What better way to share the experience of learning a language than meeting and talking with others of differing cultural backgrounds? This was the shared opportunity recently made available to the students of JAPN101 ‘Japanese Language’ at UNE, and students at Nagasaki University in Japan.

Lecturer in Japanese at UNE, Dr Gwyn McClelland, and Associate Professor Shannon Mason at Nagasaki University have coordinated a new language exchange between students in Australia and Japan. This opportunity was facilitated through technology that many have become rather familiar with over the past few years – video conferencing. The students chatted backwards and forwards from across the world, drawing upon their burgeoning bilingual vocabularies.

Dr Gwyn McClelland during the recent language exchange between UNE and Nagasaki University students

Dr McClelland connected with Professor Mason in Nagasaki in recent years and both felt that this collaboration in teaching was an “organic possibility”; a fantastic chance for students to develop their spoken language skills in Japanese and English.

“It is not necessarily easy to organise this exchange,” said Dr McClelland, discussing the difference in teaching semesters between Australia and Japan. “Japan’s New Year has just begun in their Spring season, and so the last few weeks of Trimester 1 for UNE and Semester 1 for Nagasaki University were one of few possibilities for a language exchange. The basic structure Shannon and I decided upon was to use half the time for Japanese speaking and the other half for English.” On the other hand, there is only one hour’s difference between Japan and Australia at present.

The Australian students, armed with six weeks of knowledge from the UNE course, introduced themselves in Japanese and asked questions of the Japanese students. The Japanese students had the advantage of, in most cases, a longer period of study in the English language. This does not mean, however, that in all cases they were comfortable with speaking. Both groups were nervous at first, but soon relaxed and the conversations began to flow.

“The UNE students really appreciated the opportunity and showed considerable confidence in applying their language abilities,” Dr McClelland noted. This language exchange was the first of three sessions that will be run this way – this will assist the UNE students to prepare them for speaking in a final oral assessment in Trimester 1.

The opportunity to speak with students in a natural conversation is an incredibly important part of learning! Some of the UNE students commented: ‘Was a great opportunity to speak, confidence building for sure…’, ‘It was a lot of fun! I’m looking forward to the next session’, and ‘It was interesting to see the change in the group from nervous at the outset to relaxed by the end’

Around 30 UNE students were involved in this first language exchange session, and with two more planned before their final oral assessment, the students will continue to build their confidence in speaking Japanese.