Irish Leaving Cert Japanese — Nihongo Kantan

Nihongo Kantan Ursula Zimmerman Department of Science and Education Ireland 2007

Japanese is a fairly new subject on the Leaving Certificate exam syllabus in Ireland. However in 2007 only 90 students sat the exam (36 getting an A1 grade 28 of them girls) and as far as I’m aware it is usually only on the timetable for the transition year in some schools. (The transition year is a year between doing the Junior Certificate and starting the 2 year program for the Leaving Certificate. They didn’t have it when I was a kid. I think besides extending secondary school by a year, it allows the opportunity to do things off the more formal academic program, like work experience or learning new languages)

The Japanese Leaving Cert syllabus is quite interesting and practical. It seems to concentrate on modern real world situations and on communication. Much different than when I did French in Ireland oh so long ago.

I’d actually like to sit this exam. If you live in Ireland I’d recommend giving it a go. If you are at school talk to your tutors, if you’re a mature learner contact your VEC to see about taking the exam. You can apply online but you need permission of a school principal to use an examination centre apparently. The hardest thing might be finding an exam centre offering Japanese. Try Gorey Community School and Loreto in Wexford where the author of Kantan Nihongo teaches. And St. Caimins Community School in Claire. The Japanese embassy might keep a list of schools offering Japanese. The Japan Foundation has a list of schools that offered Japanese in 2006. This year the written and aural are on the 20th June and the oral sometime between April 7th and 18th. The deadline for applications is 1st February. and the fee is 62euro for a single subject.

Even if you are not in Ireland the syllabus is interesting reading and could form a basis for self study. The exam papers provide interesting practice as well. Many of the tasks are based about reading web sites or writing blogs. It’s hard to link directly to the pdfs of the papers but here is the starting point for finding them. It is also possible to read the examiners reports and see the marking schemes. Unfortunately they don’t make the audio material available. And here is the Higher 2007 written paper.

Nihongo Kantan is the first Japanese textbook written in Ireland. It covers the Irish Leaving Cert syllabus. I feel this is at a level a little over JLPT4. But the Leaving Cert exam is slightly more demanding in that you would have to write a short essay, give written answers instead of multiple choice, and there is an oral exam as well. Also the exam covers Japanese culture, and this is a large component of this textbook.

I think this is an interesting textbook and would be very good for a complete beginner. It covers all the basics in 12 units. A dedicated student might be able to cover it in 6 months to a year. I’d presume it covers 2 years of classroom study.
I like that it uses kanji from the very beginning. All kanji have furigana, unless the purpose of the passage is to read unaided. Romaji is only used in the first 3 units, after that hiragana should have been mastered. Each unit introduces about 10 thematically related kanji in a style that’d be very familiar to anyone that has tried to learn kanji by traditional means.

It’s unusual to see a language text printed in full colour throughout. It also departs slightly from the usual format of dialogue, grammar point, exercises model. The dialogues feel much more a part of the exercises.
It has two CDs of audio material.

As always I have some reservations.
The title. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Kantanna Nihongo, or Nihongo kantan da, fine but Nihongo Kantan seems like the dodgey English you see in Japan. However there is a book printed in Japan called Nihongo Kantan as well so maybe it’s a more common construction than I think.
While I like the full colour printing, I think the graphic design could be more restrained. But it is similar to many secondary school texts I’ve seen so maybe it’s what’s needed to keep teenagers interested.
There are some things I’d class as “lies to children” but I’m usually in favour of them when the actual facts just complicate matters.
I think it’d be better if na adjectives and verb classifications were marked in the vocabulary lists.
I prefer native speakers as a model rather than gaijin accented Japanese which is usually fairly flat (mine included I’m sure) in comparison to native speech.
I think it would be helpful to include a page on stroke order in kanji. It could also be a mistake to indicate the okurigana for kunyomi with a dash – it’s too like the long vowel for katakana that is sometimes found in hiragana as well.

This textbook would probably be hard to find as it’s aimed at a fairly limited market. Modern Languages bookstore in Dublin was where I found a copy. It’s not on their web site but I’m sure they’d respond to an email. (That they misspell Japanese on their site doesn’t help in finding Japanese texts in their database. Good bookstore, not so good web site.)
Authentik is another Irish bookstore where you can order this book online.

-update Jan 29-
And it is now also available at JP Books in the Mitsukoshi store in London.

-update Feb 20-
The Japan Foundation lists 52 Secondary Schools in Ireland offering Japanese. Interestingly there are no only 15 native teachers. Presumably because of the Irish language requirement for teachers. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to learn from a non-Japanese.

Trinity, UCD and DU are listed as having Japanese programs at 3rd level.

