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Nihongo Gururitto - Japanese Language Classes for Children with Connections to Foreign Countries -

©Nihongo Gururitto

Ms. Tokiko Iijima, the Representative of Nihongo Gururitto,
is shown on the right.
We were joined on this occasion by Ms. Miyoko Kojima,
the Assistant Representative.

February's Close Up introduces Nihongo Gururitto, a specified nonprofit organization. Active in Ota-ku and also based within the ward, in addition to undertaking Japanese language support classes for the benefit of children who require assistance in order that they may quickly become accustomed to school life in Japan, the group also assists the language skills development of children so that they may more proactively participate in the studying of their school subjects. Working in conjunction with the children’s families, their schools and with local government, the group aims to achieve a high level of quality support that helps promote the children’s independence. On this occasion, we spoke to Ms. Tokiko Iijima, the Organization Representative of Nihongo Gururitto, regarding the group’s day-to-day activities. We also discussed the situation confronting children with connections to foreign countries here in Japan.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of Nihongo Gururitto.

A. About 20 years or so ago, a number of people who later became members of our group got to know each other through participating in an international exchange organization that was then being run in Shinagawa Ward, and we subsequently ended up getting involved in some Japanese language classes that were targeted at children whose mother tongue was not Japanese. Back then, the know-how required to assist such children with connections to foreign countries was still very much lacking. Moreover, although the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology had nevertheless managed to release some teaching materials, relying on such resources alone could not be called sufficient. Under such circumstances, by forming a group that we called Nihongo Gururitto, we decided that we would make our own teaching materials which could be used by a wide range of children. This resulted in the creation of a set of materials called the “School Life Japanese Workbook.” These materials were subsequently published as a book back in 1999. Later on still, in that it was also the case that a number of our members lived in Ota-ku, a decision was made to establish Japanese language classes for the benefit of those children who happen to live in the ward. Since 2002, we have been holding our classes here at the Sanno Kaikan in Ota-ku, with a method of instruction that is based on the materials that we developed.

©Nihongo Gururitto ©Nihongo Gururitto

(Left) The "School Life Japanese Workbook" was created in accordance with the "Let's Learn Japanese" educational materials that were developed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
When the workbook was first published, it was also covered in newspaper articles (Right).
©Nihongo Gururitto

Q. What sort of people comprise your staff members?

A. We have a total of twenty members in our group, of whom roughly 15 teach Japanese to the children. The core are a number of housewives who are able to offer their time during the day, however, rather than just being volunteers who merely possess a passing interest in our activities, all take their responsibilities in helping to teach these children very seriously. What is more, almost every one of them holds formal qualifications as Japanese language teachers. Some have taught at Japanese language schools, while others’ expertise allows them to help other supporters who have newly-joined our group to develop their own teaching skills. Focusing on the efforts of these members, since Nihongo Gururitto was established, little-by-little we have gained both experience and developed a solid track record. The result of these efforts is that we now possess a great store of know-how. Although basically what we do is done in a voluntary capacity, we nevertheless take great pride in the fact that we offer support in the teaching of these children that is both specialized and high-quality. Concerning our support activities, there is a strong relationship between them and the children we help, in that the children themselves are still at an age where they are undergoing their compulsory education. Thus, if ours is considered to be an activity that requires cooperation with the children’s families, their schools, boards of education and with local government authorities, we sometimes find ourselves asking just how far we should act as volunteers. That issue is a difficulty we face.

Q. Please tell me about the activities of Nihongo Gururitto.

A. The main activity we engage in is the holding of Japanese language classes for children. Such classes occur three times a week. Concerning instruction in the Japanese language, it is broken down into a number of phases. Firstly, in preparing children who are about to enter or perhaps transfer to a Japanese school, we give them lessons that we call “pure-shien (preparation support).” The next phase are our “toridashi-shien (takeoff support)” lessons that occur once a child has entered their school, and we have them come along to language classes. Before even a child enters school, over a certain period of time we can also give them the opportunity to learn the basics of the language through a concentrated approach, and after such lessons, you begin to see a confidence develop as their language skills grow. Furthermore, over the last ten years or so, for those children who are intent on entering senior high school, we also undertake a program of “high school matriculation support.” Moreover, by leveraging the experience we have gained thus far, we can respond through the offering of individual consultations with respect to those issues that are particular to children with connections to foreign countries. In the requests that we receive for consultations, there are a great variety of topics such as how to go about entering schools and issues of school attendance, strategies for studying both the Japanese language and other school subjects, and how to go about retaining a child’s proficiency in their mother tongue, etc.

