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Japan Foundation’s Nihongo Partners Program: Participant’s Report


The Nihongo (Japanese Language) Partners Program is run by the Japan Foundation Asia Center to support Japanese-language education in ASEAN countries. People from a wide range of age groups are sent out to secondary schools, mostly in ASEAN countries, to act as partners to local Japanese language teachers and students, lending assistance in lessons and acting as conversation partners as well as leading activities to introduce Japanese language and culture inside and outside the classroom. Shiori Maruyama, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Letters and Education, recently returned to Japan after six months as a partner in the first group for Thailand. Here she provides a report based on her experiences on the program.

Mukdahan Province

Being “Maru-sensei”
I’d long had a vague desire to get involved in Japanese-language education in Southeast Asia and luckily that dream came true thanks to the Japan Foundation program. I applied for the Nihongo Partners Program last April and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach Japanese at junior high and high schools in Mukdahan, northeastern Thailand from September 2014 to March 2015.

Japanese classes in Mukdahan had only just started, and the Thai teachers I would be team-teaching with had themselves only just graduated from university. Everything was being done for the first time, and our lessons began with us still groping for the right way forward. I was responsible for teaching classes for first-year junior high school students and first-, second-, and third-year high school classes, as well as leading the cultural activities of the Japanese club once a week.

With students from the first-year
junior high school class

The school where I taught aimed to emulate the example of Japanese “super science high schools,” and around 190 students at the school were studying Japanese. I thought that since the Thai teachers and I were all young we would be able to improvise flexibly and ensure that the lessons went smoothly. But in fact the lessons often started without adequate time to meet and discuss our approach and I first found it quite frustrating. But the students were eager to learn and picked things up quickly and despite my fears seemed to be enjoying their studies. The students were all complete beginners, and I found it fascinating and inspiring to watch as they learned how to read and write hiragana (Japanese syllabary characters) and became able to take part in simple conversations and gradually became more confident about using Japanese.

At the Japanese club every Thursday I led the high school students in various cultural activities. Of the 15 students enrolled, the eight who came more or less every week were all boys. They were fans of Japanese aidoru (pop idol) and anime (cartoon show) and although they were in touch with the Japanese subculture through the internet they had not had any experience of other aspects of Japanese culture like yukata (Japanese traditional clothes) and origami (the art of paper folding). The students who lived in the school dormitory were very well practiced at cooking and the school’s strong science background meant that cooking lessons were like a science experiment, with all the students apparently enjoying the experience. At New Year, I thought it would be nice to give the students an experience of eating mochi (rice cakes), and so about a week in advance I told the Thai teacher I was paired with that I wanted her to prepare some khao niao (sticky rice in Thai). I was a bit concerned that whenever other Thai teachers asked her about mochi she explained that it was “a dessert like daifuku [a kind of confectionary made of sticky rice and a sweet filling].” When it came to the day itself I realized that the language barrier had led to a misunderstanding. It turned out that glutinous rice flour whose pronunciation sounds like “mochi” in Thai had been prepared. As an emergency measure I hurriedly bought some packets of glutinous rice from the cafeteria and steamed them before beating the rice with a wooden mallet used for preparing som tam (green papaya salad). In Thailand, this kind of mishap was an almost everyday occurrence, but this one did give me quite a big shock.

Boys pounding mochi

Time and again throughout the six months I asked myself whether I was really able to provide meaningful lessons to the students despite all these restrictions, but I was continually encouraged by the sincerity, kindness, and studiousness of the students. Thanks to them, I was able to have a truly valuable experience as a teacher and as a Japanese. Thank you all so much!

(Shiori Maruyama, 4th year student,
Global Studies for Intercultural Cooperation, Faculty of Letters and Education)

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