FILIPINO LANGUAGE EDUCATION IN JAPAN:
THE CASE OF TOKYO UNIVERSITY OF FOREIGN STUDIES
The Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) was set up in its earliest
form as a government translation bureau in 1857, and was then known as the Institute
for Research of Foreign Documents. In 1899, it was transformed into an independent
educational and research institution and called the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages,
having 5 language departments; namely, English, German, French, Russian and Chinese.
In 1949, it was reorganized as a university under the new postwar educational system.
At present, approximately 50 languages are taught in the regular curriculum while
several more are being researched there. The Faculty of Foreign Studies offers 26
languages in seven areas of study. Asian languages comprise around half of the total
number of languages being taught, with some of them taught only at our university.
Filipino comes under Southeast Asian Studies, and is grouped together with
Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Burmese.
Southeast Asian Studies is offered as a four-year undergraduate course within the
Faculty of Foreign Studies.
Tagalog was first offered as a major course in 1945. It was started in the
belief that Japan would win the Pacific War, and since the Japanese would be occupying
the Philippines they would need Tagalog speakers. However, it was only offered for
four years until 1949, one reason being that nobody could teach the language properly.
The Tagalog teacher during that time was a Spanish teacher connected with the
university who got hold of a Tagalog grammar book and used it in class. The other
reason, of course, is that Japan lost the Pacific War so there was no further need to offer
the course. Twenty students each year majored in Tagalog when it was offered from
The present Philippine Studies Program was officially established in 1993. In
1992, some students who were accepted to major in Malaysian were asked if they
wanted to shift to Filipino. Five of them volunteered to do so, and they became the first
Filipino majors in the present program. When Filipino was officially offered the
following year, 15 students were admitted, which was the maximum number that could
be admitted to the program at that time. However, in 2006, when all national
universities including ours were partly privatized, the maximum number was increased
to 20. So far, we have filled the allowed quota in our program every year since
inception. Moreover the number of applicants wishing to enter our program has
increased year after year and now Filipino is one of the more popular courses in the
Southeast Asian Studies program.
Challenges and Issues during the Early Stage of the Program
One major challenge during the early stages of the program was the absence of
a Filipino textbook written in Japanese. All the Filipino conversation and grammar
books that we were able to obtain were either written in Tagalog or English. However,
most Japanese students have difficulty understanding English, even if they have studied
it for several years in middle school and high school. Therefore, using a textbook
written in English would have been futile. The only way forward was for us to create
Four years before the Filipino program was officially offered at the university,
Prof. Michiko Yamashita and yours truly taught Filipino to police officers from all over
Japan at a language institute designated by the National Police Academy of Japan.
This Filipino language program was a 10-month intensive course consisting of 3 hours
of language lessons daily, 5 days a week. We taught this program for 5 consecutive
years. During the initial stages of the program Prof. Yamashita and I started making
our own lessons to use in our classes. It was a furious effort on our part to be able to
produce as many lessons as we did, due to the intensive nature of the program. We used
several published conversation and grammar books as references, including Tagalog for
Beginners by Teresita Ramos and Videa de Guzman, and Intensive Tagalog for
Expatriates by Wilfredo Muyargas. We therefore used the same self-produced materials
at the university during the first year.
Another challenge that we have constantly faced is the absence of a
Tagalog-Japanese and/or Japanese-Tagalog dictionary. All available dictionaries are
either Tagalog-English or English-Tagalog. As mentioned above, most Japanese do
not understand English well. Using these dictionaries is quite a challenge for them,
and it is a long process just to look up the meaning of a word. If a student wants to
know the meaning of a Tagalog word, he has to look up the English equivalent and then
use an English-Japanese dictionary to properly grasp the meaning of the word, albeit
through an English filter. He has to follow the same process in the opposite order if he
wants to find out the equivalent of a Japanese word in Tagalog.
This issue has not been addressed satisfactorily to date, since no
comprehensive Japanese-Tagalog or Tagalog-Japanese dictionary has ever been
published. While a few Japanese-Tagalog mini-dictionaries and word lists do exist, they
are only useful for beginners. Teaching staff members at our university have compiled a
simple Japanese-Tagalog dictionary with a total of over 20,000 words, for the exclusive
use of our students, but it is still not as comprehensive as we would like.
Another challenge which we face is the unavailability of Tagalog-English or
English-Tagalog dictionaries in Japan. They are not available in the university library
and very few bookstores sell them in Tokyo. Moreover, if they are available at all, they
are quite expensive. And with the increasing number of students who want to enter the
Filipino program, whatever stock is available in local bookstores is not enough. So the
only way we can supply all of our students is to order the dictionaries from a bookstore
in Manila and have them sent to our university. In spite of the shipping charges, the cost
of one dictionary is still cheaper than if it is bought in Tokyo. We order these
dictionaries before the end of each school year, so that by the time the new school year
starts the dictionaries will have already arrived, ready to be distributed to the incoming
The lack of teachers who are qualified to teach the program is also an ongoing
issue. As we all know, just being a native speaker of a language does not mean that the
speaker can systematically teach the language. A proper educational background and
training are necessary to be able to teach any language effectively, including Filipino.
There was only one regular faculty member and one part-time teacher when the
program started, which was good enough for the first 2 years. But because the
maximum number of students was always admitted to the Filipino program since the
third year of the program, the need arose to hire more teachers. So, part-time teachers
were hired, but none of them had the proper background or training. Moreover, since
the language of instruction to date has been Japanese, a teacher of Filipino has had to be
able to teach in Japanese. To this end, one of our graduates from the Philippine
Studies Program who acquired his master's degree at the University of the Philippines
has been a part-time member of our teaching staff for several years now.
The Curriculum and Textbook
One aim of the Faculty of Foreign Studies is to provide students with a deep
understanding and knowledge of the languages, cultures, and societies found in various
regions of the globe. Therefore, a student who chooses to major in Filipino is expected
to develop a deep understanding and knowledge of the language, culture and society of
the Philippines in particular and Southeast Asia in general. As a school policy, the
students spend their first and second years intensively studying the language of their
In the Philippine Studies program, all language classes are semestral. Students
are required to take six 90-minute weekly classes of Filipino per semester, during their
freshman and sophomore years. Four of these classes are Basic and Advanced
Grammar while the other two are Oral Communication. However, in their junior and
senior years, the required number of Filipino classes decreases dramatically to only one
a semester: Reading and Composition.
Classes in Area Studies are designed to allow students to obtain a basic and
comprehensive understanding of the culture and society of a particular area. Students
must take four such classes by the time they complete their second year. These classes
concentrate on the culture, art, history, geography, economy and politics of the
Philippines. The classes offered include Introduction to Philippine Studies,
Introduction to Philippine Literature & History etc. In their junior and senior years,
students are required to complete six classes pertaining to Southeast Asia in general.
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