The nature of the learners
Children enter the early years of schooling with established communication skills in one or more languages and varying degrees of early literacy capability. For young students, learning typically focuses on their immediate worlds of family, home, school, friends and neighbourhood. They are learning how to socialise with new people, share with others, and participate in structured routines and activities at school. Typically they have little to no experience of Japanese language and culture.
Japanese language learning and use
The initial focus is on listening to the sounds and patterns of Japanese through language-rich activities such as rhymes, songs, clapping and action games. Repetition and recycling help children to identify frequently used words, simple phrases and non-verbal communication strategies employed in greetings and other social interactions. Learners experiment with simple responses to prompts and cues.
They are introduced to the scripts through initial exposure to high-frequency kanji, focusing on their ideographic nature before learning the associated Japanese sounds. They learn hiragana using a play-based approach that incorporates chanting, the use of mnemonics and a focus on the creative and crafted process of writing Japanese kana. As they learn to read hiragana they draw on first language literacy skills such as predicting the meaning of unfamiliar elements using contextual cues or by linking them to known elements.
Reading skills begin with recognition of single kanji or hiragana and progress to reading whole words and familiar phrases. Writing skills progress from labelling pictures with single kanji and tracing and copying words in hiragana to scaffolded writing of words and short phrases.
As they progress to using Japanese for functions such as asking and answering questions, responding to classroom instructions, singing songs, and taking turns in games and simple shared tasks, children begin to notice that language behaves differently in different situations and that Japanese speakers communicate in some ways that are different from their own. They practise and repeat formulaic expressions and gestures such as bowing that differ in Japanese from ways of communicating in English. Creative play provides opportunities for exploring these differences and for using Japanese for purposeful interaction.
Contexts of interaction
Children use Japanese to interact with one another and the teacher, with some access to wider school and community members. Information and communications technology (ICT) resources provide additional access to Japanese language and cultural experiences.
Texts and resources
Learners engage with a variety of spoken, visual and written texts. They listen and respond to teacher talk, share ideas, and join in stories, songs, plays and simple conversations. Written and digital texts include stories, wall charts, Big Books, and teacher-produced materials such as games, captions and flashcards.
Features of Japanese language use
Learners become familiar with the sound systems of the Japanese language, including pronunciation and rhythm. They learn to pronounce individual sounds and sound combinations. They understand basic word order in simple sentences, indicate affirmative or negative responses, respond to requests, and notice different levels of formality when addressing friends, family and teachers. They discuss similarities and differences that they notice between Japanese and their first language(s) and culture(s), such as adjective–noun patterns, adding か to ask a question, and ways of showing respect.
Level of support
Learning is supported through the provision of experiences that are challenging but achievable with appropriate scaffolding and support. This involves modelling and monitoring by the teacher, provision of rich and varied sources of input, opportunities for recycling and reviewing, and regular cues, feedback, response and encouragement. At this stage, play and imaginative activities, music, movement and familiar routines provide the essential scaffolding for language development.
The role of English
While children are encouraged to use Japanese whenever possible, with the teacher providing rich and varied language input, English is used as a medium of instruction, and for explanation and discussion. This allows learners to discuss differences and similarities they notice between Japanese and their own language(s) and culture(s), to ask questions, and to express their reactions to the experience of learning and using an additional language.