Japanese language program gets a boost

When Makiko Nakasone's son Michael registered three years ago for Japanese 101 at Glendale Community College, she was thrilled. A native of Kofu, Japan, Nakasone was proud to see her son embrace his heritage.

Under the tutelage of professor Shihoko Tatsugawa, Michael began studying both Japanese alphabets and conversation skills, as well as history and culture. But soon he had exhausted all the Japanese-language resources available at the college.

Despite the growing popularity of the class — hundreds of students compete for a few dozen spots each session — supplemental materials were in short supply. There were no Japanese-English dictionaries in the library, nor any Japanese language software at the language lab.

Nakasone, then the president of the Glendale Rotary Club Noon, set about to stock the language department with all the missing educational tools. She began coordinating with the Kofu Rotary Club in Japan and the Glendale Rotary Club Sunrise to generate support.

And this week, Nakasone was there as the clubs jointly donated $11,000 worth of supplementary teaching materials to the Japanese Language Program, the culmination of a three-year fundraising campaign.

"I am really happy because it feels like it is returning the favor for what they did not only with my son, but with the thousands of other teachers they have taught," Nakasone said.

The donations come at a critical time as community colleges are struggling with serious budget cuts that hamper teachers' abilities to meet the needs of their students, Tatsugawa said.

"There were a number of teachers cut, a number of classes were cut, and we didn't get any help," he said. "In our office we have a printer but no ink; the school can't buy it. That is the kind of situation we are in now. But the Rotary Club is going to help."

Donated materials include language-learning computer software Rosetta Stone, Japanese-English dictionaries, and books and DVDs on the history and culture of Japan, Tatsugawa said.

Japanese has become an increasingly popular language option at the college as students realize its value in the professional world, Tatsugawa said. The language is difficult to master, but those who make it through the introductory class advance with daily conversation and reading and writing skills.

And the college's study-abroad program to Japan, offered every other year, has also become increasingly popular, she said.

The donation demonstrates the local community's support of quality public education, Nakasone said, and will allow students to progress further in their Japanese studies.

"It was already a great program because Shihoko Tatsugawa is a very creative, enthusiastic, devoted teacher," Nakasone said. "But I think with these supplemental teaching materials it will be strengthened even further."

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