Yesterday my husband lamented the lack of choice in Niu Valley Middle School’s world language curriculum. “It’s too bad they only teach Japanese and Chinese,” he said.
Underlying his sentiment, was the added burden of learning a whole new written language. I had mixed feelings myself. That is, I really love Spanish — written in letters that appear familiar to us — and if you had to pick a language that’s second to English in America, it’s Spanish. Spanish is cool. Spanish is ubiquitous. Everyone should be able to know their tortas from their tortillas. If you move to the mainland, you should be able to read half the billboards out there. (although, admittedly, most of those are for phone plans.)
It is absurd that they don’t teach Spanish at Niu Valley, especially because as an International Baccalaureate school that feeds into another, it greatly restricts students.
I do, however, take exception to my husband’s complaint of the “extra step” of learning a new writing system, particularly given the prevalence of the internet today. (As an aside, speaking of written language, as of last month AP Stylebook now suggests that the word internet does not need capitalization.)
Today, I received an email from my Japanese friend. She wrote to me in English and in Japanese. It was nice to be able to read it in both our languages. Ultimately, there is nothing easy about learning a new language and the writing portion of it is just what comes with the territory. Academic foreign language courses are about the nitty-gritty, the extra dot above the kanji, the direction of the accent sign, or whether you use an accent sign at all.
It’s also about the perseverance.
I could, at this point, diverge into the differences between spoken language and written language, but here’s the bottom line. I could have chosen not to learn how to read Japanese since I’m just doing this for myself and for the purpose of communicating with others verbally. Yet, I find that having the extra tool of writing opens up new doors and new worlds. By being able to read (albeit slowly), I can check my comprehension at leisure and research vocabulary and grammar too. I also get a glimpse into another culture. For instance, by reading NHK’s easy news, I get articles that aren’t easily flagged for US readership. This month I learned about Korean citizens’ lawsuit against humidifier disinfectant companies. I read about Obama’s visit to Hiroshima from a Japanese viewpoint. Last month, I read about John Lennon’s hair being sold at auction. (The Japanese love the Beatles — still.)
Then again, it’s also your outlook. I love crossword puzzles: for no reason. At least, that’s how some would see it. You spend a huge amount of time filling out blanks, and for what? Yet, it’s fun for me. It’s true that my heart aches for my son who doesn’t share my feelings. And when I was his age, I didn’t necessarily love foreign language either.