Kanji on Monday, kaiwa renshū on Friday: how legal Japanese is taught at St Petersburg University

St Petersburg University offers a unique bachelor’s programme ‘Jurisprudence (with an In-Depth Study of the Japanese Language and Legal System)’. Students enrolled in this programme spoke about how they study one of the most difficult languages, pass the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and prepare for internships abroad.

Students in the programme have Japanese language classes three days a week. Each day is dedicated to particular aspects of the language. For example, on Monday, they study Japanese logographic characters kanji. On Wednesday, they focus on grammar and new vocabulary. On Friday, they work with legal texts, practice writing and listening skills. ‘As for speaking, or kaiwa renshū in Japanese, we try to practice it in each lesson,’ said Alisa Kaidenko, a St Petersburg University student in the programme ‘Jurisprudence (with an In-Depth Study of the Japanese Language and Legal System)’. In her opinion, studying Japanese requires strong will and determination, especially when learning kanji characters and grammatical structures.

It is the integrated-skills approach to language teaching that enabled Alisa to prepare and pass the international Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. She received a Third-level Certificate confirming her ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations. Accordingly, Alisa was selected for an internship at the Hokkaido Government Representative Office. The internship was organised with the assistance of Kouji Hirao, a member of the Academic Programme Council, and Ilia Vasilev, Head of the Programme and Associate Professor in the Department of Theory and History of State and Law at St Petersburg University. ‘The course “Business Communication” focused on oral and written communication, discussion and writing reports, was taught entirely in Japanese. This enabled me to gain an invaluable experience,’ noted Alisa Kaidenko.

JLPT, or Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken, is an international exam evaluating and certifying Japanese language proficiency for non-native speakers – from elementary N5 level to advanced N1 level. The exam sessions are held twice a year – in winter and summer. The test covers: vocabulary and grammar; reading; and listening. JLPT should be taken in sequential order to demonstrate linguistic competence required for each of the five levels.

‘Our Japanese language teachers use an integrated-skills approach. The amount of language input – new kanji characters, new grammar and vocabulary – is huge. However, reaching my current level would have been impossible otherwise,’ said student Ilia Kamynin. In summer 2021, he successfully passed the JLPT N3 exam. ‘This certificate enables you to get a job in Japan,’ explained Ilia Kamynin. He is going to take the JLPT N2 exam to confirm the next level of language competence and then to enter a Japanese language school or an internship programme.

‘In a way, Japanese is simpler than English, because there are only two tenses and the sentence structure is very consistent and clear. The elementary level can be mastered easily if you make an effort to learn. Yet, if you want to advance your level of Japanese, this will not be enough. You will need to develop a sense of language,’ said student Mariia Kalinina. ‘Grammatically and syntactically, Japanese is very different from Russian. For instance, in Japanese the topic is always placed at the end of a sentence. Basically, when immersing yourself in this language, you have to adapt to a completely different way of thinking,’ explained Mariia Kalinina.

In general, the students all agree that learning Japanese requires much effort and time. Due to the complex writing system, to comprehend even the simplest of texts in Japanese you will need to learn hundreds of kanji characters. With enough practice, however, kanji will be memorised and stored in your head and cease to cause additional confusion.

The success of our students affirms the uniqueness of the chosen teaching methodology. We managed to create the conditions that facilitate learning the Japanese language from scratch in four years.

Ilia Vasilev, Head of the academic programme, Associate Professor of St Petersburg University

In addition, Ilia Vasilev, Head of the programme ‘Jurisprudence (with an In-Depth Study of the Japanese Language and Legal System)’, stressed the importance of the first attempts to use the language in legal contexts. For this purpose, in November 2021, Yasuharu Miura, a member of the Academic Programme Council, conducted two business games for 3rd-year students in Japanese using legal terminology. The games were focused on counselling clients, interested in opening a business in Russia.