Educators work to close language gap (Nov.25, 2010 Yomiuri Shimbun)

Following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Gakuryoku-ko series, which examines experimental measures to improve students’ scholastic abilities. This installment–the third of four parts–looks at teaching foreign children.
Naomi Sugitani, a teacher at Sakurajima Primary School in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, was thrown for a loop after being assigned to a class consisting of non-Japanese kids.
“These kids speak Japanese so well,” she remembers wondering, “so why can’t they answer even simple questions?”
The purpose of so-called international classes is to provide non-Japanese students with help acquiring basic Japanese skills and with supplementary lectures to help them keep up with their classmates. In many schools, the non-Japanese students attend these classes during their homerooms’ Japanese study periods.
In some regions, the classes are called Japanese–Nihongo, as opposed to Kokugo, which is what native speakers study–but there is no national standard for teaching methods for these classes, so approaches vary widely.
In many cases, children from Brazil and other countries are able to achieve conversational-level Japanese in a matter of months by associating with the Japanese around them.

Following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Gakuryoku-ko series, which examines experimental measures to improve students’ scholastic abilities. This installment–the third of four parts–looks at teaching foreign children.
Naomi Sugitani, a teacher at Sakurajima Primary School in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, was thrown for a loop after being assigned to a class consisting of non-Japanese kids.
“These kids speak Japanese so well,” she remembers wondering, “so why can’t they answer even simple questions?”
The purpose of so-called international classes is to provide non-Japanese students with help acquiring basic Japanese skills and with supplementary lectures to help them keep up with their classmates. In many schools, the non-Japanese students attend these classes during their homerooms’ Japanese study periods.
In some regions, the classes are called Japanese–Nihongo, as opposed to Kokugo, which is what native speakers study–but there is no national standard for teaching methods for these classes, so approaches vary widely.
In many cases, children from Brazil and other countries are able to achieve conversational-level Japanese in a matter of months by associating with the Japanese around them.
Suzuka is home to a large number of foreigners who work at nearby car factories and other companies. As of May, there were 624 non-Japanese students enrolled in the local schools. Of them, 346–or 2 percent of the city’s total student body–were in need of some sort of special training in Japanese. Simple mathematics show there is an average of 10 such students per school.
To improve their students’ Japanese language skills, the city’s board of education introduced during the 2008 school year measures to assess each individual’s Japanese listening, speaking, reading and writing abilities at both the primary- and middle-school levels.
One outcome was the revision of teaching materials: School textbooks were specially modified so the foreign students could read and understand the material more easily.
When sentences are two lines or longer, they can be hard for students to understand. To overcome this, sentences are no longer than one line, and kanji are printed with accompanying phonetic furigana pronunciation.
In Ota, Gunma Prefecture, a city that also has a large number of students needing Japanese language training, the city government pays special teaching staff to handle the approximately 270 non-Japanese students in the district.
The city has employed 11 teaching assistants who can interpret between the kids’ mother tongues and Japanese, and seven “bilingual teachers” who are licensed to teach in a foreign country and speak Japanese fluently.
Nationwide, there are nearly 30,000 primary and middle school students believed to be in need of Japanese language training for such reasons as recently moving to this country.

But few local governments have taken measures similar to those of Suzuka and Ota.
This is because there were only three foreign students out of every 1,000 during the 2008 school year. In many instances, schools only have one or two such students, making it difficult for these schools to offer assistance tailor-made for these students.
In cosmopolitan Tokyo, there are about 2,000 such students scattered over 704 public primary and middle schools.
At one particular middle school, there are three non-Japanese student, all attending the same classes as their Japanese classmates.
“I’m too busy with my classes and curriculum to find time to provide them with special training,” a social studies teacher at the school said.
In early October, a Japanese-Brazilian boy and ethnic another Japanese boy read aloud from a rewritten textbook with the rest of their fourth-grade class at Sakurajima Primary School in Suzuka. “Aachi bashi no shikumi” (the structure of arched bridges), they read aloud.
The school has recently been using the texts to help native Japanese speakers performing at a remedial level improve their performance.