Making Japanese accessible

Reiko Nonogaki makes Japanese accessible to her students by engaging them in Japanese culture.

Reiko Nonogaki

Every summer when Towson University Japanese language instructor Reiko Nonogaki travels to Japan to see family and friends, she also loads up on restaurant menus, train tickets, books, newspapers and the wildly popular “Manga” comics for her students back at TU.

“I always have a lot of baggage when I come back,” laughs the Tokyo native.

Japanese is challenging, Nonogaki explains, with its more than 3,000 kanji characters that have no resemblance to English letters. That’s why she incorporates those everyday materials into her lessons — they give the language context and bring it to life.

Nonogaki also makes Japanese accessible to her students by engaging them with Japanese culture. Walk past her classroom and you may hear popular music from Japan enriching a lesson on sentence structure and vocabulary. Students also develop skills by playing games in Japanese and practicing the ancient form of calligraphy used to draw the Japanese alphabet.

“Every student has a different learning style,” says Nonogaki, noting that her classes are populated by a broad range of majors, from business to art, music to math.

Nonogaki, who is also the adviser for TU’s Japanese language and culture student organization, is delighted to have the opportunity to interact with students from all corners of campus.

“Learning languages opens more doors to any subject,” she says, describing how foreign language study enhances career opportunities in many disciplines.

But maybe even more importantly, she adds, studying other languages and cultures supports students’ development as global citizens.

“It helps us establish a deep connection to our global community,” says Nonogaki, “and expand our world view, which promotes flexibility and understanding between people.”