The Japanese government has passed a law aiming to boost Japanese language support for foreign residents in Japan, according to an article published by The Asahi Shimbun on June 21.
Last week, the Upper House committee on education and science approved a bill that states that the government should give foreign residents “who wish to study Japanese […] as much as possible of the opportunity to do so, in a way that would match their needs, abilities, and circumstances they are placed in.”
Currently, many local governments across Japan provide Japanese language lessons for foreign residents, typically at local community centers, but between their fixed schedules and often beginner-level curriculum they’re not at the standard described in this bill.
What will the policy entail?
The new law requires central and local governments as well as businesses to provide high-quality Japanese classes for foreign residents, employees, and their families. The central government will also have to develop a method to assess Japanese language skills, which may lead to a partnership with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which is run by the public organization JEES.
According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign residents in Japan hit a record amount of 2.73 million in 2018, an increase of 6.6 percent from 2017. This number is expected to increase with the new Specified Skills Visa introduced this year.
However, with no clearly defined plans or funding outlined in the new bill, many have expressed their suspicions that this law is more lip service than actionable legislation.
In a Japan Times article published on June 21, Japanese professor Uichi Kamiyoshi was quoted saying, “Municipalities in Japan have long been hard-pressed to do anything about Japanese education because the lack of any legal basis for promoting it has meant they have no way of convincing naysayers why they need to do it.”
This new law might be just the legal basis needed for local governments to develop their Japanese education programs.
In 2001, a law promoting Japanese culture and art made a brief mention of the importance of Japanese education for foreign residents. However, its main purpose was to encourage foreign residents to learn Japanese culture rather than assimilate with it.
While this new legislation currently lacks the details necessary to be a true impetus for positive change, it does seem to be a turning point and a step towards supporting foreigners to integrate into and become thriving members of society.
Good news for all of us learning Japanese—and a nice boost for anyone taking the JLPT this Sunday!