'Japan Calling’ initiative of GMG to mentor aspirants clear JLPT

Dr Manasi Shirgurkar addressing the inaugural session of 'Japan Calling' 

The term ‘Made in Japan’ conjures visions of world-class, high-quality, durable, innovative, creative products. Likewise, the Japanese language is also different, interesting and unique, reflecting the humble way Japanese live and interact among themselves. It is the ninth most commonly spoken language in the world. 

The online era has ushered in easy ways to learn languages. Banking on available resource persons, Garje Marathi Global Foundation (GMG) has launched “Japan Calling”, an initiative offering a platform for students from economically challenged backgrounds for free to help them learn, and understand not only the Japanese language but its culture and mannerism. The sole purpose of this programme is to elevate the lives of these bunch of youngsters by nurturing and grooming them so they pass the Level 3 -- Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) by January 2024. 

California based GMG founder President, Anand Ganu and Tokyo based COO of Creditsafe Rahul Bapat have been instrumental in getting this initiative organised, along with Nitin Datar, Sunil Kulkarni, Niranjan Gadgil, who have decades of experience in the country of the rising sun.

Manasi Shirgurkar(Ph.D), the founder of The Japanese Hub, designed the course focusing on developing reading, writing, speaking and listening skills of the participants and guiding them for Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) certification. She has teamed up with Meera Gadgil, Radha Joshi and Madhura Mandke, together they will train the students.

Manasi (Sensei-as seniors are referred to by their students in Japanese), says she was excited with the responses she got from the forty participants, who gave prompt replies to all her questions during the inauguration session of the course. 

“Japan Calling” is an excellent mix of theory and practical knowledge. As part of the course, GMG members from Japan will be mentoring these students, thus ensuring that they get familiar with the country. The focus won’t be only on offering training for JLPT, but the mentors will offer guidance on career, various skills, cultural norms, mannerisms, food habits, challenges faced while residing in the country, professional conduct, etc. 

The Japanese corporates and the government are keen on foreign students learning their language, primarily because the working population is declining because of low birth rate and increase in life expectancy. Scarcity of workforce has opened a lot of economic (employment, business and freelancing) opportunities for foreign students.

The emphasis is on the fact that foreign students learn communication skills and understand their work culture. Also, although the country is technologically advanced, it gives equal importance to humanities, social studies, arts, so students from various backgrounds can make a career here.

Learning a foreign language is a marathon not a sprint as obstacles and hurdles are inevitable in the language learning journey. Along the path there tend to have bumps on the road. But GMG’s course is designed in a unique way, making it interesting and easy for students to learn the language. Learning a new language can not only enhance one’s life but also sharpen the brain, as studies have shown that learning a language benefits cognitive skills.

Rahul Bapat during an interview explained about the initiative and aspects of Marathi culture which can be helpful to those aspiring to make a career in Japan. Excerpts of the interview: 

Rahul Bapat                                   Picture Courtesy: LinkedIn  

How did you choose 40 participants out of 1000 applications received for the programme?

Rahul Bapat: To be precise, we were overwhelmed, as we received 1000 applications. Selecting only 40 out of the lot was indeed tough. However, our team stuck to detailed and well-defined criteria during the selection process. First, students from economically challenged backgrounds, having a personal computer and a sound knowledge of English were chosen. During the final selection round, students who had interest in learning the language and had received recommendations from teachers or trainers for pursuing the JLPT were chosen. Learning a new language needs persistent efforts and their deep commitment would be the determining factor.

How welcoming are Japanese towards Indians as their employees and coworkers? 

Rahul Bapat: Pretty much. Japan has always enjoyed a great relationship with India, the same holds true between their citizens. However, the major challenge is that of communication, there is a huge language barrier. 

What aspects of Maharashtrian culture do the Japanese appreciate? 

Rahul Bapat: Predominantly, the accent, Marathi people tend to pick Japanese accents aptly. Sentence structure in Marathi and Japanese are the same. Moreover, Japanese appreciate qualities like effective listening and being simple at heart of the Marathi people. 

What are the soft skill sets Japanese companies and government agencies look for during job interviews?

Rahul Bapat: Quick grasping attitude, soft spoken, effective listening, the ability to read between the lines, practice before performance, jotting down notes during informal and formal meetings, teamwork etc.

Faculty Team:

Manasi Shirgurkar: As a child, Manasi was always interested in learning languages, and so she chose to make a career, which could help her explore love for foreign languages. German was her first choice but to her astonishment, late Dr. Govind Damle, a German language expert and department head at the Pune University, guided her to take up Japanese as a subject reflecting upon the benefits she may draw by learning a relatively new foreign language. Dr Damle ensured her admission in the relevant course in Japanese.

Soon after she completed graduation in English, along with an Advance Diploma in Japanese language in 1998, Manasi got admission for a course in Obirin University in Machida city near Tokyo on a scholarship. Following her brief stint with an ITES company as a Japanese language expert, she followed her calling, being a people’s person she got into academics. An Intensive MA in Japanese language in 2003 on how to teach Japanese language as a foreign language gave her excellent exposure on how it has to be taught. She had two faculties as guides for her research.

When the pandemic brought the world to a stand still, Manasi was among those very few, who dared to launch a new business venture, The Japanese Hub, which is grooming students with Business Japanese, and has seen participants from across India and foreign countries enrolling in it. The journey so far has been enriching, for this Punekar, as an educational consultant, a trainer and an interpreter. 

Meera Gadgil has over 15 years of experience, teaching Japanese, including coaching JLPT aspirants (students and working professionals). She teaches at India International School and is an active member of Tokyo Marathi Mandal.

Radha Joshi is a trainer and industrial and organisational psychologist who uses creative and state-of-the-art techniques to ensure learners engagement and participation.

Madhura Mandke has an experience of over12 years teaching regular, special, degree, intensive and preparatory courses related to Japanese language.