Welcome, one and all, to modern languages at RIT

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A. Sue Weisler

Timothy Arnold, left, and Jason Rosenberg have studied Advanced Japanese in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts. Both students realize the importance of understanding another language and culture as they work toward careers overseas.

A lively discussion ensues between University News photography manager Sue Weisler and RIT student Timothy Arnold about the best restaurants in Rochester to experience authentic Japanese cuisine. And while the conversation is peppered with references to hibachi and sushi, it’s quickly understood that Arnold’s love for Japanese culture extends far beyond exquisitely prepared tempura.

Arnold, a fourth-year game design and development student from Newport, Pa., is among the growing number of RIT students enrolling in modern-language courses throughout their studies. He believes that understanding the Japanese language and culture, in his case, is essential to securing a successful career in that country, his dream since high school.

“I have always been interested in video games, especially the games created in Japan. There are quite a few games that get localized here in the U.S., but there are others that don’t make it to the States. I realized that I wanted to play more, but a lot of the ones I was interested in hadn’t been localized yet,” he says. “I started teaching myself Japanese in high school in order to understand the video games, and then jumped feet-first into the RIT Japanese program when I got here. I’m well into my fourth year studying Japanese and I’m certain that it will serve me well when I eventually live and work overseas.”

Hiroko Yamashita, chair of RIT’s modern languages and cultures department and professor of Japanese, says that more than 3,000 RIT students are enrolled annually in one of nine foreign language offerings: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Modern languages are taught by 10 full-time faculty members and more than 20 adjunct faculty members. And although significant numbers of enrollees hail from the College of Liberal Arts, a majority of students are enrolled in one of the other eight colleges.

“RIT students are driven and one way that they can enhance their learning is to supplement their studies by adding a modern language to their curriculum,” says Yamashita. “Our department works closely with the chairs and academic advisors to be sure that students can fit modern-language classes into their course sequence. Many of our students are also interested in studying abroad so this is a great way to be sure that they are prepared for the culture and the basics of the language before they travel. In our department, we also have our own faculty-led programs to Italy, Germany and Japan.”

Although most students choose to study a modern language for a year or two, the proficiency-based approach allows students to be able to speak conversationally and read basic text while learning cultural sensitivity.

Jason Rosenberg, who graduates in May from the game design and development program, is awaiting acceptance into Japan’s elite Namco-Bandai Imagine summer program. According to Rosenberg, this opportunity to work and study in Japan is what gamers like him wait a lifetime for. Rosenberg also studied abroad with Arnold at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology in Japan and believes that his modern- language classes were invaluable to his preparation.

“Learning and understanding a second language is useful in business, communication and travel,” says Rosenberg, who hails from Marlton, N.J. “I think everyone should be exposed to another culture and have the opportunity to study abroad and be fully immersed in that culture. I’m glad that I can go into a convenience store in Japan and not have to point to what I want. I can ask for it in their language. Learning another language is enriching.”

Olivier Boessl, a winter graduate from the mechanical engineering technology program in the College of Applied Science and Technology, is ready to tackle his full-time position working in the European automotive industry thanks, in part, to his German studies. He earned a minor in the language and used the courses to perfect his grammar but also reveals a personal affinity for the language; he was born in Strasbourg, France, which borders Germany.

“I am of German origin and have always used the language with my friends and at home with the German-speaking side of my family,” he says.

And it wouldn’t be RIT unless technology factored into the equation. The Modern Language Technology Center on the third floor of Eastman Hall offers the most advanced techniques in language instruction including tutoring, a multimedia content library, foreign language films, textbooks, instructional material and other language-support content.

“This center, manned by two full-time employees, allows students to study tradition while simultaneously using cutting-edge technology,” says Yamashita.

Yamashita encourages faculty and staff alike to consider taking a foreign language course and urges them to join on-campus activities such as weekly modern-language tables set up in various campus locations and Modern Language Fairs.

“I have been teaching Japanese for 25 years,” she adds. “I have always loved language and have turned my passion into my profession. Maybe this will inspire someone to also pursue their love of language.”

Fun Facts

  • Number of students enrolled in foreign languages last year: 3,246
  • Most popular languages (by enrollment):
  • Japanese
  • Spanish
  • German/French
  • The largest growth (by percentage): Arabic
  • College with the most enrollees (other than College of Liberal Arts): B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences
  • For more information, go to the Modern Languages and Cultures website at