L1 and L2 education of young Vietnamese immigrants in Japan

Author: Mayumi Adachi (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)
Speaker: Mayumi Adachi
Topic: General sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


A rapid language shift is now occurring from L1 (Vietnamese) to L2 (Japanese) among Vietnamese refugee communities in Japan. One reason behind this is that many of the Vietnamese residents plan to continue staying in Japan and send their children to Japanese schools in the future (Adachi 2018). However, language has often been cited as the main cause of the greater rate of school failure among minority children (Romaine 1994: 191). This presentation reports on the current situation of L1 and L2 education among young Vietnamese immigrants on the basis of 10 years of sociolinguistic fieldwork in Kanagawa Prefecture.

One of the most important crossroads in young immigrants’ lives is the public high school entrance examination. In Kanagawa, ninth-grade students who have moved to Japan for three years or less can take exams with Japanese syllabaries along with Chinese characters. However, students who have lived in Japan for more than three years have to take those exams without any additional support, the same as indigenous Japanese students. To survive the circumstances described above, Vietnamese immigrants tend to assimilate into the Japanese school system by using Japanese instead of preserving their first languages.

While they are busy with coursework, some elementary and junior high school students join club activities such as Vietnamese dance. During and after high school, many young immigrants face additional challenges because they have to decide whether to change their names and nationalities to access further education, employment, and marriage. It seems that, when faced with such decisions, young immigrants become keenly aware of their roots and identities and develop more interest in studying Vietnamese. Therefore, offering classes and courses in Vietnamese as a heritage language for young adults, in addition to children, is needed to expand their future options.


Adachi, Mayumi (2018) Attitudes toward language use among Vietnamese residents in Kanagawa. Tokyo University Linguistics Papers 39: 3-15.

Romaine, Suzanne (1994) Language in society: an introduction to sociolinguistics. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Keywords: language shift, refugees, school failure, heritage language