Next steps? (advice wanted)

Alright. So.

I did Genki 1 during my first year of college. I spent the summer ( 4 months ) in Japan right after that, where I worked my way through Genki 2, started Tobira, and did lots of speaking practice obviously.

I took an (undergrad) gap year to do some stuff but I kept up with Japanese a little. Finished all of the Tobira vocab and kanji, kept up with WK to some degree, and listened to lots of podcasts (also frequent phone calls back to Japan). I understand all the grammar points in Tobira when I read them, but its still difficult to use them myself or pick out the nuances in fast speech.

I’ll be in Japan this summer as well, continuing to study. When I return to school in the fall, should I -

  1. Test into 3rd year (tobira level) Japanese and relearn the entire book again. Already knowing the grammar points and kanji would allow me to focus on phonetics and speaking fluency, but might make the lectures super boring since I already read the whole textbook.


  1. Test into one of the 4th year Japanese courses and potentially not be fully fluent with some of the previous years content.

I get that this is something that is up to me and what I feel comfortable with etc etc … But I would love to hear any similar stories or lessons-learned from previous study experience. Any japanese related words of wisdom are welcome :slight_smile:

Much love.

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Generally, I think learning new things is fun and but the real work is retaining it. I think we all play this psychological game that moving on to new material feels like progress (not necessarily true) and that reviewing old material is not progress either (another myth). For me, if I can’t inject a grammar point into conversation accurately, I don’t know it solid. Also if I’m getting bored on old material, it’s a good sign that I’m retaining how to use it. And then there are those times when we have a mistake on something really really simple (oops, didn’t master that one either). Alot can be done a summer so you could probably answer best when all said and done. Best of luck!


As long as the teacher (and class time) allows for frequent questions on previously covered grammar points, I would opt for the higher level class. Also if your fellow classmates are good on the grammar, they can potentially help you with anything you are not clear on. I for one would not want to be bored by just repeating stuff I already know. Even though I find that very helpful as well.


On the opposite side of the coin, most learners think they are much better off than they are in reality. I’m not implying that you’re the same; just my experience working with adolescents, young adults, and adults.

If the program allows for many opportunities to speak, doing a remedial class may the ticket to make conscious knowledge into acquired knowledge (i.e., unconsciously using points) because your brain won’t need to be wrestling multiple things at a time. Instead, you can focus on correct pronunciation and acquiring new vocabulary. If the classes aren’t as communicative, then pressing forward might stave off boredom.

In the end, it’s up to you.


I don’t know what you should do, buuut havee you met You could pick the grammar points which you don’t know as well and really hammer them in. It even has a Tobira path!:

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Definitely shoot for year 4 classes! You don’t need to have a perfect grasp of the things in Tobira before you move to the next stuff. I would wager that the things in Tobira that are important will come up in the next level even though they aren’t the focus of the class, so you you will still get practice with them. Especially if you have already finished Tobira before going back to Japan this summer, and then will take the class after that, I would expect your Japanese to progress well past the point that taking a Tobira level class will be beneficial.

Plus, college is expensive and taking a class full of material you already know is (in my opinion) not the best use of funds. Perhaps that’s not a concern for you though.


I agree go for year 4. Its more efficient to expand your knowledge base in the class and then really practice cementing old knowledge on your own.

I had a similar dilemma when I came here to Japan to begin at a Japanese language school. I’ll describe my situation and how I feel about it now almost 2 months into it.

When I came to Japan, I had a fairly solid N5 grammar when it came to reading and mostly with writing. But not up to that in speaking. I was WK level 10 and I could read all the kanjis of level 9 and below, I can also write them on a computer. Writing them physically from memory though? Nope. My vocabulary was mostly N5, except words that showed up on WK. Also far too many N5 kanji are in WK level 10 and I hadn’t yet gotten through the lessons for level 10.

School started with a test and two “beginner” classes were started. 1A and 1B. I was put in 1A (I think to get into 2A, I would have needed some real knowledge of N4). 1A’s first week of classes when it was still possible to move class if something didn’t feel right, were easy as heck. Barely above これはペンです。And I saw a future of being bored to tears for however long it would take us to get anywhere.

So I talked to the teachers. I learned that 1A would go through the first textbook, which was more or less N5, in 3 months. 1B would go through it in 1.5 months. So everyone in 1B had a mostly complete grasp of N5 but needed a bit brushing up before continuing on. While 1A had people like me who might have good skills in some areas but not all (grammar was good for me, speaking and listening pretty darn bad, and vocabulary so-so), it also had complete beginners who barely knew ひらがな.

I also looked at my goals for why I’m in Japan when I decided. In this case, I didn’t want to be forever behind and fighting to catch up. That would create a lot of stress, and I didn’t want that. I want to have time, guilt-free time, to explore Japan and have fun. Plus I want/need a part-time job, which also argues for not changing to the much faster class.

My teachers thought I should stick with 1A because of my speaking and listening ability was so low. I had decided to stay for the same reason.

