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Yoriko Kinjo explains Japanese sentence structure to American students at a Marine Corps Community Services’ Japanese language class at Camp Kinser on Wednesday.
Yoriko Kinjo explains Japanese sentence structure to American students at a Marine Corps Community Services’ Japanese language class at Camp Kinser on Wednesday. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

OKINAWA — Learning Japanese words, a group of Americans found Wednesday evening, is almost the easy part of learning the language: Even Japanese sentences are structured differently.

Still, Americans at the Marine Corps Community Services Japanese class at Camp Kinser Wednesday evening plunged into a way of speaking in which the usual order of putting things gets turned on its head.

“We live out in town … we needed to be able to communicate with our neighbors,” explained Emily Albright, attending the class with her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Albright.

Michiko Urasaki, a Marine Corps community relations specialist at Camp Foster, said learning Japanese also will help Americans enjoy their stay more — and will improve Japanese-U.S. relations by making a good impression on Okinawans.

“Many Americans are here two or three years and if they know some of the expressions, they can be more involved in the community,” said Urasaki, who coordinates the free Japanese language classes MCCS offers on most of the Marine Corps bases here.

Okinawan volunteers teach both survival and beginner’s-level Japanese classes in the evenings here, she said.

Yoriku Kinjo, who has volunteered to teach this month’s class at Camp Kinser, said, “If you learn the language, then when you go off the base, you can talk to the Japanese people.”

The classes are pretty basic, said Steven Albright, but “it’s definitely a good starting point.”

Class schedules are available at www.mccsokinawa.com, the Okinawa MCCS Web site. Students must sign up before attending a class but seats usually are available and people can attend the same class more than once, according to MCCS.

The beginner classes focus on sentence structure and pronunciation, Urasaki said. “Mostly, the hardest thing for Americans to learn is the sentence structure,” she said. “Once you learn the difference in sentence structure, you are well on your way to improving your vocabulary and learning the language.”

Those who complete the beginner classes and wish to learn more should attend a university course or visit Japanese-language Web sites, Urasaki suggested — advice the Albrights said they plan to take.

Urasaki also suggested improving language skills by talking with Japanese. She said MCCS also coordinates a volunteer group that provides conversational Japanese and meets periodically at the Kadena Coffee House. Those interested in the group should call DSN 645-3127 for more information.

Kinjo suggested one more avenues to improve language skills.

“Go to the local English classes and teach English; then you will learn Japanese too” from the students, she said.

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