Why I, a Native Japanese Speaker, Enrolled in a Japanese Class

Professor Masako Rodriguez with her students Alexis Zimmerman, Alix Sharp and Jo Gibson in her Japanese 102 class.
Professor Masako Rodriguez with her students Alexis Zimmerman, Alix Sharp and Jo Gibson in her Japanese 102 class.

Editor’s note: Alix Sharp is an anthropology major at Southwestern College. In addition to being a student, Sharp is a creative writer who’s had work featured in the San Diego Film Festival. Sharp also helps help run and participates in Southwestern College’s Other Writers Guild and Visual Audio Monologue Performance groups.

Inside classroom 447 at Southwestern College’s Chula Vista campus, you can hear a blend of Japanese and English occurring as Professor Masako Rodriguez conducts her Japanese classes. Each student is attentive as the  Bill Nye of Japanese makes her points throughout her lecture. She grins as she shifts gears and goes to instruct kanji by having a writing race from teams she constructs. I sit there observing as my peers get heated about stroke order and whether they’re missing a line. On other days, we can get paired up to rehearse phrases in Japanese, or learn about Japanese pop culture or current geopolitical events occurring in Japan.

To whit: I’m a native Japanese speaker, so why was I sitting in a Japanese class this past semester? I decided to take Japanese 102 to brush up on my formal Japanese, and I got so much more from Professor Rodriguez’s class this past semester. I knew Japanese informally (living in Japan as a military dependent for more than a decade would do that to you), but I never had any formal education, aside from my Japanese mother. I got by with whatever knowledge I gleaned from professionally translating. I had to break my shaky foundation and rebuild my knowledge of Japanese into a stronger structure.

Rodriguez’s background as a linguist stands out in her lectures, her handouts and how she presents her class. In her kanji handouts, she lists the etymology, the kun-yomi, or the meaning-based way of reading, and on-yomi, the sound-based, Chinese way of reading kanji. She lists examples of how the characters are used, like in names or vocabulary, and she also notes whether you’ll be tested on a specific character for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Everything is supplementary to our textbook, and she’s passionate about students learning and growing when they leave her class.

Japanese is at the forefront of technology — brands like Square Enix, Sony/PlayStation, and Nintendo are all looking for bilingual employees, and this is a good start to what can be a new career. Even an elementary understanding of Japanese would be miles above any other candidate. Training your ear to listen and receive Japanese can help decode other Asian languages, as East Asia shares similar alphabets and grammatical structures. Japanese also uses English as loan words, and learning Japanese can assist with studying abroad, should you choose to further your educational path this way.

Our professor’s passion is absolutely unrivaled. She works hard to make certain that you’re going to be challenged every day. In all my years of attending Southwestern College, Professor Rodriguez is the first professor who engaged me and challenged me head-on. I was inspired to meet her halfway by creating my own study group and social media channels in which our class could communicate, aside from Canvas, and we worked hard to make my class into a family. I will never forget the magic we’ve created in my spring 102 Japanese class, and I highly recommend Professor Rodriguez’s Japanese 101 in the fall semester.