The week before winter break, both middle grades students and faculty enjoyed one of our favorite times of year – Winter Seminar. It’s one week when students break from their regular classes and focus only on learning about areas of particular interest of them, with one workshop in the morning and another in the afternoon. In the course “Starting to Learn Japanese: Basic Bootcamp,” students had the opportunity to learn a new language. The course was designed for beginners who wanted to learn how to introduce themselves while making a positive lasting impression.
At the beginning of this workshop, students learned that the Japanese language uses three different systems for writing. There are two syllabaries – hiragana and katakana – which have characters for each basic mora (syllable.) Along with the syllabaries, there are also kanji, which is a writing system based on Chinese characters. Hiragana is generally used for Japanese words when they're not written in kanji, and for all the grammatical "glue," such as conjugations and particles. Katakana is usually used for loanwords and onomatopoeia. Therefore, to learn hiragana is to create a foundation for the rest of students’ Japanese study. By learning hiragana, students acquire the basics of Japanese pronunciation. It also opens doors in terms of the Japanese resources they can use. There are no (good) Japanese textbooks or learning resources that don't require you to know hiragana. In essence, it's the first step to learning Japanese. Therefore, students spent their first day of our Winter Seminar studying the hiragana chart.
Then on days two through four, students learned how to use hiragana to introduce themselves and talk about their hometown, interests and the reasons why they started studying Japanese. On the fifth day, we reviewed everything and students put it together in their own personally tailored self-introduction iMovie. Parents were invited to our iMovie presentations, and also had the opportunity to learn how to speak and write some hiragana.
It was amazing to see how fast students picked up this new language and also used it to create their self-introduction. I can’t wait for next year’s Winter Seminar!