After 5 weeks in Japan for studying, here are my take aways

Hi there

I made a post after the first week of my stay in Japan, Week 1 and now that I am home, I have some more impressions to share.

‘Logistics’

  • Kobe was a great city to learn Japanese in. There are fewer foreigners than in the usual cities and the locals really speak even less English. That being said, I am a city kid and love night life, which is a bit more tricky to get into in Kobe and I found myself commuting to Osaka a lot. My poor 財布, eh.
  • The school, Lexis, was all in all a good idea. Super friendly and competent staff, a variety of cool teachers, and a phenomenal location, downtown in Kobe. It’s important to note that the classes have a huge emphasis on speaking and interacting, much less on grammar or JLPT style questions or problem solving. For that kind, better visit a JLPT course elsewhere. As an academic and westerner, I am more used to the classical, grammar-heavy approach and it took me a moment to sort of get into this style. I met a few quite disgruntled students that never got over the ‘bad’ (i.e. low on explanation, high on dialogue) textbook and it significantly reduced their fun during class.
  • The language school and homestay was organized by a local organization from where I am from. I guess it would be possible to do it alone, but since I am privileged enough to earn enough money to no split every penny, I indulged myself into having this sorted by someone else. The agency was very fair and didn’t charge much, so that was nice. Similarly, I am aware that a hostfamily is more expensive than a student residence, but if you can make it happen somehow, I’d recommend it. Rather go by bus to Japan to save on flight money than stay in a student residence, haha.

Learning

  • The WK approach to learn kanji in an incremental way is obviously very amenable to all of us, that why we’re here. But to me it was important to note once again, that it is really not even half of the pie. When I arrived, I almost immediately stopped doing WK (and went vacation mode). Living in Japan doesn’t super require kanji, but it does require a lot of other words which are not on WK and it requires speaking. The new addition of kana-only words is a very good idea, in my opinion.
  • What I did instead is using Anki and a top 2000 core vocab list and the JLPT N4 list (both of which cover more nice basic words that aren’t on WK or on low enough levels).
  • Doing production is super important. Often I found myself wanting to express a word of which I knew is on WK but I only know Japanese->English but not the other direction. I think I will keep WK a bit more on hold and focus a bit on KaniWani.
  • I know the grammar of Genki I well and about half of Genki II pretty good. My take is similar to the above: the bottleneck is often not missing grammar but the ‘breakneck speed’ of everyday Japanese at which you have to generate a particular grammar point. It’s one thing to slowly piece together and understand 食べなければいけませ, but it’s another to just say it in a situation without stammering for 20 seconds mid-sentence.
  • I am re-recommending Aedict which has a great app for like 5 bucks. I constantly used it to add words and at the end of the day export it to Anki. My hostfamily used a lot of 白菜 for cooking, which isn’t an N4 or WK word, so having this extra deck of words that occur in my personal environment was super useful.
  • Some of the WK words that I never really ‘got’ made more sense, seeing them in the wild, like limited express, 特別急行 (when you take the train like once), or 投手 (on the many baseball ads), or 飲み会 and 飲み放題. It increased my trust in WK that they know what they are doing.

Conclusions

  • I stayed for a bit more than 5 weeks and it was really great. I think I was able to push my speaking and listening from almost non-existent to about the same level of my writing and written understanding. I guess I would say I speak at a level of WK20, haha. I was very active and went out of my way to talk to strangers and ‘avoid’ the people from the language school. I got 日本語は上手’d practically every day, and I’m not gonna lie, I liked it! I can talk for like 15-30 min about coutries, cuisine, introduction, where I am from and what I do for a living, and ask and understand the same from my interlocutor. This feels huge. It’s really not just only hi and bye but a normal little conversation. It makes me so happy!
  • I often went without internet (Aedict and Anki is offline available) and got lost, almost intentionally, to talk to people. I went by foot for miles on end just to see everything and study random street signs. One of the bigger cultural learnings for me is that this notion that Japanese people are distanced is not really profoundly true. At least not from my vantage point and what I am used from my own culture (which is, fair enough, sometimes described as distanced, too). Everything was adequate, nice, and polite. Fully grown cute members of society approached me on the literal street to ask me where I am from. Also elderly people. Also suited people. I went 飲み放題 and it wasn’t distanced or a veil of politeness. Like literally, I felt so welcomed.
  • As I mentioned in the previous post, I think I would have preferred to go a tiny bit later, maybe in a year, when my vocabulary would’ve been a bit bigger, but the timing was just right now. Regardless, it was great and bumped my Japanese. Nevertheless, I recommend again to really have the Genki I and bottom 1000 vocabulary words down before you go, otherwise it can be really tough and hamper the learning experience.
  • Some people say that you shouldn’t go to Japan for Golden Week. I guess as a tourist, it doesn’t make sense, especially if you only have a week or two, but if you stay a bit longer, experiencing the storm that is Japanese domestic tourists was fun and great.

That’s that. I am happy to answer any questions or share more impressions or compare with your own experiences. Obviously many people here have been to Japan and I am interested in their point of view as well!

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Interesting - I took a look at the Lexis site and browsed through their course selection. Did you take an ‘Intensive Japanese’ class (and if so, which level), or a JLPT Preparation class, or something else?

I took the Lexis online placement test - and entered my answers completely in romaji (!). Did you take that placement test? If so, any comments about your experience with it?

I’d like to go to Japan for language study someday - but it will likely not be possible for me to do that anytime soon. If (when) I do get to do that, I would hope to be able to spend a significant time there - perhaps a whole year - but maybe it would make sense for me to try a shorter class first.

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