And 7 institutions with what I’d class as extramural studies.

the 2006 survey has 1500 secondary students and 230 3rd level students of Japanese in Ireland. (which makes it odd that only 90 sat the Leaving Cert)

PDF listing of institutes offering Japanese according to Japan Foundation survey 2006
Newspaper review of Nihongo Kantan

12. January 2008 by ロバート
Categories: 02 reading • 読む事 | Tags: , , , , | 23 comments

Comments (23)

  1. Hi, Just came across this post by accident and thought I’d point out a couple of errors. There are at least an equal number of native teachers as non-native teachers teaching LC Japanese in Ireland and the reason there are so many A’s is because there are so many native speakers sitting the exam, it’s an easy way to make up for their hardship as non-natives with the rest of the LC. Take care, Karen

  2. Thanks for your corrections

    I could have sworn that the Japan Foundation gave figures for the number of native Japanese teachers in their English returns.
    But reading the more detailed returns on the Japanese site for 2006 in Ireland they list 31 teachers for whom Japanese is not their native language and 15 who are native Japanese teaching in Irish secondary schools. And a further 10 and 7 respectively in 3rd level and other institutions. if I counted them correctly.
    So yes my mistake. But many schools have non-native teachers. Roughly 66% of teachers are non native. Which is about the global average of 70% mind you.
    That said it’s impressive that there are 15 qualified native Japanese teachers. And that there are qualified Irish teachers of Japanese as second language as well. (As an adult I think I’d only study with a native teacher, but then I have the advantage of living in a large city not rural Ireland.)
    It is also impressive the amount of resources for Japanese given that so few sit an exam in it. (Not that an exam is the point of learning a language)

    The large amount of A’s. And I thought that Irish students might have been smart and dedicated. Certainly the examiners report 0f 2004 does mention native Japanese taking the exam and how it skewed the overall results. Again my mistake.
    Except for the English that might be required of them a native Japanese speaker should have no difficulty picking up an A grade and any institution that needs grades for entrance should probably be as quick to discount it.

    The original Leaving Cert exam in Japanese was for native speakers and seems fairly tough. I think 3 students sat it.
    Usually native speakers aren’t allowed take exams meant for non-native speakers. (or take a degree meant for non-natives) But the Department of Education only sets exams for native speakers in EU languages it seems (maybe with the exception of Hebrew perhaps)

  3. Give it a go.
    I think as a language it’s much easier than French and Irish. It’s very regular and orderly. The major difficulty is kanji but there are only about 120 of the most common ones on the Leaving Cert. If you have 2 or 3 years, a good teacher and the ability to do some work on your own I think you can get a good mark.

  4. i’m thinking of doing japanese for my leaving cert. i have a native teacher and i’m gonna give it a try.

  5. I would like to ask where can I get a hold of Nihongo Kantan?

  6. Authentik ( ) from the post above still has it for sale on it’s web site.
    In Dublin, Modern Languages on Westland Row is worth checking.
    In London, JP Books in the basement of Mitsukoshi.

  7. im actually a fifth year student and i took japanese for my leaving cert. it is now my favourite subject and i actually think its easier than english!

  8. I’m currently studying the BA Joint Honors Programme in the University of Limerick and one of my subjects is Japanese! So maybe there’s an addition for your list!

    I also taught myself the LC Japanese syllabus in my 6th year. I loved it and achieved a B1 in honours. It’s not a difficult course at all but I hated this book with a passion – the way it was structured and the illustrations/layout. I ended up using other texts instead. I found I couldn’t make sense of the grammar points at all!

    Oh well I got through it in the end anyway!

    Best of luck to anyone planning on taking the LC Japanese course! I actually started a site to help: I hope it’s useful!

  9. Ah, I just saw you posted about my site in another article! Wow, thank you!

  10. Thanks for your comments.
    It’s quite an achievement to teach yourself an exam subject, especially as you no doubt were carrying 7 other subjects at the same time. お疲れさま!
    School is often the turning of enthusiasm into drudgery. Hopefully it’s changed since I was there.

    While I see the value of exams as a validation of ability (as long as they are open to all comers like the JLPT) I’d prefer to study in a more open ended real world manner rather than chase a grade. Fortunately as I came to Japanese through adult education and had a very enthusiastic teacher I’ve never really had that problem.

    It’s great that Japanese is gaining traction in Ireland. And Irish studies in Japan. When I was in a small village in the mountains of Gifu, the landlady of the inn I stayed in told me how her high school aged daughter had gone to Ireland and sat the Leaving!

    Good Luck in your studies and with your web site.

  11. Oh I completely agree! I hold no value in exams but unfortunately the world does and so if I want to live a life I’m passionate about I’ll have to conform and get through this and that exam, lol.

