Passion for comic books prompts Leaving Cert pupils to learn Japanese
It is a comic-book craze that has swept the world, and some Irish students love it so much they feel their passion prepares them to tackle the Leaving Cert exam in Japanese.
State exam chiefs report that "it is believed some candidates taking Ordinary Level Japanese are self-taught, [with] their interest in Japan stemming largely from anime and manga".
Anime, a Japanese animation, of which Pokémon is a well-known ambassador, and Japanese comic books, known as manga, are examples of the country's pop culture that have won fans everywhere.
Among third-level colleges in Ireland with anime and manga societies are Dublin City University, NUI Galway and Galway Mayo Institute of Technology.
The Chief Examiner's report on student performance in the language in last year's exams made the observation about "self-taught" students in relation to candidates sitting the Ordinary Level paper. However, while self-taught students may have displayed a certain 'can do' mentality, it wasn't enough to get them through the rigours of the exam.
"It is possible that some of these candidates are not aware of the Japanese literacy requirement even for Ordinary Level, explaining the failure rate at Ordinary Level," the report states.
The examiner also states a belief that some candidates take on Japanese after the Junior Cert, instead of another language, in order to fulfil the matriculation requirements for college entry.
The report notes the shortcomings in candidates who had failed to achieve a minimum D grade: "An analysis of the work of candidates who obtained an E grade, or lower, revealed that in some cases, entire questions were omitted or extremely short answers were given."
While Japanese is on the curriculum, it is taken by only about 300 students.
It is a fully timetabled subject in a small number of schools, while there has been an increase in the numbers taking it as an extracurricular subject in after-school classes provided by the Post-Primary Languages Initiative.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has issued reports on the performance of students in language subjects in last year's Leaving Cert, also covering French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian.
They highlight evidence of rote learning by students preparing for oral exams, with some candidates getting bothered when they are expected to reply to a spontaneous question.
In a commentary on the French oral "document" option, the examiner states that "in many cases, candidates appeared to feel that all that was required was a series of learned-off paragraphs which they should be allowed to recite without interruption.
"They appeared frustrated when the examiner intervened with a question and persisted in attempting to recite their prepared material."
A similar issue was raised in the commentary on performance of students in the Spanish oral.
According to the examiner, while a large number of higher level candidates showed a level of confidence and fluency, "some candidates are still being taught in a 'rote learning' manner which prevents the natural flow of conversation".