Thursday, May 01, 2008

Expats in Fear of the Japanese Language Requirement

by Kevin Burns

How many Japanese can speak English well in
spite of years of study? Admittedly most of them
have never lived abroad.

I think it is fairly common
not to speak the language of the host
country well in spite of living
there for years--unfortunately.

Some people are simply not that good at
learning languages. Just like some people
can`t hit a tennis ball for the life of them.

We all get to a point where we are pretty comfortable and then stop
studying. This is regretable but understandable. If you work where
many people can speak English ie) at an English school or a university
you may stop studying for lack of need. If your
partner is fluent in English it further reinforces this.

I worked with many people in Canada who had lived there for years
but couldn`t speak English--Germans, Italians, Portuguese and Chinese
for example. They would go to work, could get by well enough with a
smattering of English, then go back to their family and speak the
language of their homeland. When they went out they went to enclaves
of their own language speakers--the Portuguese Residents Association,
the local Portuguese restaurant etc.

I think the expats that work in Japanese companies tend to be the best
Japanese speakers. They have to use it every day. I know people who
work for Hitachi and are amazing Japanese speakers. They have to be.

My Japanese was improving very quickly until we had children.
It stopped improving then because my focus became exposing them to
a lot of English. I would speak English to my wife in order for our
babies to hear it spoken.

My Japanese has started to improve again of late. My children are
learning English at a good pace so I feel I can again start speaking
Japanese with my wife. Moreover, at the university I get the
opportunity to speak Japanese with staff members, the university
restaurants and shops and I hear Japanese
all around me in the hallways and in the teacher`s room.

I am also making an effort to be more in the Japanese world. One way
is simply watching Japanese TV with my wife and children. And joining
in the local activities.

Yet it really is a shame that you
live in a country and don`t take part
in the local life of that nation.
I think we should all make an effort in that way.

I guess my point is that other real world concerns (like the ones I`ve
outlined above) can take precedence at times.

Regarding the proficiency test: I doubt anyone already living in Japan
is going to get deported for lack of Japanese ability. However,
they seem to be wanting to encourage people to study Japanese, in
order to come and live here. Basicly the analysis I`ve read is that Japan
is very quietly promoting immigration.

When I lived in Canada, multiculturalism was everywhere--on the
billboards, on TV, in commercials and was official government policy.
In Japan as always, things are much more subtle and quietly done.

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