Japanese Language Instruction Q&A

Note: Throughout this document, “instructor” refers to the person in charge of Japanese language instruction.

2.Japanese for Continued Learning

Q1. I do not understand the native language of the technical intern trainees at all. Can I really give guidance to them using Japanese?

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A. Sure you can. Since the technical intern trainees cannot rely on their native language, they will try hard to listen to the Japanese, and they will try to speak it somehow or other, so your non-understanding of their native language in fact could be said to create a good environment for their acquisition of Japanese. However, it is a fact that many of them will not be used to hearing the sounds of Japanese, so they will have quite a hard time understanding if you speak as a Japanese person normally would, which could cause you to panic that, “They don’t understand my Japanese; what can I do?” At such times, please use simple words, and speak slowly and clearly in short sentences. This should always get through to them.

   Still, it is a good idea to write important words and phrases in hiragana (katakana) on the chalkboard or on paper for them. If you cannot explain right then, tell them to look it up in a dictionary later on.

   It is also a good idea to use many visual aids, such as drawings, actual objects, and gestures.

Q2. Although it was easy to communicate with the first batch of trainees, from the second batch onward they do not seem to be learning to speak Japanese well. What should I do?

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A. Perhaps the Japanese people at the company are only talking to those technical intern trainees with whom they can easily communicate. Although this is unavoidable when you are in a hurry or want to explain something complicated, when there is even a little extra time please directly explain or convey matters to the second and third batch of trainees consciously.

   Please remember back to when the first batch of trainees initially came. How were you communicating with them? Weren’t you speaking slowly, writing things down on paper, and using all manner of ingenuity? Although it will take effort, please do the same for the newer trainees. Even just some small talk will help improve their Japanese skills. I think it is a good idea for Japanese people to diligently talk to them not only during work time, but also during break times.

   On the other hand, there is also the problem of the technical intern trainees relying on their seniors too much. Sometimes even if they are asked something, one of their seniors nearby will answer completely for them. How about addressing the trainee by name when you talk to them? For example, if you use their name, as in, “XXX-san, kino wa matsuri ni itta?” (“Mr./Ms. XXX, did you go to the festival yesterday?”), the person addressed will have to answer, so they will be communicating. The technical intern trainees may hesitate at first, but as they come to see how enjoyable it is to make themselves understood in Japanese they will gradually speak more proactively. They cannot learn to communicate if they do not actually communicate. Please create as many chances for them to speak as you possibly can.

Q3. The technical intern trainees are not advancing in their understanding of their work, because they are having a hard time memorizing technical terms and other words and phrases used during the work process. How can they be made to remember these terms? Please tell me if there is a way to create teaching materials for this purpose.

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A. One of the reasons they cannot commit such words to memory is that they do not know what the words (sounds) spoken by the technical intern training coordinator and others are referring to. If they simply read a list of technical terms and memorize them by rote, they will not be able to understand what the words refer to when they hear them at the work site. They need to be taught in a way that links the words with the objects and actions they refer to. This can be done in the following ways.

  • [Example 1]

    Show them the tools or machines they will be using when you teach them the words for those things. Have the technical intern trainees repeat after you.

    Next, arrange several items on a platform, and after saying the names over and over again several times, say, “Yasuri totte” (“Pick up the rasp”), “Aburasashi totte” (“Pick up the oil can”), etc., and have the technical intern trainees pick up the item in question.

    Also, when saying, “Aburasashi totte kite” (“Go get the oil can”), have them recite, “Aburasashi desu ne” (“Right, the oil can.”).

    Repeating this kind of practice on a daily basis should enable them to learn the technical terms. However, since they will not learn after just one time, it is important to repeat it every day several times.

  • [Example 2]

    Create a list of technical terms and give it to them.

    Japanese Native Language

    Write the required words and phrases in Japanese in the column on the left, leaving the right column blank. Then say the words over and over as you show the technical intern trainees the actual objects or work processes. Have the technical intern trainees say the words with you. After that, have the technical intern trainees write down the words in the column on the right in a way that will stick in their memory. They can fill in their native language, or an illustration, or anything they want. Writing it out on their own will help the words stay in their memory. If possible, it would also be a good idea for them to recite the terms every day before work.

  • [Example 3]
    Prepare a small, pocket-sized notebook. Have the technical intern trainees carry it around at all times, so that the technical intern training coordinator or someone else can write down any important words or phrases in the notebook right when they are used. At that time, pronounce the words together several times. The technical intern trainees should also write their native language or draw illustrations next to the words in order to memorize them.

Q4.When the technical intern trainees don’t understand my Japanese, they say, “I don’t understand. Could you say that again?” But they don’t understand no matter how many times I repeat it. What should I do?

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A. Perhaps when you repeat you are speaking at the same speed and using the same words. They are asking you to repeat because they cannot hear what you are saying in Japanese, so try repeating in the following ways.

