UAB expands to meet demand for Japanese language instruction

A grant awarded by the Japan Foundation Los Angeles will enable UAB Foreign Languages and Literatures to hire an instructor, expand course offerings and establish a major concentration in Japanese.

Written by: Haley Herfurth

Media Contact: Shannon Thomason

jstream Learn Japanese gettyThe Japanese language may be one of the most difficult to master, but it is a popular language to learn at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where more than 50 students are pursuing the Japanese minor program

At UAB, students are provided the opportunity to attend cultural events on and off campus, study abroad in Japan for up to one academic year, and learn alongside UAB exchange students from Japan or Japanese residents of the city. 

Now those opportunities are expanding. UAB’s College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Foreign Languages and Literatures received a $30,000 grant from the Japan Foundation Los Angeles in September. Consul-General Takashi Shinozuka, attending via Skype, and Mark Jackson, Alabama’s honorary consul general of Japan, presented the award to Provost Pam Benoit in a room filled with students, alumni, city residents, faculty and staff. 

The grant will enable the department to hire a full-time visiting language instructor, says Yumi Takamiya, assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. That is important because enrollment numbers in UAB’s minor in Japanese are growing. The program also plans to expand its course offerings and would like to establish a major concentration in Japanese in the near future. 

“We have a high demand for more courses,” Takamiya said. “This grant will be crucial for our Japanese language program to grow.” 

Students who study Japanese language might be drawn by their affinities for subcultures such as anime and manga, but it offers more than accessible entertainment. According to the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Language Studies, Japanese is a Category IV language, meaning it is exceptionally difficult for native English speakers to learn. 

“These students are highly motivated and go through a tough process to learn Japanese and become proficient,” Takamiya said. “In this global world, having experience in a foreign language and culture is a great benefit for any future career path students choose.” 

Birmingham has a long partnership with Japan. Birmingham has called Hitachi, Japan, its sister city since 1982, and a 10-foot statue of Vulcan sits in a park that overlooks Hitachi. In 2017, Maebashi, Japan, became Birmingham’s second Japanese sister city. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Japanese Gardens were officially opened by the ambassador of Japan to the United States in 1967 and feature traditional architecture and elements, and large stone lanterns, a gift from Hitachi, greet visitors at the Botanical Gardens’ entrance.