The Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures aims to foster broad cultural awareness while providing the most rigorous possible training in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages. The department offers coordinated three-year sequences of language instruction, as well as electives taught in East Asian languages and in English. Students in the program should develop not only cultural literacy in the language area of their choice but an understanding of the world from the perspective of East Asia.
East Asian Studies in EALAC
The East Asian Department seeks to give students comprehensive exposure to the cultures of East Asia. The department’s wide selection of elective courses taught in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean serves students throughout the university as well as majors and minors in the program. Through this blend of East Asian-language and English-language courses, the department seeks to enrich students’ understanding of East Asian social, cultural, and literary traditions and to give them a sophisticated appreciation of contemporary East Asia beyond common stereotypes. The gateway course “East Asia: Texts and Contexts” introduces students to topics in the classical and contemporary literary and cultural traditions of East Asia through works in English translation. Other courses offered in English range across themes from classical poetry to myths and folklore, to contemporary animated film. These courses are all founded in the common tradition of the humanities, making them suitable complements to study in a variety of disciplines.
Language and culture are integrated throughout the EALAC curriculum.
The department’s broad goals for language learning are:
- Functional fluency in the spoken language for everyday situations in that language environment.
- The ability to make a formal presentation in the language about a subject in the student’s area of academic or professional interest.
- The ability to read and comprehend professional, academic or literary texts written in the modern language (in the case of Chinese, in both simplified and traditional characters). Students of Chinese will also develop the ability to read texts in the classical language.
Language Learning Goals
More specifically, our students should acquire the following language knowledge and skills:
- Advanced vocabulary and grammar, and both formal and informal, written and spoken expressions, suitable to various contexts
- Socio-cultural knowledge that enables them to communicate in an appropriate register in real-world situations
- Understanding of the target culture by comparing and/or making connections to their own
- The ability to handle a variety of authentic audio, visual, and written and printed resources including academic or literary texts written in the target language (in the case of Chinese, in both simplified and traditional characters) independently
- The ability to articulate their own thoughts and opinions in a coherent, persuasive manner in the target language
- The ability to plan and successfully produce spoken and written presentations.
One additional goal of the language programs in EALAC is to give students the tools to pursue their language study beyond the classroom and beyond graduation. The East Asian languages are among the most difficult for monolingual English speakers to achieve fluency in. Written Chinese and Japanese take a particularly long time. Even for the most accomplished non-native students, language learning is not over with three or four years in the classroom. A large percentage of students who pass through courses in Georgetown EALAC go on to live and work in East Asia or to pursue further study involving East Asian languages. The program seeks to equip these students with the linguistic and intellectual foundations to flourish and continue to develop in whatever East Asian professional or academic environment they enter after graduation.
Cultural Learning Goals
The program’s overall goals for cultural learning include the following:
- General knowledge of classical traditions and contemporary cultures of East Asia in all facets, including new media and popular culture as well as history, religious traditions, major works of the literary canon and writing on social issues. The introductory course East Asia: Texts and Contexts and the range of electives are the primary vehicles in the curriculum for this cultural component of the majors.
- The ability to do in-depth research on a humanities-related original topic of the student’s choice, using both English and East Asian language research and primary source materials. Toward this end, Chinese and Japanese majors cap their four years of study with a thesis written for the Senior Seminar. The students may write this thesis in either English or the language of study. In either case, students writing the thesis must demonstrate their ability to manage textual sources in their language of study. In the final semester of senior year, a few students also complete an honors thesis, which must demonstrate original research drawing heavily on Japanese or Chinese sources.
- Broadly, “cultural translation” ability—that is, the ability to move between East Asian and other cultural contexts socially, linguistically, and intellectually, and to convey knowledge from one context to the other. This includes understanding linguistic and non-linguistic customs and behavior in East Asian socio-cultural situations. It also includes drawing knowledge from Chinese, Japanese or Korean texts and experiences and finding ways to translate or express that knowledge to audiences outside East Asia.
Integrated Writing in the Majors
- Writing takes place everywhere in the Chinese and Japanese majors, in many forms and levels of formality, including expository and creative writing as well as the art of translation, and including personal, public, and professional modes.
- Along side expository writing in English about aspects of culture in East Asia, students also practice writing of increasing complexity in target language all through the course of their major.
- In all cases, writing is an approach to careful observation of and careful thinking about its object. In that sense, writing in English and writing in target language reinforce each other.
- Attention is also given to translation as a form of detailed interpretive commentary and as a means of examining temporally specific differences in linguistic structure, modes of argument, and perceptual and conceptual habits.
