UTSUNOMIYA–The E-Tra note, a multilingual online school memo system, is touted as both simple to use and accurate.

“I want to turn the ‘special’ into a part of the ‘ordinary’,” said Hideki Wakabayashi, 59, the developer of the E-Tra Note. “I hope teachers will deal with non-Japanese children and their families without using the language barrier as an excuse. I want to eliminate language barriers through information technology.

The system allows teachers to choose from a library of over 600 fixed phrases and other text elements, combine them and send them so parents and other guardians of students can receive messages in nine languages, including English and Chinese.

Unlike interpretation apps, the product can be used independent of time and location. It was put into practice in April.

“I hope this system will help reduce teachers’ workload by connecting student tutors to their schools,” Wakabayashi said.

Wakabayashi became a high school English teacher in his native Tochigi prefecture after graduating from college. However, half a year of studying Spanish during his 11th year became a turning point in his career, after which he was assigned to take care of non-Japanese students.

On one occasion, Wakabayashi visited the home of a Brazilian boy who was noisy during school hours. He spoke to the boy’s mother in broken Portuguese with a dictionary in hand, and the boy was calmer in class from the next day.

The experience gave Wakabayashi a sense of confidence that he had earned their trust. It also reminded me how important it is to cooperate with parents and other guardians.

There was an increasing number of non-Japanese citizens in the city at the time, which gave him the direct impression that a big wave was coming. It also lit a fire in him.

Wakabayashi became involved in a research project on the education of non-Japanese children and changed jobs, at the age of 47, to become a project associate professor at Utsunomiya University.

“I thought (the job change) would allow me to pursue what I wanted to do,” he said.

“I had no hesitation about it.”

In 2019, the E-Tra Note system won Wakabayashi first prize in the Ministry of Telecommunications Multilingual Voice Translation Competition.