Archive for November, 2010

School Update

November 1, 2010

Sorry for the long delay. Here is some news to report about my life here in Japan.

The new semester has started, and I’ve gone from the worst student in class to one of the best. That’s because I’ve been held back a term, not because I’ve suddenly started to excel in Japanese. Actually, in a way, I have started to excel.

Just after my last post, I realized that I was hopelessly slipping behind the class. I decided to spend even more time studying, which meant that I had less time for blogs, but could keep up with the class in vocabulary and grammar lessons. However, I was unable to internalize the grammar. Listening was also a problem for me, I couldn’t understand the lectures (which are all spoken in Japanese) at all, I learned everything about the grammar from reading the textbook. I suppose it’s like learning to ride a bike, you can be told how to do it, but proficiency only comes after you’ve developed a “feel” for it. As I slipped farther and farther behind, I concentrated on just trying to learn the lessons so that I’d be familiar with the material for next time.

Strangely, there was a day, which I remember clearly, when I had my first useful conversation with someone. I had managed to get on the wrong bus (actually, the right bus number, but for some reason some of the buses from the same stop turn right towards my apartment, and some turn left and stop a the Fukuoka Tower; I still don’t understand it) and had a short conversation with the driver about how to get where I was going. I was so shocked that I was able to communicate by easily forming simple sentences in my head. From this day on, I’ve felt like I’ve been rapidly improving my speaking skills. Looking back on it, it is easy to think that there was a moment where a switch was flipped, and I was able to start understanding things. However, thinking more carefully, I’m able to see that it was more of a gradual process; like water being boiled on a stove, I was always learning, but it wasn’t apparent until little bubbles started to form.

This occurred just two weeks before the end of the semester, so it was impossible for me to recover the lost ground. I realize now that this moment hit most of the rest of the class about two to three months into the course, and that they were fully comprehending the lesson lectures while I was relying more and more upon reading the book.

Anyway, as this is my second semester, I am now starting to understand the way the school works. Every semester, they look at each student’s ability and try to place them into class groups. This is easy for continuing students, but new students usually have a set of knowledge which is not in line with the course material. For this reason, we now have two beginning classes, E1 and E2. E1 is for people who have never studied Japanese before, and they are moving quite slowly (slower than last semester’s E class), which is to say, they are going at a normal learning pace. E2 is for students, like me, who have learned quite a bit of Japanese, but still aren’t at the level of the D class (Classes are ranked from A – E, with A being the most advanced; currently, there is no A class). We are flying through the material, much faster than we did last semester. We are scheduled to finish the first book before the end of the second month. At this rate we’ll finish the second book two months later. Will we get a third set of books, or will the pace slow down?

Failing has been the best thing that has ever happened to me while studying Japanese. I’m really enjoying the class this time around. Whereas I was in a complete panic trying to keep up last time, I am in the unique position of having covered all of this material before, and I completely understand my lectures, which is a first for me. I find, oddly, that I’m much more motivated now, with some success, than I was before when I had to work hard just to keep up. I’m spending extra time studying after class and helping out the students from the E1 class.

I hope that I’ll be able to maintain this lead on the subject matter, as it has such a positive effect on my learning attitude.