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The Japanese assistant teacher program in Western Australia: a consideration of the pros and cons.


It is quite common for Australian schools introducing Japanese as a foreign language to engage native Japanese volunteers to assist in the classroom using a collaborative team-teaching approach. These volunteer Japanese assistant teachers, commonly referred to as Japanese AssistantTeachers (JATs), are an indispensable asset to school language programs. This service is overwhelmingly attractive to school language teachers in general and worth the time sacrifice required for the associated administrative tasks. In some cases, however, this teaching trend can give rise to educational problems within and outside the Japanese learning environment. This paper addresses the current trend of the JAT program in schools in Western Australia (WA), which has net yet been explored fully, and discusses the distinctive benefits and pitfalls of the existing JAT program. In particular, the focus is on their performance and the extent of their influence on Japanese language educational programs. This is a developmental project that precedes a potential next stage involving large-scale, quantitative research at State and/or national level that may contribute further useful insights into the JAT program.


language assistants, student teachers, Japanese language learning, team-teaching



Australia has 366,165 Japanese language learners and is ranked as the third country in the world in terms of the number of students learning the Japanese language. Although the total number of students studying Japanese has decreased over time, there has been an increase in the number of Japanese language students in higher education (Japan Foundation, 2006). It is quite a common phenomenon for Australian schools teaching Japanese to engage native Japanese volunteers to assist in the classroom via a collaborative team-teaching approach.

All public schools in Western Australia (WA) are eligible to apply at the beginning of each school year to host a Japanese assistant. A teacher can share one Japanese assistant who is a native speaker of Japanese with others or retain one for up to a whole year. As seen in Table 1, 172 out of 778 public schools were offering Japanese language programs in WA in August 2009 (personal communication, August 2009). A similar system to the Assistant Teachers Program (ATP) for public schools also operates in non-Government schools in WA, which is organised by the Catholic Education Office of Western Australia (CEOWA) and the Association of Independent Schools in Western Australia (AISWA). 24 of the 158 Catholic schools and colleges (personal communication, August 2009) and 27 of the 163 Independent schools (personal communication, August 2009) offer Japanese as an elective subject. Regarding the numbers of Japanese assistants, only two public schools, four catholic schools and eight independent schools had officially engaged at least one Japanese assistant in August 2009.

This information seems to contradict claims which suggest that a larger number of Japanese assistants are involved in team-teaching in schools in WA. The issue is that insufficient information is systematically collected about the Japanese assistant teacher (JAT) program and very little guidance is provided about ways of deploying JATs. The aim of this preliminary study is to begin a discussion around the JAT program in WA by exploring the distinctive benefits and pitfalls of the program.

The study can be described as a restricted developmental project--a first step before proceeding to a subsequent stage involving large-scale, quantitative research at State and/or national level. This type of human resource focused study has the potential to contribute significantly to further developments in language teaching and learning at school level by observing an environment in which frequently changing actions occur.

Research objectives and methods This preliminary study aims at addressing the following research objectives (Re):

* RO1: To investigate the background and intentions of the JATs.

* RO2: To investigate the background and intentions of Japanese language teachers who invite JATs to their schools.

* RO3: To investigate perceptions about the JAT program.

For this case study, data were collected through semi-structured interviews with eight Japanese assistant teachers (JATs) for RO1, five Japanese language teachers (JLTs) supervising JATs for RO2, and three student teachers on their teaching practicum (STP) for RO3. Four of the eight JATs were working in the same schools as three of the teachers of Japanese language included in the study. The interview sought participants' demographic information first and then moved to the main questions, shown in the appendices. Interviews were conducted in the participant's preferred venue, such as a classroom after school, school meeting room, or place of residence. Each interview took approximately 45 minutes and was recorded for transcription and further investigation. In order to ensure that the interviewees understood the questions clearly, the interviews were conducted in Japanese for the Japanese participants and in English for the others. The main questions were provided to each of the participants in advance so they could prepare general outlines and comments about their perceptions. (see appendix). All participants were informed of their right to withdraw at any stage of the interview. Since the theme of this study was to investigate the general picture of the JAT program in WA school environments, an inductive research style was employed for the research. The abbreviations of frequently used terms can be seen in Table 2.

