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Learning Japanese in Scotland

Author: Sally Anderson, University of Manchester

Sally Anderson, an undergraduate at University of Manchester, attended the Japanese Youth Conference held in September 2016 in Aberdeen. The conference was organised by the Japanese Language Group. Sally shares her experience below.

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Some 130 million people worldwide speak Japanese, and on the back of the current drive to raise attainment across Scottish education, a push is being made to introduce Japanese in Scottish primary schools. It has the backing of several learning organisations across the country, SCILT and key Japanese organisations UK-wide.

Ten schools and eight universities in Scotland now offer some form of Japanese with the University of Glasgow being the latest, introducing language courses in 2016 to run in addition to an already popular module on Japanese cinema. Universities in Edinburgh, Stirling and Strathclyde all have partnerships with Japanese institutions; however only the former stipulates that Japanese must be studied in order to participate in a programme in Japan. Stirling and Strathclyde offer vocational courses, realising and tapping into the extreme wealth of possibility that lies out there. The conference suggested that every effort must now be made to ensure greater opportunity for learners to engage with the world’s third largest economy and second largest direct investor in the UK.

It’s starting small. Currently, no SQA qualification is available in Japanese. Although this has not prevented students wanting to study Japanese from beginner’s level at university, the conference organisers recognise a need for change: learning in schools could run in tandem with existing and highly popular after-school groups, judo and karate classes. With access to Japanese language and culture being made available to primary school students, an enthusiasm may be carried forward into secondary school, sweeping participants up in its stride until – as it is hoped will happen with Chinese - supply will meet demand and facilitate one another.

More encouraging similarities can be found with Scotland’s embrace of Chinese learning. The Japanese project in its current guise relies upon student volunteers to aid primary teachers in what has proven to be a rewarding educational set-up for all involved. Asia is new and exciting to children; engaging with these cultures would mean opening up countless possibilities for themed events and learning opportunities.

The Japanese cultural obsession among young people of all ages is unlike any before it. There is potential to nurture an early love of Japan into an understanding of its language and culture that would serve as extraordinarily viable skills, at a time where everything from tech to fashion to gaming hubs are finding their focus in the east. The four capacities could be engaged in forward thinking ways. Scholars and professionals alike - not least figures like Daisuke Matsunaga, Consul General of Japan in Edinburgh - stress the importance of language and culture learning at a school level, in relation to Scotland’s future status and competitiveness.

At the Japan Youth Conference in Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen on 27 September 2016, students from across Scotland professed their adoration for modern incarnations of Japanese culture: manga and anime. Teachers have taken notice of this passion: they are engaged with learning about religion, art, food in Japan. This can carry on through to areas such as Japanese geo-politics, economics and other 21st Century - Asian Century - topics and skills. If conversations about Japan continue to flow upwards from the students, great progress can be made.

The same 12 year-old from Kirkwall who loves anime and manga declared, wonder and hope bright in her eyes, that she wanted to learn Japanese for ‘as long as possible’. It’s time to let her.

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