Creating global students: teaching and learning Japanese

Issue: Volume 95, Number 15

Posted: 22 August 2016
Reference #: 1H9d3m

Akiko Harada works with both primary and secondary teachers as an adviser for Japanese. She believes that learning languages at school helps to shape globally-minded students.

Akiko is one of five National Language Advisers funded through New Zealand’s cross-government education arrangements. She provides linguistic, cultural and pedagogical expertise to support Japanese language learning in New Zealand schools.

Akiko works as part of the Ministry-funded International Languages Exchanges and Pathways (ILEP) and provides targeted support for schools introducing or strengthening Japanese language learning through the Ministry-funded Asian Language Learning in Schools (ALLiS) project.

Akiko sees herself as someone who ‘connects the knowledge’ between teachers and the network of support available for Japanese. These connections are helping ALLiS groups to strengthen Japanese language learning across their schools.

In what is a multi-faceted role, Akiko also provides teachers with the tools that they need to make effective Japanese lessons manageable at all levels in the curriculum.

Confidence And Ability Through Culture And Language

To begin with, Akiko says, “Basic Japanese skills are very important for teaching.” She encourages teachers to use a lot of the target language in their lessons, which requires confidence in both language ability and pronunciation.

“I like to give teachers confidence that will really help them,” says Akiko.

She stresses that although some extra time and care is needed for Japanese, especially with the kanji characters, Japanese grammar is quite approachable and the simpler hiragana writing system means that once those 51 characters are mastered you are able to read. For pronunciation, Akiko recommends listening to the sounds of the language in Japanese radio, podcasts or films.

Knowledge of culture is an area Akiko enjoys developing.

“Some teachers have never been to Japan and are quite limited to knowing about sushi but not much else!”

She frequently receives requests from teachers to assist with cultural resources and demonstrations, and incorporates these into her language curriculum support workshops. Some examples are:

  • Sado (tea ceremony) 茶道
  • Shodo (calligraphy) 書道
  • Furoshiki (wrapping clothes) 風呂敷
  • Washigami (special Japanese paper) 和紙
  • Yukata/kimono wearing (Japanese dress) 着物/ゆかた
  • Nihon no omocha (Japanese toys like a spinning top, paper balloon) 日本のおもちゃ

Japanese In The Primary Years

The ALLiS project encourages learning language pathways, so a recent focus for Akiko’s work has been connecting with and supporting primary school teachers. Akiko realises that primary school teachers have limited time and resources for teaching Japanese and accessing professional support while teaching all other curriculum, so she has helped teachers by breaking down the Learning Language Hai! series into practical pieces that teachers can take away and use.

Akiko has observed primary teachers successfully integrating communication in Japanese into their primary classroom by spending five minutes in the morning discussing basic things such as what day it is and what the weather is like, and frequently leading short bursts of Japanese interaction throughout the week.

“These teachers have made a very successful environment for children to access Japanese,” says Akiko. She explains this is a good approach for teaching a language to very young children."

A teacher who is doing great things at primary and intermediate level is Paula Kaspar at Hereworth School for Boys.

“My heart lies with Japanese. It is a language I know, a culture I’m familiar with and I have a support network with Akiko and the wider Japanese community,” says Paula.

“Luckily my principal has been happy to keep Japanese going and extend it across the whole school.”

Paula says that her successes were made possible by the available curriculum support opportunities including support from the ILEP National Adviser for Japanese in the early stages.

“There was such a gap for me and Akiko listened, helped and introduced things where I needed. She was very supportive of my ambition to bring the language into the school.”

Paula is working through her personal development pathway which has included university study, participation on Ministry-funded professional support programmes and two scholarships to Kansai and the Japan Foundation in Sydney. Each of these has helped Paula glean ideas to work into her teaching practice.

Culture plays a big part in Paula’s lessons.

“I base my teaching on Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching (iCLT),” she says.

“When entering the classroom, my students take off their shoes as they do in Japan and they use cultural icons such as the Japanese Daruma dolls to mark the progress of the course."

