Japanese language learners excel at Eastview

James Fuller practices writing Kanji, a complex system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters, during an after-school meeting Monday of the Japan Bowl club. (Photo by Andrew Miller)
James Fuller practices writing Kanji, a complex system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters, during an after-school meeting Monday of the Japan Bowl club. (Photo by Andrew Miller)

Some languages are harder to learn than others for native English speakers. Japanese, which is offered as a foreign language course at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, presents some interesting hurdles for students.

“Japanese is one of, if not the most challenging language for English speakers,” said Laura Moy, Japanese teacher at Eastview.

“The three alphabets and complicated use of Kanji characters make Japanese challenging. To read a Japanese newspaper, readers need to learn about 2,000 characters. The way of speaking is very different from Western languages, and that is what makes it so interesting as well as exciting.”

Six of Moy’s students will be putting their knowledge of Japanese language and culture to the test next month when they head to Washington, D.C., for the National Japan Bowl competition.

The students — Dana Flores, Taha Rizvi, Catthy Trinh, James Fuller, Amelia Li and Matthew Runnels — are all in their third or fourth years of Japanese language study, in addition to participating in the after-school Japan Bowl club.

Competing as two three-person teams, the students qualified for the annual national event with first-place finishes at a regional Japan Bowl competition in February.

Eastview High School students headed to the National Japan Bowl competition are, from left, Dana Flores, Catthy Trinh, Taha Rizvi, Amelia Li, Matthew Runnels and James Fuller. (Photo by Andrew Miller)
Eastview High School students headed to the National Japan Bowl competition are, from left, Dana Flores, Catthy Trinh, Taha Rizvi, Amelia Li, Matthew Runnels and James Fuller. (Photo by Andrew Miller)

For Japan Bowl, “students need to study topics that are not able to be covered in a normal language classroom,” Moy said.

“They have to learn specifics on over 2,000 years of history, art, music, politics and celebrities. They also learn specific language topics such as Japanese idioms, onomatopoetic expressions, advanced Kanji characters and specific vocabulary in a wide array of topics.”

The Japan-America Society of Minnesota raises funds each year to help send students to the National Japan Bowl, soliciting donations from Twin Cities area businesses to cover the students’ airfare, hotel and food expenses.

For the national event, students have to pass an interview in Japanese in addition to the team competition, which is in “quiz bowl” format. To prepare in the weeks leading up to the National Japan Bowl in April, the Eastview students have been practicing how to answer questions on weather, health and future plans.

The challenges of learning Japanese also come with rewards, Moy said.

“Ask any first-year student at Eastview High School and they will share that learning Japanese is fun and interesting,” she said.

“When taught well, language learning happens naturally and organically. Students can feel proud that they are learning a challenging language, that they can speak it and speak it well.”