  • (1)Try speaking slower, using a shorter sentence.
  • (2)Be careful not to use words that are difficult for the technical intern trainees, and phrase things in simpler words if possible.
  • (3)If they still do not understand, add in movements. Draw pictures or diagrams, or write characters.
    Although this may seem bothersome when you are busy, taking a little extra time when the trainees first arrive seems to make things easier later on.

Q5.Every day I give out one worksheet of Japanese sentence drills made for early elementary school Japanese children as learning materials for self-study of Japanese. At first they did the drills enthusiastically, but recently they don’t seem to enjoy them very much. What other teaching materials are available?

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A.Sentence drills for Japanese native students may help the technical intern trainees learn to read, but these drills cannot really be expected to help their listening or speaking skills, which are the skills most important for them. It is important to use teaching materials that improve those abilities. Also, sentences for Japanese study designed for Japanese elementary school students are rather difficult for foreigners, and the content seems to have little of practical value for the trainees’ lives. This may be why they did not seem to enjoy the drills very much. It would be good to use teaching materials that the technical intern trainees will take an interest in.

   Moreover, items familiar to us such as the following can also be used as teaching materials. Below are just a few examples of how they may be used.


  • Ginojisshusei No Tomo (Technical Intern Trainee’s Mate) (published by JITCO http://www.jitco.or.jp/press/bokoku_kentomo.html)
    Select news items articles in the technical intern trainees’ native language that you think they will be interested in, show them only the articles in their native language, and ask them questions about the content and have them explain it to you.
  • Supermarket flyers
    Prepare flyers from several supermarkets and compare the prices of the same products between them.
  • Product labels
    Talk to each other about—in the case of food—the expiration date, place of origin, etc.
  • Travel pamphlets
    Prepare pamphlets that detail trips to their native country, and have them explain about famous places or foods in the pamphlets.

Q6.The employees at the company are busy, so they cannot oversee the trainees study of Japanese. Please tell me about self-study materials.

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A. Certainly even if you cannot directly oversee their study, you can still help them by providing self-study materials and otherwise helping them to study on their own. Try placing items such as the following in the employee lounge.

  • Ginojisshusei No Tomo (Technical Intern Trainee’s Mate)
    (published by JITCO http://www.jitco.or.jp/press/bokoku_kentomo.html)
    This can also be used for self-study, because all the kanji characters have their readings written above them, and there are parallel translations into Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, and English. However, if there is any part they do not understand, please explain it to them.
  • Japanese textbooks
    Textbooks with explanations in their native language would be good. All manner of information about teaching materials can be obtained by entering “Japanese study” or similar into an Internet search engine.
  • Song CDs with lyrics
  • Magazines
    Magazines with many photographs or pictures, and that the technical intern trainees would be interested in, would be good.

There are also websites that let students do kanji tests and practice problems for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and other tests on their computer screens. The technical intern trainees with computers will surely be glad to hear of such websites.

Q7.I have been telling the trainees to keep journals, but the content they are writing has become repetitive. Is there any good way to fix this?

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A. They may indeed find it troubling that they cannot think of anything to write when they set about making a journal entry. How about trying something like the following?

  • (1) If they write every day
    Let them just write something short. For example, only three lines. But tell them they must always write something different from what they wrote the previous day.
  • (2) If they write only once a week
    Tell them to hand their journal entries in the day after a day off. Do not give any particular limits on length. If they have a lot they want to write, it will get long, but if they really cannot write much then three lines will be all right.
  • (3) Do not limit the journal entries to Japanese
    It will be fun for them if they are allowed to add illustrations or make comic-style journals
  • (4) Add comments
    If there are comments in the journal entries they wrote, it will lead to their being more enthusiastic to write again. Brief is fine, so just appending a short message will surely suffice. Then when you return their journals, it may be good to tell them your impressions or ask them about the content, such as by asking, “Dou? Omoshirokatta?” (“How was that? Was it fun?”). But it is probably best to avoid questioning them too deeply.
  • (5) Decide a theme

    For instance, setting such themes as “introducing my family,” “differences between Japan and my country” (food, weather, shopping, and many more), “festivals and local events,” “what I saw on television yesterday,” “recent news,” will surely make the journals easier to write by giving them concrete focus.

    Themes could include anything, such as operations they recently learned to perform in their work, or things they talked to Japanese people about at lunchtime.

Q8.There are a lot of technical intern trainees, so correcting all their journals is quite a task. How should corrections be done in the first place? It is also difficult to explain when they ask about corrections to their use of Japanese grammatical particles.

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A. It is surely quite a chore just to give the journals a quick look when there are many technical intern trainees. With all the other tasks you must take care of, I think it is quite a lot of work to do corrections on top of that.

   So then, what is the original purpose in writing the journals? I think there are several reasons, so I will give you ways to do corrections without much of a burden, tailored for each objective.

