Japanese is the official language of Japan, a nation of islands located in the East Asia region. The Japanese language is also widely used by communities of speakers in Hawaii, Peru and Brazil, and learnt as an additional language by large numbers of students in the Republic of Korea, China, Indonesia and Australia.
Japanese is the language used by the Japanese for various purposes, including education, business and media communication. Some dialect variations are used in spoken interactions in different regions of the country.
Japanese is a phonetic language. Pronunciation is predictable, and new words can be pronounced easily upon mastery of hiragana characters.
Japanese uses three scripts for writing: hiragana, the basic phonetic script representing the sounds of Japanese; katakana, the companion phonetic script that is largely used for loan words; and kanji, Chinese characters that represent meaning rather than sound (ideographs). The three scripts are used interdependently. Hiragana is typically the first script learnt, with katakana and kanji first introduced in context then taught systematically, contributing to script knowledge and competence. The many loan words from other languages expressed through katakana reflect the impact of globalisation, technology and popular culture on Japanese language and culture.
Japanese grammar is relatively uniform, with few irregularities, no grammatical gender, and predictable and systematic conjugation of adjectives and verb tenses. There are some differences between Japanese and English elements and patterns, such as the Japanese word order of subject–object–verb. This order forms the basis of sentences that can then be enhanced by the addition of details usually placed before the main items. Pronouns can be omitted and it is not always necessary to articulate the subject of a sentence. Counting and numbering in Japanese involve using classifiers that reflect the nature of the item. Particles are used to mark sentence elements and to indicate the nature of verbs.
An element of the language that may be unfamiliar to some Australian learners is the system of plain and polite forms, which reflect hierarchical relations, social and business-related positioning and issues of respect and status. Plain and polite forms are represented differently in both spoken and written language. Conversational Japanese can be less formal than written Japanese, using shortened sentences, abbreviated plain forms and some omitted particles.
Understanding the diverse language competencies of students, as language learners is the starting point for developing their language learning. The changing pattern of migration to Australia is extending the range of languages students bring with them to school.
The language competency of students varies significantly depending upon the sequence of learning being undertaken and the level the student has reached.
While learners of Japanese in Australian schools vary in terms of language backgrounds, cultural experience and prior learning experience, they are predominantly second language learners. Classes may include students with a background in Japanese or in a script-based Asian language. Some students will have had exposure to Japanese language and culture through social interactions, travel or exchange experiences.
In the Languages curriculum area the focus is on both language and culture, as students learn to communicate meaningfully across linguistic and cultural systems, and different contexts. This process involves reflection and analysis, as students move between Japanese and their own existing language(s). It is a reciprocal and dynamic process which develops language use and intercultural awareness and understanding.
A key aspect of the curriculum involves understanding the cultural dimension that shapes and is shaped by Japanese language. The curriculum is designed with an intercultural language learning orientation to enable students to participate meaningfully in intercultural experiences, to develop new ways of seeing and being in the world, and to understand more about themselves in the process.
A feature of Japanese culture reflected in language use is the importance accorded to expressing humility and maintaining harmony. Refusing or deflecting praise of self or family, deferential behaviour and avoidance of direct disagreement or refusal are common characteristics of communicative interactions.
Students use a wide range of texts designed for language learning, such as textbooks, teacher-generated materials and online resources. Their learning is enriched by exposure to a range of authentic Japanese texts, such as websites, films, stories, songs, television programs, advertisements and magazines. The texts and resources will become increasingly sophisticated and varied as students progress through their schooling.
Students are encouraged to use Japanese as much as possible for classroom routines, social interactions, structured learning tasks, and language experimentation and practice.
Students will have opportunities to engage with members of the community who speak Japanese, which in some cases will be facilitated via digital technologies.
English is used for discussion, explanation and reflection, enabling students to develop a language for sharing ideas about language and culture.