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Fumihiro Sato

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Japanese language education in Faculty

Fumihiro Sato
Professor of ICT, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University

The other day, Chuo University, in the 2nd 2012 Japanese Language Examination (JLE) (total of 12), was awarded the Excellence Prize in the university section of the Tokyo Shoseki Awards. Students from the Faculty of Economics, Faculty of Letters, and Faculty of Law took a group examination, and this prize was awarded to recognize excellence in the results of this test.

Examinees until now have mainly consisted of students enrolled in Faculty Common Internship and Internship (business training), and with Japanese language being thought to be an extremely important skill in communication in order to make the most of the internship practical experience, leading to the results of this examination and the winning of this award. The author, in Experiment in Education Responding to Internationalization: A Class in the Faculty of Economics in Cooperation with Singapore (Chuo Online Opinion, November 2010), has already touched upon future topics for JLE, “…I recommend JLE, which is specially endorsed by the Yomiuri Shimbun, as motivation to learn Japanese.” The following reports on activities related to activities toward learning Japanese, such as JLE, as a way to enrich faculty education, especially in learning content for interns, and as a method for motivation in basic and common learning.

1. Background

The JLE was started by the Japanese Language Examination Committee, with Tokyo Shoseki becoming the parent organization in 2007. Students in the Faculty of Economics internship program (business training, run by myself in the beginning and visiting lecturer Hiramatsu since 2009), have been recommended to take the examination. Because it is possible for students from other faculties to take this subject, examinees include students from outside of the Faculty of Economics.

In 2009, our university became able to host group examinations as a sub-venue, with classrooms in the Faculty of Economics building being used as examination rooms. Since then, the person in charge has been the program leader, myself, and visiting lecturer, Hiroko Hiramatsu, has been involved in the holding of the examination.

2. Activities in the internship course

Chuo University opened a Faculty Common Internship in 2010. (Run by Sato and Hiramatsu)

This course, in order to expand the number of student interns, was set up as a two-credit subject apportioned to second year students from three faculties (Economics, Commerce, and Policy Studies), and is a course where prior knowledge can be studied in a short term with little burden to the student. (The Faculty of Economics internship has been continuing since 1995.) Course students aim to pass at least Level 2 of Eiken, IT Passport, and Level 3 of JLE during the year, and are strongly recommended to take these examinations.

Here, visiting lecturer Yoko Hiramatsu, who is again in charge of the course this year, is always giving guidance on Japanese expression in the course, and states the meaning of taking JLE as follows.

Students in the course of doing job-hunting activities take examinations for foreign languages such as English. They study to reach a certain score and improve their skills. However, there is still little interest in Japanese language examinations among Japanese students. That is because, generally, there are no Japanese students who have trouble in Japanese conversation, and in addition to not feeling inconvenienced, because everybody has the same Japanese skills, even in job-hunting activities, they believe it is not necessary for competing.

But is that really the case? To us Japanese, Japanese language has two important meanings. We greatly rely on the Japanese language, first is as a communication tool when talking with fellow Japanese, and the other reason being as a tool when talking to ourselves, in other words, when thinking. The latter is not only as a tool, but also involves the Japanese identity. But before we think that far ahead, I want Japanese students to first think of the former reason.

In what way do they have conversations and exchange words with each other? Survey results show that working adults think that university students lack community skills more than the students do themselves. Even though they are conversing in Japanese, what is it that students lack? There are few students who can answer this question.

How many students are there who can explain their own thoughts in rich Japanese, not only to fellow students, but also when facing people from different positions? In the same way people can not see their own faces directly, it is difficult to grasp and make improvements in relation to the language they use on a daily basis. I want students to take one scale, the JLE, to reflect on their own language and as a tool to link with other people, and brush up their skills.

Students have used the language for 20 years. There are times when they know they have grasped it inaccurately. I hope they take another deep look at honorific language use and diverse Japanese expressions and their use…and think about the importance of being Japanese and the Japanese language.

3. Activities in ICT related lessons in the Faculty of Economics

Up until now, associate professor Kotaro Torii and I have recommended this examination to students in our information-related lessons and seminars. Now, the number of presentations we give on results of learning outcomes and issues has increased. Especially in ICT related fields, appropriate communication between the provider of technology and user is becoming indispensable.