Texts and Contexts
English language writing skills are first addressed in the Chinese and Japanese majors in CHIN/JAPN-024 East Asia: Texts and Contexts, a course required of all majors. Texts and Contexts introduces a variety of topics and methodological approaches in the study of cultures in East Asia. Writing assignments thus address a range of writing strategies and skills necessary to the field: the construction of rigorous arguments and workable proposals, the incorporation of secondary sources in a way that supports and furthers the argument without substituting for the writer’s voice, and style issues particular to East Asian studies. Technical style issues include how to incorporate Romanization and characters/kanji, how to employ footnotes to do more than just cite quotations, and how to handle East Asian names in an English language context. More broadly, a heightened awareness of compositional style is gained by looking closely at the origins and nature of the writing systems in East Asia, the literary forms into which those writing systems have grown, and the challenges faced when attempting to translate those forms into English. In general, students are asked to step outside of themselves at times in order to address historical or conceptual contexts at some remove from themselves while maintaining their own interpretive footing and voice.
Writing in the Target Language Curricula
Writing is an integral part of the multi-skill curricula of all three language programs in the department. Thus at the same time that Chinese and Japanese majors are taking East Asia: Texts and Contexts in English, they are also developing their language skills in their language classes. Since learning to write in these non-alphabetic languages is a particularly slow process, having the reinforcement of critical skills through writing in English at the early stages of the major is important for the intellectual growth of our students.
The curricula of the Chinese and Japanese language programs are not identical, but the following sequence gives a good sense of how writing is addresses in the course of both.
- Acquiring foundations and basic competence on familiar topics of daily life
- Writing in short sentences with common phrases, and working up to short narrations
- Expressing opinions about familiar topics in a coherent way
- Moving from describing personal experiences in simple narratives to commenting on social issues
- Developing the ability to link sentences together into logical passages
- Distinguishing formal and personal registers in writing, using models of formal writing and expressions
- Acquiring the socio-cultural knowledge necessary for expression at the appropriate register
- Expressing thoughts and opinions about familiar and unfamiliar topics in organized passages
Fourth Level and Beyond
- Expressing extended thoughts and opinions about unfamiliar topics in a rhetorically persuasive way—convincing the reader of the best stance or course of action
- Organizing the expression of extended ideas in a coherent fashion by attending to linkages and transitions between paragraphs
- Connecting new information with existing knowledge
- Raising awareness of different writing styles and genres
- For Chinese, wielding the basic Classicalisms of formal writing in an appropriate manner
- Critical analysis on an abstract level
- Citing the opinions and writings of others accurately
- Representing and critiquing the ideas in articles and literary works
Writing in the English Language Course Offerings
Every Chinese and Japanese major is required to take one departmental course conducted in English in addition to the introductory East Asia: Texts and Contexts. These courses enable students to engage with materials that do not fit easily into target language courses (multiple feature-length films, lengthy novels or Classical Chinese texts) while also incorporating English language scholarship on the particular topic at hand. All of these courses involve multiple writing assignments including final papers or take-home finals, but because their topics and approaches vary, it is difficult to characterize their writing goals as a set. The writing components include some but not necessarily all of the following:
- Learning critical writing by carefully reading of the arguments of secondary writings and assessing them rigorously
- Attention to structural meaning in film, visual arts, cityscapes, and other non-written cultural forms, and developing the ability and vocabulary to interpret them insightfully in writing
- Writing assignments in more creative genres paralleling subject matter: screenplays, etc.
- Close readings of a small number of texts or passages
The Chinese and Japanese majors culminate in the Senior Seminar, in which students write an extended humanities research paper. In most cases that paper is written in English but must draw on target language materials and includes an abstract in target language. In some cases it takes the form of a translation of a previously untranslated work (or section of a larger work) with a critical introduction in English. And some of our majors opt to write the entire paper in target language.
In any case, since the students in the course are working on different (if often related) topics and have already received training in expository writing in Texts and Contexts and their other coursework in English, the focus of the seminar is on the rigorous crafting of academic research projects. From the outset, attention is given to research and writing strategies, using both published guides to writing research papers and also model articles from the field, which are examined for logic, argument, style, and their incorporation of supporting sources and evidence. Students are required to produce proposals (including partial bibliography) and drafts that are then commented on and graded before the final paper is produced. Students of exceptional ability whose projects are particularly promising are invited to expand their Senior Seminar papers into Senior Honors Theses during the spring semester, in which case target-language materials are used more extensively and the argument is extended into new territory as well.