Considering RO1--JAT background and intentions

JAT status in Australia

One of the key issues in consideration of JATs is their status in Australia. The interviews identified six different visa categories of JATs, shown in Table 3. This table reveals that there is no single visa-type requirement for applicants wishing to enter and/or work as JATs in Australia (DIAC, 2009). This means that potentially anyone is eligible to be a JAT in Australia subject to the possession of a valid visa under the definition of 'volunteer work' with no payment or occupational restriction involved.

JATs' interview responses about their employment search revealed two patterns: (JP) job search conducted while still in Japan and (AU)job search after arrival in WA (see Table 3). When searching from Japan, it is common that a third party is involved in securing the JAT position prior to departure for Australia. There are two types of agents--non-profit and profit-based organisations--who handle such matters. Non-profit organisations do not levy a general service fee, but some charge participants for an induction session conducted on arrival at their destination. For example, a non-profit organisation called NPO Nichigo charged $300 for airport pick-up, accommodation, and items for the orientation on arrival, as well as securing a host school, accommodation (host family or other alternatives), and the cost of commuting between the host school and accommodation (NPO Nichigo, 2009).

Accommodation and commuting costs are generally arranged by the host school, so the area representative's responsibilities include liaison between participants and their host schools, and monitoring arrangements and contact while the participants are in the program. JAT2, on the special program visa, was in Australia through NPO Nichigo. Unlike other JATs, he received a regular allowance, which was part of the conditions arranged by this organisation.

JAT4, on a retirement visa, commented that her first attempt to be a JAT was not in Australia but in New Zealand. She went through the process via an agent in Tokyo. There was a three-month intensive training course organised by a centre in New Zealand prior to the commencement of her JAT program. After completing her one-year JAT position in New Zealand, she obtained her subsequent positions through her personal networking. Her move to Australia was prompted by her visa condition, since the retirement visa is not available in New Zealand as it is in Australia.

JATs seeking volunteer employment after arriving in WA, mainly do so via mutual exchange or networking. This method may seem unreliable by virtue of its informality, but is a common and noteworthy approach. In WA, an organisation called Nichigo Centre acts as a business as well as advertising agency and provides information to which anyone can have access. JAT1 and JAT7 obtained positions through this organisation.

JAT3, on a spouse visa, was in a serendipitous situation. Since her de facto partner was working for a company which provides information to working holiday makers, she was able to obtain useful information, including that relating to language education, via his networks. Similarly. for JAT3, JAT5, JAT6, and JAT8, it was a personal connection which led to their JAT positions.

JATs' previous teaching experiences and future plans

Among the group of JATs interviewed for this study, JAT3, JAT4, JAT7, and JAT8 had already had full-time teaching experience in school environments prior to their involvement in the JAT program in WA. Thus, it was a natural progression for them to seek further experiences in teaching overseas.

For those with a genuine interest in pursuing a career in education, teaching experiences create favourable opportunities for JATs to process the 'educational knowledge' necessary for becoming future language teachers (STP1). In structured professional education, according to Wallace (1991), there are two types of knowledge--received knowledge and experimental knowledge--both of which are regarded as significant components of language learning. Received knowledge is knowledge based on and cultivated by the input of various theories taught by education courses, while experimental knowledge is that which is developed and acquired by the personal experience that can be derived from the school situation. The development of experimental knowledge is also important to the teacher and/or student on teaching practicum in the forms of knowing-inaction and reflection (Schon, 1983, cited in Wallace, 1991, p. 13). Knowing-in-action is a phenomenon in which a teacher's judgement and performance derive from a kind of instant recognition and judgement, something that is not obviously linked to knowledge of underlying research-based theories and techniques. Reflection involves reflecting critically on one's performance in terms of what went well and what did not, and how this might inform future performance. As in any teaching practicum, the JAT program is an opportunity to develop these two kinds of knowledge. Reflections from JAT1, JAT3 and JAT6 confirm this.

