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When in Tokyo: Course teaches Japanese for business, travel

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LIHUE >> If you’re going to learn a second language, Japanese is going to be the most helpful if you’re living in Hawaii.

And now there’s a class on the language available for folks who are too busy to take a full-length college course.

“I tell my students if you speak a little bit of Japanese, businesses will hire you over someone else with the same qualifications,” said Hiroko Merritt, assistant professor of Japanese at Kauai Community College and the instructor for the new class. “There are a lot of Japanese tourists here.”

The upcoming class is called Introduction to Japanese for Busy People and it’s aimed at teaching the basics, like counting, introductions and shopping.

“It is a survival class for adults,” Merritt said. “It doesn’t have an age limit really, but it’s not a kids’ class. It’s for older people.”

Merritt has been teaching Japanese at Kauai Community College for 24 years and is originally from Nagasaki, Japan. When she first came to the states, she landed alone in Texas without knowing very much English.

“I had the hardest time shopping and I didn’t even know what a dime or a quarter was,” Merritt said. “I just took all my money out onto the counter and they would count it out and I had to trust them.”

Merritt said she’s now teaching others how to avoid that type of situation.

“I don’t want others to go through that,” Merritt said. “This is a practical way of approaching Japanese so you can converse when you visit the country and get your shopping done.”

The regular Japanese classes at Kauai Community College focus more on reading and writing, Merritt said, adding students aren’t usually considered fluent until they’ve taken at least two years’ worth of classes.

“I take my students to Japan in May after they’ve had two semesters of the language,” Merritt said. “After that they can usually get around OK, but they’re not fluent. After their second year, though, they can go there by themselves and be OK.”

For those who don’t have time to spend two years learning the language, however, Introduction to Japanese for Busy People will provide the bare bones necessities.

“It’s not like a regular college class. It focuses mostly on speaking,” Merritt said. “This is a survival-type thing for the busy person.”

Merritt said she’s accepting about 20 students into the class, and she’s trying to keep the size down so she can really focus on the students who are attending.

“You’re going to learn how to introduce yourself, hand out your business card, and how to handle the currency,” Merritt said. “It’s very business oriented.”

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