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Students create video on school rules in easy Japanese for children of foreign origin

A multilingual brochure introducing elementary school life in Japan.

WAKAYAMA -- A group of Japanese and foreign students at Wakayama University has created a video and a booklet introducing terms and culture unique to elementary schools in Japan for children of foreign origin by using easy-to-understand Japanese.

    Students at Wakayama University film the sight of pupils serving meals at the elementary school attached to Wakayama University in the city of Wakayama on Dec. 13, 2021, for the production of a video. (Mainichi/Aya Kimura)

    Children from overseas who are enrolled at schools in Japan often tend to find themselves at a loss over differences in customs, such as wearing indoor shoes, taking turns to serve school lunches and using a notebook for communication between teachers and parents.

    The students behind the project are hoping that the video and the multilingual brochure will help relieve, if only a little, concerns among children of foreign origin and their families about school life in Japan.

    "This is a shoe box. Students change from outdoor shoes to the classroom's shoes," goes the narration of a scene in the video titled "A day at a Japanese elementary school." The approximately six-minute footage uses "easy Japanese" and avoids difficult expressions in explaining the flow from arriving at school and leaving for home for children and parents who are unfamiliar with the Japanese language.

    The student group, comprising Japanese youths and international students from China, Vietnam and Malaysia, focused on the fact that there are rising numbers of children of foreign origin in Japan, and has assisted those children through a project they launched in the 2020 academic year.

    A multilingual brochure and video introducing a day in Japanese elementary school.

    Ayako Nagatomo, a professor of Japanese language education and head of the Center for Japanology Studies at Wakayama University, has given guidance to the student group. "When children from abroad enter an elementary school, they often encounter things and events that make them wonder why. If they could understand those matters before their enrollment, it may make it easier for them to live here."

    During the making of the video and pamphlet, members of the student group visited an elementary school in the city of Wakayama to find out the different cultures in school life to be likely faced by children of foreign origin, by comparing them to those of the countries the group's foreign students are from.

    One of the examples of those differences is how teachers grade exam papers. In Japan, a check mark means "an incorrect answer," while the same mark signifies "a correct answer" in China. In Malaysia, there is no school lunch system, and students are expected to either bring their own bento boxes or purchase food at a canteen.

    The video explains that, "In Japan, a circle is given to a correct answer, while a check mark is used for an incorrect answer," and that, "Students taking the role of serving school lunch wear a white coat and a cap." The student group tried to carefully convey school rules that vary from one country to another.

    Furthermore, international students have translated those explanations into English, Chinese and Vietnamese, and created a 29-page booklet in four languages.

    Muhammad Irfan Danial, 22, a Malaysian student studying at Wakayama University's Faculty of Systems Engineering visited a Japanese elementary school to gather information for the project and was overwhelmed by so many differences from school life back in Malaysia.

    "I got worried if children from foreign countries can get accustomed to schools here," the third-year student said.

    Yu-ka Yamamoto, 20, of the Faculty of Tourism at the same university, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I'd be happy if the materials we produced would help dispel children's anxieties, even if only slightly, and make them feel that Japanese schools look fun."

    The video can be viewed on the YouTube channel of the university's Kii-Plus project. There are 500 copies of the multilingual booklet, which will be distributed to children and parents in need of assistance by way of the Wakayama Municipal Government and other bodies. The booklet can also be downloaded for free from the website of the Kii-Plus project.

    Among children of foreign origin, there are often those of Japanese nationality who previously had foreign citizenship, and those whose parents have foreign nationality. In Wakayama Prefecture, there were 55 students requiring Japanese language instruction as of May 2021, according to a survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

    (Japanese original by Aya Kimura, Wakayama Bureau)

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