JAT1, JAT2, JAT5, and JAT6 had no previous full-time teaching experience in a school environment. JAT1 was on a working holiday visa and in order to maximise his time, he considered becoming involved in volunteer work, which he believed would enable him to have a unique experience in Australia different from the typical service industry jobs. JAT1 was frank when he commented openly that he did not have any original interest in education, and neither did he have any intention of future involvement in the teaching field.

Similarly, JAT2, on a special program visa, had no intention of using his JAT experience in his future career. The motivation of JAT2, who was a student majoring in economics at a private university in Japan, was to use the JAT program as a way of broadening his knowledge of the world outside Japan.

The natural assumption is that a JAT's special interests are teaching Japanese and education, and that they undertake the JAT experience to help increase their chances of getting future qualifications and employment in the field of education. Unlike JAT1 and JAT2 above, JAT5 and JAT8, on student visas, clearly wished to be teachers in Australia as their future careers. The cases of JAT6 and JAT7 differ from both of these positions. They were both on business visas related to their husbands' employment in WA. However, they were primary carers for school age children - a volunteer opportunity in a school meshed well with their situations. According to these JATs, the program provided the valuable opportunity to interact and communicate with local people and to improve their English while living in Australia.


Notably, six out of eight JATs interviewed for this research were not interested in a future teaching career. The exceptions were JAT5 and JAT8, who were both on student visas and pursuing their degree and diploma respectively in universities in Australia.

Considering RO2 and RO3

Pros of the JAT program

The JAT program brings about mainly five beneficial elements/aspects, which were identified in the interviews. They are

1. influence of JATs as native speakers

2. JATs' influence on the production and perusal of teaching materials

3. JATs' influence on students' preparation forTertiary Entrance Examination (TEE)

4. JATs as substitute or supplementary teachers in class 5. JATs' contributions to the reduction of students' anxiety.

These five elements will be explored below.

Pro 1: Influence of JATs as native speakers

The presence of JATs as native speakers of Japanese has a strong impact on classes (Hasegawa, 2006). JLT1, JLT2, and JLT3, all of whom were non-native teachers of the Japanese language, confirmed that model situations should involve native speakers, who are embedded naturally in the language teaching program. It should be emphasised that these JLTs are not trying to teach their students to become like their JAT but to aim at reaching an ideal native-like target.

JLT4 commented that his students are clearly aware of the authenticity that comes from having a native speaker in the classroom. Interactions with a JAT create useful opportunities for students not only to practise their own skills but also to discover the native speakers' intrinsic gestures, distance in interactions, facial expressions, body posture, and alternations in vocal pitch, rhythm, tone, and intonation. These kinetically and/ or intrinsically motivated features, which are observed subconsciously as well as consciously by students who are learning the target language (Hasegawa, 2004), contribute to transforming or highlighting the meaning of the target language expressions (Lewis, 1999). These features of the native speaker of the target language are unlikely to be demonstrated in non-intercultural contexts, especially where the JLT is not a native speaker. Consequently, JATs make a significant contribution to language education in their schools because they, as second teachers, can be significant resources for students (Woods, 2005) as well as for the JLTs themselves. These concepts are supported by the comments made by JLT2, JLTS, and STP2. The essential element of native speakers is the fact that they are indeed native speakers. Native speakers who have, by and large, acquired absolute linguistic knowledge (although they may still be in the process of developing it) are generally concerned with representing and epitomising an automatic and idealised model of the target language in some way in society (Davies, 2003). In teaching and learning contexts, the actions of native speakers become the target learners' idealised model and even eventual goal (Davies, 2003). While some may argue that it might not be desirable to use only a native speaker as the model or goal (Cook, 1999), this view does not take into account the concept of 'langue'. According to Saussure (1966), 'langue' is the term for the elements that 'people share, the average of their individual speech differences' (cited by Davies, 2003, p. 19). 'Langue' is, therefore, usually seen by students in the language classroom environment as the absolute 'sense of native speakerness' (Davies, 2003, p. 73). This absoluteness accounts for the impact of JATs and explains why their authenticity can make them a dependable resource and yardstick not only for students but also JLTs. As long as language teaching concentrates on enabling the students to become proficient language users of Japanese, rather than native-like Japanese users, this could be the most distinctive element brought to the class by JATs.

