Bowdoin Starts New Japanese Program at Local School

Photos by Anna Aridome

It was 3:30 on a Friday afternoon and most students at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School had gone home for the weekend. But a handful remained, and they were still raring to answer questions.

“Does anyone remember how to say, ‘listen’?” the teacher, Justin Ehringhaus ’16, asked.

A little boy replied, “tak kudasai!” — close, but not quite right.

“And does anyone remember how to say, ‘please be quiet?’” Ehringhaus continued.

One little girl tipped her head sideways. “It’s something with an s, a, umm…I can’t remember.” The answer turned out to be shizuka ni shite kudasai.

The second-, third- and fourth-graders , about 10 in all, are part of a new Japanese language program at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Brunswick. The weekly class is taught by two Bowdoin students, Ehringhaus and Rob Hughes ’14, who both speak Japanese and are majoring in Asian studies.

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While Erhinghaus and Hughes are responsible for drafting lesson plans and teaching the classes, they receive mentoring and support from Hiroo Aridome, a senior lecturer in Japanese Language at Bowdoin. Aridome was also the instigator in setting up the new Japanese program, seeing it as a way for Bowdoin’s Asian studies department to “expand its interaction with the community,” he said. Eventually, he would like to set up Bowdoin student-teachers in Brunswick middle and high schools as well.

“We realized [Japanese language programs] would be an opportunity for our students to share what they learn and to share their passion,” Aridome said. He added that Ehringhaus and Hughes immediately agreed to volunteer to teach when he proposed the program to them last semester.

Because she has seen many Bowdoin students get energized around public service opportunities, Vyjayanthi Selinger, an assistant professor of Asian Studies, said she knew the teaching program would appeal to some of her students. About 30 Bowdoin students are currently taking Japanese classes.

Students learned about the Japanese festival of Setsubun and made holiday masks

After teaching their first two classes, Ehringhaus and Hughes said the experience was going well and the children seemed to enjoy it. “We didn’t want to load them with grammar and vocabulary,” Ehringhaus said. “Instead, we’re doing more cultural activities where we can use language and get the basics across.”

Hughes said he would like to ignite a spark of curiosity in the children. “My major goal is to make the class fun and to get them interested in Japanese; if I can do that, I’m satisfied,” he said.

Although he had never taken Japanese before coming to Bowdoin, Hughes is now considering looking for a job teaching English in Japan after he graduates. “[Japanese] is more fascinating to me than Romance languages,” he said. “It has highlighted how language influences the way you think and act in certain situations.”

Ehringhaus learned Japanese when he studied abroad in Kumamoto, Japan, his senior year of high school. Though he spoke no Japanese when he arrived there, he attended public school and lived with a host family for a year.

Both Ehringhaus and Hughes were first introduced to Japan when as kids they became enamored with Japanese animation, and as they grew older, with its culture. They see their role now as doing the same for another generation.

“If the children are, in 10 years, presented with a chance to learn about or experience Japan in any context, I hope they’ll think affectionately back to our class to help aid their decisions,” Ehringhaus said.

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