“We study western civilizations to know our past but need to study
non-western civilizations to know our future.”
Boyer, former President, Carnegie Institute for the Advancement of
For American students who have never been
exposed to non-Western cultures, the study of Japanese opens the door
Studying a linguistically and culturally
distant language like Japanese is especially likely to awaken in
learners an understanding of the degree to which languages and cultures
can vary and of what is distinctive about their own
The unique features of the Japanese
language and culture make it highly appealing, yet sometimes
challenging, for students in the United States.
While studying Japanese, students develop the
skills necessary to exist within a linguistic and cultural structure
very different from their own. They gain access to the writing system,
cultural practices, and expressive arts, as well as career
opportunities available only to those who speak Japanese.
With the increasing global importance of Asia and
the Pacific Rim, and the economic and strategic significance of the
U.S.–Japan relationship, it is important that more Americans become
proficient in Japanese.
Through learning Japanese,
American students gain access to information available only in
Japanese, increase our national level of understanding of Japan, and
learn to better communicate a deeper knowledge of the United States to
The U.S., Japan, and Germany have the three
largest economies in the world.
The importance of
Japan in the global and Asian contexts means that knowledge of Japanese
language and culture benefits not only those learners who will
eventually become “Japan experts” but also those in a variety of
different fields such as:
One of the most
important things to keep in mind when considering Japanese language
learning and teaching is the length of time it takes native speakers of
English to achieve a high level of proficiency. The Foreign Service
Institute of the State Department, for example, has set the normal
training time for a Category 4 language like Japanese at eighty-eight
weeks of full time study, as compared with only 24 weeks for Category 1
languages such as Spanish and French. Because of this, it is critical
that those involved with Japanese programs not expect that students’
skills will advance at the same rate as those of students of many of
the other languages taught in the United States.
does Japanese take so much time to learn?
linguistically and culturally, it is very distant from
--There are no cognate words in English and
Japanese. (This is mitigated by the fact that there are large numbers
of loaner words from English, and Japanese has a relatively simple
--The grammar of Japanese is
extremely different from that of English.
communicative functions such as requesting, disagreeing, and inviting
are performed very differently in Japanese
--Merely translating American English
interaction patterns into Japanese vocabulary and grammar does not
result in acceptable Japanese communications.
same basic content takes very different linguistic forms (or is not
expressed at all) depending on social factors such as the gender, age,
status, and closeness of the people speaking to each
--The nature of the Japanese written language
leads to its own set of challenges. In order to be able to read
Japanese materials written for adult native speakers, students must
learn two different syllabic writing systems and approximately 2000
Chinese characters (kanji), most of which have multiple meanings.
Given this situation, it is critical to
establish longer sequences of learning and to hold high expectations
for the achievement of Japanese learners. Students will benefit from
the study of Japanese, given whatever amount of time they devote to
learning the language, because they will also acquire basic language
learning strategies, higher level thinking skills, and broader
perspectives from their Japanese studies.
from the following sources:
1. Standards for Foreign Language
Learning in the 21st Century, “Standards for Japanese Language
Learning, pages 328 – 332. The Allen Press, Lawrence, KS.