Pro 2: JATs' influence on the production and perusal of teaching materials

In Australia, teachers are encouraged to follow their individual teaching styles and educational philosophies, and are, hence, likely to develop their own teaching/learning resources. JATs often provide up-to-date resources and/or information from Japan, which teachers can take full advantage of.

STP1 admitted that her realia collections may contribute to the positive atmosphere of the Japanese language learning environment. Not only materialistic authenticity but also improvement of the existing materials and documents as well as editing and suggestions made by JATs facilitate the development of supplementary teaching resources (JLT1, JLT2, JLT3 & JLT4).This kind of material development can be time consuming and challenging for the JLT, but prompt and simple for a native speaker to complete. JLT3 also mentioned how valuable it is to have a JAT to scrutinise and correct Japanese examples and sentences in written assignments, tests, and examinations, since this type of task relies on both cognitive (linguistic) and performative (communicative) knowledge. She explained that, unlike cognitive knowledge which can be introduced and taught, as a non-native teacher of the language she is not strong in performative knowledge which concerns multiple contexts.

This kind of team-teaching approach with a JAT filling the above gap simultaneously creates another difficulty from the JATs' perspectives, namely the extent to which the sentences produced by the JLT should be corrected. This dilemma can arise from the JATs' lack of background in Japanese linguistics and language teaching pedagogy as well as their unfamiliarity with the

JLT's teaching philosophy. Sensitivity is required in these interpersonal situations and it is suggested that a JAT provide several options regarding nuance and work collaboratively with the JLT to choose the most appropriate.

Pro 3: JATs' influence on students' preparation for Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE)/Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE)

The value of a JAT as a native speaker is even greater for students preparing for the WACE/TEE in Japanese, as these students feel more confident after interacting with someone Japanese (JLT3). Schools engaging a JAT often provide special Japanese intensive sessions for TEE students directly or indirectly. JLT3 noted that her JAT was ideally positioned to assist students in this way.

In WA, the Japanese: second language WACE examination component comprises three types of tests: oral interaction, listening, and written tests. The student's performance in the oral interaction test relies very much on their JLTs' confidence and competence, which requires not only accuracy but also fluency in Japanese. The student's acquisition of fluency in oral interaction, especially in simultaneous interaction, seems to require more time and supplementary tasks in addition to the lessons conducted in school. There is the hypothesis that proficiency in survival level speaking in Japanese requires over 480 hours of study in order to achieve the level 1 to 1 + on the 5 point Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale (Brecht & Walton, 1994; Everton, 1993; Hadley, 1993; Walker, 1989). Although Japanese at Year 12, for example, 'has been designed to be completed through a structured education program of approximately 110 hours' (Curriculum Council, 2009), the precise amount of time allocated to Japanese lessons per week is restricted. In addition, it is often difficult to actually conduct the lessons according to the scheduled timetable due to unforeseen circumstances and interruptions. These intertwining factors lead to the reduction of the time available for language teaching/learning in school, which makes the role of the JAT even more valuable as a resource for WACE/TEE Japanese students.

Pro 4: JATs as substitute and supplementary teachers in class

Another positive influence of the JAT is as a second teacher, and this can function especially well in classes where there is a wide diversity in the students' backgrounds in Japanese learning. As pointed out by JAT5 and STP1, the JAT can play an important role in overseeing particular groups/students in class and interacting with them as needed. JLT4 also made the same comment from the teacher's perspective. The JAT's contribution allows more time for face-to-face contact between JLT/JAT and students, peer examination for students, corrective feedback including recast, and assistance and encouragement for each student in the group.

