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Japan immigration

Foreigner influx fuels demand for Japanese-language learning

Human Holdings teaches Philippine workers, while Sundai offers new proficiency test

Japan's Human Holdings will launch a joint venture in the Philippines focused on teaching Japanese to prospective workers.

TOKYO -- The growing ranks of foreign workers coming into Japan thanks to more liberal immigration reforms have prompted businesses here to adopt wider roles in teaching the local language to new arrivals.

Human Academy, a group company of Tokyo-based staffing group Human Holdings, recently agreed to form a joint venture in the Philippines with Manila-based Magsaysay People Resources. Human Academy will dispatch instructors, as well as provide know-how and materials for teaching Japanese. The venture will teach the language to nurses, hotel staffers and other workers trained by Magsaysay.

The two sides have been partners since 2016, and Human Academy has assisted in teaching Japanese to Magsaysay housekeepers in Japan.

Sundai Gakuen, a Tokyo-headquartered operator of preparatory schools, has developed and launched a new test to gauge foreigners' Japanese-language skills. The examination is given 11 times a year in Tokyo and Osaka, with the first administration in May. It will be taken to one Southeast Asian location in fiscal 2019. The number of test sites at home and abroad will be gradually increased.

Foreigners seeking residency status must pass the widely recognized Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which is offered only twice a year. Critics see the JLPT as an inadequate standard. The test "is not suited for measuring practical Japanese competency," said a source at a nursing care provider that hires foreigners.

Sundai says its own test focuses on real-world vocabulary, expressions and syntax. The company seeks to have it added as a qualifying examination for residency status, paving the way for 100,000 people a year to sit for the test.

Foreign residents in Japan climbed to an all-time high of 2.73 million at the end of last year. The number of foreigners studying Japanese in the country has also reached a record 240,000.

The government implemented in April new visas for immigrants working in 14 sectors with labor shortages, including nursing care and hospitality. This is expected to bring in up to 340,000 people over five years.

A panel of experts at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology compiled Friday a proposal calling for all large cities to offer junior-high-level night classes. The classes are for those 15 and over who have not completed compulsory education.

The ratio of foreigners attending the schools has risen dramatically in recent years, and many come to learn how to speak Japanese. Non-Korean foreigners accounted for 70% or so of the 1,698 students in junior-high night classes last year, according to a survey. But despite the rising number of foreign students, only seven out of 20 government-designated cities have opened night schools, totaling 33 locations.

Though demand for Japanese-language education heating up, a lack of instructors presents a major hurdle. They numbered less than 40,000 in fiscal 2017, data from the Agency for Cultural Affairs shows. Although instructors increased roughly 30% in four years, Japanese learners climbed 50%.

The shortage presents an opportunity for ECC, which runs a network of English-conversation schools. The Osaka company launched this April a full-fledged operation training Japanese teachers.

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