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Japanese language teachers focus on can-do kanji

March 17, 2014

Japanese language teachers focus on can-do kanji

Kiwi kids may be fans of Japanese Anime and Manga graphics – along with numerous apps, games, electronic gadgets and fashion – but they are less keen on learning the language.

The trend is bothering Japanese language teachers so much that they are joining forces to try and bolster declining student numbers, arguing that the language is a vital tool for New Zealanders keen to do business or work in tourism, fashion and IT.

Massey University Japanese Language convener Dr Penny Shino, who is co-chair of the Japanese Studies Aotearoa New Zealand (JSANZ) along with Dallas Nesbitt from AUT, says the organisation – launched in Auckland on Friday – will provide advocacy and networking for its nationwide 50-strong membership representing mainly tertiary teachers of Japanese language and cultural studies programmes.

To help convince potential students of the value of learning Japanese, its first project is to create a database profiling former Japanese language students to showcase their career paths and successes.

Dr Shino says Japanese language has been offered in New Zealand high schools for several decades, and Massey’s Japanese language programme is now in its 50th year. Of concern is that secondary school students have been turning away from studying languages over the past 10 years – a trend that contradicts current job market demands in an increasingly globalised world and ethnically diverse nation.

She says students tend to have negative perceptions about language learning in general, including that it involves only rote learning, and is just too hard.

“The other assumption is that there’s no need to learn another language because English is everywhere. This attitude shows a lack of respect for other cultures, and overlooks the opportunities for business and trade with Japan”, she says.

“Japan is the world’s third largest economy after the US and China, and is New Zealand’s fourth largest export and import market, fourth largest investor and fourth largest source of international students, so it’s still very, very important to New Zealand”.

She says there are “fantastic” job opportunities for those with language skills in areas such as software and gaming, as well as in fashion, design, tourism and hospitality.

One of her former students is walking the talk, with a highly successful career reinforced by his Japanese language studies. Michael Mackinven graduated from Massey in 1998 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and several Japanese papers with A-grades.

Since then he’s set up his own property investment company targeting Japanese investors, and wrote a book on learning Japanese kanji (characters). Mr Mackinven says combining language studies with other skills gives people additional advantages in the work place.

“It’s amazing how a language will open up doors and create opportunities because all of a sudden you have a point of difference,” he says. “And it's fun and rewarding to talk about business and put deals together in another language”.

At Friday’s launch, the association’s new website and logo (designed by Massey’s Open Lab at the College of Creative Arts) was unveiled by Paul Knight, a founder of the Japanese programme at Massey where he began in 1969 as the first New Zealander to teach Japanese in a New Zealand university.

Dr Shino says his contribution to Japanese language and Japanese studies education has been recognised by the Japanese government with the award of the Foreign Minister’s Award for Meritorious Service (Gaimudaijin Hyosho) in 1996, and the Order of the Rising Sun Gold Rays with Rosette (Kyokujitsusho) in 2004.

Massey also has access to special funding as the only New Zealand core member of the Japan Foundation Sakura Network, which has 126 members worldwide.


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