Connectedness the key to success in learning Japanese

Japanese language learning has evolved to include a variety of ways to learn including celebrating Japanese culture

Creating New Synergies - cover

Co-editor Dr Penny Shino from Massey University

Co-editor Dallas Nesbitt from AUT

Co-editor Dr Masayoshi Ogino from the University of Canterbury

A new book provides unprecedented insight into issues and strategies around Japanese language learning in New Zealand at tertiary level, offering a powerful example of what can be achieved through co-operation, collaboration and vision.

Creating New Synergies: Approaches of Tertiary Japanese Programmes in New Zealand, edited by three New Zealand academics, is the first book to be published on Japanese language teaching in New Zealand’s tertiary institutions.

Co-edited by Dr Penny Shino from Massey University, Dallas Nesbitt from AUT and Dr Masayoshi Ogino from the University of Canterbury, it is a compilation of in-depth research into how the teaching of Japanese in the New Zealand tertiary sector is successfully adapting within a rapidly-changing and challenging learning environment.

Co-ordinator of the Japanese Programme in Massey University’s School of Humanities Dr Penny Shino has watched the evolution of Japanese language teaching in New Zealand.

“As one of the first generation of New Zealanders to study Japanese at secondary school, I feel I have been there from the start. It has been a rollercoaster ride, through the tsunami of enrolments in the 1990s and some recent quite difficult patches, but we have come through. Thanks to a connected and committed network of Japanese educators we are now facing the future with some confidence,” she says.

Although Japan remains steady as New Zealand’s fourth-largest trading partner, the number of secondary school and tertiary students learning the language has been dropping since the highs of the late 1980s and 90s through the era of Japan’s ‘bubble economy’.

In the decade between 2005 and 2015 tertiary enrolments dropped by 48 per cent, and the decreasing number of Japanese language learners meant a reduction in courses offered. There is also competition from other languages being offered, especially Mandarin and Spanish.

AUT’s senior lecturer in Japanese Dallas Nesbitt says New Zealand lacks a national language policy, which makes it difficult to prioritise additional language learning in a busy curriculum. And even though ‘Learning Languages’ is a curriculum area, unlike other areas it is not compulsory.

“The secondary and tertiary sectors are strongly united but cannot hope to educate New Zealanders for a global world without sound long-term national policies being put in place,” Ms Nesbitt says.

A focus on science, technology, engineering and maths subjects in secondary school also limits options for school pupils keen to add learning a language to their schedule, and sends the wrong message to students, teachers, senior management, careers advisors and parents about the importance of languages in a global society.

However, the authors highlight that learning another language helps people develop a range of skills which add value to any career, including creativity, communication, interpersonal skills, flexibility and adaptability, self-awareness and confidence, and being attuned to diversity.

Globally the numbers of Japanese language learners have increased, and Dr Masayoshi Ogino from the University of Canterbury’s Department of Global, Cultural and Language Studies in the College of Arts says interest in Japan can only increase with the upcoming Rugby World Cup in 2019, and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“However, the Japanese language education we envisage for the future needs strong foundations and approaches which will endure beyond the short-lived allure of such events,” he says. “We hope this book provides readers with innovative ideas, insights and inspiration for further developing additional language programmes, which will remain sustainable beyond 2020.”

The authors agree that the formation of Japanese Studies Aotearoa New Zealand (JSANZ) in 2013 has fostered a strong sense of community between Japanese language teachers at all levels, and created opportunities for language learners to work together in dynamic settings.

“With JSANZ we have an active community of educators who want to help others learn Japanese and also learn more about the Japanese culture. The popularity of contemporary Japanese culture through manga and anime also piques the imagination – just look at the number of people playing Pokémon Go,” says Dr Ogino.

In 2015 the Government committed $10 million over five years to the Asian Language Learning in Schools programme, to support the teaching of Asian languages in state and state-integrated schools. The authors are hopeful this will lead to increased numbers of learners at tertiary level.

“To retain these language learners we must be flexible and attuned to the needs and expectations of the digital generation. Technology enables us to facilitate new learning environments that aren’t tethered to a classroom. It has opened up wonderful new vistas for distance learning in particular,” says Dr Shino.

Creating New Synergies: Approaches to Tertiary Japanese Programmes in New Zealand is published by Massey University Press and is available for sale for $40. For more information on how to purchase the book, visit the website.


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