Subject Spotlight: ‘Feel the amazingness of language’

Learning a second language is about so much more than the words we speak.

That’s the message from Blackfriars’ Languages Coordinator and Japanese teacher Chikako Oguma.

Oguma Sensei (the Japanese word for teacher) is encouraging students to continue language studies throughout their high school years, saying the understanding that comes from speaking a second language extends to all aspects of life.

“Language itself helps with cognitive skills, like critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and so on,” Oguma Sensei says.  

“Those skills help them to do well at university as well.

“But the other reason is really enriching their life. By studying languages, when they travel to Japan, or when they talk to Japanese people, they can fully engage in communication and culture. It’s just so amazing to be understand another culture at a deeper level.”

While covid had put a pause on international travel, opportunities were again opening up for high school graduates to head to Japan on university exchanges or to work as English teachers or in ski resorts.

“They can use credit from Japanese universities to complete whatever degrees they are doing. Universities are recognising the importance of it,” Oguma Sensei says.

“Every year (before covid), I had students contacting me asking for a reference letter because they wanted to study in Japan.”

Blackfriars’ Languages Coordinator and Japanese teacher Chikako Oguma

Language, she says, also helps students develop other skills that stand them in good stead when entering the job market.

“The soft skills, like empathy, are the most-wanted skills by companies these days,” she says. “Big companies, like Google, list those as qualities they want for their future employees. And language helps them to develop that.

“If someone is, for example, going for an engineering job, and hundreds of people apply for the same position, and one person has language completion to a senior secondary level, or university level, they will pick the person who has a language. They will assume this person has those soft skills, that they are hard-working and disciplined and also understand and respect other cultures. It makes their resume stand out.”

So, what would she say to people who suggest Japanese is a hard language to learn?

“Hard, but rewarding,” she says. “Plus, Japanese has bonus points that go toward students’ ATARs. SACE really encourages students to do languages.”

If that wasn’t motivation enough, Australian Defence Force employees are paid an bonus allowance if they are proficient in a second language.

Oguma Sensei singled out a quote by Nelson Mandela.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

Those words, she says, speak to the power of language.

“True communication happens when you try to speak to someone in their own language,” she says. “It really touches their heart. So, language is such a powerful thing. I want students to feel the moment of the amazingness of language.”

Read more from our Subject Spotlight series

  • Philosophy in focus – click here.


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