Title: Japanese as a Heritage and Emerging Language, Researching and Building Networks (2020)
Following my 2019 project on Japanese as a Heritage Language Speakers (JHLSs) and their support system, I continue working on the support for JHLSs but with a new perspective. I have formed an Australian network of academics from all states and territories and started a survey project to understand the learning and teaching environments and resources of what we now call Japanese as a Heritage and Emerging Language Speakers (JHELSs) with support from the Japan Foundation. I have also been engaged in the International Forum of JHLSs as an Australian representative. The new terminology is a working term while we search for a best description of the language which is not only heritage that is from the past or suggesting blood lineage to Japanese ancestry. The language actually is used in present everyday life in connecting variety of people to the future.
The work I am engaged in relies on two theoretical bases. One is a learning theory of Communities of Practice, the other is a linguistic theory of Plurilingualism. Communities of Practice offer platforms for participatory learning while their members engage in regular mutually beneficial interactions for common goals. The concept of Communities of Practice provides two functions for my project. First, it offers a framework for the Australian network of JHELS academics to learn and research together as a community. Second, it supports us in analysing existing JHELS communities and in conceptualising potential JHELS communities.
Plurilingualism, stemming from the work of the Councils of Europe, refers to an understanding that an individual holds multiple languages of varying degrees of proficiency and utilises them as resources in communicating with a variety of people in a variety of situations. Plurilingualism is different from Multilingualism which often refers to a society where multiple languages are available and used. The concept of Plurilingualism is useful in discussing JHELSs in Australia who have both English and Japanese of varying degrees of proficiency and can switch between the two languages as the needs arise. Their holistic language proficiency cannot and should not be compared with Japanese proficiency of Native Speakers of Japanese (NSJ) who grow up in Japan.
My work aims to support JHELSs in the following ways:
Finding out currently available teaching and learning resources for Australian JHELSs
Finding out about learning communities (e.g., community language schools) where JHELSs participate
Finding ways to effectively network these communities
Inform parents, teachers and other stakeholders of JHELSs of the concepts of Plurilingualism.
Progress / Outcomes / Next steps
Between January and April, I conducted the Japan Foundation Commissioned project on Japanese language resources for JHELSs in NSW. The project had a literature review section and a survey study section and produced a report which was presented to the Japan Foundation. The timing was not great as the COVID hit us at the time of data collection and teachers in Community Language Schools and other schools were too busy shifting themselves into online delivery. The survey found that many parents of JHELSs are keen to educate their off-springs with Japanese so that they can use Japanese like a native speaker. It also found that the 12 Japanese community language schools in NSW are not networked.
Based on the NSW survey report, I formed the Australian JHELS Network, involving academics from all states and territories. The revised survey project successfully gained the UNSW ethics clearance, and the nation-wide survey is currently underway. The new project is also supported by the Japan Foundation.
Also based on the NSW survey report, I presented a joint UNSW-Japan Foundation online seminar to parents and teachers of JHELSs in October, which advocated Plurilingualism. The seminar was well prescribed with over 70 participants with a high satisfaction rate.
The second seminar is planned to be delivered online in December with a guest speaker from Waseda University, Japan, who can also advocate Plurilingualism. The third seminar is under planning for February 2021 with a European expert.
As an attempt to network the NSW Japanese community language schools, the Consul General of Japan, Sydney is kindly hosting a dinner in late November. I will support him at this gathering.
The International Forum is currently underway. I participate as an Australian representative with two other academics. Representatives from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Japan created a video presentation each on their local issues on JHLSs. The videos were released online for public viewing. Based on the viewing, questions and comments were solicited and online response and discussion forums for each region are taking place. In fact, Australian response and discussion forum is happening this Sunday November 15th. After the forum, the final summative international forum will happen in December.
These series of events are a result of the new Japanese language promotion law enacted last year. The practitioners and researchers of JHLSs from all over the world who gathered in successful petition for the law continue working together. We are in sync with a view that we share similar issues and we can help each other by sharing ideas and working together. As a part of the international movement who support the JHLSs, I will continue to engage in international discussion.
The Australian Project has just started. I, as the leader of the project, will complete the national survey, produce a report, identify next research agenda which will yield not only research outcome but support mechanism for JHELSs.
Implications for UNSW
Throughout the JHELS project, I maintain high profile both locally, nationally and internationally with the name of UNSW. The Japan Foundation seminars are named and advertised as UNSW-Japan Foundation seminars. Incidentally this year I received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Society for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language, the peak body in my field. Only one award is given annually, and the prestige is high. Here again the name UNSW increased its recognition value.
Australia ranks No.2 in the number of Japanese permanent residents in the world. Sydney also ranks No.2 as a city. This means a large number of JHELSs are being raised in Sydney and Australia and the large demand for efficient support for the healthy language development and well-being of these children. UNSW’s involvement is community engagement and contribution to the local Japanese community.