Location: Kansai Dialect Self-study Site / ABOUT /

About This Project:

It was 2005 when Shingu came up with the idea of establishing a Kansai-ben self-study website. After some preparatory research and after involving Hatanaka as a collaborator, this project officially started in 2006 supported by The Consortium of Language Teaching and Learning. In this section, we will explain what is behind this project; why we, ordinary Japanese instructors in the US, decided to work on this project in addition to our school teaching duties, and where we currently stand in terms of progress on this project.

Being native speakers of the Kansai dialect, we have been asked by a number of intermediate level students of Japanese, who are ready to participate in exchange/internship programs in the Kansai area, for help in preparing them for their experience by teaching them the dialect. Some students say their interest in the dialect grew from watching animation and movies in which some characters speak the Kansai dialect or from their Japanese friends who are native speakers of the dialect.

野菜畑 Vegetable field (Oharano, Kyoto)
As explained in Chapter 1, Kansai-ben is the most powerful regional dialect in Japan nowadays, spoken by over twenty million people including those in Osaka, Kobe, Nara and Kyoto. Though the Kansai dialect has linguistically distinctive features from Standard Tokyo dialect, native speakers of Japanese are used to hearing it and usually have little problem understanding it because the dialect is widely used in the entertainment industry and in the media (by Kansai comedians, for example). However, it is a challenge for foreign learners of Japanese to comprehend it since only "standard" Japanese is taught in the U.S.  Most students never have a chance to realize the fact that there are big regional differences in how the Japanese language is spoken; they tend to find out only after they go to Japan and experience difficulty understanding what the local people are saying.

In the case of the MIT Japan program (MIT has a strong internship program, and most students interested in going to Japan choose this over studying abroad), approximately one fourth of the interns are sent to the Kansai area each year. They do not receive detailed instruction on the regional dialect during their preparation period. In the summer of 2005, Shingu conducted an online survey targeting 21 interns who were sent to the Kansai area between 2003 to 2005 to learn how they see the dialect and if they feel studying the dialect beforehand would have been useful to their internship. Their opinions varied depending on their background, the work environment they were in and the amount of contact they had with local people. Those who had a significant amount of contact with local people, especially with elderly people, experienced difficulties in proper understanding and felt they would have appreciated formal instruction of the dialect beforehand. The result positively supports our supposition regarding the need to study the dialect among the participants.

Up to now, it has only been possible to offer a seminar or an extra-curricular activity on the basics of the Kansai dialect. At the Japanese School at Middlebury College, VT, Shingu conducted weekly Kansai-ben seminars as an extra-curricular activity in the summers of 2001 to 2003 due to the demand from the students. As much as twenty percent of the Japanese students participated in the seminar each summer. At the University of Texas at Austin, Hatanaka spends one hour of the third year Japanese course introducing the dialect to increase the awareness of this regional language and culture in Japan.  However, these are very limited examples at a limited number of institutions.  This amount of instruction is far from adequate for answering the students’ need to learn the dialect in a systematic and practical manner.

Textbooks and web resources related to Kansai-ben are also presently insufficient. There is a textbook on the Kansai dialect written by Japanese teachers in Japan accompanied by tapes. However, there are a few problems: 1) its medium language is Japanese; hence, while it may be good for advanced learners, it is not suitable for most students who have only 2-3 years of Japanese study, and 2) the order of introducing each structure is not systematic and, therefore, it is very hard to find what is introduced where. The biggest problem is that the book has recently gone out-of-print! There are also a couple books on the Kansai dialect published in the U.S.  However, these are not written by Japanese teachers who are familiar with teaching Japanese as a foreign language, and there is no audio resource to go along with them. We also found a few English websites and some Japanese websites focusing on the Kansai dialects. However, none have been created/maintained by professional Japanese teachers. These websites may be useful to gain knowledge of the overall feature of the dialect or some idioms, but not for practical comprehension of or communication with the dialect. Japanese websites are meant for Japanese natives, not for Japanese learners, so they are out of the question as far as comprehensive learning for non-native speakers is concerned.

正法寺の不動尊 Fudo at Shobo-ji Temple (Kyoto)
Therefore, it would be reasonable for Japanese teachers as pedagogical specialists to create an accessible and practical online tool to learn the dialect, specifically for Intermediate Japanese learners and in the medium of English. There are three reasons why a website would be ideal to conduct this project: 1) Websites can be accessible to any student practically anywhere and anytime, 2) Websites are capable of embedding sound and visual information in addition to the factual texts and written exercises, and 3) Websites can be an open-end resource to which we can add and edit exercises and materials whenever necessary.

Websites can also make use of video-clips featuring natural conversation by native dialect speakers for listening comprehension and as cultural resources. Since the study of the dialect is something students would do in addition to their standard Japanese study, it should be relatively non-demanding; that is, it has to be something they could have fun with and something that could enhance their curiosity to continue working on it. The video-clips of “real people” should contribute to make the exploration of the Kansai dialect and culture more realistic and enjoyable. Also, video-clips can show the diversity within the dialect – for instance, Kansai people of different gender, generations, and in different regions speak differently within the category of the dialect. Furthermore, video-clips can provide rich visual information in addition to the sounds, such as the situation, location, scenery and appearance and manner of the people. Not only can the users learn and develop a strong feeling for the cultural practice of the spoken language in Kansai but they can also cultivate their own idea on what “Kansai culture and local identity” is.