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Perspectives from a former Japanese language teacher

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Perspectives from a former Japanese language teacher, Masa (Counselor at MotivistJapan)

Once upon a time, years ago, I was a Japanese language teacher for foreign people. It was a really tough experience because students were from all over the world so they all had different aptitudes and different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Some were good at pronunciation, some were good at writing while others some were good at choosing words. Therefore, in order to teach effectively, it was crucial to adjust to each student.

Immersion program

To master a language, the most important thing is to increase the occasions to use it. So I was ordered by my boss and senior colleague that “The class should be taught via oral communication. It should be taught only in Japanese. Never use another language. Even though you can speak English.” My school’s way was standard. We called it immersion program and direct method. Even if there are a lot of schools which have unique features, most institutions adopt this kind of policies and teaching methods … And it works since thousand of foreign students graduate from Japanese language school each year, mastering the language!

Advice on how to learn the Japanese language

To write Japanese is a kind of art. It needs the sense of aesthetics. “Shodo” is the achievement of Japanese writing. Japanese people used to write by hand, using a brush and Chinese ink. It used to be said that “Writing reflects one’s personality.”Needless to say, nowadays Japanese people use computers and smartphones. And, relying too much on devices, people sometimes forget some kanji.

As we wrote before in this blog, to speak Japanese isn’t difficult. There’re relatively few irregular changes in verbs and adjectives. But in order to get used to speaking Japanese, students have to master its unique rhythm. We call it “mora”. It’s a very flat rhythm so, if you’re truly motivated, it isn’t difficult either.

To read Japanese, one needs to master 2000 standard kanji. Once you get it, you will be surprised enrichment of the huge amount of translated books which are translated from other language into Japanese. Even though there are a lot of difficulty in translation, the flexibility of structure of Japanese is well digest the difference of expression. In Japan you can read almost all of foreign literature, gather information of whole world.

To listen Japanese needs training. When conversing with a Japanese person, this phrase will be of great help: “motto yukkuri hanashite kudasai” (“please speak slower”). As with any foreign language, listening skills improve gradually, though one may not realize their progress. Until someday they get this feeling of “wow, I can understand so much now!”. In this respect, the Japanese language is not different than learning another language. Practice practice and practice again. Thanks to the internet, you have no excuse not practicing every day your listening skills – even if only 5 minutes per day.

Somehow, even to Japanese, it is impossible to master the Japanese language completely. But one should aim at a high level. In order to that, the most important thing is to get the chance to reach Japanese. If you have Japanese friends, get to live with a home-stay family, have a part-time job, you will naturally improve your Japanese language skills. Just like with any foreign language (or any activity, for that matter), to master it one should be active and passionate. Japanese shouldn’t just be taught, one also has to learn by themselves. To attend school is just to get know-how’s. In order to master a foreign language, we should pay a certain effort and need patience to continue studying.