Ten Reasons to Study Japanese

Bowdoin Japanese Daniel McKee Lecture PosterLanguage is essential for successful communication in an increasingly plural world, both at home and abroad. According to the “Standards for Foreign Language Learning,” a visionary document produced by a committee of business leaders, government officials, and educators, “The United States must educate students who are linguistically and culturally equipped to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society and abroad. This imperative envisions a future in which ALL students will develop and maintain proficiency in English and at least one other language, modern or classical.”

Whether you drawn to Japanese because of your interest in pop culture, politics, art, music, history, or literature, it is good to think about how language learning will shape your academic career at Bowdoin as well as your life beyond it.

1. Japanese will prepare you for a future career in global business.


❝If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.❞
‒Nelson Mandela

As Nelson Mandela perceptively observed about the art of negotiation, it is through language that we truly reach people. According to the USTR, Japan was the fourth largest goods export market for the United States in 2011. For multi-national companies doing business with Japan, it is increasingly important to have employees who can communicate effectively in Japanese.

2. You will learn about a culture completely different from your own.

Structural features of the Japanese language such as honorific verbs and kinship terms provide a window into cultural axioms that are written into language. Students learning Japanese master the rules of social conduct in Japan simply by speaking Japanese. By doing so, students are also able to reflect on the cultural norms of their own country.

Japanese language classes at Bowdoin integrate elements of both traditional and contemporary culture. In 2012, for example, students enjoyed a museum exhibition on “horror prints” from nineteenth century as well an interactive talk on the Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku.

3. Japanese language study can build a strong foundation for graduate work in a range of fields.

You would think that those who take Japanese are interested in working in Japan, right? That is not necessarily the case. Recent graduates of Japanese have gone on to pursue graduate work in diverse areas such as Medicine, Political Theory, and Anthropology. Graduate schools are interested in students who can hit the ground running, in terms of scholastic ability and diligence. Japanese classes at Bowdoin offer good preparation for that.

As a recent graduate who applied to medical schools put it, “By including Japanese in my studies, I learned a range of perspectives. In my application to medical school, I want to illustrate that my interests extend beyond math and science topics.”

4. “ He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

As you might have observed through your high school second language classes, there is no better way to master the workings of English than to learn the grammar of a foreign language.

5. The regular pace of a language class can help cultivate study skills that are transferable to other classes.

Learning a language requires you to think about successful study strategies. Language learners typically reflect on whether they are visual or aural learners and build their study methods around their strengths. They also see that consistent effort pays off in language learning and learn to pace themselves in their coursework in other subjects.

As one student observed, “From my own recollections of the study of Japanese, I remember how what little natural ability I have in learning language was often not enough to master grammar and kanji, and my answer to cover that gap, much like in any similar situation, was simply hard dedicated work.”

6. Learning Japanese allows you to see the world in a different way.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is known to have written this famous aphorism: ❝The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” As he suggests, our ability to imagine possible worlds are extended by learning a new language. Companies and graduate schools are interested in cultivating talented people who can function in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. Learning a new language is the first step towards “thinking outside the box.”

7. You will have the opportunity to study away or work in Japan.

Study Away JapaneseThe Japanese teachers at Bowdoin strongly encourage study away. You can read about the exciting experiences of students who have recently been away elsewhere.

Many students also go on to teach English in Japan after graduation through the JET Programme. The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) seeks to help enhance internationalization in Japan, by promoting mutual understanding between Japan and other nations. The programme aims to enhance foreign language education in Japan, and to promote international exchange at the local level through fostering ties between Japanese youth and foreign youth.

8. The Japanese curriculum is closely integrated with the study of Asia.

Students who study Japanese at the Intermediate Advanced level can count those credits towards an Asian Studies major. The Asian Studies department offers classes on Japanese literature, history, politics, and art. Students can therefore deepen their cultural knowledge of the area in preparation for international work. Student also frequently double major in Asian Studies and Government or Asian Studies and History, integrating their scholastic interests in fascinating ways.

9. You can earn a minor in Japanese.

Bowdoin College now offers a minor in Japanese

10. Last but not the least, Japanese is incredibly fun.

As a Japanese learner at Bowdoin, you will take part in range of cultural activities such as tea ceremonies and calligraphy workshops. The teachers here are frequently organizing sushi and movie nights. You will also find them every week at Japanese Language Table sharing stories from their own lives. I will let a former student speak through his own words.

“ What started as a whim my first year soon turned into one of the best memories I've had at Bowdoin College. Learning Japanese has provided me with enough unique experiences for a lifetime. I've learned to speak, write, and read in a foreign language. And with the help of the professors, I went to Japan to practice all I'd learned. If I could only do it all over again--there's something refreshing about learning a new thing every class. There is a tight knit family that develops out of the Japanese program that I would be very sad to not be a part of. My favorite memory, of course, was going to Japan in the summer of 2006. The school, and especially the sensees, were very helpful in getting me funded through a Freeman Fellowship. Aside from that, making a movie during my second year was funny, and a valuable learning experience. I could go on for quite a bit about how amazing taking Japanese at Bowdoin was in my four years here, but I think it is something people need to do for themselves.”