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VCC Japanese class finds fluency and friendship during COVID-19

Posted on June 2, 2021

Japanese ema plaques

Ema (絵馬) plaques inscribed with wishes and prayers hanging on a Japanese shrine

Vancouver Community College (VCC) Continuing Studies offers dozens of part-time evening language classes, including Arabic, Cantonese, French, Mandarin, Korean, and more. While most students sign up to dabble in a language for vacation travel, business, or personal interest, becoming fluent is a much bigger endeavour.

For one special group of VCC students, learning Japanese has become more than hobby, and their instructor is willing to take them as far as they want to go.

Typically, Continuing Studies language programs offer two or three levels before enrolment declines or students begin to travel for language immersion. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many would-be world travellers have remained in Canada, including eight Japanese language students who have pursued their immersion right here at VCC.

Rika Knox is a native Japanese speaker and experienced teacher who began as an introductory Japanese instructor at VCC in 2006. Over the past few years, Rika has developed a special connection with her VCC cohort, guiding them through not only Japanese 1 to 3, but continuing to build and customize the curriculum up to Japanese 6.

“When I am teaching at the beginner level, it’s the first door to the Japanese language and culture, so I like to make a good impression and create long-term motivation and interest,” she says.

Mission accomplished. These eight language learners have continued to advance together in their knowledge of both the Japanese language and culture, as well as build a supportive community.

Japanese 6 cohort 2021

“Connecting virtually has been a bright spot during these dark times,” says longtime student Dean. “We’re all so different in terms of ages, occupations, and backgrounds, but we share something meaningful in common: the love of the Japanese language and culture.” 

“I have been very grateful for the Japanese classes during the pandemic,” says classmate Kathy. “As a retired person, nearly all of my usual social activities and volunteer shifts were cancelled. It was wonderful to have a regular Japanese class to add structure to my days.”

One of the world’s most complex and fascinating languages, Japanese is made up of two different “alphabets” (hiragana and katakana), plus thousands of Chinese-origin characters (kanji) which are all used in combination.

Class member Joey appreciates the challenge. “I think people would find that learning Japanese is surprisingly fun,” he says.

Rika also believes learning this remarkable language is worth it. “The Japanese language is so very connected to our culture, as well as our hospitality and our spirituality,” she says. “The words have greater power beyond just communication.”

Would you like to connect with VCC’s diverse language community? Do you dream of learning a language not currently offered? Connect with us by visiting VCC Languages or emailing