Eliot Frankeberger, a language teacher in Prince George's County, could be called a present-day Horace Greeley. But he isn't suggesting that young people look West. He's endorsing the East; more precisely, Japan.

"Japan is a world leader in technology, science and the global economy. The country has a growing influence, so it's certainly to our advantage to learn the language."

Frankeberger teaches a total of 60 students at Central High School for the Humanities and International Studies in Landover, and at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt. "My students are very enthusiastic about the program. They think of Japanese as a welcome change from the romance languages most of them have taken," Frankeberger said. "They're very motivated and it makes teaching a pleasure."

This enthusiasm is generated despite the language's inherent difficulties for Westerners. First, Japanese has two primary alphabets: Hiragana, a system used for grammatical functions and native Japanese terms; and Katakana, a system developed for foreign words such as "koohii" for coffee and "gitaa" for guitar which have been incorporated into the Japanese language.

"Japanese has no touchstones, such as Spanish does, to the English language," Frankeberger said. "The Japanese are a very polite society, a very orderly one. Neatness is very important to them. But I try to concentrate on our similarities as countries. Both of us have a great desire to become successful. Both of us believe one can get ahead by studying hard."

"The toughest part of learning the language is adjusting yourself to thinking in Japanese," said Joyce Deverin, a Central High ninth-grader. "You can't question why or make comparisons {to English}. You have to take a fresh approach."

Frankeberger also takes at least one period a week to teach about Japan's geography, government, traditional arts, educational system, economy and contemporary Japan. Frankeberger studied the language at Florida State University and has lived in Japan for five years working as an English teacher and as an English consultant for private industry.

"The best way to learn the language, besides traveling in Japan, is to use it in situations," said Frankeberger. "I try to teach expressions as they are used by the Japanese."

Roosevelt junior Kimberly Blaine said, "One thing I really have a problem with is the subservience Japanese women have to show. They have to use different words than men and bow lower. They have to use different hand gestures. I would like to do an internship there, but the subservience bothers me."

Roosevelt senior Rino Cho immigrated from Korea with his family nine years ago. "It's totally different from Korean. I was surprised to learn about the different sets of alphabets. I figure the only way I am going to become proficient in it is to go to Japan and hear for myself how others speak the language. I'm planning to travel there. This language course will prepare me," said Cho.

"I've always been interested in the Orient," said Central 10th-grader Andrew Farrington. "From a practical standpoint, I figure Japan will all but own America by the time I graduate, so I might as well speak it."

"These courses prepare students for continued study of Japanese on a university level," said Frankeberger. In fact, a college-level textbook is used in his course.

"Some of the students already know what they want to do with Japanese," continued Frankeberger. "A few are interested in science and know it will be a good second language for them. Others figure it will look impressive on a college transcript. Other students want to use the language in future career tracks like modeling, communications, travel, the foreign service and intelligence work."

Frankeberger has also been instrumental in establishing Japanese classes for talented and gifted second graders at Prince George's elementary schools. During the four-week class, talented and gifted second graders are taught Japanese folklore, songs and simple expressions and greetings.

"The earlier you learn a language the better," said Frankeberger. "It gives you a real advantage. It will be interesting to check these students' progress with it." And his second-year program has established language classes on the eighth through twelfth grade levels at both Central and Roosevelt high schools.

"We've had the support of principals, the Board of Education, the teaching staff and a lot of parents who recognize the importance of teaching Japanese," said Frankeberger. "We have the broad-based support you need to make the program solid."

The Prince George's Japanese program isn't developed around only one instructor. When an individual teacher leaves the school system, it won't have a devastating effect, which often happens when uncommonly taught languages are offered in schools.

Frankeberger said, "Only about 20,000 Americans studied in Japan last year. That's a great disparity of the number of Japanese who come here. Less than 500 kids in the entire state of Maryland are learning Japanese at a secondary level."

But in Japan, English is a major component of education, along with math and social studies. English is the dominant foreign language in secondary school. French and Spanish aren't even offered in Japanese public schools.

"If you want to compete with a culture, you have to understand that culture, especially if you want to conduct business with understanding. Maybe that's why they have been so successful with us.

"I was always interested in Japan when I was growing up, but there was no one there to reinforce my interest. Hopefully, I'm giving these kids the confidence and a springboard to pursue Japanese at whatever level they want."