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Learning Japanese from scratch

Japanese lessons in Japan

Richard
60 weeks Japanese language course
Academic Term Course  Okazaki

Q: What is it like starting at zero level. People considering a course want to know exactly how the teachers deliver the program using the direct method when a student has no background in the language, but what is it like sitting in the classroom waiting for your first lesson?
RT: Yes. Really motivated and very excited. I was really looking forward to the experience. But it was also extremely difficult sometimes. Before I came to the Japanese language school in Okazaki I knew no hiragana or katakana. Just knew a few words like konnichi wa, toyota…  But at the same time, everyone in the class was in the same situation, so it works out. My first teacher was unbelievably good. Even if we didn’t understand a single word she was saying, she was able to communicate with us. She used 
a lot of pictures, a lot of visuals. Gradual introduction of simple phrases. Learning to read. Lots of acting and role play at the beginning of the first semester.

Q: How long did it take before you felt capable of having a simple conversation. Express yourself in coherent sentences and understand what people were answering with?
RT: One Academic Term. Actually less than that, maybe about 2 months. Its amazing how quickly you can make yourself understood. Even with classmates we could only speak Japanese. Very occasionally I could speak to some of them in English during the lunch break, but if the only common language was Japanese then that was it. And in the classroom of course we aren’t allowed to speak anything other than Japanese.
What surprised me about the learning process was the way the school adjusts the curriculum of each level to us instead of doing things the other way around. That surprised me. A good surprise.
It took me two Terms to get to the end of Minna no nihongo 2 and reach JLPT level 3.

Q: So you went into the intermediate curriculum 9 months ago. How far along are you now?
RT: I studied right through the blue New Approach, and this quarter I’m reviewing some chapters. Currently I am in an almost full class. 2 guys from France, 1 Chinese girl, 4 Americans, 1 Mexican, 1 Spanish girl, and 3 Taiwanese and me. Having 7 nationalities in the group makes class interesting. We have four different teachers this term. I took the JLPT 2 last month, but I’m not sure how it went.  Probably borderline, but with some luck I might pass it. 

Q: What do you do when not you are not studying?
RT: I just hang out with friends. Try to meet Japanese people and use my Japanese out of class as much as I can.

Q: Any tips for future students?
RT: Yes. If you’re going to join one of the short term courses buy the books before you come and learn the vocabulary. If you’re going into the Academic Term course then learn kanji. And last of all get involved; you only get out what you put in!