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)