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Greensburg student embraces Japanese and makes her mark

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Courtney Cole

As a sixth-grader, Courtney Cole of Greensburg got interested in Japanese and wanted to learn the language.

Greensburg Salem School District does not offer Japanese as a course, so Cole began teaching herself.

“I bought books here and there, and I would watch the (television) shows and listen to the music,” she said.

In March, Cole's interest paid off. The sophomore placed second in the 2013 Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania Speech Competition held at the University of Pittsburgh.

She competed against 27 other Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia students in the beginner's division, which typically requires a contestant to have a minimum of two years of classroom instruction to compete.

“I was pretty nervous,” said Cole, 16. “I had to go up in front of two judges, and I didn't know them at all. I had to do my speech right then, and it was pretty nerve-wracking, but I got through it.”

In her “self-introduction” speech, which she had to memorize, Cole focused on her family, her hobbies, her favorite subjects in school and her daily routine.

In Japanese, judges questioned Cole about her speech, and she responded only in Japanese.

The Japanese people also helped her learn their language. While in eighth grade as part of a language-exchange program, Cole began using Skype to meet people from Japan on the Internet.

“They would teach me Japanese, and I would teach them English,” said Cole, who has a 4.0 grade point average.

She learned more about the language through composing lyrics as part of Vocaloid — software that allows the user to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody.

“I wanted to write songs in Japanese, so that's what inspired me to want to learn Japanese,” Cole said.

She said she finds the language “calming.”

“I love the culture, and the people are very friendly,” Cole added.

Learning to write Japanese is the most difficult part about the language, she said.

“You have to learn all the characters,” she said, explaining there are more than 10,000 different symbols.

Speaking Japanese is easier, she said.

“I wouldn't say I'm fluent, but I think I can converse well in Japanese,” Cole said.

She plans on becoming involved in medicine, possibly studying diseases, and believes knowing Japanese will be helpful.

“I knows there's a lot of research going on in Japan,” Cole said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or