As long as the backgrounds of individual students differ, so will their proficiency in Japanese. It is highly unlikely in any class that levels of Japanese proficiency will be homogeneous across the student body. In order to tackle such an environment, lessons should incorporate multiple rather than single approaches and styles of interaction in the following five categories: '(1) teacher-to-class interaction, (2) individual work, (3) group interaction, (4) student-to-class interaction in which students assume brief control of the class (introductions, name games), and (5) student-to-class interaction in which one student takes charge of the class for an extended period of time' (Katz, 1996, pp. 67 & 73). To cater for students at a variety of proficiency levels, (2) and (3) are particularly encouraged because 'different students ... will have different requirements, owing to previous learning experiences' (Woods, 2005, p. 9). Appropriately designed tasks offered to individual students and/ or groups require the teacher to have the ability to monitor all of these tasks through giving feedback and assisting and encouraging individuals and groups. This can be a challenge for a single JLT working within the usual time constrains of for language classes. It is in this context that the JAT is appreciated and effective as a second teacher.

Pro 5: JATs' contributions to the reduction of students' anxiety

The JLT may be a source of performance pressure for students in class since the presence of the teacher carries with it some degree of anxiety. Students seem to be more comfortable talking to JATs than to the JLT, possibly because JATs are perceived by the students as non-academic examiners and judges, unlike their JLTs. The presence of such bonds between JATs and students can also be identified by the comments of JLT1, JLT2, and JLT4, regarding benefits to the educational environment.

Anxiety can either lead to students working harder to meet the challenge or to unsatisfactory performance (Carter, 2006). Diverse effects of anxiety have been identified as both 'beneficial/facilitating' and 'inhibitory/debilitating' (D6rnyei, 2005, p. 198), yet most regard it as a negative phenomenon that should be minimised in the classroom environment (D6rnyei, 2005; Jacob & McCafferty, 2006). On this theme, JLT2 and JLT5 pointed out the role of their JATs in helping to reduce student anxiety. They also assume that their students see the JAT not as their teacher but as their Japanese language assistant as well as buddy. STP2 recalled her student life, which was one year before the interview. She expressed the perception that students' sense of closeness toward their JATs naturally reduces their reluctance to communicate in Japanese and makes them feel a little bit more comfortable to approach the JAT rather than the JLT

It is generally agreed that less anxiety contributes, at least to some extent, to the success of language learning and JATs can contribute to this in Japanese language programs.

CONS of the JAT program

As well as various benefits contributed by the JAT program above, presence of the several pitfalls should not be overlooked but considered carefully. Four mainstream elements functioning negatively in the current JAT program have been identified in the following section as

1. absence of working contract

2. awkwardness of student teachers on teaching practicum (STP),

3. inconsistent support system

4. JATs' insufficient communication and teaching abilities.

Con 1: Absence of working contract

One potential grey area can be the inadequacy of the JATs' task descriptions: their volunteer status is not an adequate reflection of their obligations, and this may, in fact, lead to the JLT having excessive expectations. My research has revealed that in the cases studied, there was no official contractual agreement regarding the JAT employment period in the JAT program.

JLT4 hypothesised that this situation is partly due to the current socioeconomic situation. The Australian dollar is stronger than it has been in the past, which causes difficulties for Japanese people wishing to come to Australia. JLT4 reported finding it difficult to secure a JAT to stay and work at his school for more than six months, despite his requests to an agency. This situation can be viewed negatively by JLTs who are trying to organise team-teaching partners for certain working periods, which needs to be organised systematically with forethought. Nevertheless, this desire may make the JAT program more attractive to Japanese people who are already in WA.

Absence of a work contract can lead not only to the timeframe issue but also to vagueness in the allocated tasks for JATs. Extra tasks created by this undefined system, in most cases, can automatically come to be added to the JLT's tasks in addition to their general school responsibilities. Although this lack of formal agreement was actually considered attractive to some JATs, such as JAT1 and JAT5, the informal nature of the arrangement may lead to disruption to the JLTs' lesson plans. While JAT1, for example, was emphatic that he would not give up his volunteer work midway through a term, some JLTs expressed concern about the lack of reliability of the JATs. JLT3 analysed this situation critically based on her former JATs--she was unable to secure a JAT who could fulfil her desire for a team-teaching approach for five days a week for a whole term.

JAT6, JAT7, and JAT8 also pointed out that discussion and confirmation of lesson plans with their JLTs are very useful and relieve their nervousness about their lessons. On the other hand, JAT1 and JAT3 indicated clearly a lack of discussion with their JLTs in terms of the lesson content. Although JAT5 confessed that there was not much discussion prior and/or after the lessons between him and his JLT, he assumed that his background as an education student at a university had given his JLT the impression that he was generally familiar with and understood the teaching in class.

