Students bowing
Students practicing a bow in Japanese I class at MGCCC’s Jackson County Campus.
MGCCC is Mississippi’s only community college to offer Italian and Japanese classes

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College offers not only Spanish and French language classes, but Japanese and Italian as well. As the only community college in the state to offer both, classes fill up quickly, and students are excited about the opportunity.

“Since I was really young, I have been enamored with Japan and its culture,” said Kelsey Jordan, a student in Japanese I at MGCCC’s Jackson County Campus. “I attempted to learn French in high school and did not succeed. In my Japanese class, I feel both excited, challenged and motivated to immerse myself in learning the language and culture. One day I hope to visit Japan, and being able to take the class makes me feel like that dream is closer to being a reality.”

“The classes fill up very quickly,” said Dr. Javier G. Gómez, language instructor at MGCCC’s Jackson County Campus. “Students are excited by the opportunity to learn languages and especially something beyond the standard foreign language classes they are offered in high school.”

Japanese has been offered at MGCCC since 2014, beginning with an online class. Italian will be offered for the first time in fall 2020.

Silvana Newkirk, language arts instructor at the Jefferson Davis Campus, said Italian is an exciting language to teach and to learn. “Italy is the language of food and wine, art and architecture,” she said. “People think of canals in Venice, the Colosseum in Rome and fashion in Milan. It is just an exciting language.”

A native of Italy, Newkirk also teaches Spanish and French. She said that learning languages changes you as a person. “Charlemagne said that a person who speaks two languages possesses two souls,” she said. “That is true in so many ways. When you learn a second or third language, you are like a child. You don’t judge, you just absorb the language and culture and the soul of the language. You become a different person.”

Gómez agreed that learning the culture is an important part of learning a language. He said that students already know a lot about Japanese culture, thanks to pop culture like manga, anime and Japanese video games. “Most of my students come to Japanese I already knowing some basic phrases and cultural practices because they have been exposed to Japanese pop culture,” he said. “They are avidly interested in learning more about the culture, the language, the people and food, which is good because you need to understand the culture to truly understand the language. It’s very exciting for them and for me.”

Gómez also teaches Spanish at the Jackson County Campus. He is a native of Puerto Rico, but spent many years in Japan teaching English as a Second Language, French, Spanish and Japanese with the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Students in the language courses at MGCCC gain more than just a respect for other languages and cultures. They also learn critical thinking skills and an appreciation for their own culture and language.

“Learning another language forces you to improve your listening, analytical and comprehension skills. I have to go into class and switch a gear mentally so I can input and output a language that is so different from my native one,” said Alexis Litke, a Japanese I student at the Jackson County Campus. “The class is fun, and you learn so much. One of the things I’ve learned from delving into the language of another culture is that it makes you look at your own language and culture differently. It makes you appreciate the differences and how interesting and amazing the world around you really is.”

Dr. Gomez at the dry erase board in class
Dr. Javier G. Gómez teaching a Japanese I class at MGCCC’s Jackson County Campus.
Sylvana Newkirk at dry erase board in front of class
Instructor Silvana Newkirk in her classroom at the Jefferson Davis Campus. Newkirk currently teaches Spanish and French classes, and will be offering Italian I in fall semester 2020.

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