Studying in Foreign Languages

Since Japanese is not so widely understood outside Japan, those who have never lived there may not be aware that you can finish your university study, at least at the undergraduate level, in almost any field without reading but in Japanese. On the other hand, those who were born and educated in Japan may not be aware how rare this linguistic situation is in many parts of the world. Receiving your higher education in your native language is an exception rather than a rule, especially in the developing countries. But even in Japan there are a small number of fields in which no or few learning materials are available in Japanese, thus you have to study them in English or a few other European languages of science.

It was a great shock for me when I realized upon entering the university that I had to study the language I had decided to specialize in from textbooks and dictionaries intended for English speakers, as I had never read any single whole book in English before. I had two options for coping with this totally unexpected shock: 1) to try to ignore it and postpone struggling with it as long as I can; 2) to face it and start struggling with it immediately. Of course, I chose the latter.

In retrospect, I am grateful for this "present" that has turned out to be a highly efficient "shock therapy". It has broken down my psychological barrier to study in foreign languages. It did not take me too long even while I was an undergraduate student to realize that English was not even enough, and it was necessary to study German, French and Russian as well for reading materials available only in them and not in English, to say nothing of Japanese. Then I had no shock; I simply learned these three languages as well as Italian, Spanish and Polish, in addition to Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and Esperanto as subjects of study.

Having met and observed many university students here in Israel, I have noticed that many of them have some psychological barrier to study more foreign languages in addition to English for the purpose of their studies, even at the graduate level. This is quite similar to or even worse than what native speakers of English might react. It often seems to me that many Hebrew-speaking students have more trust in English as the omnipotent language of science than their English-speaking counterparts do. It is true that English has become an uncontested language of science, but there still remain sufficient materials, especially in the humanities, that are not available in it. I have an opposite shock here: it is that there seem to be so many PhD students in the humanities who cannot read but in Hebrew and English.