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日本語イマージョン教育の現場

データベース部では2016年春、アメリカ西海岸を中心に「ヨミダス歴史館」の契約大学を訪問した。その途中で訪れたオレゴン州ユージーン市にある小学校「友人学園」(Yujin Gakuen)は、米国で初めて日本語イマージョン教育を導入した公立の学校だ。

イマージョンは「浸すこと、没頭」という意味で、他言語に浸りきった状態で様々な教科を学び、その言語の習得を目指す方法だ。同校は1988年に25人の児童でスタート、現在は300人近くの児童が学んでいる。

友人学園の入り口横には、桜の花、富士山、こいのぼりや昇る太陽といった日本をイメージさせるモチーフを描いた壁画が描かれ、ひときわ目を引く。同校の児童たちが昨年作成したものだ。

日本語を使う学校ということで、日本人や日系人の児童が多いのではないかと予想していたが、ここでは日本人駐在員の子女など、日本にゆかりのある児童はマイノリティーだ。白人やヒスパニック系など多様なバックグラウンドの児童がおり、アジア系の児童は6パーセント程度にすぎない。

1年生のクラスでは、先生の「ファイブ・オクロック(5 o’clock)は日本語で?」という問いかけに「5時!」と即答する児童たちに驚いた。ほとんどの児童は友人学園の幼稚園部で日本語を勉強してきたそうだ。教室を出ようとすると、先生に促された児童たちが立ち上がり、皆で並んで「1年生になったら」を見事に歌ってくれた。

【なぜ日本語がオレゴンで?】

同校で25年間教えている末松せつみ教諭によると、ユージーンにはもともとスペイン語とフランス語のイマージョン学校があったが、他にイマージョン教育の小学校を作ろうということになり、市民にアンケートを取ったところ、中国語、ロシア語、日本語の中から日本語が選ばれた。

友人学園が設立された1988年当時、日本はバブル経済の真っ盛りで、米国でも「経済大国・日本」への関心が非常に高かった。末松先生も認めるように、日本の高い経済力が日本語の選択に結びついたようだ。

ワシントンに本部のある応用言語学研究センターのシニア・コンサルタント、ナンシー・ローズさんによると、米国の外国語教育はその時々の社会的関心を反映してきた。たとえば、米国でソ連・ロシアへの関心が高かった1970年代から90年代にかけては、ロシア語教育熱が高かったが、その後下火になった。「移民国家」の米国では、メキシコなどからのヒスパニック系を中心に移民の人口が年々増えており、現在最も人気がある外国語はスペイン語で、中国語やアラビア語もある程度の人気があるという。

一方で、オレゴン州などの米国西海岸の州は、東アジアへの地理的近さから日本語や中国語の人気が根強いとローズさんは話す。

現在はむしろ、経済大国としてよりも、アニメや漫画を通して日本や日本語に関心を持つようになる子どももいるようで、友人学園でも5、6年前からコスプレの格好をして登校する児童も現れたとのことだ。

【米国の外国語教育】

友人学園では英語と日本語の授業がおおよそ半々で行われている。児童たちはひとつの授業が終わるたびに教室を移動する。ある教室では日本語で算数を勉強し、次の教室では英語で理科を勉強する、といった具合だ。

同校で日本語を教えているのは、オレゴン州の教員資格を持つネイティブの日本人の先生。2年生のクラスでは、日本の小学校同様、授業の始めに「起立、礼、着席」という掛け声に合わせてクラス全員が先生にあいさつをした。あいさつが終わると、クラスの前に立った2人の児童が流ちょうな日本語で「今日のお休みは誰ですか?」「今日のお休みは何人ですか?」などと他の児童に向かって質問していた。

同校では日本語教育だけでなく、折り紙やたこ揚げといった日本の遊びを通して日本文化に親しむ機会も設けており、「日本型教育」ということを意識しているようだ。

そうした教育方針は「小さい頃から宿題をする習慣がつき、責任感も身に付く」として地域の父兄に好評だと、トム・ピオワティ校長が話してくれた。

日本でイマージョン教育を実施している学校はまだそれほど多くはない一方で、米国のイマージョン学校は年々増え続けている。応用言語学研究センターのローズさんは、増加の背景には米国人の外国語学習への考え方の変化があると話す。

「かつて米国人は『英語は世界で学習されている国際語なのだから、我々が外国語を学ぶ必要はない』と考えていました。しかし、経済、文化、社会の国際化につれて、多言語を学ぶ必要性が認識されてきたのです」とローズさん。

また、移民児童の増加も人々の意識を変えているという。移民の子どもたちの多くは学校入学時点で、すでにスペイン語など他言語を話す能力を身に付けており、そうした言語能力を他の児童の外国語学習に生かそうという動きが出てきた。そのため、ヒスパニック系住民の多い米国では、特にスペイン語のイマージョン教育が盛んだ。

友人学園でもスペイン語を母語とする児童がいる。ピオワティ校長は、そうした子どもたちの親は子どもたちがスペイン語、英語に加えて第3の言語を話す能力を身に付けることが、子どもたちの可能性を広げると考えているようだと話す。

ローズさんは「イマージョン教育は、米国で最も成功した児童の外国語学習法だと考えています」と胸をはった。

Report

Immersion an effective way to develop children’s language skills

By Mikiko Miyakawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

EUGENE, Ore. — Since their introduction about four decades ago, language immersion programs have proved highly successful in the United States, as more people there have developed an increased awareness of the importance of learning foreign languages and have recognized immigrant children as important resources in society. As Japan prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and globalization beyond, it could also try introducing such programs in more schools to improve children’s proficiency in foreign languages.

