Changing Aspects of Today’s Nihongo Learners

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Teachers from the participating language schools of the CALJS listen to Dr. Charles Igawa’s presentation about the changing profile of Japanese learners during their annual general meeting. (Photos by RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo)

By RYOKO OHNISHI, Rafu Staff Writer

Dr. Charles Itsuki Igawa spoke to a group of Japanese language school teachers at the California Association of Japanese Language Schools (CAJLS) Annual General Meeting on July 21 at the Hollywood Japanese Language School.

The speech, entitled “Changing Aspects of Today’s Nihongo Learners: Future Prospects of Saturday-only Japanese Language Schools,” was based on a presentation compiled by Dr. Kazuko Nakajima, emeritus professor of Toronto University, at the 2003 founding meeting of the Mother Tongue, Heritage Language and Bilingual Education (MHB) Research Association. The MHB is hosting its 10th anniversary conference at Osaka University on Aug. 16-17. 

Charles Igawa

Igawa noted that Japanese language learners today are more diverse. He categorized the learners as Japanese as a Heritage Language (JHL), Japanese as a Second Language (JSL) and Japanese as a Foreign Language (JFL). 

The profile of the average Japanese learner has changed over the years. In the 1940s and ’50s, most Japanese language students were the children of pre-war Japanese immigrants who had been exposed to the heritage language. Those heritage language learners had good speaking and listening skills, but they were not strong in writing and reading.

However, after the 1990s, the number of non-Nikkei students who study Japanese as foreign language increased. New immigrants from Japan tend to desire kokugo or Japanese classes within the Japanese national curriculum when they are abroad. 

After Igawa’s presentation, Misako Ito, director of the Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, also shared recent survey results of the estimated number of Japanese language learners abroad. The Japan Foundation estimated a total of 3.98 million learners, a 10 percent increase since 2009.

The top five countries for Japanese language learners are: China (1,046,490), Indonesia (872,406), Korea (840,187), Australia (296,672), and Taiwan (232,967). The U.S. (155,939) is in sixth place. 

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