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Children Taking Pride in Mastery of Japanese

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Beginning next week in Studio City, kids from the Valley and nearby will be able to join an after-school program where they can learn Japanese language and culture.

It may come as a surprise to Valley parents--those of other than Japanese ancestry, anyway--that kids as young as 8 are of a mind to undertake voluntarily such an apparently arduous task.

But according to several children who attended a summer version of the OSULA Education Center’s program, it’s fun, and they want to continue by attending sessions this fall once a week after school. The classes are for kids ages 6-11.

(OSULA stands for Osaka Sangyo University L.A. Inc.)

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Morgan Segal, 12, and sister Page, 9, were so enthusiastic that when questioned, they kept interrupting one another with opinions about the OSULA program and their teacher, Akiko Yoshida.

Page, who attends Carpenter Avenue School, said, “She’s not strict like regular school.” And Morgan, a Millikan Middle School student, pressed the point, “This culture is fun to learn.” Whereupon Page said that she has taken to watching sumo wrestling on a local Japanese-language TV station.

And Morgan, who has appeared in several TV commercials as a child actor, said he looks forward to making commercials in Japan and earning a lot of money.

Anton and Christoph Hochheim, twin 10-year-olds who live in Hollywood, were encouraged by their mother, Grace, to attend. She was born in Japan but had no opportunity to use her native language because her husband didn’t speak Japanese. She wanted to share her language with her children.

“I was able to judge how much they learned via the method Ms. Yoshida taught,” she reports. “It was very successful.”

The method in question involves songs, games, calligraphy, origami and other cultural activities. The twins, interviewed just after they had been to Knott’s Berry Farm with their parents, referred to the OSULA summer sessions as “Japanese camp.”

“We go a lot of places,” said Anton.

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The twins will return to the OSULA campus each Thursday this fall for “Fun Japanese II” from 4-5:30 p.m. Asked if he remembered any words from “Fun Japanese I,” the beginners course, Anton said, “All of them. It was pretty fun. I learned all kinds of stuff.”

Like many Valley parents, Grace Hochheim often had driven past the OSULA campus, formerly a Catholic girl’s school on Laurel Canyon Boulevard north of Ventura Boulevard, but didn’t know they taught children.

Actually, according to Yoshida, the kids’ program didn’t start until July 1994, although the campus has had Japanese and English as second-language programs for college-level students from the United States and Japan since 1990.

U.S. enrollment in pre-college study of Japanese has doubled in recent years, according to the Japan Foundation’s Santa Monica office, indicating a keen interest in the language among younger generations. California, with about 16,000 enrolled, including 7,000 in elementary school, has the lion’s share of the 90,000 students nationwide.

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The urge seems to be striking kids earlier and earlier in their lives. (Maybe it has to do with the Ninja Turtles.) In San Diego recently, the mayor’s office was swamped when the city announced a program offering kids 10-14 a home-stay experience in Japan. This was courtesy of Kyocera Corp., a Japanese firm with operations in California.

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Meanwhile, here in the Valley, Zana Smith, 8, who lives near the OSULA campus, figured out on her own that the campus had something she wanted. She noted the name on the main building when driving by with her family, checked the phone book and called for information.

Her mother, Barbara, head of the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles and a native of Cleveland rather than Tokyo, was astounded when Zana announced this summer, “I would like to study Japanese.” Next Tuesday from 4-5:30 p.m. Zana will join about a dozen kids who are expected to enroll in “Fun Japanese I.”

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Mother reports that it’s the Japanese alphabet that’s grabbed Zana’s attention--exactly the thing that scares adults. It seems kids are different these days.

DETAILS

* WHAT: “Fun Japanese.”

* WHERE: OSULA Education Center, 3921 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Studio City.

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* WHEN: Classes start next week and last 12 weeks. Beginners class is Tuesdays, 4-5:30 p.m.; beginning Japanese II class is Thursdays 4-5:30 p.m.

* HOW MUCH: First class is free. Tuition varies, but averages about $350 for the 12-week session.

* CALL: (818) 509-1484 Ext. 104.


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