As some of you will recall, last October I started taking a Japanese evening class again. Determined to at least maintain my language skills (if not improve them), I persisted with the class. However, I found the style of the lesson terribly disappointing, and can honestly say I didn’t learn a thing in the eight weeks of the ten week course I attended (I skipped the last two classes because they were really that dull). The classes were supposed to be lower intermediate level, and yet a lot of English was used. Even when I spoke to my teacher in Japanese, she would respond in English. And the classes were boring. Without any kind of warm up chat, the teacher would launch into grammar explanations with no warmth or enthusiasm. When paired up with classmates, most of the conversation would be in English, with the teacher barely monitoring. I paid £315 for that.
Since December I’ve been trying to figure out how best to continue my Japanese studies. I know I’m not disciplined enough to study by myself at home. I need the structure of a class and homework. I looked into an MA course in Japanese Cultural Studies which I would love to do, and an undergraduate degree course in Japanese and Journalism which I would really love to do, but I simply don’t have that kind of money right now. I also investigated other language school options, and did find this lovely school where the teachers are friendly and engaging and the classes are conducted entirely in Japanese, but at £390 for ten weeks of private lessons (I would have to take private lessons because of my level and schedule), I still couldn’t afford it.
Just as I had almost given up all hope of finding a suitable and affordable way to study Japanese in London, an email dropped in to my inbox: The Japan Society’s Japanese Course (10 Week Course). The course, only open to Japan Society members, cost just £60 for ten weeks, and was taught by teachers from the SOAS Japanese language teacher training programme. There were only 12 places on the course but luckily, when I enquired, one person had dropped out and I was accepted. After submitting a brief self-introduction in Japanese, and a summary of my studies so far (in English), I had a quick phone conversation (in Japanese) with the Head of Education and was told I seemed to be the right level for the course, which is advertised as pre-intermediate and is based on Minna no Nihongo Chukyu I (from lesson 8).
Tonight, I went along to my first class. Classes are held in an office building near Chancery Lane, so it wasn’t too difficult to get there after work. The class runs from 6.30 until 8pm and then the group moves to a nearby pub to continue chatting more informally (in Japanese).
I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect much for my £60 and went into the class just hoping to have fun and possibly learn something. I don’t know if it was because it was the first class, because the students are all Japan Society members, or because the teachers are all fresh and new and eager to please, but it was probably the best Japanese class I have ever taken!
The class began with a self introduction and teacher-led warm up chat about what we did over the winter holidays, then moved quite smoothly into the grammar we were going to study this week. However, at no point did it feel too “grammary”. The grammar was explained through examples on the board and out loud, with pre-prepared cards rather than the teacher writing on the board during class (which takes time and is boring). Almost everything was done in Japanese, with just one or two sentences of grammar explanation in English to make sure we really got it. After practicing the grammar a little, we looked at some problems on a sheet quickly and checked them with our partners. We didn’t spend ages writing or with our heads stuck in textbooks though, which was good!
Then came the real surprise: something I have never considered doing in Japanese, nor would have thought I would be able to do in Japanese… DEBATE! (討論会)
The topic was about whether it is better to live in the city (とかい) or country (いなか). We were split down the middle of the class, and I got stuck on the country side. (>_<) I’m a city girl, but did my best to think about the benefits of living in the country. In our two groups we brainstormed, with a lot of help from the teachers (did I mentioned that there were four teachers?!). After gathering our ideas we faced the other team and debated. It was fun, and hilarious! It didn’t matter that we made a few grammatical mistakes – we were communicating, and we were debating in Japanese! Most of us were hesitant at first, but we all got into it and by the end insults were being flung across the table (ばか!). The teachers acknowledged that it wasn’t really a very Japanese exercise, in that Japanese students would rarely be so bold, but it seemed to work for a bunch of gaijin!
After the class finished (and believe me, the time flew!), we all descended on the local pub. Only, it wasn’t just any old pub – it was a Japanese pub! The Crane and Tortoise on Gray’s Inn Road is a great place to have a drink (they serve Japanese beers) and they also serve Japanese food. It was pretty empty and they let us take over. We spoke mostly in Japanese, especially when the teachers were in the conversations, but even when we slipped into English we were generally speaking about Japanese culture. Everyone was really nice and friendly, and genuinely interested in Japan.
I think Wednesday night is quickly going to become my favourite night of the week! (^_^)v