Interview with Mark Batt, Principal-Education Division Manager

Welcome Mark to VJLS-JH as the new Principal-Education Division Manager of our historic Japanese language and culture division. Could you tell us about yourself.

I was born in the UK, but I spent most of my childhood in Asia, mainly Malaysia and Singapore where I got interested in Asian languages. The ease with which Malaysians switch between their own language and 4 other commonly spoken local languages made an impression on me that has stayed with me until today.  

Living abroad, I have been fortunate to have experienced and learned about culture and languages from many wonderful places as a local. I majored in Chinese language, including Classical Chinese language and literature, and studied Japanese at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). This was the beginning of a long relationship with Japanese language and culture that continues to this day.

I immigrated to Canada from Japan in 2001, where I was a permanent resident for 5 years. As part of Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) program, I worked for the Kawasaki board of Education then worked for a Japanese company in Tokyo. Through projects in China & East Asia, I was introduced to corporate Japan and was an ‘ambassador’ for Japan through my work with the China Japan Friendship Association. My studies of language and comparative culture, as it pertains to Japan and China, continued and my appreciation of both cultures have deepened since. 

In Canada, I’ve worked in senior management roles, mostly in education management. For the last 12 years I’ve been managing federal government language education programs for new immigrants, where the goal was to make newcomers feel welcome, help them appreciate what we have in Canada, while ensuring their own cultures and languages are valued by everyone.

What drew you to VJLS-JH?

First of all, I saw this as an opportunity to once again reconnect with Japanese language and culture. The chance to bring all of my experience and skills to this position while once also becoming part of the Japanese Canadian community was an opportunity I could not pass up. 

Furthermore, VJLS-JH history connects Japan and Canada, two of the countries from which I have gained so much. I want to do whatever I can to recognize and utilize the history and heritage of VJLS-JH to make it the centre for excellence in Japanese language learning, not only in Vancouver, but worldwide.

What is the value of learning Japanese and becoming multi-lingual?

One is able to communicate to a wider more diverse group of people. Moreover bilingual and multilingual people tend to be able to see from different perspectives, being more accepting of differing ideas and beliefs. This comes from exposure to a more diverse social network through their social experiences.  Of course, this leads to a much richer life, including increased career opportunities.  

Japanese, being one of the top 5 most difficult languages to learn, is not only a single system of communication, but rather a layered, structured language that provides the learner the opportunity to choose how deeply into the culture they wish to go.  Regardless of age, one can feel a great sense of accomplishment by learning the forms of Kana used in the written language. As the learner delves deeper into the study of ‘Kanji’, the learner is exposed to the culture, the history and the beauty of the Japanese language. Once a learner has studied Japanese, one is better equipped to learn other languages and truly become a global citizen.

Given the new COVID and high tech world we live in today, what do you see is the future value of being multi-lingual and multi-cultural? What do you see are some of the pathways to get there?

One major facet of being multilingual and multicultural is the increased ability to multitask, a must in our highly digitized world. Through the ability to differentiate and filter certain aspects of the culture and language one is exposed to, the dominant (currently used) language is prioritized for processing by the brain, while the other language is compartmentalized. As one becomes able to smoothly move between languages and cultures, one is also better equipped to apply the same skills to adeptly switch between the virtual world and the real world. Again, the best pathway to achieving this is by immersing oneself in learning a language that is layered and provides cultural context, and Japanese is perfect for this.

How does language learning relate to being able to communicate? Does this change with time, tools, and technology?

One facet of being multilingual is the ability to smoothly transition between diverse social networks. This linguistic ability is also connected to the ability to adapt to changes in circumstances, surroundings and be more finely attuned to external factors. As changes occur, the multilingual learner is better equipped to adapt, adopt and thrive  using a variety of communication tools.  My daughter is bilingual and is extremely adept at moving within a variety of social circles, and I was amazed at her ability to communicate, using her smartphone, drawing and by gestures with my Malay friends for hours.

What is your vision for the historic 114 year old Education division as you start on this journey with us?

I see such potential for the education division, especially given that we have our own historic site.  I would like VJLS-JH to become a centre for excellence in Japanese language learning, not only for learners of Japanese, but also for teachers of Japanese. We have the resources, skills and experience to provide a venue for educators to come, meet and share ideas about Japanese language education while learning about the rich Japanese-Canadian history in Vancouver.  I also envision an environment where we can welcome anyone and everyone who has an interest in Japanese language and culture, and Japanese-Canadian culture to learn and share, making our own VJLS-JH community a truly global one.

Being a global citizen yourself, what does being a global citizen mean to you and for VJLS students?

For me personally, being a global citizen means being open-minded to ideas, opinions, beliefs and cultures different from one’s own, and relish those differences .  We all have preconceptions of others, based on our own life experiences, be it taught or simply by habit. Once a person is open enough to be exposed to other cultures and languages and accept them, preconceptions tend to disappear.

A truly global citizen doesn’t have to adopt different ideas or social practices, but simply be aware of them and respect them.  I have found that the more one learns about the world outside, the more one learns about themselves. This being the case, I believe we can help our students become global citizens by providing them with a positive world view and a willingness to learn from anyone and everyone.  One of my favourite Chinese proverbs is from Confucius 三人行 必有我師, roughly meaning “of three people walking together, one can be my teacher”, or I can learn from someone in every group.