In our school, we study both Japanese and English, for we are an international school. Many people in Japan study English for a variety of reasons. Some study so that they can increase their job opportunities. Others enjoy watching American and British movies and TV shows and want to understand them better. And still others simply want to communicate with people from different countries that visit Japan, or they want to communicate when they themselves go abroad.
Today, in 2020, English is the lingua franca of the world, or the language that is most spoken in international or intercultural communication. It is now easier than ever to travel to different nations. Airplane tickets have become cheaper, and people around the world are finding themselves with disposable incomes. The internet has also helped greatly with connecting the world together. More than ever before we are closer to people in other nations and cultures.
For English speakers, it is said that the languages of East Asia are some of the most difficult languages to learn. It is also said that English is quite difficult to learn for non-native speakers. This is understandable. English was originally an offshoot of Old German, and over the ages incurred heavy influences from French, Latin, Greek, and many other languages. Within the last century, some Japanese words have also entered into American English. Aside from words pertaining to Japanese food or sports, words like tycoon, kabuki, and futon, as well as many others, are often used in daily conversation or in news articles.
English is also difficult to learn because so many different countries with diverse cultures speak it. England, of course, is where English originated, but it is different in vernacular and pronunciation in comparison to American English. Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are also different. South African English is influenced by African languages. English spoken in Singapore is influenced by Chinese.
In our school, our students have a great opportunity to learn English. Many people in Japan are busy with work, and children are busy in school. Time is a commodity few have enough of to spare. Many in Japan study in school or in an after-school program for an hour or two each week. But our students at COPICS are surrounded by English all day. As stated above, competency in English provides many benefits for jobs and travel. But other advantages also exist.
When we speak our own mother tongue, we do not think so much about grammar, or rules, or what is proper or not. We just say or write what comes natural to us. Many people do not see the value in studying the grammar of one’s own language because if one doesn’t understand the grammar one can still communicate in their language in daily life. Perhaps not to the best of their ability, but they can still function in their mother language.
On the the other hand, when one studies a different language, the situation changes. A language one does not know cannot be spoken through instinct for everything is foreign. One must understand the grammar and the rules of the foreign language they study. Once the grammar is understood, a vocabulary bank is built. Once a grasp on the core vocabulary of a language is obtained, one then works to become more natural in that language.
One of the great benefits of studying a foreign language is that through being forced to learn the grammar of that language, it helps one understand one’s own mother language. Between English and Japanese, most grammar terms and ideas are interchangeable. Our students, especially in junior high, learn different grammar concepts at different times, and this helps them when studying the other language. For example, in 7th grade, a student in English class may learn about gerunds. When they study gerunds in 8th grade Japanese class the next year, they already know this concept. The opposite case happens as well; students will learn grammar concepts in Japanese and already be familiar with them when they are studied in English class. Studying two languages together are symbiotically beneficial to each language being studied, especially for children and teenagers.
And once a second language is understood, it makes learning a third or fourth language much easier, if one so chooses to do so.
Our students at COPICS have an amazing opportunity in learning English. Many of the students who graduate our junior high school go on to study in an American high school, and today we have have alumni in American universities. Who knows where in the world our future graduates will go. It is exciting to think about, and the teachers here are grateful for the opportunity to equip our students for such grand adventures.