Japanese Language for LD Students

During Individual U.’s ten years of working with students who have attentional issues, executive function problems, sequential logic difficulties, and short/long-term memory vulnerabilities, we have seen many of them frustrated and sometimes humiliated by their inability to master a Romance Language. Spanish, French and Italian have all proven difficult for these students due to their nuanced grammar structures, multiple tenses, and masculine/feminine conjugations. Chinese and German have posed even greater challenges.

As a result, many students with learning disabilities and appropriate neuropsychological evaluations either request to be exempted from foreign language or are counseled out of their language studies by the direction of their school.

Still, there are many reasons to persist in the creation of foreign language opportunities for students who struggle with learning challenges or disabilities. If successful, the accomplishment a student experiences when he or she makes progress in a completely new area can be a remarkable spark for further learning. Beyond this, the study of a foreign language – when taught with a full appreciation for the people and cultures that use it – can be a tremendous growth experience.

At Individual U., we create individualized language programs that permit students who would otherwise flounder in their foreign language studies to learn Japanese. The study of Japanese language and culture at Individual U. involves one-on-one tutor/mentoring with Sae Sensei, and a weekly Japanese Club in which students from Individual U. and various schools around the City meet for social language practice. During Japanese Club, students also watch Japanese films, play traditional Japanese games, and study origami and ikebana.

There are many reasons why Japanese language, as it is mentored at Individual U., has had such sustained success with a broad spectrum of students, both learning disabled and neurotypical. The Japanese language has no gender, singular or plural, difficult conjugations, or future tense, all of which make for a rapid learning curve. Pronunciation is very easy, and students can pronounce words immediately upon learning them. Furthermore, Sae Sensai and the mentors at Individual U. embed executive function work into their explorations of Japanese language and culture, thereby providing tools and skills to help students self-modulate and shift their behavior and attitude. By being introduced to Japanese culture including the arts of calligraphy, origami, Chi Channeling practices, and tea ceremony, the students also develop discipline, focus and manners which they can call upon to facilitate success in other parts of their lives. Our Japanese Language and Culture programs are offered to students enrolled in full-time home-school facilitation programs as well as part time remediation and enrichment programs. A growing number of independent schools throughout the City now grant credit for their students’ Japanese studies undertaken at Individual U.

“Why Japanese? Why not Chinese? China is a great rising power.” is a question we have heard frequently in recent years. The decision to focus on the Japanese language has nothing to do with world politics or global power dynamics. The answer is much older than that – thousands of years old. Chinese, while a remarkable language, is extremely complex and poses significant difficulties for students with executive function and learning challenges. Japanese, on the other hand, is particularly suited to students with learning disabilities, especially those who struggle with Romance Languages.

Each summer, Individual U. also takes a small number of our Japanese students to Japan for a unique and enriching two to four week summer experience. The summer trip involves immersion in Japanese language, stays in traditional Japanese ryoken (inns) and visits to areas and events of great cultural interest, including the Gion Festival in Kyoto, Tokyo Hanabi (firework) Festival, shrines, palaces, gardens, museums and the world Sumo Wrestling championships. Throughout their time in Japan, students sample an array of Japanese foods, some prepared especially for them in restaurants and inns. Student also often visit places of great natural beauty, including Hokkaido Island, Okinawa Island, and Mt. Fuji. Traveling to Japan with Individual U. provides a unique opportunity for students to experience the Nagomimasu feeling (the real feeling of Japan) and to explore its wabi and sabi (plain and unadorned culture, which is thousands of years old).

In a word, the students find the trip to be subarashii (awesome).

The Japanese Institute of Language and Culture’s History

The Japanese Institute of Language and Culture began informally in 2003/4. It took on its more formal character in the years following as Sae Sensei and Dr. Rudin, its co-founders, expanded its reach and potential benefit to students around New York and beyond.