Guest Post: Learning Japanese as a Third Language

Today we feature a guest post from full time MIM student Sopheap Im about her experience taking Japanese as a third language (as a student who is learning a new language via a second language, English in this case) in the MIM program.


My name is Sopheap Im and I am from Cambodia. I am a MIM full-time student of 2011-2012. I got a bachelor of Finance and Accounting from the University of Management and Economics in Cambodia. Prior to graduate school, I had several years of experience as the general manager at one of Digital Divide Data’s Southeast Asian offices. Digital Divide Data is an internationally acclaimed social enterprise that creates education and career opportunities for disadvantaged high school graduates in developing countries through providing business processing outsourcing services to world-class customers.

It is my great pleasure to share personal experience from my beginning Business Japanese class instructed by Professor Nobuko Murakami. I consider Japanese as my third language, with the challenge being I have to learn Japanese in my second language, English. It may be easier for native English speakers to do that, however, challenges are opportunities as long as commitment and motivation stay high.

The instructor normally starts the class with review of previous lessons to warm up the students’ memories. This review is important for students not to forget what they have learned before. It is not an easy task to remember all the words but we have to do our best. At the end of each session, the instructor provides time for questions and answers in English to make sure that we fully understand each lesson.

The daily lessons structure is designed using four main activities—self-study for reading and listening prior to the class, lesson review, conversation practice, and new structure patterns. What I like the most about the self-study style is it improves my learning independence and time management by listening to core conversations, new vocabularies, and new structure pattern explanations outside of the classroom. This is a very unique way to learn another language.

The fun part is when we perform the role play after watching a core conversation video. Some of us make mistakes and we laugh, but it is not discouraging. Everyone seems to be very happy. Practicing conversations in Japanese is not only fun, but it helps students build confidence in talking in front of everyone and feel comfortable to learn from mistakes, and not to feel embarrassed or shy.

Learning Japanese is not only about learning a foreign language but it is also learning parts of another nation’s culture. It is important lesson for me as an MIM student who is interested in multicultural competence development. We have only learned vocabulary, basic structure patterns, and short conversations so far. However, I hope that by the end of the program, I will be able to communicate in Japanese as a third language when it is necessary for my business and personal life. Finally, I look forward to communicating in Japanese during the MIM Asia trip in Tokyo. I cannot wait to see beautiful Japanese people and a country with such a rich history.

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