JAT8 encountered a similar situation to those above. After the very first lesson was conducted, however, she insisted that her JLT gives her some informative guidelines and expected to have her roles in each lesson confirmed before the start of the lessons. Her experience as a former junior high school teacher might have empowered her to take this action, which other inexperienced JATs might find difficult to do. Mutual lack of communication with regard to role allocation may sometimes lead to boredom or to an unsatisfactory situations for the JAT, such as the impressions that 'they would rather sit at the back of the classroom and do nothing' (JLT1), or are 'an assistant who would just sleep at the desk' (JLT2) and 'I just didn't hear from her for days' (JLT2).

JLT5 described cases of her JAT using unfamiliar vocabulary and expressions with her students. To address this she developed a routine strategy for preventing this potentially disruptive element by communicating to her JAT the general lesson plan in advance. Consequently, she could expect him/her to have acknowledged the points in writing and to contribute constructively to the lessons. JLT1 had also developed a similar strategy--a lesson plan or worksheet of the day provided directly to her JAT before the lesson.

The situations described above might arise from the JLT being subconsciously influenced by the knowledge that most JATs are working on a volunteer basis. JLT3 expressed her perception that it is irrelevant for a JLT to expect extra work beyond teaching assistance. On this point, however, some JATs are actively attempting to improve the situation. JLT4's assistant was actively seeking extra work she might offer for the lessons. Moreover, JAT2 indicated that he was ready to assume extra responsibilities for lessons in addition to his own clearly allocated tasks, including marking tests and compositions.

In order to bridge any gaps in expectations, adequate information sessions and exchange between JATs and JLTs are required. As the JAT program situations differ considerably from school to school and not all schools are fully responsible for uniform regulations, the individual teachers should perhaps be accountable for their own JAT program operations. In other words, JLTs should be responsible for, or at least involved in, producing the contracts that detail the tasks and requirements of their JATs.

Con 2: Awkwardness of student teachers on teaching practicum (STP)

Conducting Japanese lessons in the presence of a JAT might make some students on teaching practicum feel uncomfortable. This feeling, expressed by STP2, is understandable since the teaching practicum itself is inherently a stressful atmosphere. Thus, a combination of a cooperating teacher and JAT as two monitoring authorities seems to increase this conflict.

STP1 had a dilemma derived from her supervising JLT's philosophy and her own about making use of a JA-E Unlike her JLT, STP1 allowed the JAT to become directly involved in her lesson on teaching practicum and only discovered the discrepancy between her view and the cooperating teacher's about the assistance from the JAT after the lesson. She eventually successfully managed the situation. By contrast, the case of STP3 was not as successful. She was not able to interact successfully with the JAT, who did not seem to comprehend the general teacher's roles and tasks. Looking back at the situation, she commented that, as a student on teaching practicum, she felt very awkward about interacting with the JAT.

A JAT is there not only to help students but also to contribute to the improvement of the JLT's Japanese, which is one of the main benefits of setting up a JAT program in a school. As highlighted by STP1, STP2, and STP3, this element, however, can lead to negativity because some JLTs might feel uncomfortable and embarrassed as if a JAT is monitoring their accuracy and Japanese usage. In relation to this point, STP2 who was a 1st year education student, agreed and commented that she would not feel comfortable using Japanese in her class on teaching practicum in front of a JAT. On the other hand, however, STP1, who was a 4th year student and very confident in using Japanese at a high level of proficiency, did not feel this same lack of confidence. STP3 could not compare her case with the others because her classes consisted of students at mixed levels. Her fluent and confident Japanese use convinced me of her Japanese proficiency at a high level, yet she did not like to have a JAT in her class, especially one who was unfamiliar with the content of the lesson. Rather, she preferred to have a JAT for extracurricular activities after school. The majority of STPs, however, commented that the presence of a JAT could be useful in helping to maintain the JLTs' Japanese ability as well as for the updating of resources.

