[lg policy] Can Japan overcome the =?utf-8?Q?=E2=80=98language_barrier=E2=80=99_?=for foreign workers?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 11 15:00:59 UTC 2014

Can Japan overcome the ‘language barrier’ for foreign workers? 11 October

Author: Tomonori Taki, Nagasaki International University

In May 2014, the Japanese government announced its plan to attract ‘foreign
talent’ as part of a campaign to further economic growth. The plan consists
of three key points.

First is a review of the Technical Intern Training System. This will be
done by strengthening management and supervision of the system, widening
the job categories covered by the system, extending the training period
from the current period of three years to a maximum of five years and
expanding the admission quota.

Second, Japan will ease the acceptance criteria for trainees in the
construction and shipbuilding industries for a five-year period.

Third, the Abe government will consider allowing the employees of Japanese
firms’ foreign subsidiaries to work in Japan, permitting home support
personnel to work in National Strategic Special Zones and enabling
international students who have secured Japanese national license to work
in the nursing sector.

The above policies will considerably increase the need for foreign workers
to be proficient in Japanese language. The allowable period of stay in
Japan for technical intern trainees — who currently receive the least
amount of Japanese language training — will be increased by almost 70 per
cent, reinforcing their need for Japanese language skills. In addition, the
policy intends to enlarge the number of technical intern trainees.

But is Japan prepared for the increased demand for Japanese language

Currently, Japanese language education for foreign workers varies depending
on occupation. Japan accepts candidates for nurses and aged care workers
from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. In 2014, 508 people arrived in
Japan to work in these sectors. For such candidates, Japanese language
training is given before and after arriving in Japan. Most candidates from
Indonesia and the Philippines who received this training achieve an N3
level (‘to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain
degree’) in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

With regard to the Technical Intern Training System, however, trainees only
receive Japanese language training after arriving in Japan. The extent of
the language training that they receive also may differ depending upon the
process by which they were invited. In some cases, Japanese companies
individually invite trainees, but often small- and medium-sized companies
do so collectively through the Japan International Training Cooperation
Organization (JITCO). Two organisations are involved in technical intern
trainees’ Japanese language education — the Overseas Human Resources and
Industry Development Association (HIDA) and JITCO. HIDA provides trainees
with 6 to 13 weeks of Japanese lessons. The 13 week course aims to enable
trainees to achieve the N4 level (‘to understand basic Japanese’). JITCO
assists its member companies by supplying them with lessons on how to
instruct in Japanese as well as teaching materials. But JITCO does not
provide Japanese language lessons directly.

The number of trainees invited by individual companies is approximately
5000. Meanwhile, in 2013, approximately 145,000 trainees were invited
collectively through JITCO. Whether or not the Japanese language training
given to these trainees is effective remains a key question.

In addition to the above two programs, language training is also available
for foreign residents in local Japanese communities. This program is run by
the Cultural Affairs Agency, a special body of the Japanese Ministry of

A Liberal Democratic Party report published in March 2014 called for the
provision of Japanese language education for technical intern trainees
before they leave their home country. But there seems to be no reference to
this issue in the report published in the same year by the Cabinet Office,
nor in the ‘Revision of Japan Revitalization Strategy’.

The ‘Revision of Japan Revitalization Strategy’ states that, as part of the
re-evaluation of the Technical Intern Training System, the Japanese
government intends to conclude agreements with the governments of foreign
workers’ home countries. But it is unclear if the Japanese government ask
its counterparts governments to provide Japanese language training at home
before departure and whether it will maintain the current policy of
requiring Japanese language training after entering Japan. This issue
demands serious attention as appropriate language training is essential to
breaking down the ‘language barrier’ and successfully accepting and
integrating more foreign workers
into Japanese society.

*Tomonori Taki is Associate Professor at Nagasaki International University,
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