Time for another interview with a fellow Japan Head! This time we talk to David (@curryisyummy) who will tell us about the intensive summer Japanese program that he is doing in Ohio at the moment. He finishes the program on August 19th, so he’s really right in the thick of it. If you still have questions about the program after reading this interview, feel free to hit David (@curryisyummy) up on Twitter, he’s nice!
I was interested in doing this interview because I did a similar program at Indiana University back in the day. The program I did was called EASLI (East Asian Summer Language Institute), and it was basically a summer of nothing but Japanese with lots of Japanese learning geeks. Good times. Anyway, since EASLI no longer exists I was always wondering if similar programs were around, and this sort of seems close. Let’s take a look.
Thanks for offering to do this David! Could you give us a super quick description of the intensive Japanese summer program that you’re doing? Something so that lazy folks who don’t check the official program website can know what’s going on.
The Ohio State University SPEAC (Summer Programs East Asian Concentration) is a series of summer programs aimed at moving students through one year (about 30 weeks) of university Japanese or Chinese in nine weeks. For Japanese they offer first, second, and fourth year university Japanese, and for Chinese they offer first and second year. Although this year they offered those taking Chinese the opportunity to do their program in Qingdao.
So which level are you enrolled in?
I’m enrolled in second year Japanese. Before that I was taking OSU’s Individualized Instruction, so this summer program is my first formal class setting.
So you had never actually studied Japanese in a classroom before? Interesting! Is the instruction all in Japanese?
Yes and no. It is conducted in Japanese, but since it’s second year students there are many katakana-ized English words, and the patterns and words the teachers do use are limited. For example, I’ve not heard one instance of the conditional form (it hasn’t been covered in the course material). On the plus side, it’s easy to understand.
What textbooks or other materials do they use?
Japanese: The Spoken Language (JSL) and Japanese: The Written Language (JWL) are used. JSL is written using romanization with intonation and accent markers. However the real material is actually supposed to be the audio and videos that these books accompany. JSL is merely supposed to be there incase you need to confirm something you’ve heard. For reading and writing JWL is used.
Indiana University used JSL and JWL for their second year Japanese class when I was there in the late 1990s. I liked JWL a lot, but hated JSL because it was nothing but romaji. It makes sense that the real material is the stuff that accompanies the books.
Could you give us a quick profile of the students who tend to attend the program?
The students, as far as I’ve been able to tell are all students at OSU. The demographic of the class changed a bit after the first week because some people were dropping really quickly. From the start there were a few Chinese international students, but now there’s only one. As far as I know only one student in the group has gone to Japan. At OSU you need to have completed two years of university Japanese in order to do any kind of study abroad, so that might have something to do with it.
How would you describe your Japanese level before you started the program?
Awesome? Haha, I kid, I kid. Actually, before starting this class I could already read a fair amount of Japanese. I completed Remembering the Kanji vol. 1 in November 2008, and I’ve been chatting with friends on Skype in Japanese and watching Japanese dramas ever since (among other things like using an SRS and shadowing). So I’ve had plenty of time to internalize structural patterns, pronunciation, and vocabulary that have made this class somewhat easier than maybe it would be for someone who was coming to this class with only a year of university Japanese under their belt.
We took a Japanese skills assessment test at the start of the school term and I scored 100% in both listening and structure, and I got most of the points in reading. Considering that even the fourth year students were taking this same test, I’d say that’s pretty decent. We’re supposed to take the test again at the end of the term to gauge our progress. So hopefully I can manage to get full points on the reading this time around.
One thing I will say though is that I had a very poor understanding of what keigo (super polite, business Japanese) was before starting, and now I not only know more of what it is, but I can understand and use it to a much higher degree because the program really focuses on speech-styles (keigo, plain-polite, and direct/colloquial Japanese).
Wait, so doesn’t this mean that the program is too easy for you?
The material was easy, yes. It didn’t take me very long ever to prepare for class. However, this doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything. I got in a lot of practice using the basics in speech, and for me, this is priceless. It was speaking in a controlled environment, where I knew that if I said something wrong or with an incorrect accent pattern, I would be corrected. Plus, I *did* learn more about using keigo, which could be useful.
I imagine you’ve heard of Middlebury’s summer program, as far as you know, how is this program different?
I actually hadn’t heard of it before, but I looked it up. I’ll compare the two schedules so that it’s clear how things work.
Middlebury goes something like:
8:00 a.m. – Wake up, eat breakfast, and prep for class
9:00 a.m. – Morning classes (class time ranges from 3 to 5 hours in the morning, depending on the School)
1:00 p.m. – Lunch and rest
3:00 p.m. – Cocurricular activities, free time, homework, and class preparation
4:00 p.m. – Afternoon classes (afternoon class time varies, depending on the School)
5:00 p.m. – Films, lectures, or presentations
7:00 p.m. – Dinner
8:30 p.m. – Faculty office hours, cocurricular activities, homework, class preparation, dances
10:00 p.m. TV and . . . sleep (both in-language)
As for OSU’s SPEAC program it looks more like this:
8:00 a.m. – Wake up, run across campus to class while reviewing the model conversations and drills.
8:30 a.m. – Class begins. First ACT session.
9:30 a.m. – One hour self-study session
10:30 a.m. – FACT session. (A distinction is drawn between ACT sessions where the class is in Japanese and you’re using and performing in Japanese, and FACT where rules and culural information is taught in English)
11:30 a.m. – Second ACT session.
12:30 p.m. – Lunch
1:00 p.m. – One hour self-study session
2:00 p.m. – Third ACT session.
3:00 p.m. – Class ends.
