Monday, November 8, 2010


Yeah, as far as school goes, I've gotten pretty sick of where I'm at.

First, a little about the Japanese Language program here at Nanzan University.

At the beginning of the semester, you take a placement test to see which level of Intensive Japanese studies you are to be placed into. There are essentially 6 levels, 200 - 700. Each level takes a semester to complete. After being placed into your section, after the first week of tests deciding whether or not you really belong in a particular level, your rank may rise or lower by one level. After this, it's pretty much impossible to switch levels mid-semester.

At the beginning of the semester I placed into IJ500. Initially, I was disappointed with this placing, because I was actually aiming for IJ600, but hadn't studied as much as I should during the summer, thus botching the placement exam and ending up here. Having finished the main track of Japanese language programs at UH, I wanted to continue my studies, but to my disappointment, the IJ500 level overlaps a lot with UH JPN302 - JPN402 level courses. This semester was spent so far pretty much covering material that I've already covered over the past two years. And as such, I don't really feel like my level of Japanese has increased this semester due to this class. It feels like a waste of time.

Another thing that bugs me about this course is their whole way of thinking with regards to progressing in Japanese studies. At the beginning of the semester they gave us that house/foundation metaphor that is used so much in hierarchical learning settings. "Without IJ200 knowledge you can't move up to IJ300, without IJ300 knowledge you can't move up to IJ400, without IJ400 knowledge you can't move up to IJ500, etc." Their emphasis, it seems, is focusing on the student's weak points, as opposed to expanding their knowledge.

Case in point, within IJ500 there are two kanji classes, one called "basic" and the other called "challenge". Having not really studied kanji over the summer, I landed in the basic course, in which their objective is to get students up to speed with 500-level curriculum. And to accomplish that, a good deal of the semester is spent reviewing kanji from IJ300-IJ400. So by the end of the semester, you should be up to par with 500 level kanji. However, it does virtually nothing to prepare students for 600 level kanji and whatnot. Another example of backwards thinking within this program.

Now to be honest, I haven't completely mastered everything up until where I am in terms of Japanese. However, the objective of the class should be to prepare students for the next level by increasing their level of Japanese, not retroactively working on fixing weak points. If anything, it would be better if they gave everyone 500+ level material, and left the catching up to individual students, instead of mandating that you relearn the basics during class. Kanji of all things, shouldn't take an entire semester to master.

Needless to say, I'm pretty discontent at where I am within the program. Part of this discontent is directed towards the program for being rigid and inflexible, and part of it at myself for not trying harder to not end up wasting my first semester abroad in intermediate Japanese. Even though it's 500 level, I feel like a total amateur, compared to 600 students, and based on the material given by the teachers.

On the mid-term evaluation sheet, the comment I wrote went something like "The textbook material used in this class was used in my intermediate Japanese class 2 years ago. This class feels more like a slave-house than a challenge, and as such, I don't feel like my level of Japanese has increased from this course. It seems like the emphasis is only on fixing weaknesses." I guess they didn't like that, so today in class the teacher reads my comment out-loud and replies "Well to the person who said this comment, if you went through this book 2 years ago, then what have you been doing these past two years?" Hearing that, it stung, albeit slightly. And then I thought to myself "what exactly have I been doing these past 2 years?" It's not like I was slacking off or anything like that. I was just rising to the expectations that my teachers at UH had for me. I even ended up getting an A in JPN402, the highest grade I've ever gotten in Japanese. Although I guess for them, even that isn't enough.

Though in all honestly, it probably wasn't enough.

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