National / Social Issues

Long-term expats in Hamamatsu less confident in Japanese than interns

Kyodo

Long-term foreign residents in the city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, were more likely to have lower confidence in their Japanese language ability than technical interns who have recently come from overseas, according to a survey released earlier this year.

The survey was conducted between August and September last year by the city, where many Japanese-Brazilians work at production bases for manufacturers. It found that long-term residents had often missed out on opportunities to learn the Japanese language before arriving, compared to the interns who studied beforehand.

The research, which drew responses from 427 foreign residents in Hamamatsu, underlined the need for the city to consider how to support public language study.

About half of the foreign nationals living in Hamamatsu were from Latin American countries. Among 25,640 residents from overseas, Brazilians made up the largest group, accounting for 37.5 percent as of December last year, followed by Filipinos at 15.8 percent.

While the number of Latin American nationals of Japanese descent in Hamamatsu has sharply increased since Japan revised the immigration law in 1990 to accept them, the population of technical interns from Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia has also been on the rise in the city in recent years.

According to the survey, 12.6 percent of technical interns said regarding their listening comprehension that they “mostly miss” the Japanese spoken to them or “only recognize certain words,” while 33.3 percent of long-term residents gave that response.

As for speaking skills, 21.5 percent of technical interns said they “speak little Japanese” or “can only speak set phrases” for self-introductions or greetings, while 48.9 percent of long-term residents indicated those views.

Of the respondents, 80.8 percent said they were studying Japanese, while 17.6 percent said they were not.

However, 77.3 percent of those who answered that they were not studying the language said they would like to do so. The most common reason barring the group from studying cited in a multiple-choice question was “having no spare time because of work,” at 44 percent.

Meanwhile, 48 percent of companies in Hamamatsu that employ foreign nationals said there were “no foreign workers in need of language education.” Those employees may be able to understand instructions given in Japanese, and their employers apparently do not seek more advanced skills, city officials said.

In the comments section, some businesses called for subsidies for their foreign workers’ Japanese language training.

An official of the Hamamatsu Foundation for International Communication and Exchange, which was commissioned by the city to conduct the survey in 12 languages, said, “A public support system needs to be established to provide adequate Japanese language education.”

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