    Japanese ended up being the only subject I enjoyed studying coming up to my exams, simply because I was free to learn and study as I wished with no pressure. Of course I was sensible and didn’t slack off but I found ways to make learning fun for myself. Really my hope is to teach and to encourage others to pursue a way of learning for their own interest and to realise they needn’t be restrained by school and education in the way they are now!

    I’m also really surprised to find how popular Irish culture is becoming in Japan. There are several organisations that are creating links and on top of that my friend from Waseda in Tokyo said Waseda hold Irish language classes!

  12. They certainly put store in exams in Japan. There seems to be a licence for everything. They also put much more store and pride in non-academic subjects at the same time.
    Exams pretty much are used to filter people. Now that you are in university your lc will have increasingly little value, despite the enormous efforts you probably put in. Hopefully as you progress you get to sit exams in things you enjoy and are passionate about which makes the whole process more bearable! When you have that degree, that will get you past the filters into post-grad studies or a decent job. But eventually skills will be far more important.

    I even came across a hurling team in Japan and there’s a group on mixi for learning Irish. (reminds me of the short film “Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom”) Japan is a probably #1 in the world for enthusiastic amateurs and hobbyists.

  13. I absolutely love Japanese! I’m sort of fluent since I actually attended Japanese primary school for four years because of my dad’s work ( Didn’t go to an International School… ) And I’m definitely taking it for Leaving Cert! :D

  14. キヤンくん、
    that’s probably the best way and best age to learn a language. You shouldn’t have much trouble with LC Japanese, as long as you are ok with writing and polite forms.
    Good Luck.

  15. Interesting …. – being mid-40′s I did my leaving back in the mid-80′s, no Nihongo available at the Compo in Sallynoggin but French etc …. – anyway, now out in Sydney, married to Japanese woman who teaches primary, secondary and Uni here – keen to consider a return for a while in Ireland so it looks like she MIGHT be able to get a job, what do you think? Is there an actual demand for native sensei, is there a demand for the language at all?

    • It’s hard to say. (I’m in UK not Ireland now) There is more demand but it’s still a niche area. There are only low hundreds of students actually taking the Leaving in Japanese, although the reported number having tried studying it is much higher. I’m not sure if it’s on the core timetable anywhere, it’s very much an extra. I also don’t know how the Department of Education’s Irish language requirement for teachers is dealt with. Third level might be a better bet, but if Ireland is anything like the UK language departments are badly hit in recent cuts.

      My guess is that the best course might be setting up a private class targeting Japanese as a relatively easy subject for high achievers to get some extra points. With other classes targeting the JLPT and any other opportunities such as businessmen, or otaku or prospective JET’s.

      These people might be able to give you better information.
      or try the cultural attaché at the Japanese Embassy in Ireland.

      Good Luck.

  16. I was just wondering, when writing japanese, do you use a calligraphy pen or a pen/pencil

    • I use an ordinary pen or pencil.

      A soft (2B) pencil is good because you can vary line thickness and you can erase mistakes. Italic calligraphy pens are more suited to roman characters. The Japanese equivalent would be a brush. These require a lot of practice especially at small sizes. If you want to try it use at least A4 size paper for a single character and use a largish brush. Preferably find a shodo teacher too.

      Squared paper is useful too. A maths copybook with 1cm or bigger squares is ideal. Copy a handwritten style rather than a computer typeface if you can. (This is a good site. )

      You can also use a cheap whiteboard and fine pointed dry wipe marker to practice.

      Best of all is a Nintendo DS LL with Japanese software that corrects your handwriting such as kakitorikun
      or Bimoji training

      Unfortunately they are only easily available in japan.

  17. Hi I was just wondering what textbooks would you recommend fot the leaving cert other than Nihongo Kantana, i think that nihongo kantana is a great book. Also could you pick books that are easy to get, like in easons, i just want to be more fluent, i am in 5th year and i am done the text about three times over and I know everything in it.

    • 3rd Edition Japanese for Busy People kana version.
      Eason’s or Waterstones might have it. Modern Languages on Westland Row, Dublin (near Pearse St. Station) should have it. Even allowing for postage etc. will probably be cheaper. Vol 1 and 2 should cover the Leaving. The only thing is they are geared towards adult use in Japan, so you might need school vocabulary and culture as well.
      You can check out AJALTs site as well

      They also do books aimed at Schools but I’ve no experience of them.

  18. Are there any books like “Less stress more sucess” for japanese as a revision add.

  19. Not really. Certainly not easily available in Ireland.
    I recommend these books from the JLPT. old JLPT3 is probably a bit beyond the level of the LC, so JLPT4 or N5 would be closer.
    provides a wealth of structures that will help you in essays and the oral.

    I’d also recommend Takeo Kamiya’s books on verbs and adjectives, as well as the particle book by Naoko Chino.

    That said, while you might be able to game an exam, there are few shortcuts to learning to speak a language