Located in the picturesque city of Eugene, Ore., Yujin Gakuen has cultivated Japanese language education for children in the city for almost three decades.

With Japanese-themed motifs such as cherry blossoms, Mt. Fuji, carp streamers and the rising sun, the huge, colorful mural at the school entrance instantly captures the hearts of everyone who visits the school.

“Fourth- and fifth-graders of the school created the artwork last year,” said Izumi Sakimoto, a Japanese parent of Yujin Gakuen students. She moved to Eugene with her American husband so their children could attend the school.

Yujin Gakuen is the first Japanese language immersion program at a public primary school in the United States. The school opened with 25 students in 1988 and now has about 300 students. Language immersion is a way of teaching language by completely immersing learners in that language for significant periods of time.

The school provides a “partial immersion” program in which up to 50 percent of subjects are taught in the foreign language. At Yujin Gakuen, students spend half their day in Japanese and the other half in English. The children are from various backgrounds. Some, like Sakimoto’s children, have ties with Japan.

“Our focus is more on teaching content in the Japanese language, as opposed to the Japanese teacher at a middle school who is teaching Japanese grammar, Japanese conversation skills,” Yujin Gakuen Principal Tom Piowaty said.

In a class in Japanese for second-year students, children were doing exactly what their counterparts in Japan do at the beginning of a class to the calls of “kiritsu” (stand up), “rei” (bow) and “chakuseki” (sit down).

Then, a pair of students stood in front of the class and asked other students, in clear Japanese, such questions as, “Who is absent today?” and “How many students are absent today?”

“They are pretty good when they follow certain patterns. But they still need some practice to speak on their own,” said Kumiko-sensei, who has been teaching at the school since 1993.

Piowaty said the school is trying to provide more opportunities for children to speak with each other in Japanese in what is called the morning meeting or class meeting, in which students sit in a circle and take turns speaking about a theme set by the teacher.

History and popularity

According to Setsumi Suematsu, who has been teaching at the school for 25 years and is known as Jimei-sensei to parents and students, Eugene had Spanish and French immersion schools before Yujin Gakuen opened. A survey was conducted to ask local residents which immersion program they would prefer in their school district out of Chinese, Russian and Japanese. Japanese was the most popular choice.

Suematsu assumes Japan’s strong economic presence back then was a factor in this choice. Now, a Chinese immersion school in the district is being considered, but it has yet to come to fruition, she said.

According to Nancy Rhodes of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D.C., languages taught at U.S. schools clearly reflect social interest at the time.

The United States had more Russian language programs from the 1970s to the 1990s because there was great interest in Russia during this period. But, with the passage of time, Russian programs have waned, according to Rhodes. While programs of many languages are declining, Spanish is greatly increasing in popularity, as are Chinese and Arabic to some extent, she said.

Asian languages, especially Japanese and Chinese, tend to be more popular on the West Coast because of its relative proximity to Asia. Japan’s pop culture, such as manga and anime, also might contribute to the popularity of Japanese, Rhodes added.

At Yujin Gakuen, some students even started to dress up as anime characters about five or six years ago, like cosplayers in Japan, Suematsu said. “I don’t think any parents knew about Japan’s anime or manga 25 years ago, but some of them became interested in Japanese pop culture during the Tamagotchi craze in 1997 and 1998, and some children started wearing T-shirts featuring Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh characters,” she said.

There is also a perception among local residents that children at the school develop good study habits, such as getting used to doing homework at a young age, and learn to be disciplined and responsible, according to Piowaty. “When they go to middle school, they have those skills already,” he said.

As the school mural indicates, Yujin Gakuen also teaches students about Japanese culture. “Parents told us that they very much appreciate learning about the culture of Japan,” Piowaty said. “We have a lot of music, art, things you do not necessarily expect to go along with learning a language.”

Immersion’s success in U.S.

The number of foreign language immersion programs in the United States increased over the 40 years since 1971, according to CAL statistics in 2011. Growth has continued since then as some states are actively promoting the programs. For example, Utah promotes a statewide initiative for language immersion, and it now has more than 100 immersion schools, Rhodes said.

What is most significant about immersion education in the United States is “two-way immersion,” programs that give equal emphasis to English and another language and in which from one-third to two-thirds of the students are native speakers of the other language, with the remainder being native speakers of English, according to Rhodes.

Reasons for the success of immersion programs in the United States include people’s increased awareness of the need to learn a second language amid the increasing globalization of society and the economy, and the influx of immigrant children who come to school already speaking another language, particularly Spanish.

In the two-way Spanish immersion program, not only do native English speakers become fluent in Spanish but Spanish speakers also develop academic skills in their native tongue, Rhodes said.

Parents also feel these programs give their children an advantage. “Some of our parents see the benefits of learning more than one language,” Piowaty said.

Like many other U.S. schools, Yujin Gakuen has students who speak Spanish at home, and their parents apparently want their children to learn a third language in addition to English and Spanish, Piowaty added.

Immersion programs, which seem to have evolved as American society has changed, have developed into an essential part of language education in the country.

“I think language immersion in the United States is the best way we have ever found in this country to educate young children to high levels of proficiency in the language,” Rhodes said.

Though language immersion programs have yet to be widely used in Japan, steps should be taken to promote such programs where possible, by taking advantage of an increasing number of children of non-Japanese parents in this country.