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Limbering Up Your Linguistic Muscles

Staff Blogger
Paul Ramsey Japanese Teacher

When it comes to learning another language, the students of ATC often ask two simple questions…..

1. Why do we have to learn another language?
2. Why learn the Japanese language?

I would expect nothing less from our students as these questions should be answered from an honest and analytical viewpoint. In today’s blog I would like to examine the benefits of learning a foreign language in a modern, technologically advanced classroom and explain how this will place students in an advantageous position in the global village of 2025.

Why Do We Learn another Language?

Most might be surprised to hear that learning a foreign language is not for the purpose of becoming a UN ambassador or international lawyer, although I do have some ex-students who have followed this career path! The simplest explanation I can give to students is that we learn a language to exercise and develop a different part of our brain. “Gym” for the brain. It is only when all parts of our brain have been exercised that we can utilise our best cognitive powers and ability. The part of the brain responsible for language consists of a number of regions in the left hemisphere. They control speech, comprehension and processing incoming verbal patterns. Having the brain operate in more than one language requires the use of the executive functions. Imagine a traffic controller or a conductor leading an orchestra. The constant activation of these parts of the brain helps strengthen cognitive ability.

Kristina Wiebels (Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Science Osnabruck, Germany) would argue, ‘Bilinguals have been shown to have enhanced performance at a variety of tasks that require inhibition, flexible switching between tasks, working memory, and task monitoring, all of which are executive functions and crucial for academic success, as well as predictors of long-term health and well-being. The extent to which these additional brain regions are recruited and therefore the magnitude of the associated benefits do not seem to depend on which languages are spoken”.

Why Do We Learn Japanese?

We now know there are advantages to learning any language, how do we choose one over another? Often this is a personal choice that can be influenced by a multitude of reasons from interest in a particular culture through to a historical or genetic link to the country of the target language. At Ambrose Treacy College, we have chosen to study Japanese.

4 Top Reasons:

1. Japan was isolated from other countries and cultures for many centuries giving it a very distinctive culture, including foods, lifestyle, ritual and customs. This uniqueness of Japanese culture makes the study of Japanese very interesting.
2. There is a very strong tie between Australia and Japan on many different levels including trade, sport, holidays and leisure, politics and manufacturing. We are exposed to Japanese in everyday life in Australia. From brands of car, commonly eaten Japanese foods through to popular anime and manga, it is difficult to ignore the impact Japan has had on Australia.
3. The geographical location of Japan makes it relatively close and accessible. This enables school tours and reciprocal programmes to occur which in turn enables relationships to develop over time. At ATC we are very proud of the relationship we have developed with Konan Elementary School over a 20 year period.
4. Whilst Japanese writing can seem difficult, the learning of Japanese is not as difficult as it would first appear. It has very logical and rational rules to follow in grammatical terms. This tends to be advantageous in language acquisition, particularly for boys.

Whilst we are just scratching the surface in regards to the benefits of learning a language and in particular Japanese, at the very least, the process of language acquisition is a stimulating and challenging activity which is only helped by the rich, vibrant and unique Japanese Culture. The process of learning a new language helps maintain good brain function throughout life as well as contributing to the undeniable benefits of understanding new cultures, making one more socially aware and competent as a global citizen.

If you would like to chat about your son's Japanese learning or points in this blog, please click here to email the author.