by Amanda Rollins, Japanese Language Program Coordinator
Why Do I Advocate for Japanese? (Hint: I Don’t Advocate for Japanese.)
It’s my job to support people who study or teach Japanese language. One day, my great uncle said to me, “Don’t you realize that the Japanese government is using you?”
It took me a while to come up with my honest answer: "Actually, you could say that I'm using the Japanese government."
Because world language learning encourages you to talk to and think about other people, it has the greatest potential to foster empathy than any other school subject. And sometimes we Americans need a big dose of empathy. Looking back on my childhood, I fostered my own empathy by consuming foreign stories, learning foreign languages, and meeting foreign people, and now it’s my mission to give those opportunities to new generations of young people. The Japanese government is paying me to do that!
Unfortunately, I see some hesitation from Japanese language teachers when it comes to sharing the benefits of studying the Japanese language. They might be under the mistaken impression that advocacy is “promoting Japan.” I want to see a shift in that mindset.
You are not promoting Japan. You are sharing your students' voices. You are standing up for your students' rights. You are opening your students’ minds to new ideas and experiences. As an American, I thank you for that.
If you still feel uncomfortable about “promoting Japan,” then feel free to have honest discussions with your students about Japan’s social issues. In fact, according to nationally-renowned teacher Yo Azama, analyzing Japan’s social issues can be a safe, indirect way for your students to start considering America’s own social issues and forming their own opinions.
Your students should have the opportunity to study an interesting and challenging language, and to talk to people from another country. Let yourself fight for that right for your students!
How Do I Advocate for My Students?
Give your students opportunities to speak for themselves, and make sure that your community is listening:
When I was in high school, I wanted to learn Japanese and there was nobody to help me share my voice. I wish somebody had been there to advocate for me. So please keep giving your students opportunities to grow!