And, that’s basically it. It’s up to you to prepare for the next day. The Middlebury seems to incorporate all these extra activities. This is my personal schedule when I get home as a means for making the most of these nine weeks:
3:30 p.m. – Get home. 10 minutes of shadowing.
3:40 p.m. – Free time. Check E-Mail, check the next day’s assignments, etc.
4:00 p.m. – 30 minutes of shadowing.
4:30 p.m. – Prepare material for the next day. Practice and memorize dialogs, run through the drills, do writing homework, etc. etc.
5:30 p.m. – Free time. Chatting in Japanese, watching Japanese movies, dramas, etc. Maybe a 100 or so SRS repetitions in the mean time. Reading Japanese books and manga, and so on. (Especially this July since it’s Tadoku ;) )
7:00 p.m. – Dinner. Listen to Japanese podcasts while I walk somewhere and eat or while I cook and eat.
8:00 p.m. – More Japanese movies, dramas, books, SRSing, and chatting.
12:00 a.m. ~ 2:00 a.m. – Whenever I get tired I call it a day, shower, and go to sleep.
Obviously most of the things I’m doing after I get home aren’t absolutely required for class or anything, but I have ridiculously high expectations for the word “intensive” so I make sure that even if the school doesn’t live up to it, I do.
One thing that isn’t included in this daily schedule is the Friday afternoon “Happy Hour.” From 4:00 p.m. to 5:00/5:30 p.m., some of my kouhai, senpai, teachers, and teachers in training come and we play games like しりとり (Shiritori), or just chat about our family, pets, interests, etc. all in Japanese.
Are the teachers at the program all local teachers from your
university? Or do they bring in ringers from elsewhere to teach the
As far as I know, they are all local teachers. But they are natives of Japanese. (Except the teacher for FACT sessions.) And, if I’m not mistaken, for first-year students, sometimes a Japanese teacher in-training (i.e. non-native speaker) will teach the class. But, they’re always fairly proficient from what I can tell at “Happy Hour.” It could be different for the Chinese program.
From what you have seen so far, what would you change about the program if you could change anything?
To be honest, I wouldn’t change anything. I didn’t expect a whole lot from this program, and it was merely a piece to the puzzle that makes up my intensive summer of Japanese. I’m afraid that if I get into what I would change about the program I would end up creating a completely different and unique system. But, I’ll try and read between the lines here and answer the question, “what do you not like about the program?” For that, I’d say the only thing I really don’t like is that I feel it’s not as challenging as I would like it to be, and I think I could do without the FACT class. After all, I just spend that time reading in Japanese or working on homework or something so I have more time for lunch. If I address the entire four-year program at OSU, however, I’d say they should probably stop underestimating the importance of literacy and actually get students to learn at least as many kanji as a middle-school student in Japan would know (about 1000).
Could you tell us about your plans for Japanese language study in the immediate future?
Sure thing! For the immediate future I’m working on developing my abilities in speaking by reading aloud, shadowing, and listening to and watching movies, dramas, and podcasts, as well as engaging in conversations with friends on Skype. Within the next couple of months I’ll be working towards learning to understand close to 100% of what I’m hearing in the dramas and movies that I watch. I’m doing this by SRSing transcripts of dramas taken from Drama-note.
Is this program open to anyone? Or do you already have to be a student at OSU? Would you recommend the program to other people looking to blast their Japanese abs over the summer?
I’m not exactly sure if it’s open to anyone. If I had to say, I would guess that if you aren’t a student already, you are likely planning on entering as a student if only temporarily.
To answer the second question, I’d probably say that if you really want to “blast your Japanese abs” take that tuition money and spend a summer in Japan instead.
But, in terms of a program, I think anyone that’s only had about a year of Japanese at the university level will make lots of progress, especially if they apply themselves and really take the time to make the new patterns automatic. In short, I’d say there’s no school, teacher, method, or study material that is going to “get you there” if you don’t actually do anything. So, don’t be like some of my classmates and say “I don’t have time” when it’s your only obligation for the summer. It’s not that you don’t have time, it’s that you’re not using the time you have.
It would be a good idea to go into the program with the mentality that it’s only a mere piece to the puzzle. When class is over, don’t go back to English. Set yourself up for success by making every waking moment in Japanese. This means to go home, watch Japanese movies, dramas, or anime, read Japanese manga, books, and websites, and chat with Japanese friends on Skype or around your neighborhood.
What got you interested in Japanese in the first place? And, what changed to make you get so hardcore about Japanese?
I always find difficulty in answering this question because I kind of just decided one day that learning Japanese was something I wanted to do. One thing I can say, though, is that I’ve always been attracted to Chinese characters. So you might ask, “why aren’t you learning Chinese instead?” Well, I suppose that choosing Japanese over Chinese at first was because I liked things like Final Fantasy, Dragonball, Gundam, Pokemon, and Rockman/Megaman growing up. I don’t watch much anime nor do I play many games these days, but I do watch quite a lot of dramas, movies, and such. After starting down the path of Japanese I developed an interest in the language itself. And, it’s also brought me to a point where I want to learn other languages, too, like Mandarin, Cantonese, and Korean.
To answer the last question, I’d say what changed to make me get hardcore this summer was the fact that I actually had the opportunity to spend every moment, day and night, working on Japanese. I like the idea of a 24/7 effort, and since this kind of opportunity doesn’t happen too often, I’m making the most of it before Autumn classes start again and my classes go back to being mostly in English. :(
Thanks for sharing all that! I can tell you’re well on your way to joining the ranks of the next generation of Japanese-mastering gaijin. I hope you’ll come to our OB parties and pretend to listen to the war stories from “back in the day” when the time comes.
OSU Japanese Summer Program Website
Other JapanNewbie Interviews:
Interview with Durf the Translator
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