Seeing The World Through Another Language

Students in Japanese class review for a chapter test.

A chorus of “Sensei, konichiwa” reverberates throughout the Japanese room as students greet the teacher at the start of every class.

Following the command “chakuseki”—”sit” in Japanese— students take their seats, and open up their textbooks and workbooks. They begin that day’s lessons, whether it be grammar, vocabulary, or kanji.

At HBA, it is required that all students take at least two years of a foreign language class, with the choices of Spanish, Japanese, or Chinese. Learning a second language is an invaluable skill because it exposes students to new cultures and broadens their perspective of the world. “In Spanish, we learn about different Spanish-speaking countries, like Argentina, [which] is known for meat and tango,” said junior Alexys Adriance.

Students are also taught the basic sentence structures, grammar, and vocabulary of their respective language. “I want the students to cherish their heritage and honor [their] family history,” said Elena Yoo, Japanese 1 and 3 teacher. “I also want them to overcome difficulties of learning a new language and taste the sense of accomplishment by succeeding in class.”

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“I want the students to cherish their heritage and honor [their] family history.”

Japanese teacher Elena Yoo

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Growing up in Los Angeles, Yoo learned Japanese from her Japanese-speaking parents. “My parents are both from Hokkaido [and speak] Japanese at home, so I had no choice.” Other language teachers learned their respective languages after living in foreign countries. Keysey Logan, Spanish teacher and World Language Department Chair, initially learned Portuguese since her parents were missionaries in Portugal. However, she had to learn Spanish when she and her husband were missionaries in Spain for five years.

Gray Spainhour, HBA’s newest Spanish teacher, learned the language after transferring from Latin to Spanish in high school and falling in love with it. “Once I became conversational,” said Spainhour, “I began to see Spanish as a tool that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.” After hiking the Appalachian Trail, where he had time to think and pray, Spainhour concluded that God’s plan was for him to teach ESL (English as a Second Language). He went on to teach ESL in a North Carolina public school, and then Spanish in South Carolina for seven years before coming to HBA.

Learning a second language can have many benefits. According to Logan, speaking two languages can increase SAT scores, lessen Alzheimer’s flare ups, and increase brain function. Japanese teacher Chie Watanabe added, “Learning [a] foreign language [can] open up so many opportunities.”

Learning another language also allows a person to be more globally aware, creating a greater understanding and appreciation for other cultures and even one’s own. “Japanese culture is a lot like here in Hawaii,” said junior Megan Yoshioka. “[The Japanese] take off their shoes when they enter a house. We eat Spam musubis, which is kind of like what they have in Japan.”

Different cultures also have a way of influencing others. According to Yoo, an avid Star Wars fan, “George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was inspired by the Japanese culture and religion when creating characters, such as Darth Vader and Master Yoda. In fact, Yoda speaks the same way—[his] sentence structure—as the Japanese language.”

Although learning a foreign language can have many benefits for students, HBA World Language teachers said teaching has also been a rewarding job for them. “I believe teaching is one of the most rewarding and meaningful occupations (next to farming),” said Yoo. “I get to witness students’ growth, as well as struggles. In [the] long run, I feel it’s an investment in [a] human, not in stocks, or any other monetary items. It gives me great satisfaction when I see the ‘a-ha’ moment in class.”

If students are interested in pursuing a foreign language beyond the tutelage available at HBA, Logan advises, “The best place to learn it is not here. The best place to learn it is to go to that country and live there. That’s the best way you are going to learn a language.”

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