myself, just Mon-Friday classes at 8 am in the morning when most people have jobs and university courses at that hour, they are cutting away 95% of people that could learn it. My university is a prestigious private school and even today Japanese isn’t offered, they have english, english, english english oh and.. english. Yeah I already can get a 600 on the TOEFL no thank you. Just 2 years ago now that I have graduated my university offers Mandarin, when I was a student they only gave english courses so I never took any language courses in school, yippie! Mexico City isn’t a rink-a-dink little village, it’s one of the 3 most populated and largest cities in the world, just a dainty 22 million people, almost as big as Tokyo and only getting bigger.

    There is a Japan Foundation in southern Mexico City and they do offer Japanese classes Saturdays, probably my only hope of continuing learning the language in a serious environment, just that the school is just a dainty 2 hours away from where I live in metro, 3 hours by car depending on traffic and does cost quite some $$$. You can get english classes everywhere for just 1/3rd of the cost and learn it faster than almost 2000 kanji.

    Japan wants more rich middle class people learning Japanese? Bring more real quality courses in more major cities in getting rich developing countries. Mexico might seem 3rd world yet every weekend you see people fork a wad of cash on 3D movies and at concerts. People can afford it but I can’t afford the physical exhaustion of commuting 6 hours to go to a 2 hour class. :(

  • David Foley

    Maybe they should be focusing on teaching Japanese people English, like the rest of planet Earth.

  • Hills Learning

    Japanese, in terms of demand in the US, is surprisingly close to demand for Chinese. Part of the reasons we’ve seen with our students is that culturally, people love Japan. It’s not just anime and manga but visiting the country, working with the Japanese, and studying all the cultural nuances all highly motivate people to learn the language. And, with only 5 vowel sounds, people can learn to pronounce the language quickly. It’s not a surprise that the demand for Japanese is 30x what it was in the late 70s, during the economic boom. http://www.hillslearning.com/