Am I happy with my situation? Yes. I haven’t yet been bored through a whole class. Is it a bit boring when they go through a verb conjugation I already know super well. Yeah, sure it is. But is it boring all the time? Nope. And my speaking and listening skills are leaping forward because those are the parts I focus on the most. Secondarily I am firming down the vocabulary. I’m getting really good at the particles and when to use which one and not feeling as unsure.

I’d also already committed to a year of study at this school, and 1.5 month difference isn’t that much in my whole Japanese language journey. But I wouldn’t have picked this option if my school didn’t focus a lot on talking (and listening). Grammar is taught as sentence structures, not explained much (I have an advantage there, using BunPro and reading up on the grammar myself). But we are always talking, doing practice scenarios and I think we typically have one short presentation a week (not quite, maybe closer to every two weeks). Due to this I’ve managed to ask my teachers stuff outside class completely in Japanese. We had a field trip with school last week and I had a long conversation with another teacher at my school (it was partly long because I had to think about how to say things and he had to simplify, but still).

But you might have noticed how I at multiple points pointed out several personal reasons for certain things and how my specific circumstances formed my decision.

Are there a lot of speaking practice in your classes? Then it might be worth going for year 3 classes.
Are there more lectures and writing assignments and not much speaking? Then it is probably worth it to go for year 4.
Do you feel very comfortable with your own studies? Can you use what you’ve learned while speaking? Then year 4 seems better.
If you aren’t comfortable, but mostly okay, and using it in speech is hard and/or very slow. Then maybe year 3 is better.
How many other classes are you doing and how hard will they be? Maybe it is better to go with year 3 and cement that if you have a lot of other super challenging classes. The reverse is true too.
How about the rest of your life? Part-time job? Friends? Hobbies? Building a side-business? All these things affect your decision too.

I try to always make decisions by first looking at the small picture, in this cases my ability with Japanese and how the classes were going to be held and how fast they would go. Then I looked at my whole life, and thinking about how much time my different options would take and such.

I think I could have done 1B and done it well enough to advance at the end of term (aka pass). But I would have been struggling after a couple of weeks. I’d have been behind on vocabulary and speaking and listening would have been super hard and I might have fallen further behind because I couldn’t keep up with those things. Then when we continued on I would have kept being behind on those things.
In 1A right now instead, I am nailing down my knowledge of N5 grammar, really learning the particles so they are coming almost naturally. My speaking skill is growing well and so is my listening. I enjoy having only about 10 completely new words to me per chapter and perhaps 10ish familiar but not solid words. Instead of around 50 new vocabulary words per chapter.

But my situation isn’t yours. Hopefully, my reasoning and experience helps you make a decision, however I’m not going to presume to guess which one is best for you.


Very well said, ダッガーさん!

As I mentioned above, I am enrolled in a high level class (N2ぐらい) which is above my level, and I hardly get along in speaking (like, we do these conversations about certain topics which can get very specific, like the political situation in WW2 era China). In a class with people who have been studying for up to 6-7 years already in some cases, I just lack the experience (and vocabulary) to fully engage.

But I also go to the lower level classes at least twice a week (at no extra cost luckily. i did a mental math exercise the other day: including travel cost, I pay about €6 per hour of Japanese instruction), which, depending on the level of the class, is a great confidence boost, and very helpful for cementing those grammar points I kind of sped past in my self study. But I am also bored stiff if it is a strictly grammar lesson (some of those groups can get hung up on a single point for so long). But always very learnful.


@MissDagger It sounded like you have advisors/teachers who gave solid advice. If these are credited courses, I would expect people to help guide your education. @daltonsbro, is there someone advising your next move?

Long ago, I did a formal credited course. I never took a course before but had some previous self study. I got interviewed with the teacher and she placed me in 102 course. Some material I already knew but some I didn’t know and it was great experience with a perfect advising recommendation.

I also have done a non-credited courses as well. Students essentially can pick any level they want and it’s really not a great system. Some students choose higher levels beyond their ability and it really changes the class pace (not really considerate to the other students I should add). I know not everyone is exactly the same level of course but should at be reasonable IMO. I also had another non-credit course (different language school) where I was placed in a class above my level based on teacher recommendation. I think it was because they needed one more applicant to keep the class open and I got used for that purpose. I couldn’t follow the conversations and it wasn’t fun at all.

Thus, I have mixed feelings on the classroom environment (though I enjoyed meeting new people and making friends). At this juncture, I’d rather opt for selfstudy, private lessons and conversation partners unless I know the class is the right fit (otherwise the cost & time is not worth it).

I know this isn’t your same experience but I figured I should clarify what I wrote above (which was more from a self-study perspective).


If there’s a level 3 or 4 Conversation class that focuses purely on speaking/mainly on speaking with some reading (using the grammar you’re fairly sure you learned in Tobira), I would try for that.

I took German through most of my undergrad, and while I had learned most all of the grammar there was to learn, when I took the conversation class it was still difficult to produce! It was super helpful. (And unlike how you use the phone and have been in Japan, I hadn’t been to Germany.) If there is only Basic conversation, I wouldn’t. You’d likely want Intermediate, if that’s a thing at your school.

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