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MIT Offers Technical Japanese Course for Materials Scientists

By Eva Moy
Associate News Editor

The MIT Japan Program is offering a new technical Japanese course geared toward materials scientists and engineers, adding to the existing courses directed toward computer scientists and electrical engineers. These eight-week summer classes are designed "to develop in the participants the ability to read technical Japanese language documents in their area of expertise," according to Susan L. Sherwood, administrator of the Technical Japanese Language Project.

"If you think about the world today, [breakthroughs in technology are] in Japan. We aren't really looking at Germany any more," said Sherwood.

The MIT Japan Program is offering technical Japanese courses in these fields because Japan is "very competitive in these two areas," Sherwood said. She added that there is a higher interest among American scientists in these fields than in others in which Japan is not as advanced.

The National Academy of Science has recommended that American scientists and engineers study Asian languages, especially Japanese, Sherwood said. She added that at present, there are few American scientists who can do research and read technical documents in Japanese.

"Technical Japanese is written quite a bit differently from ... documents studied in normal Japanese classes," and it employs a specialized set of vocabulary, Sherwood said.

Applicants are required to have "command of the basic structure of the Japanese language," in addition to a "knowledge of the target field," Sherwood said. But "there are some people in physics and chemistry who can be qualified" as well, she added.

Mostly graduate students take the course, though some undergraduate students and business people have also expressed interest. Most have two to three years of college Japanese.

Program to promote dialogue

The MIT Japan Program, part of the Institute's Center for International Studies, was established in 1981 to promote dialogue between American and Japanese scientists, engineers, and managers, according to Sherwood. It is presently the largest center of applied Japanese studies in the United States, she added.

The program was founded to address the "information gap" between Japan and the United States. The program pursues this goal through three core activities: education, research, and public awareness.

Sherwood added that the program "tries to level up the playing field," as there are many Japanese in the United States and at MIT. In addition to the technical Japanese courses, the MIT Japan Program has sent about 50 interns to Japan in recent years, the first and largest American program to do this. This is "a drop in the bucket compared to what Japan is sending" to the United States, she added.

Positive response to Japan program

Scott M. Decker, a student at Harvard University and a freelance interpreter and translator, took the technical Japanese course in the summer of 1989. "I got a tremendous amount out of it," he said. It "gave me a foundation from which I could build," and acted as a "springboard" into translating and interpreting in the areas of quality control, production, and manufacturing, he said.

Michael E. Caine SM '85, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, described the class as "intense." He added that "it gave me a little more confidence [and] allowed me to take more away from [technical articles] when I read them."

Now Caine said he can read technical articles more quickly for his research and thesis work. "I think [the program is] great. The more areas they can branch out to, the better," he added.