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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Japanese Language Learning Curve

"Last year was a holiday compared to this!"

I've been saying that for 2 years now. Firstly, when in my 1st year at Sheffield, looking back on my Access Course at Bristol. Then, when in my 2nd year at Sheffield, thinking back on my 1st year at Sheffield.

I shall now continue the trend.


"The freedom I speak of is that that sees me taking only 6 hours of language classes a week"

I wrote that 3 days ago, having only experienced 2 of my 7 weekly classes. Had I known what was in store for me on Mondays and Tuesdays I don't think I would have been so ready to dismiss the pressure of uni.

Mondays then, we have two lectures, one of which is all about writing essays in Japanese, the other of which is designed for Japanese students, and focuses upon environmental issues within Japan. Now there was a challenge! The professor is apparently quite famous in her field, and won't take any crap in the classroom. This week we focused upon Minamata Disease, a horrendous case of industrial pollution that was first discovered back in the 1950s, but the legacy of which is still being felt today. Thankfully, I had already studied this case in detail, having written an essay on it for a module I took last year. I got an appalling result for that essay due to my narrative style, but boy am I glad I chose that topic now! Thanks to my background knowledge, I was able to follow the entire 90-minute lecture - what an ego boost that gave me!

I can't really say the same for yesterday's Multicultural Society Theory (that's a literal translation). Now there was a challenge! The profesor, a very kind man who also happens to be my supervisor, spoke at the speed of a firework that was allergic to Planet Earth, and the vocab - well, let's just say that *Twinkle's* electronic dictionary has never worked so hard. That really was absolutely exhausting, but I left the lecture almost none-the-wiser vis-a-vis multicultural theory. Still, I have a (kanji-packed) handout to read through, and have been assigned a PhD student who I'll meet on a regular basis in order to breathe.

The 4 language classes are great. The level is perfect (i.e. stuff I've covered before and have forgotten!), but boy do we cover a lot in those 6 hours. If anyone at Sheffield thinks they get it hard in the second year of Nagai Sensei's classes they should think again!!

The final class on my weekly timetable is Society and Culture, taught in English by Mary, a tutor whose nationality I am yet to figure out. Now here is a module to get excited about. Initially, we'll cover some key theories of popular culture, before moving on to specific examples of what roles specific sectors of Japanese society play / have played, such as the Akihabara Otaku, the dominant youth subculture, the "I shop therefore I am" mentality which you have never really witnessed until you've been to Japan. We'll look into how in Japan High Culture follows youth / sub-cultures, rather than vice-versa.

We look at how in Japan anything goes, as long as you don't break the golden rule. Yes, there is only one sin in Japanese culture, and that is to not take part in Japanese society. Everyone must have a place and abide by the codes of conduct that come with one's role. Nothing is accidental - yet everything is ambiguous.

It's going to be an interactive class, that is, participation is a must. This is quite something for Japan where in most classes, a significat number of students actually go to sleep. I've heard the odd tale of people nodding off in certain lectures at Sheffield (this phenomenon seems to be limited to one lecturer in particular), but here, my God, I couldn't believe it when I attended those two lectures designed for regular Japanese students. OK, so one could understand it if heads started to nod after an hour or so of the 90-minute classes, but here you see students putting their heads down after 5 minutes, I kid you not, and sleeping through the entire lecture! Like, what is the point in coming to uni if you're just going to sleep?! It says a lot about the nature of most classes over here, and the education system in general. NEVER send your children to a Japanese university is the lesson here.

I am also the lucky beneficiary of a service offered by the St. Paul's Ladies Club (Rikkyo Uni = St. Paul's) - extra Japanese lessons. I had my first lesson today, with my charming sensei, a lady in her late 40s perhaps, who comes all the way from Yokohama to teach me! This is done on a purely voluntary basis; I'm not even allowed to pay for her not-insignificant train fare.

I really enjoyed today's lesson with Nakamichi san. Unlike the 18 and 19-year-olds whom I see quite a bit of at lunchtimes, she has patience, and doesn't lose interest or jump in and give me the vocab if I find myself struggling for words.

The volume of homework is quite, er, horrendous! If it was just the standard language modules that would be ok, but on top of those, I have to do all the reading for the Japanese classes. I asked the Environment professor what next week's topic was so I could read up on it (in English, using the internet); she simply replied by writing the name of her textbook on the blackboard! Thankfully they had it in the library so I didnt have to buy it, but no matter whether it costs money or whether I borrow it, it's still full of Japanese! At least it's written left to right...

As for the Mulicultural society module, well, I have the entire lecture on video, although I am doubtful as to whether I'll understand any more the second time around! Oh well, at the end of the day it doesn't really matter if I fail that module. I'll do my best though.

Ahh, then there's the matter of the kanji. I have my first test on the 10th October. I'd prefer not to think about that for the time being!

I've always said I like a good challenge, so I'm not complaining. It's great really, I don't think my brain has ever worked so hard. Having said that, it is utterly exhausting. Not only do I need my usual 8 hours of sleep, but I'm also finding I need a couple of hours when I first get home from uni! Still, these early days are bound to be demanding. Hopefully, once I've learnt all the everyday uni-related vocab, things will start to calm down. Until that time, it's a case of "Ganbarimashou!"

On a side note, *Twinkle* has accidentally made it through to the second stage of the selection process for a company that offers 3-year contracts and does not abide by the crazy rules of the standard Japanese system. She wasn't at all confident about the interview or the exam, but passed both with flying colours. Mind you, having heard what the other applicants are like, they being products of the normal japanese 'education' system, I'm hardly suprised. After all, *Twinkle's* name in Japanese does mean "intelligence" after all. She must have been having a bad month last September...

jaa ne

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find that if I have any more than 2 lessons in a day I'm completely exhausted, my head really starts to hurt and I really just want to go home and lie down for a long long time. I think that speaking in another language/listening to another language all of the time is always exhausting at first, so I'm trying to have the same attitude of ganbari..tude. haha. or something. Forcing myself to study some more when I get home so I don't completely fall behind.

In terms of how much we are given, we had a grammar class the other day in which we covered no less than 18 different grammar points. Luckily I'd done almost all of them already, but still. Language instruction seems to be really different here and I'm not entirely sure that I like it. Nevermind though!

28/9/06 17:18  

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