Coming into Swarthmore, I knew that I wanted to study Japanese. My parents are both immigrants from Japan, so growing up, I had always been surrounded by the Japanese language and culture. Despite this, I never really became proficient in Japanese—this was probably because although my parents always spoke to my sister and me in Japanese, we would always respond back in English, too lazy to actually put in the effort of learning to use the language. Plus, I have never really had any formal education in the Japanese language. Thus, I could pretty much understand fluently what was being said, but being able to speak Japanese was a whole ‘nother story. I felt like I owed it to myself and my culture to learn how to properly speak my native language.
I was nervous about taking Japanese here at Swat because I wasn’t sure how much I would actually learn. I came into college with a fair bit of knowledge of the language, but I wanted to become fluent, and I knew that becoming fluent in any language only comes with immersion. Luckily for me, there are many ways to immerse yourself into a language here at Swat! Here are a couple that I have found to be super helpful during my Japanese language studies outside of the classroom:
- Language Table. Language Table is an event hosted by most language departments that meets every week during lunch time at Sharples (the dining hall). For example, the Japanese Language Table meets on Wednesdays during lunch. These Language Tables are open to anyone and everyone who wants to have some practice speaking the language. Often, it’s not just the language-learning students that attend these Language Tables but also the professors of the department as well as any native speakers of the language. Overall, it’s a great way to practice having more casual conversations in the language!
- Chat Hours. I’m not sure if every language department does this, but the Japanese department at least hosts Japanese chat hours on every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. These chat hours are hosted by native Japanese-speaking students. These chat hours are very laid-back as there are no professors around to judge you, and because of this, the conversation topics become very random and interesting. In past chat hours, we’ve talked about everything from One Punch Man to various people’s love lives to Japanese macroeconomics to whether we were cat or dog people. It’s tons of fun, and it’s very low-commitment as you can come and go whenever you want. Plus, there are usually Japanese snacks!
- Clubs. There are so many different clubs on campus, and there are bound to be some clubs that are related to the language you are learning. For example, in my case for Japanese, I am a part of Kizuna, Swarthmore’s Japanese cultural club. Although speaking Japanese or learning Japanese is definitely not a requisite to joining the club, there are many people in the club who study the language and/or speak the language, making it a great way to meet new people who have similar language interests as you! Even if the language is not the central purpose of the club, you may find yourself learning about aspects of the language or the culture that you may have never learned about in the classroom.
- Making friends with native speakers. One of the best ways to practice any language is to speak with a native speaker. Luckily, Swarthmore is very diverse and has a large population of international students, so there will definitely be some students on campus who are native speakers in the language you are learning. Don’t be afraid to befriend them and practice the language with them! I am fortunate to have become close friends with some native speakers, and I can say that just trying to have everyday conversations with them in Japanese pushes me to try harder and harder in the language.
- Practicing with your classmates. If you’re taking an intensive language class at Swarthmore, chances are that you will become pretty close with your classmates because you will be seeing them every weekday for the entire semester (and more if you continue the language!). Even when I see my Japanese classmates outside of class, the majority of the time we speak in Japanese (though this may be because we’re so used to seeing each other in Japanese contexts that we automatically revert to Japanese). Make a habit of this, because this is a great way to practice as you will be around the same level as your classmate in the language, so you should be able to understand each other pretty well. Plus, if anything, this gives you the opportunity to really get to know your classmates outside of class while still practicing the language.
Overall, there are so many ways to practice and immerse yourself into a language at Swarthmore. Despite growing up in a household where Japanese was spoken very commonly, I feel like I am speaking more Japanese here at college. Sometimes, I feel like I am speaking so much Japanese at Swarthmore that I am almost speaking more Japanese than English (which I’m not complaining about at all). I hope that I have helped you see that Swarthmore is a fantastic place to learn languages, and I wish you all the best in all of your language studies!