  • (1) To assist in Japanese study

    Compared with speaking, writing is difficult because it forces the trainees to be careful of particles, word order, sentence connections, and other grammar aspects. I think they will also give it their all to write the kanji. I think the technical intern trainees also want their journal entries to be corrected. In such cases, it would be good to first agree with them on items such as the following, and have them do what they are able to do on their own.

    1. You will correct particle errors, but you will not explain them. The technical intern trainees are to memorize the usage as is.
      However, “kaisha de yasumu” (“take a rest at work”) and “kaisha wo yasumu” (“take a day off work”) have two different meanings. In such cases where the meaning could be misinterpreted, confirm it with the trainee and then make the correction.
    2. You will place a red circle around any mistaken kanji, and the trainees are to look them up in a dictionary to fix them on their own.
    3. You will underline any unclear sentences, and the trainees are to rewrite them.
      If the rewritten sentences still have problems, you will write them into intelligible sentences and verify these with the trainee to ensure they capture his or her intended meaning.
  • (2) To communicate with the technical intern trainee
    As with (1), underline any unclear sentences and have the trainees rewrite them, but for this purpose also add a brief comment. I mean brief and simple questions that ask how something was, or why, or what they think about something. Then also try asking them the same question orally. In this case, rather than pointing out many errors in grammar or words/phrases all at once, it is a good idea to make corrections a little at a time.
  • (3) To double as a journal of their technical training
    Since in this case the content regarding what instructions the technical intern trainees received, what they have to be careful of, what they did, and how they did it is important, it would be a good idea to have the technical intern training coordinator also take a look at their journal entries. I think this could also serve as confirmation of their technical intern instruction. In this case, rather than correcting their Japanese, instead check whether they are able to write about what they did in their technical training.

If you have many journals to correct, you could also consider reducing the number of times you do corrections and having them hand in their journals once a week or having them only write five lines at most.

Q9. Please tell me an enjoyable way that technical intern trainees from non-kanji-using countries can learn the kanji?

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A. Although the study of kanji cannot be omitted in the acquisition of Japanese, it would only be burdensome for technical intern trainees from non-kanji-using countries to learn the kanji just by repeatedly reading and writing them. We want to teach them in such a way that they feel they can enjoy reading kanji and realize the joy of using kanji.

   One foreigner said that, thanks to studying kanji, signs on the street and other writings that had no meaning before all became meaningful, they were happy because their world got much broader and they now enjoy studying kanji.

   Here are some examples of kanji study methods that people at your company can do easily.

  • (1)Create kanji cards

    Make a list of kanji that the technical intern trainees see often or that you want them to memorize. Prepare cards about the size of postcards, writing one kanji character on the front and the reading on the back, with the on-yomi (Chinese-based reading) in katakana and the kun-yomi (Japanese-based reading) in hiragana. For instance, with the kanji 安全第一 (anzendaiichi; “safety first”), make four cards, writing安, 全, 第, and 一 on one card each, then line them up and teach the reading and meaning. Next, rearrange them in line and have the trainees put them back in the correct order and say the reading and meaning.

    Jumble the cards and have the trainees put them back in the correct order

    Next gradually increase the number of kanji, and have the trainees take the cards in quick-draw fashion to make compound words that have meaning and practice reading them.

    Choose kanji and make compound words

    Also teach them how words they often use are linked with kanji, such as that安 is the kanji used in 安い (yasui; “cheap”) and 安心 (anshin; “security”), and 全 is used in 全部 (zenbu; “all”).

    It might also be interesting to cover the kanji on guide signs hanging from supermarket ceilings, hospital signs, product labels, and the like. Everyday, little by little, it would be good to take even just a little time to cover these kanji in a game-like manner.

  • (2)Besides just having the kanji presented by the instructor, you can have the technical intern trainees collect kanji they see out in town that they are curious about. I think this will spark their interest in kanji, too. For instance, if they copy down kanji from product names or descriptions in a store, you can teach them the correct way to write and read the characters. Tell them to look up the meanings in the dictionary whenever possible. This way, I think the technical intern trainees will be able to feel that the number of kanji they can read has grown quite a lot, they will enjoy studying kanji, and they will be able to study on their own.
  • (3)Inform them of the origin of the kanji

    It seems that many people come to like kanji when they study them by learning about how they were formed.

    For example, as shown below, they can memorize the meanings of the kanji by linking their shapes with the shapes of actual objects: the kanji 日 (meaning “sun” or “day”) is shaped like the sun, and the kanji 月 (meaning “moon” or “month”) is shaped like a crescent moon draped in clouds.

    Once they remember these two kanji, they can also remember the kanji 明 (meaning “bright” or “cheerful”) by the fact that there is a 日 (sun) on the left side and a 月 (moon) on the right side, so together they are very bright.

    In this way, they can surely enjoy memorizing the kanji by imparting them with meaning. There are also several commercially available teaching materials edited with such content, and some of them also have explanations in English, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, and other languages. These can be purchased at bookstores with Japanese teaching materials, or on the Internet.