©Nihongo Gururitto ©Nihongo Gururitto

The group takes a great pride in the warm and inviting atmosphere of their classes.
Classes can be undertaken one-on-one with children.
©Nihongo Gururitto

Q. Can I also ask you about your other activities?

A. Once each year, we hold an alumni hanami party for the children which is known as the "Children's Get Together." It is a very lively day to which children who have graduated from our classes come along, accompanied by their friends and family members, etc. Moreover, there is a “Japanese Language Speech Contest” which is held by Ota-ku. Children from our classes participate in it every year. At the most recent contest, one of our students, a Bangladeshi girl, managed to beat out a number of adult competitors and take first place. In that the Japanese language in itself had previously represented somewhat of a barrier for the girl in question, it had been rather difficult for her to find somewhere within school where she could really shine. However, on the day of the contest, she was able to stand up unashamedly in front of her school homeroom teacher and her classmates who had come along to show their support, and she delivered her speech in fine style. In that she was able to secure such a significant award, at school as well she has stood out for once, and it now seems that the experience has made her feel more confident about herself. Furthermore, although we have not held any such events recently, in the future we would also like to further enhance our study meetings and research activities, etc.

©Nihongo Gururitto ©Nihongo Gururitto

The "Alumni Hanami Party," which is an annual event, is a very merry one to which students
who have graduated, their family and friends all gather.
©Nihongo Gururitto

Q. What about the environment that surrounds children with connections to foreign countries? What sort of issues are there?

A. As to issues that have recently come to our attention, one is the existence of households who have found themselves to be in very difficult economic straits. There are more and more occasions in which we see households who are battling with issues of poverty while at the same time trying to apply for public welfare, etc. Although we will contact the parents of a child if we suspect that the child is receiving insufficient nutrition, there is nevertheless a sense of frustration in that there are also lines which we would prefer not to cross when delving into what might be the problems of a particular household.
Furthermore, with respect to such children who do possess connections to foreign countries, while there are now higher levels of social interest regarding their welfare compared to how things used to be, the fact is that the difficulties that they must confront when learning Japanese are still not clearly conveyed. The reality is that there is no focus placed upon the extremely difficult circumstances that these children find themselves to be in when they actually enter a Japanese school. Moreover, the time that is assured by the government to allow these children to receive assistance in learning the Japanese language is overwhelmingly insufficient. Thus, it can be very difficult to even get these children to the point where their Japanese language skills have developed to the extent that they are independently capable of responding in terms of being able to learn their school subjects. What needs to be assured is a necessary level of support to allow these children the time they require to learn the basics of the Japanese language. Their language skills should be relevant to this society to the point that they can achieve independence. It might be said that the establishment of such a system shall become an issue in the future. When that happens, I would definitely like to see a system that also seeks to cooperate with groups such as ours who possess a wealth of experience in the handling of a wide variety of cases. In establishing such a system, I would really like to see the content of what is offered in the way of support being enhanced.

Q. In order to open up a bright future for children with connections to foreign countries, what needs to be done?

©Nihongo Gururitto

A. One thing that needs to be done is the delivery of visible support which would allow these children to get to the point of being confident enough to keep up with what is being taught at school, or to get them to the point that they are either able to successfully matriculate to senior high school or secure gainful employment. Moreover, what is also required is the creation of a system that is able to follow up on such gains later on. For Japanese society, the ability of these children to live in Japan with peace-of-mind, to receive an education, and to become gainfully employed, represents an opportunity for the nation to increase its numbers of valuable human resources as well. What is most important is to increase the number of children who love Japan, its language and its people, and in that respect offering generous levels of support as early as possible is indispensable. In my experience, there are many positive outcomes that result as children who have received concentrated and generous support quickly after arriving in Japan grow up, they develop that much quicker as a result of the support they receive. I would like to see Japan become a society that is able to accurately respond to the basic needs of those non-Japanese people and their children who wish to live here. When that occurs, it shall mark the start of multiculturalism in this country.

Notice

Nihongo Gururitto conducts Japanese language classes for children on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, in the mornings from 10:00 to 12:00, and in the afternoons from 14:00 to 16:00.
For more details regarding these classes, please refer to the following link:
http://www.geocities.jp/nhg_gururitto1998/gururi-JC/access/gururi_english2010.pdf

The group is also currently seeking staff members who wish to join in its activities.
For more details regarding this opportunity, please refer to the following link:
http://www.geocities.jp/nhg_gururitto1998/gururi-JC/access/2013_staff.pdf (in Japanese only)