“It was great to have Akiko come in and do cultural elements with the boys, such as the tea ceremony. It inspired them to see these things from the viewpoint of a Japanese person and to learn all of the intricacies.”

Paula is aware of the need to conduct interactive and accessible classes for her students. Along with an adapted version of the Hai! series, she uses puppets to demonstrate the sounds of Japanese.

“It is more of a sing-song language so in this way it is suited to primary level students.”

Paula also introduces her students to calligraphy, origami and chopsticks and she sees playing games as a good learning tool.

A regular favourite is an adaptation of sumo fighting where the winner is declared the ‘yokozuna’ (champion) until next time.

“The boys are excited to have the opportunity to continue their studies. We just need to make it fun for them and make sure that the learning is taking place.”

Growing Our Connections

Passionate teachers like Paula who are dedicated to upskilling are vital for keeping Japanese language learning alive in schools.

The recent government funding for ALLiS has enabled groups of schools to invest in their language programmes.

“This has been good news for Japanese,” says Akiko.

Investment in Asian languages through ALLiS and upcoming events in Japan such as the Rugby World Cup and Olympics are giving Akiko extra traction to promote Japanese learning.

“Japan has had a long relationship with New Zealand, and there are lots of sister schools. Because New Zealand is so close to Japan it is an important partner for business and trade, giving lots of good opportunity and benefits to New Zealanders learning Japanese.”

Akiko, and the rich network of support available to teachers and schools for Japanese, will only help the relationship to grow.

Support For Language Teachers

International Languages Exchanges and Pathways (ILEP) supports New Zealand schools and teachers to implement successful Learning Languages programmes through strategic advice and individualised curriculum support and development pathways.

ILEP offers:

  • Workshops and in-school support.
  • National Language Advisers.
  • Cluster-based curriculum support programmes:
  • Introduction to Language Teaching Programme to provide teachers new to language teaching a practical grounding in language teaching pedagogy.
  • Language Teaching Consolidation Programme to support the further development of experienced language teachers.
  • Immersion programmes/scholarship opportunities, including the following for Japanese:
  • Kansai Immersion Programme a two-week immersion programme for 
  • New Zealand teachers of Japanese in Kansai, Japan. Including sessions on Japanese culture, Japanese teaching materials, language and culture resources and activity based PD.
  • Japan Foundation Sydney Seminars a three day immersion programme at the Japan Foundation in Sydney for teachers of Japanese to develop language skills and language teaching strategies that they can apply in their own classrooms.
  • Strategic advice on sustainable language programmes.
  • Specialised support for ALLiS schools.
  • Connecting the language learning community.

Teacher Professional Development Languages (TPDL) is for all teachers of languages. It improves language teaching through a three-pronged approach to teacher learning: pedagogy, language and reflection on evidence in the classroom. Teachers develop an understanding of how to critically evaluate their classroom practice. TPDL provides expertise, time and support so that teacher effectiveness grows progressively during the programme and beyond.

Asian Language Learning in Schools (ALLiS) is an initiative to boost second language learning in schools. It is a $10 million contestable fund that supports the teaching of Asian languages in state and state-integrated schools. Funding has been allocated to groups of schools to set up new language programmes, strengthen existing programmes, and establish language learning pathways from primary through to secondary.

Hai! An Introduction to Japanese is a component of the Learning Languages Series (LLS) for Japanese which provides materials and units of work for teachers and students. The series is designed for year 7 and 8 students and supports Level 1 and 2 achievement objectives in the curriculum of the respective languages.

New Zealand Association for Japanese Language Teachers (NZAJLT) is a New Zealand subject association for teachers of Japanese open for intermediate and secondary school teachers, student teachers and institutions to join. NZAJLT is a voice for New Zealand teachers and membership provides numerous benefits.

NZJNET is an email list which is a popular information-sharing tool for teachers of Japanese. To subscribe, send an email request to

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:44 pm, 22 August 2016

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