Students turning Japanese at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s Cathedral School students greeting a group of Japanese exchange students.

St Andrew’s Cathedral School students greeting a group of Japanese exchange students.

JAPANESE language students at St Andrew’s Cathedral School will put theory into practice when they head to Japan later this year.

Next month, Japanese teacher Donna Desiatnik will take her year 8-10 students on a two-week tour of the country. During the trip, students will visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island and Nagasaki and “see the places that we’ve talked about”, from traditional temples and shrines to the “crazy, modern aspects of society”.

Every year, St Andrew’s partners with schools across the globe for exchange trips, sending its students overseas or hosting students from sister schools. The trips are designed to further students’ language skills and cultural understanding, and give them a chance to communicate in a foreign language.

This, Ms Desiatnik said, “has a really positive impact on motivating them in the lessons, because there’s a reason: ‘I’ve got to learn how to ask for directions because we’re going to be there and I’m going to need it’”. 

After 10 days touring, students stay with a Japanese family for five nights and attend lessons at Nagasaki Nishi High School, whose year 11 students visit St Andrew’s for six days each year.

“That’s a real highlight for them,” she said. 

Ms Desiatnik said students develop a richer intercultural understanding by staying with a family, eating their food, attending school and immersing themselves in the culture. “When you enter a Japanese house you have to take your shoes off and put slippers on,” she said. “Everything that we’ve talked about in the classroom starts to make sense.

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The trip is a “really spiritual and exciting experience” for the students and often motivates them to continue with their Japanese studies in years 11 and 12. Ms Desiatnik said some students return from the trip “so passionate they tend to go again on their own”.

According to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), learning a foreign language strengthens students’ intellectual and analytical capabilities, and enhances creative and critical thinking.

Ms Desiatnik added that knowing a second language increases employment opportunities, and helps individuals learn more about themselves and develop a strong identity. 

Despite such benefits, languages in schools have been overlooked, Ms Desiatnik said, because under the government NAPLAN testing “so much of the curriculum is dedicated to developing literacy and numeracy”.

“Language has become one of those extracurricular options, whereas in the 1950s everyone had to study Latin and French – it was mandatory,” she said. “It’s really declined in its [perceived] value despite all the research that shows how valuable it is to the child and society.”

According to the Board of Studies, only 10 per cent of the 73,397 students who sat the HSC in NSW in 2012 were enrolled in at least one language course.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Ms Desiatnik said. “Learning about the culture of another country makes you look at yourself and makes you deepen your understanding of who you are and things we take for granted.”