The Yomiuri ShimbunNon-English foreign language education at Japanese high schools often reflects characteristics of the schools’ regions.
Fushiki High School in Toyama Prefecture is located near Fushiki Port, which is frequented by Russian and other foreign ships.
“I’m an astronaut. I like Gagarin.”
Students practiced introducing themselves in Russian, playing various characters, during a Russian class in late June. There were 20 students in the class.
“Khorosho!” (Excellent!), exclaimed Oksana Bondarenko, 46, a Russian native special lecturer, every time a student stood up and spoke.
Fushiki Port has been an important base for exchanges with other countries, such as Russia and China, since its opening in 1899. The history of Russian language education at Fushiki High School dates back to the school’s founding in 1927. It is said to have started with the aim of developing human resources for trade with Russia.
The school currently has only an international exchange course, which was established in 2005 to replace the general course. All of the about 350 students must choose one of three languages — Russian, Chinese or Korean — as their second foreign language.
One 50-minute class per week is required for first-year students from autumn, three such classes for second-year students and two or more classes for third-year students who have a humanities concentration.
“[Russian] grammar is more difficult than English, but the pronunciation is unique and interesting,” said second-year student Rio Tera, 17, who chose Russian. She plans to visit Russia next March to study the language and stay with a Russian family for about a week.
“Studying a new language encourages them to get a glimpse of the culture, customs and a way of thinking and learn about the situation of the country,” Bondarenko said.
Minato Sogo High School, in Yokohama’s Chinatown, offers elective courses in three languages other than English.
French and German are available for second- or third-year students for one year only, but Chinese has a three-year curriculum.
Vice principal Haruko Takasu said that from the time the school was founded in 2002, students had emphasized that as they are studying in Chinatown, they want to learn Chinese over three years.
Wen You, 39, a fourth-generation local resident of Chinese descent, teaches the language, mainly Chinese conversation. Miyu Watanabe, 16, a second-year student in the course, said that she wants to work for a travel agency. “I want to continue studying Chinese as well as English because I think Chinese will be useful in the future.”
Nagasaki Prefecture, which has long been ac- tive in foreign trade, has 67 public high schools, 10 of which offer Chinese classes and eight of which offer Korean classes, in addition to English.
The prefecture’s multilingual education is aided by a study-abroad program for teachers, implemented by the prefectural board of education. English-language and Japanese-language teachers have been sent to universities in China and South Korea for a year to learn how to teach those countries’ languages.
The program has been implemented three times since 1997, fostering 13 Chinese-language teachers and four Korean-language teachers.
Maiko Tagawa, 34, an English teacher who also teaches Korean at Obama High School in the prefecture, trained in Busan, South Korea, for a year from March 2015.