Japanese-Language Education in Turkey: A Year Searching for Answers

The Turkish-Japanese Foundation Culture Center

From March 2020, like many other countries, Turkey introduced strict lockdown measures in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which also significantly impacted educational institutions. All educational institutions introduced online classes and the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which is normally held twice a year, was cancelled. Since returning to Japan in June 2020, as the Japanese-Language Specialist (hereinafter “Specialist”), I have been engaging in work remotely. In response to the vast changes in daily life, I have spent the last year searching for answers to how to respond to the new normal, both in terms of the Japanese language classes and support for Japanese-language education.

Japanese Language Course at the Turkish-Japanese Foundation Culture Center

The picture of scene from the Japanese-language exchange meeting held as part of the Japanese language course at the Turkish-Japanese Foundation Culture Center
Scene from the Japanese-language exchange meeting held as part of the Japanese language course at the Turkish-Japanese Foundation Culture Center

At the Turkish-Japanese Foundation Culture Center where the Specialist is dispatched, there are 74 people (as of January 2021) learning the Japanese language, ranging from high school students to working members of society. In terms of motivation to learn the Japanese language, there are those for whom popular anime provided an initial introduction to the language, and many others who say things like, “I have an interest in Japan,” or “It will probably be useful in the future.” The great majority of learners have a vague affinity with and positive interest in Japan.
2020 marked the 20th year of Japanese language courses in Turkey, but due to COVID-19, we found ourselves having to respond in different ways than usual to the courses. From October to November when the spread of infection had decreased, we provided face-to-face classes, limiting numbers to half the usual capacity. However, as infections increased and restrictions on daily life were strengthened, we had to switch back to online classes.
As we couldn’t hold cultural experiences and visitor sessions, which we would normally hold as part of the courses, seeking ways to keep Japanese-language learning fun and enjoyable since January 2021, we have been implementing online Japanese-language exchange meetings for an hour each week as part of the course, with the cooperation of an NPO from Osaka. There are approximately 10 participants from both Turkey and Japan, who enjoy chatting in Japanese together based on a changing weekly theme. In this exchange event that transcends nationality and generations, the learners listen to the Japanese participants and not only get to experience Japanese culture and lifestyle, they also have the opportunity to reflect on and explain their own culture and lifestyle. So, in addition to learning the Japanese language, they also have the opportunity to gain various insights.

Japanese-Language Education in Turkey

The picture of Japanese Speech Contest in Ankara
Japanese Speech Contest in Ankara

Since March 2020, although there have been a few cases where face-to-face/online hybrid classes could be held temporarily at higher educational institutions, education has basically been conducted remotely. Japanese-language education was no exception and quite suddenly we found ourselves switching to online classes, with teachers and learners alike having to adapt to this sudden change. At educational institutions that hold classes for the general public, as the pandemic showed no sign of abating, just like the Turkish-Japanese Foundation Culture Center, some institutions switched to an online format to continue their classes.
The past year during which online classes have become such a vital part of education provision, the Specialist has also had a great deal to think about in terms of how to maintain an interactive approach to teaching online. It was in response to this situation that in the autumn of 2020, an online study session was planned and implemented on the theme of “How to support learners’ independent learning in an online learning environment,” inviting Professor KIM Hyogyung, of the Faculty of Global Studies of Reitaku University as the speaker. On the day of the session, nine Japanese-language teachers attended and at a time when direct exchange was very difficult, it provided a good opportunity for them to interact and share information about the current situation. After the session, several participants noted that the session had provided them with hints that they could use in their next lessons.

Symposiums and seminars were also held online during 2020, meaning that anyone, even from far away, could easily attend these opportunities to brush up their Japanese-language teaching skills. Given the large size of Turkey, it had been considered difficult to physically assemble all Japanese-language teachers in one location, but now that we have all become accustomed to doing things online, I sensed the potential of online study sessions as a place to exchange the latest information and socialize.

Various Japanese-Language Education Programs

The Specialist also provides support for other Japanese-language education programs, like the Japanese speech contest and JLPT. In FY2020, events like the speech contests and cultural festivals were also either cancelled or moved to an online format. The Ankara Japanese Speech Contest was held in December as the Ankara Presentation Contest. The contestants in the beginner-level category gave presentations on the theme “Recommendations about Turkey that Japanese people don’t know about,” and the advanced-level category contestants addressed the theme, “What is the best way to deepen Japan-Turkey exchange?” It was of course the first time for the Japanese speech contest to be held online and the organizers had planned the event meticulously. Fortunately, it concluded successfully without any major trouble, meaning that we were able to keep these great Japanese-language activities going.

The past year has been one of searching for ways to help learners who want to continue learning Japanese language in the midst of great difficulty, but it has also been a year in which I have accumulated new skills and knowledge. I hope to be able to utilize these experiences in the future.

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