In the U.S., diminishing interest in the Japanese language is sparking concern among Japanese teachers and those involved in Japanese language programs there. As the number of students studying Japanese is declining, some districts are scrapping their Japanese language programs. Japanese language education has long supported the Japan-U.S. alliance at the grassroots level. The decline of interest in the Japanese language may hurt the bilateral relationship. With the Japan-U.S. summit slated for Feb. 10, expectations are growing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should lead efforts to promote Japanese language education in the U.S.
The Nikkei surveyed those who are with the Mid-Atlantic Association of Teachers of Japanese, a local wing of the American Association of Teachers of Japanese, and other involved in teaching Japanese. Questionnaires asking about the Japanese education situation in the U.S. were sent to those who teach Japanese at elementary school through college. Responses were received from 25 people. Of them, 40% said the number of students studying Japanese has declined compared to 5 and 10 years ago.
One reason cited in the questionnaires is that Japanese is competing against other language programs. If the benefits of studying Japanese are not explained well, it is difficult to convince people to study Japanese.
A shortage of teachers is another problem. Under a foreign language “immersion” program, students study mathematics and science via foreign languages they want to master. Teachers are required to have teaching certificates for elementary school as well as language teaching licenses. Teachers who studied at Japanese universities have to get new teaching certificates in the U.S. unless they can transfer the credits they earned in Japan.
Getting a visa is another hurdle. County education boards do not sponsor visa applications.
To address these concerns, a majority of people who answered the questionnaires called on the Japanese government “to extend personnel and economic support based on the recognition that language education can help boost national power.” (Abridged)