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By Tomoko Takahashi

Building a Bridge for Everyone

The Clock Tower at Komaba Campus sees me rush into room 120 every Thursday 4th period. Here I am, right in my Chinese class. We articulate each new word, learn new grammar, and read the text out loud translating it. Our Laoshi, or Teacher is He Zhenshi Laoshi from the Department of Chinese Language, College of Arts and Sciences. He Laoshi leads our class, “Beginners’ Chinese as a third foreign language” with a lot of interesting stories about China. This is my most favorite time of the week.

Author's notebook for the Chinese Class (January 21, 2013, photo taken by author)

Author’s notebook for the Chinese Class (January 21, 2013, photo taken by author)

At Komaba, all the students take compulsory foreign language classes. For example, having learned English for at least 6 years before coming to the University of Tokyo, a Japanese student continues with English, and also chooses a second foreign language. We can choose from Korean, Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Italian. Furthermore, we are free to learn a third or fourth foreign language, which includes more options.

Acquiring a new language does require hard work, such as struggling with difficult grammar, new words and phrases, getting used to unfamiliar sounds, and scribbling strange letters in your notebook. Some people may even ask why we learn new languages other than English when English is becoming more and more popular around the globe. I believe there is something very important that cannot be explained from a practical point of view. I interviewed He Laoshi for the reason she started to teach Chinese in Japan.

'Bridge' in Chinese and Japanese (January 21, 2013, photo taken by author)

‘Bridge’ in Chinese and Japanese (January 21, 2013, photo taken by author)

Her first encounter with Japan was during her university years in China, where she learned Japanese and became fascinated by the language itself. She explained the way Chinese characters and their sounds had been brought to Japan over thousands of years, each time taking different routes and bringing different sounds. “Since then I started to feel I want to teach Japanese to Chinese people,” He Laoshi says in fluent Japanese. After she came to Japan, it turned out that she was a wonderful teacher for Japanese students, too-and here she is, right in room 120 teaching us. She told me what Chinese is to herself. “It is a tool by which I communicate with Japanese people, but at the same time it is a language through which I convey the Chinese culture.” She believes that when conveying culture, personality is very important. She concludes by saying that, “I am building a bridge over these two countries. I want people to walk on this bridge, coming and going.”

True to her words, she is indeed building a wide bridge for us. Studying Chinese, I truly hope to build a bridge like He Laoshi myself, too. Connecting all the bridges, I see what learning a new language brings about to all of us. It provides you with a big opportunity to encounter a new world.

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