Japanese Language School Directory

Learning a foreign language as an essential step to understanding the local community

Hiroshi Suzuki
Special to the japan times

Minister-Counselor of the embassy of Kazakhstan in Japan batyrkhan Kurmanseit has a unique experience in learning the Japanese language. It was after he finished studying Japanese in a yearlong program at Kyoto University that his Japanese language teacher told him that his Japanese was "becoming worse," meaning less textbook-like. this made him very happy.

Minister-Counselor of the Embassy of Kazakhstan Batyrkhan Kurmanseit talks about how he learned Japanese and how the language ability helps him in his work and daily life. YUKO HARAMinister-Counselor of the Embassy of Kazakhstan Batyrkhan Kurmanseit talks about how he learned Japanese and how the language ability helps him in his work and daily life. YUKO HARA

"I felt that I mastered the genuine practical Japanese used by the local people,"

Kurmanseit said in a recent interview at the embassy. "I felt I became a member of the community."

"I thought I finally graduated from textbook Japanese, which is different from the language really used by ordinary Japanese people in daily life," he said. He studied Japanese in the Faculty of oriental Studies of al-Farabi Kazakh national University. the teacher was the incumbent ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Kazakhstan to Japan akylbek Kamaldinov, currently Kurmanseit's boss.

It was just a few years after Kazakhstan became an independent country, free from the reign of the Soviet Union, following the USSr's collapse in 1991. to the people of Kazakhstan back then, how to sustain the long-awaited independence was a big issue, and Japan was one of the ideal countries to look to for the answer.

Affinity for Japan

"I think I decided to choose the Japanese language course maybe because of affinity for Japan. even in the Cold War under Soviet rule, we didn't have the impression of Japan as an enemy country," Kurmanseit said. "Japan was the country I wished to visit if I could, and I wanted to see it for myself." and some years later, his wish was granted. In october 1998, Kurmanseit won first prize at a Japanese speech contest for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which are former Soviet-satellite nations. among those who learned Japanese at universities outside russia, he was the first student to win the prize. The prize granted Kurmanseit a two-week trip to Japan, visiting tokyo, osaka and Kyoto in april 1999.

His efforts to study Japanese were further rewarded with a one-year stay in Kyoto. He passed the Japanese language test of Kyoto University and was admitted to the university in october 1999.

In Kyoto, he said he tried to learn Kansaiben, a Japanese dialect used in the Kansai region, which includes the osaka and Kyoto area. the language is quite different from standard Japanese, making it markedly different from that used in Japanese language textbooks for foreigners. He did it because this Japanese dialect was the one used in the first Japanese community that he belonged to in his life. His efforts failed to please his Japanese language teacher, but he was happy. due to the nature of his current career, however, Kurmanseit now uses standard Japanese.

Kurmanseit's Japanese language ability has earned him the Foreign Minister's prize at the Japanese Speech Contest for Foreign embassy officials in 2009 and 2011. the contest is sponsored by the Foreign Ministry, the agency for Cultural affairs, nHK, the Japan times and other organizations. participants speak in Japanese for about five minutes each on a wide variety of topics. the Foreign Minister's prize is awarded to the best speaker.

With the Ambassador of Kazakhstan Akylbek Kamaldinov, Kurmanseit holds the trophy for the Foreign Minister's Prize of the Japanese Speech Contest for Foreign Embassy Officials. EMBASSY OF KAZAKHSTANWith the Ambassador of Kazakhstan Akylbek Kamaldinov, Kurmanseit holds the trophy for the Foreign Minister's Prize of the Japanese Speech Contest for Foreign Embassy Officials. EMBASSY OF KAZAKHSTAN

Bridging tool

Kurmanseit's home country of Kazakhstan is located in Central asia, surrounded by global powers such as russia and China. and thus it is important for the country to have good relations with Japan to form a diplomatic balance within asia, he said. although the country is affluent, with natural resources such as oil, gas, coal, gold, uranium and chromium, etc., Kazakhstan is now trying to shift its national economy to one independent from those natural resources. as the country seeks to develop its manufacturing industry, the country is in need of Japan's know-how and technology, Kurmanseit said. even so, his Japanese language learning is not only for diplomacy and business. Using Japanese is part of his daily life with the many friends he has made in his long time in Japan. because of the fluency of his Japanese and the way he might appear Japanese, he had an embarrassing experience.

Learning Japanese is, and should be, to understand things Japanese such as history and culture, food, fashion etc., Kurmanseit said. It is either the Japanese themselves or students learning Japanese who should play the role in their future career, he emphasized.

Those who are studying Japanese, or any foreign language, should consider a job that needs the language for their future career. one could be a researcher, writer, translator, or anything related to the culture, history and diplomacy of the country, bridging one's home country and the country whose native tongue is the language one is studying, he said.

"It is very significant that you have the aspiration to get a job using the language you are studying," he said. "and, it would be best if the job helps relations between the two countries strengthen."

Deeper learning

In his 11-year career as translator, interpreter, consultant and diplomat Kurmanseit has been engaged in jobs associated with the Japanese language. He has served as an interpreter for meetings with political leaders of various countries. It is not too much to say that his language skills have made his career. because of the nature of his job, Kurmanseit knows the significance of words. From his working experience, he knows it is vital to fully understand what your counterpart is trying to say to build a good relationship, just as it is to help your counterpart fully understand what you are trying to say.

For that, it is not good enough to learn just word-for-word meanings of a foreign language. you have to learn how to use the right word in the right context, as well as the cultural and historical background of a word used.

"Words are the base of everything," he said. "Words are everything to build a diplomatic relation with a country, and to understand the culture and history of the country.