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Easy expressions save foreigners!

・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ///////////////////////・ ・・ ・・・・ ・・・ ・・・ ・・・・ ・・・ ・・・ ・・・ ・・・ ・Photo courtesy of the City of Kobe

Welcome to Hirosaki University’s sociolinguistics laboratory.
Hirosaki University is located in Aomori Prefecture in the north of Japan.
This is where we study Japanese on a daily basis. 

Here’s a question for you: What would you do if you found yourself in the middle of a disaster (earthquake,flood,hurricane,etc.)? How would you obtain the necessary information for safety and survival if everything was being communicated in a language you did not understand?

In Japan, there is now an information system designed to boil down  information available to all foreigners that will be necessary for survival in case of an emergency.
This system is called "Easy Japanese".
What is
"Easy Japanese"
Why was "Easy Japanese"
Q&A Initial Testing
What is “Easy Japanese”
It is still Japanese but it has been broken down and structured in such a way that it is easier for foreigners to understand than Regular Japanese (sometimes called Normal Japanese).

Why was “Easy Japanese” developed ?

On the morning of January 17, 1995, the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake disaster occurred in the Kinki region. On this day, more than 6,000 people were killed, and over 40,000 were injured. The victims were not only Japanese but many foreigners as well. Japanese victims 47,029, foreign victims 2,250
The scarcity and tardiness of information dispatch was found to be the primary reason for many of these casualties.
After an emergency of this sort, large amounts of information are provided to the Japanese public almost immediately, but it took nearly half a day for  foreigners to receive any information at all. This resulted in many foreigners not receiving important information such as evacuation procedures and possible refuge locations, because they could not understand English or Japanese.

Ideally, information should be translated into every language spoken by the inhabitants of an area, but it takes about 3 days (72 hours) to translate information from Japanese into other languages.
With this in mind, “Easy Japanese” was proposed as a faster, more effective way of communication.


Why use “Easy Japanese” rather than English or Chinese?

In the event of a disaster, providing foreigners in that area with emergency information would require about 3 days (72 hours). ”Easy Japanese” provides a viable option since it requires only a basic knowledge of the Japanese language (3rd grade level Japanese according to the Japanese language proficiency test, language that most foreigners would encounter in daily activities such as shopping or riding a bus).

Why does it take 3 days (72 hours) for the translation of information into other languages?

As of now, the government has no system to translate information into foreign languages. Although the need for such technology has been recognized, is not yet possible for the Japanese government to implement such a system. In the meantime, “Easy Japanese” can be used as a substitute. “Easy Japanese” requires familiarity with 2,000 Japanese words, both spoken and written. Within 3 hours after a disaster, 200 words can be prepared to communicate the necessary information to foreigners.


Will I be able to understand "Easy Japanese"?

“Easy Japanese” requires only a basic knowledge of spoken and written Japanese, the equivalent of 3rd grade Japanese proficiency level. Therefore, if you are capable of arranging a meeting with your friends and successfully purchasing something in a store, your language level should be sufficient to comprehend the instructions being given out.


Is “Easy Japanese” really useful?

On October 2005, a pilot test was made to check the efficiency of “Easy Japanese” in properly communicating refuge and safety information to foreigners in the case of a disastrous event. The results obtained in this experiment indicated that “Easy Japanese” was a useful tool.

detailed information on the initial testing is provided further along in  this document


 How is “Easy Japanese” composed?

The guidelines are simple:

Limit vocabulary to words used at 3rd grade Japanese Language Proficiency
Show the pronunciation of kanji using furikana.
If words are used frequently in the news, it is best to keep these words as they are
・・presented by the media.Examples of this would be words like refuge, aftershock,
・・and tsunami among others.
Avoid using katakana. (katakana: writing system used to write words that come
・・・from other languages, words that are not of Japanese origin.)
Keep your sentences short and simple.
Avoid using ambiguous expressions.  

Initial Testing
Who was involved?
The participants included:
85 college students of various nationalities (Chinese, Korean, American, etc)
50 Japanese elementary school students. These students were included in the experiment as it was considered that schoolchildren might also have difficulties taking in information in the case of a disaster.
Method used
The participants were separated into 2 groups and placed in different rooms. One group served as the control group and received information in “Normal Japanese” (NJ), while the same information was given to the other group using “Easy Japanese” (EJ).

Each group was tested first on listening comprehension and then on reading comprehension. For the listening portion of the exam, the participants were asked to listen to a loudspeaker and then act as indicated. For the reading section, the participants were given an instruction sheet. After reading it, they were asked to do as the instruction sheet indicated.

The instruction sentences used for the experiment were the following.
・・普通の日本語(NJ) ・・やさしい日本語(EJ)

・・@火の元の安全を確認してください ・・@ガスの火を消してください
・・A落下物に備えて、頭部を保護してください・・ ・・Aあぶないので、帽子をかぶってください・・
・・Bそれでは、避難してください ・・Bそれでは、逃げてください

・・C手を清潔にしてください ・・C手をふいてください
・・D飲料水を一本お持ち帰りください ・・D水を一本持って行ってください
・・ この出口は避難には使用できません
・・ ここから出てはいけません
The translation of the latter is:
・・Normal Japanese (NJ) ・・Easy Japanese (EJ)
・・@Please confirm the source of fire・・
  Please confirm where your gas is outlet・・
・・@Turn off the gas
・・APlease protect your head from falling objects・・ ・・ADanger. Cover your head・・
・・BPlease take shelter ・・BLeave the building
・・CPlease keep your hands clean ・・CWash your hands
・・DPlease carry a water bottle with you・・ ・・DTake a bottle of water
・・EPlease follow this exit route
・・  You cannot use this exit for seeking refuge・・

・・EGo out here
・・  Do not come this way
・・  Do not use this exit
・・  Exit here
Experiment results
Please look at the following graphs. Figure 1 shows the results obtained from the international students, while figure 2 expresses the results from the elementary school students.

The results indicated that, for international students, “Easy Japanese” elicited about 1.4 times more correct answers when compared to the control group. In the case of elementary school students, their understanding using “Easy Japanese” was about 4 times better than the control group. It became clear that "Easy Japanese" was easier to understand for both foreigners and elementary schoolchildren.

Did you understand the idea behind "Easy Japanese"?
There may foreigners who have language problems when a disaster strikes in your country.
At that time, how about trying to utilize the "Easy Japanese" way of thinking?


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