Academic journal article Babel

Integrating Language and Content: Challenges in a Japanese Supplementary School in Victoria

Academic journal article Babel

Integrating Language and Content: Challenges in a Japanese Supplementary School in Victoria

Article excerpt


The Melbourne International School of Japanese (MISJ) is a supplementary Saturday school which offers Japanese language and mathematics taught in Japanese from kindergarten to senior secondary level. Classes are scheduled on Saturdays from 9am to 3pm and approximately half of the program is dedicated to mathematics. While mathematics education aims at developing both numeracy and Japanese language skills, many students struggle to understand mathematical concepts. Furthermore, the students have difficulties in solving worded mathematical problems due to poor command of Japanese. This lack of Japanese language competency is, thus, a significant issue for the students. In order to address this

situation, one primary teacher and one secondary teacher attempted several strategies in mathematics teaching, incorporating strategies typical of second language teaching. The primary school teacher integrated teacher talk with the use of visual aids including video clips to assist the students' understanding of mathematical concepts. The secondary teacher employed vocabulary cards, so that the students would pay attention to key words in order to be able to comprehend mathematical concepts in Japanese effectively. Although both teachers incorporated these strategies, some students still had difficulty in understanding mathematical concepts because of their lack of cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) (Cummins, 1996).


Japanese supplementary school, bilingual education, Japanese heritage learners, mathematics, cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP)


Japanese supplementary schools are found outside of Japan and were initially conceived for students of Japanese linguistic and cultural backgrounds. In 2014, 202 Japanese supplementary schools were registered throughout the world and about 17000 students were studying in these supplementary schools (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan [MEXT], 2015). Japanese supplementary schools operate mainly on Saturdays because students attend local day schools. The primary aim of education at Japanese supplementary schools is to provide Japanese education for children who will return to Japan, so that they can easily readapt to the Japanese educational system (MEXT 2015). This accounts for the strong focus on Japanese literacy and numeracy. Nowadays, however, the student body is more varied and includes children both with and without Japanese heritage. In the supplementary schools, the school curriculum is based on the Japanese national curriculum. Kokugo (Japanese as a national language) is the primary subject to be taught but other subjects vary depending on each school's decision. Around 80% of the supplementary schools throughout the world provide mathematics classes in addition to Japanese (see Figure 1). The main possible reason for choosing mathematics is that mathematics is taught in all local day schools: the mathematical knowledge acquired in the supplementary schools can be applied to learning mathematics in local schools in Australia and also in Japan. From the standpoint of bilingual education, moreover, teaching Japanese does not simply mean that the language skills will automatically improve, and thus, it is helpful for students to learn Japanese through an academic subject, namely, mathematics.

Bilingual education and content-based approaches

There are various types of bilingual education programs, and the structure of the programs differs greatly according to time allocation, teaching methods, state policy and society's attitude towards bilingualism (McCarty, 2012). Because there are multiple factors influencing bilingual education, classification varies depending on researchers (Baker, 2011).

A bilingual program model which is relevant to the Japanese supplementary school is closely associated with heritage language education. …

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