So-called system engineers, dealing with business affairs content applications to infrastructure development demanding highly specialized technology, exist in over 10 types of diverse areas such as marketing, sales, project management, application specialists, consultants, IT architects and IT specialists, but they hold roles to provide solutions to clients in common and require presentation and documentation skills. This is where Japanese language skills are essential. There are many graduates from Tama Campus who are currently working as system engineers. Even in general user businesses, there is a lot of involvement with administration and ICT, and essentially, they have to conduct work similar to system engineering activities, which demand appropriate Japanese skills. Naturally, a prerequisite for this work is related knowledge and problem finding and solving skills, but in information-related education, paying attention to the difference between what we said and what they understood is being put into practice.

4. Reasons for recommending JLE

I have put together the reasons for recommending JLE below.

  1. While Japanese is the base for learning at university, there are generally no opportunities for formal learning, leaving self-education as the only method.
    Because of this, it is difficult to evaluate systematic and overall Japanese skills, but through this examination, fields that are lacking become clear, and it becomes possible to effectively study by oneself.
  2. Appropriate communication is essential in activities within organizations in certain post-graduation fields. It becomes an extremely important basic skill, even in efficiently gaining actual experience in internships etc., and by making these basic skills in advance, and, including awareness of manners, it can be hoped that the internship will be even more fulfilling.
  3. In ICT related fields, there is a tendency to focus on relationships with machines, but because there are concrete demands for proposals and presentations to the users, it is necessary to recognize the importance of Japanese, even more than seen in 1 and 2.
  4. Even in learning foreign languages and specialist subjects, Japanese is the foundation of language learning, and thorough knowledge is a necessity.
  5. The content covered in JLE is more comprehensive and systematic, even more than that of the Kanji Aptitude Test etc., and the level of your own skills is accurately evaluated.

If even more students hold an interest in Japanese language, the level of the university as a whole will rise, and will also receive higher ratings from outside.

5. Conclusion

Professor Tsuyoshi Hamaoka in charge of Philosophy in the Faculty of Economics, talks below about how he goes about common Japanese language learning when teaching Faculty first year students.

In lessons for university first year students, I have them write short essays of around 600 characters on simple topics. It is satisfactory if the content shows individuality, but the main point of the exercise is, first and foremost, to state your own opinion clearly, and be able to clearly explain the facts behind that. When sentences become a little long, there are many cases where student tend to mistake the object and its corresponding predicate, and the relationship between the first and second halves of the essay becomes unclear. There are many times when I think, if it is fixed just a little, it will become much better, but the students just don’t quite notice those little things. Even in my own experience, because I fully understand the content of what I have written, I don’t notice odd sentences, even when rereading. However, you mustn’t underestimate the reader. Put yourself in the place of the reader, moreover, it is important to be able to read your own work from the viewpoint of a quite obstinate reader. Of course, you must be careful not to become obstinate to other people.

Furthermore, Susumu Ono and Masato Hamanishi’s Ruigo Kokugo Jiten (Synonym and Japanese Language Dictionary) says the following about enjoying Japanese language study.

When translating foreign language books, I have been stuck about which term to use and resorted to a thesaurus. This is quite interesting and I tend to forget the original purpose. Take for example, be affectionate to, treat tenderly, be attached to, admire, to love, love, attachment, affection, fall in love, captivate, fall for… Although you kind of understand the difference, when asked how they are different, you become stuck. Even when the words appear to have little difference in meaning, their usage is determined by the situation. People receive affection from various people in various situations. If the terms love and to love are used to describe all of those situations, the writing becomes uniform and dull. With that in mind, our predecessors have tried to contrive ways to find expressions to make their individuality stand out. Learning the Japanese language leads to noticing the diverseness around us.

To finish, I hope that in regards to Japanese, our students deeply learn to recognize its importance, and after they graduate, contribute to society by demonstrating their specialist knowledge in a diverse range of fields.

Fumihiro Sato
Professor of ICT, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1950.
1974 – Graduated from the School of Education, Waseda University
1974 – Japan Information Processing Development Corporation, (assigned to the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in 1981)
1994 – Full-time lecturer in the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University; Assistant professor in 1995; Professor in 1999
2002-2004 – Visiting researcher at Stanford University Center for Design Research
2006-2008 – Vice-Dean, Faculty of Economics
Currently in the Faculty of Economics
Research topic:e-learning (distance-learning), ICT human resource development in southeast Asia