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Japan immigration

Tokyo wants Japanese-language teachers to make the grade

New certification program to raise standards as more foreigners seek employment

The number of foreigners learning Japanese has grown faster than teachers of the language. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

TOKYO -- Japan aims to set up a nationally recognized accreditation program for teachers of its native tongue, seeking to improve language education for foreign workers as the country prepares to welcome them in greater numbers.

The certification program, outlined Monday by a government committee, would start as early as fiscal 2020.

Under legislation taking effect in April, Japan will offer new residency visas that let blue-collar workers in alone and allow higher-skilled foreigners to bring family to the country.

This new path to long-term or permanent residency, meant to ease the nation's labor shortage, will increase the need for Japanese-language education to help foreigners settle into work and daily life.

The country lacks an official benchmark for Japanese-language teaching skills, and many classes outside metropolitan areas are taught by volunteers.

The proposed certification program is also meant to boost the appeal of teaching Japanese as a second language by making it a specialist role, which could lead to better pay.

The number of non-native speakers studying Japanese in Japan reached 240,000 in fiscal 2017, up 43% from fiscal 2010, but teachers of the language grew only 18% to just under 40,000 over the same period, according to the Cultural Affairs Agency. Nearly 90% of these instructors were volunteers or non-full-time teachers.

Japan had an all-time high of 2.64 million foreign residents last June, up 30% from the end of 2012, according to the Justice Ministry. The tally is expected to keep growing, spurring more demand for Japanese-language teachers.

Certified teachers would train foreigners and their families, as well as students from abroad. Aside from dedicated Japanese-language schools, they could also teach in grade school as well as provide training for businesses and municipalities.

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