Yamasa Quarter One Complete

My first quarter at Yamasa wrapped up last week. Student life turned out to be very busy. After classes and homework, my brain just wanted to relax, so motivation for side projects was rare. But I learned a lot and these last few months were an enjoyable challenge.

After taking the placement exam I ended up in class 101—the absolute-beginner level of the Academic Intensive Japanese Program (AIJP). Not too surprising, considering I couldn’t actually take the written portion of the test; I only remembered a few hiragana and katakana, along with some token phrases. So I was also given the elite, super-special assignment of learning all the kana by the time classes started, which was about three days. Not too bad, I thought, Heisig completes it in six hours, so three days should be plenty of time. Somehow I managed, and classes began.

Basically, the first couple AIJP levels follow the Minna No Nihongo series. In particular, my 101 class covered lessons one through twenty. The typical routine was to learn the vocabulary, learn the grammar, practice, and then move on the next lesson. All in Japanese of course; this is a full immersion school. Quizzes, or mini-tests as the teachers like to call them, were given almost every day as checkpoints. Exams were given at the end of each major section of the book.

Class 101 had three exams. Each exam contained listening, reading and writing, and conversation portions. The tests were fairly straightforward and gave a good gauge of how much you had learned. However, grading is slightly different from my college days. Averages are just a statistic in this school, what really matters is that you get at least eighty percent of the questions correct on each test section. No padding your average here. This is good for me, as I used to routinely use that padding as a fail safe for not fully understanding concepts or for slacking off.

The teachers I had were kind and helpful, although some were more skillful at explaining concepts. While each teacher had their own style, they all followed the same principle teaching method. Extra worksheets supplemented book activities, and group activities happened to involve worksheets. Sometimes there would be listening exercises, accompanied by worksheets. What I am trying to say is that there were a lot of worksheets. That’s not to say the worksheets were a bad thing; it allowed for lots of extra practice and they came in handy during test review time.

And then there were the video lessons, easily a class favorite. Created in the early 1990s, the videos were like a bad marriage between after-school specials and foreign language instruction. Silly dialogue and exaggerated expressions followed long pauses that would make even the most awkward conversationalist cringe. The actors certainly left their mark on these masterpieces. In all fairness, the videos did get the points across in a memorable way.

Electives for class 101 were scarce: conversation, accent, and introductory kanji. The accent class was intended for students who already knew the hundred or so kanji taught in the introductory class, so of course I chose kanji and conversation. The conversation elective just seemed like an extension of the last regular class period, while the kanji elective was a pretty straightforward learn-how-to-read-and-write session.

Overall, it was a pretty productive first quarter considering I went from knowing almost no Japanese to having some understanding of the language. I ended up passing all my tests with flying colors and moved on to the next level. I learned over a thousand words in kana and spoken form. I also worked with several verb forms and common phrase constructs associated with them. The biggest challenge for me now is listening. I can’t always catch the details of the conversation, which are important in Japanese. That should get better as my ear acclimates to hearing Japanese all the time. So this quest is off to a good start, but there is still a long way to go.

Interested in our class breakdown?

Class 101

4 core teachers; 1 elective teacher (all Japanese women)
16 students
5 women (2 Americans, 1 Chinese, 1 Filipino, 1 Indonesian)
11 men (5 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Chinese, 1 Dutch, 1 Lithuanian, 2 Taiwanese)