In the case of STPs, as with situations involving JLTs and JATs, clear and open communication is required for successful collaboration. A JLT should provide the opportunities for a STP to express his/her preference about the JAT's involvement in his/her lesson. At the same time, the university should be responsible for the confirmation of the JATs' attendance prior to allocating their STP to the school. Such mutual understanding should be highlighted as part of the teaching practicum placement procedure, but this does not appear to occur consistently in the current environment.

Con 3: Inconsistent support system

Unfortunately, there can be problems caused by lack of transparent and clear allocations of responsibilities between JLTs, JATs, and their agents. This is not only on the teaching side but also in administration and other areas, such as securing accommodation for JATs. In many cases, the JAT program is built on volunteer work and goodwill. The JLT generally needs to administer the JAT program in their school in addition to their general school responsibilities. Often there is no support system in place for the hosting school or JLT and this can create a significant increase in workload (as commented upon by JLT1, JLT2, and JLT5).

Financial conditions for JATs also differ widely from one situation to another and depend entirely on the host school, agency, and its policy. For example, JAT2 said that he was provided with an airport pick-up service, accommodation, three meals a day, and approximately $A500 as a monthly allowance. Ideal conditions such as these are provided for applicants who meet the strict selection criteria imposed by NPO Nichigo. JAT8 was also relatively fortunate. She received a regular salary for her once-a-week JAT role in one school although she did not expect such a 'treat'. In fact, she also had a JAT role at another school for which she received no financial compensation.

Varied conditions in schools' financial policies can affect JATs as well, as alluded to by JAT1, JAT6, and JAT7 Most JATs work on a volunteer basis, which should define their presence as non-financial profit, so it is not legitimate for them to expect any monetary allowance. JAT1 commented, however, that a small allowance for travelling expenses and daily lunch would be very much appreciated. Considering the fact that this practice, while not being standard in Australia, is common in Japan, JAT6 pointed out that the JAT program would attract more volunteers, and even on a full-time basis, if such allowances were to be supplied. JAT7 commented, 'I would hesitate about recommending someone else among my circle of Japanese housewife friends [in Perth] to my current JAT position if the situation did not alter'.

As the head of the language department, JLT2 has a budget line and allocation for the JATs. Thus, she was able to provide a lunch and transportation allowance to the JATs who worked for her school. JLT3 also commented that if her school were advised in advance, a financial arrangement such as JLT2's would certainly be possible. On this issue, JAT5 also commented that he could claim the transportation fee from the program organised by his university (JAT5's university is affiliated with the high school where he conducts his service as a JAT.) However, this system only began after he voiced his needs, and most schools do not provide this kind of support.

The provision of a small allowance may be seen by the JATs as a token of the school's appreciation, which will in turn enhance the JAT's commitment to the program. Hence, this is an important consideration for schools seeking participants in the program.

Con 4: JATs' insufficient communication and teaching abilities

All JATs are partly responsible for teaching Japanese and interaction with students in class requires a minimum level of teaching knowledge/ability with English proficiency. Insufficient English proficiency may confuse students and detract from JATs' ability to interpret classroom interaction (Miyazaki, 1992). Furthermore, a lack of basic teaching knowledge, such as inappropriate corrective feedback, which plays a significant role in teacher-student interaction in the Japanese classroom context (Yoshida, 2009), may have an adverse effect, as an untrained or uninformed teacher may give feedback on students' incorrect/inaccurate usage in Japanese in a way that may risk the improvement of the students' language learning. In order to improve the quality of JATs' basic teaching and English language skills, educational authorities and individual collaborating JLTs need to consider regular professional learning opportunities for JATs. At the same time, they should offer some sort of official recognition of service. Clearly, this would require standardising procedures and contractual arrangements but this could only help to improve the quality of teaching assistants, their motivation and, most importantly, the team-teaching environment for language programs in schools.

There are some agents in Japan who require a particular level of English ability, which is assessed by various tests including the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), International English LanguageTesting System (IELTS), University of Cambridge English for Speakers of Other Language Exam (Cambridge ESOL) and Test in Practical English Proficiency (known as EIKEN Test in Japan). None of the JATs interviewed for this research, however, were required to undertake anything equivalent to these English proficiency tests in order to be JATs in Australia. JLT1 raised the issue of JATs' unsatisfactory English ability and JAT4 and JAT2 both commented that their English ability has affected their performance in class. This is clearly an issue of concern in terms of the interaction between JAT and students (Miyazaki, 1992).

