A lot of elderly and disabled people who are in need of nursing care can only speak Japanese. In addition, almost all the documents needed for the job are written in Japanese. Some people may feel uneasy about starting a job as a care worker in Japanese, which is not their native language. Through surveys and interviews, we asked some foreigners who have experience as care workers in Japan about what Japanese level is necessary as a care worker.
How important is Japanese as a care worker?
As a lot of the staff at nursing care facilities are Japanese and there is quite a bit of Japanese jargon during the shift change reports, Japanese language skills are very important. In addition, many of the people in need of nursing care are elderly and few of them speak English, so communication is not possible without Japanese language skills. “I speak Japanese with the Japanese staff at the facility. The more I study Japanese, the more interesting it becomes. I use a dictionary and translation tools to read work-related explanations. What I often use is a dictionary app on my cell phone. When I don’t understand what the elderly are saying, I have them repeat it for me in simple Japanese or ask other staff to help me,” says Ms. Hoang THI NGOC ANH from Vietnam. When coming to Japan to be a care worker, Japanese language skills are an important factor. It is important to study hard before coming to Japan.
How long did you study Japanese before coming to Japan?
So now you understand that Japanese communication is vital for care workers, but how long did those who came to Japan to work in nursing care service start studying Japanese before they came to Japan for the first time? The amount of time people studied varied, but it seems a lot of people start studying seriously for between six months to a year before coming to Japan. However, there are cases where you won’t be able to work in Japan without passing a Japanese language test, so it’s a good idea to start familiarizing yourself with Japanese from the day you become interested in working as a care worker in Japan.
After coming to Japan, how long does it take to get used to Japanese?
When I started working as a care worker in Japan, there were words I didn’t understand. At first, I was reluctant to speak out when I didn’t understand something and I would laugh and go along with it. But when it was related to work, it had to do with the lives of the elderly, so I asked another staff member to explain it to me properly,”. Ms. Riswanti from Indonesia told us. Mr. Albert Fernandez from the Philippines said, “For the first three months after coming to Japan, my Japanese was not very good. I could write simple sentences, but I couldn’t speak yet. Maybe I could speak, but I just didn’t because I wasn’t confident. There were also a lot of important words I didn’t learn when studying Japanese but that I learned through work.”
The time it takes to get used to Japanese varies from person to person, but it seems that for a lot of people generally the first three to six months are tough, and then they gradually get used to it. Being in a foreign country can be mentally difficult at first, but Japanese people are generally kind, so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask so you can get used to the language.
Difficult aspects of Japanese
Which part of Japanese (reading, writing, listening) do foreigners find most difficult? While interviewing some individuals who were care workers in Japan, we found out something interesting. One of the difficulties brought up was the “dialects”. The long island country of Japan stretches from north to south; many dialects actually exist and are still used today. Even Kyoto and Osaka, which everyone is familiar with, have their own dialects. Here are some more responses from our questionnaire:
・“Kansai dialect … I worked at a facility in Kobe. Both the staff and facility users often spoke Kansai dialect, at first I couldn’t understand what they were saying.”
・“Other staff members and facility users spoke Okayama dialect, so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It’s really difficult. Another care worker from the same country as I helped me out.”
For standard Japanese, a lot of people seem to use smartphone apps to look up things if they can’t understand it by reading or in writing. With the evolution of technology, the language barrier may be lessening.
How to study Japanese
Here is some advice from foreigners in Japan who have worked as care workers. Please refer to it when studying Japanese.
・“I speak proactively. I don’t worry about things like, ‘What if I make a mistake?’ with grammar or whatnot, I just talk. For people who are into manga and anime, I think it’s a good idea to read the manga and then watch the anime version. I think that if you watch the anime after reading the manga, it will be easier to understand the story. I also recommend movies that are for young girls. The reason being that there are a lot of words for everyday conversation, so I think you will be able to speak natural-sounding Japanese (in Japanese, there are both feminine and masculine ways of speaking). We study Japanese grammar and vocabulary during training, but I think it sounds like ‘textbook Japanese’ and it takes some time before sounding natural.” (Ms. Riswanti from Indonesia)
・“There are some tips and tricks to improve your Japanese quickly. Try to listen to Japanese every day. NHK news, anime, Japanese music and TV dramas ー listen and copy them, write down and memorize any words you don’t know. The Japanese I studied before coming to Japan and the Japanese I actually use at work are different. If you carefully study vocabulary for daily conversation and those used in nursing care, they will be useful after you start working.” (Ms. HOANG THI NGOC ANH from Vietnam)