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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 16, 2006

Teens immersed in Japanese

Video: Maryknoll School students meet Japanese visitors

By Joy Yi
Special to The Advertiser

Christina Chuc, 14, left, and Brittney Takata, 14, sopho-mores in the Japanese language class at Maryknoll High, prepare videos of their interviews.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Maryknoll High School has a unique program with world languages where the students take one trimester of a foreign language of their choice.

Students are able to choose from Spanish, French, Chinese, Hawaiian and Japanese courses. French, Spanish and Hawaiian classes have four hours of instruction per day, while Asian languages have six hours of instruction every other day and four hours the remaining days.

The essential question of this class is, "How can we use Japanese in everyday life?"

The Japanese language course objective states: "Ask any foreign exchange student and they will say that, 'The best language learning experience comes from being in that country.' We try to parallel that immersion experience by teaching our classes in four- to six-hour blocks every day. Our students are able to concentrate on Japanese language and culture to a deeper level. Our future goal is for the students to gain basic language skills in the first-year class, continue with a second-year class or to the Japan exchange class."

We chose this Japanese language course because we felt that the economy of Hawai'i was based on Japanese tourism, and it could help us in the future. Janelle Chang, a student of the Japanese language class, specifically chose this language course to communicate with Japanese children and their parents at the YMCA's summer program. She wanted the children to feel as comfortable in their environment as possible so they can open up and have fun.

Twenty Japanese language students from Maryknoll recently spent time videotaping and interviewing Japanese tourists in Waikiki as part of their final class project to test their conversational Japanese skills.

Teacher Rie Mizumura has been sending Maryknoll students out to Waikiki for the past 18 years, transitioning over the years from tape recorders to clunky videotape cameras and to digital video cameras.

Now, students can display their interviews on DVDs and can edit on their own laptop computers to produce their final projects.

"Eighteen years ago, I was thinking of all the Japanese tourists out there in Waikiki who the students could communicate with and thought of this final- project interview. In order to go on this interview, the students needed to pass with 90 percent on their mock interview with myself and the interns. This interview was an idea to test the students' speaking, listening and comprehension skills learned throughout the trimester."

Students such as Matt Smith, 15, at first hesitated to stop strangers throughout Waikiki but quickly got used to the idea. "The first one is hard, but once you break that point, it became easy. After I interviewed a Japanese tourist, she wanted to take a picture with me, and that made me feel happy," he said.

Nicholas Tsoi, 14, and Candice Houser, 15, also adjusted to the idea of talking to strangers in a foreign language. "Yeah, I expected the whole interview to be hard and nerve-wracking, but it was OK because I was confident enough after practicing with Sensei in class all the time," said Houser.

Although the mock interviews helped the students prepare for the real ones in Waikiki, the questions that the tourists would ask were still unexpected.

John Gaoing, 15, said, "It was frustrating when the tourists were asking questions that I couldn't answer. But I was amazed that I could understand most of what they were saying."

Melanie Chan, 15, also added, "They asked me how old I am, what kind of food I liked, and if I visited Japan or wanted to. I was a little nervous, because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to answer their questions, but most of the time I was able to."

With this experience, the students want to continue learning Japanese, and most of them would like to go on the Japan exchange to learn more in depth of the culture and language. The Japan exchange is a choice class during their junior year where they have eight weeks in the classroom and three weeks in Japan with host families. The students attend a Japanese high school and will be immersed in the culture and language. Also, it will be a great way to extend their speaking, listening, reading and comprehension skills using first-hand experience with their home-stay families and the students at the school.

The students have learned a lot in this 12-week course and will want to further their Japanese language and culture in the future.

Joy Yi is a Maryknoll High School sophomore.