JLT1 commented on the JATs' general English ability, explaining that many JATs come to Australia because they want to speak and improve their English. They naturally tend to use English as interactions with students occur. However, this picture does not seem to be always ideal for students who are learning Japanese. A minimum of background in language pedagogy would assist JATs to exercise maximum patience when listening to their students due to their lack of fluency in Japanese. Considering this, improvement in the JATs' teaching quality and/or English ability themselves does not necessarily and solely lead to a pragmatic solution for this type of conflict occurring in the team-teaching context. Moreover, the JAT's identity as a Japanese teacher should be confirmed repeatedly, and carefully produced lesson plans should be discussed regularly in order to ensure that the students in the Japanese classes understand each role.


JATs unquestionably bring several benefits to the teaching and learning of Japanese as an additional language in schools in WA. Of course, there is always a downside which needs to be considered. Making the most effective use of the program requires a more generally adaptable and transparent structure with a reliable and informative system. Consideration of the issues discussed in this paper by educators, scholars, and organisations of Japanese language education and those involved in the JAT program will help to enhance the JAT program further in the future.


Interview questions for Japanese assistant teachers

1. How long have you been teaching as a JAT? How long are you planning to be a JAT?

2. What did you do before you came to Australia for this program?

3. Have you had any previous experience staying overseas apart from this program?

4. Can you tell me the reasons why you wanted to participate in JAT program?

5. Salary? Living conditions? Can you tell me about your daily schedule? Weekend schedule?

6. Can you tell me about your tasks to carry on and out and responsibilities in school (in terms of Japanese language program and other school activities)?

7 What are positive/negative elements of those tasks?

8. What do you hope to complete and/or leave behind by the time you finish your stay in Australia as JAT?

9. Would you recommend the JAT program to other teachers?

Interview questions for supervising teachers

1. How long have you been teaching Japanese?

2. Have you lived in Japan? How long? What were you doing in Japan?

3. How long have you been involved in this JAT program?

4. Can you tell me the reasons why you want to have a JAT?

5. Can you tell me what you are required to organise for the incoming JAT before their arrival in Australia and during their practice period?

6. What are positive/negative elements of those tasks?

7. What do you expect JAT to leave behind by the time they finish their stay in Australia as JAT?

8. Would you request another JAT for the following years?

Interview questions for student teachers on teaching practicum

1. How long have you been teaching Japanese?

2. Have you lived in Japan? How long? What were you doing in Japan?

3. How long have you been involved in this JAT program?

4. Can you tell me the reasons why you (do not) want to have a JAT?

5. What are positive/negative elements about your position as a student teacher to be with JAT?

6. What do you expect a JAT to leave behind after they finish their stay in Australia as a JAT?

7. Will you request a JAT when you become a teacher of Japanese?


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Dr Hiroshi Hasegawa is a Lecturer at Curtin University in Western Australia. He has extensive experience in teaching Japanese from the primary to tertiary level. His main research interests include language education, ethics in education, and ICT-led educational environments.
Table 1. Distribution of JATs in WA--2009

                  NUMBER OF   JAPANESE    SCHOOLS

Public               778        172          2
Catholic             158         24          4
Independent          163         27          8

Table 2. Frequently used terms

TERMS                 ABBREVIATION

Japanese assistant        JAT

Japaneselanguage          JLT

student teachers on       STP
teaching practicum

Table 3. Visa category and employment search


JAT1   Working Holiday Visa           AU
JAT2   Special Program Visa        JP (NPO)
JAT3   Spouse Temporary Visa          AU
JAT4   Retirement Visa             JP (PBO)
JAT5   Student Visa                   AU
JAT6   Business Visa                  AU
JAT7   Business Visa                  AU
JAT8   Student Visa                   AU
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Author:Hasegawa, Hiroshi
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:May 1, 2011
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