Kanji, a modern Japanese writing system, incorporates more than 6,000 unique Chinese characters for everyday use. And Gettysburg College alumnus Bret Mayer ’04 knows them all.
After five years of preparation, Mayer became the first non-native Japanese speaker to master the Japan Kanji Aptitude Test, which determines a student’s ability to read and write characters and decipher related vocabulary and phrases.
Mayer isn’t just the only person outside of Japan to earn the elite level-1 certification, the highest level of kanji proficiency; he’s also one of only 120 people in Japan to have received it. This distinction required considerable linguistic ability and, more importantly, perseverance.
“The top level only has a 10 percent passing rate, and it takes people, on average, two or more years of dedicated study,” said Mayer, who is now qualified to serve as a kanji instructor. “Maintaining that motivation day after day and continuing to study and practice writing was the biggest contribution to my success.”
Although the Asian Studies Department was relatively new while Mayer was at Gettysburg, he was hooked after taking a course in the discipline. This passion was later enhanced while he was abroad.
“Being able to study abroad at Kansai Foreign Language University in Osaka, Japan, while a Gettysburg student was the defining experience of my college career,” Mayer said. “That paved the way for my transition to working in Japan after graduation.”
Mayer now works as a kanji instructor for the Japan Testing Foundation and teaches at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. Both positions allow Mayer to provide a unique perspective for his students.
“I hope to leverage my kanji ability and position as a native English speaker to bring something new to kanji education,” Mayer said.
Mayer was also the first foreigner to be invited into the Kanji Lentei Lifelong Learners Network. The network gathers kanji enthusiasts to host various seminars and events.
As a member, Mayer works to instill his love of kanji within local Japanese communities, building the next generation of supporters of the art.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Nick Skitko, communications and marketing intern.
Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.
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