I am just home from my third day of Japanese lessons. It’s tiring and quite different from any class I have taken before. All my other teachers spoke English and translated things into English. But there is no English spoken in these classes. Not only that, the first rule of the classroom is that you are not allowed to speak English in it. (It’s Japan, as you can imagine there are lots of classroom rules.) We were given one page of translated vocabulary at the start so that we would understand the classroom instructions given to us by the teacher, things like “please read” or “please say aloud”. The textbooks are also only written in Japanese.
I found the concept of no English horrifying at first, but it’s actually quite interesting. The lessons are incredibly structured as everything has to be built on what you just learnt. There is a lot of miming and talking about things you can see, the sort of thing you might have to do it you were actually in Japan trying to interact. Most of my conversations with people in Japan are about the physical world. You want to buy something or go somewhere or you want to try on a dress. Normally you don’t have conversations about the structure of a sentence, something that was very important in my previous lessons. So important that I had to buy books on English grammar to try to work out what was meant when my teacher told me that something was an “indirect object marker” or that the verb was in “causative passive”. I had to learn more English before I could learn Japanese!
There is no discussion of grammar in my new class as we don’t know the Japanese words to be able to describe that. I don’t think there ever will be as I really can’t imagine my teacher miming “indirect object” or coming up with examples that make it obvious to the class that that is thing she is talking about. Instead there are pictures of objects, acted out scenes on DVD, and miming. We are learning grammar, but we are learning it without having endless discussions about particles and the correct one to use. Instead there is repetition and conversation. It’s stressful, as you have to role play and take part, and it is also boring as you hear the same things over and over again.
I was ranting to Marty last night about the conversations and how tired I was of hearing them. Mind you, I was able to repeat every single one of the dialogues we had been using in class. You have to concentrate on them as you know that you will be made act them out and you get to hear everyone else in the class do the same thing. Boring or not I may actually have found a way to improve my ability to speak Japanese.