Should You Take A Japanese Class?

The only way to learn Japanese is through classes.  Japanese classes are worthless and you can learn everything on your own. You’ve probably heard both sides.  Which is correct?  What should you do?

Let me first tell you straight up:  You don’t need Japanese classes to learn/master Japanese. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t a useful tool to some people.

My experience with classes:
1) Semester of Japanese 102 my last semester of college (I skipped 101 because it wasn’t offered that semester) using the textbook Genki 1.
2) Private paid lessons for 2 months, 3 times a week in Japan using the textbook みんなの日本語2.
3) Private free conversational lessons in Japan, once a week for about half a year.

Every person learns differently.  So the best way to decide if classes are for you is to lay out the pros and cons.

1.  You don’t want to look bad in front of other people, making you study harder.
2.  Tests and quizzes motivate you to study more.
3.  Once you get into class you are focused for a set period of time.
4.  The teacher will correct your mistakes.
5.  Classes are very structured.
6.  Doing well in classes may give you confidence.
7.  You make friends with other people interested in Japanese.
8.  You have other people to study with.
9.  You may be getting credit/good grades through your school/university for doing something you love and would be doing anyway.
10. If there are other really good speakers in your class, competition is great for motivation.
11.  It’s easier to teach yourself when you have some beginner base from an initial class and teacher.

1.  Other people slow you down.
2.  Tests and quizzes put unnecessary pressure on you.
3.  You waste time getting to/from class.
4.  The teacher will only correct certain mistakes, which may make you think others are correct.
5.  The pace of classes are very sluggish.
6.  You focus on unnecessary things.  For example, writing.
7.  Your teacher may look down upon your non-traditional methods.
8.  The learning is not focused on real world situations and has a certain artificial feel.
9.  Advancing in classes often gives you false confidence in the level of your Japanese.
10.  Hearing bad pronunciation and incorrect Japanese from other students may affect you.
11.  If you don’t like the class, you may believe that you don’t like Japanese.

If you do decide to take a class, here is how to get the best out of it:

1.  Inform the teacher that you want her to correct you as much as possible.  You want someone who strictly corrects you constantly.
2.  Don’t take the class if you don’t like the teacher.
3.  Always go ahead of the pace of the class.
4.  Always continue all the other studying methods on this site and that you have found on your own.
5.  If you can’t afford the time/money of lessons, don’t take lessons.
6.  Make sure your teacher isn’t patronizing and falls into the category of assuming that as a foreigner you can’t ever truly learn Japanese
7.  Pick younger teachers.  Older teachers focus on older methods that are less effective. Younger teachers usually focus on the newest, most relevant methods.  For example,  I’ve heard of some classes that use the Japanese social networking website Mixi to make friends with Japanese people living in Japan.

Q:  If you started learning Japanese from the beginning knowing everything you know now, would you still take classes?

It would all depend on the situation (time, cost, location, teacher, other students, and my current level).  I think I would probably take a few beginner classes just to get started.

However, if I could find a class like this, I would sign up in an instant:

“Teaching Japanese”, Comedy Skit By: ラーメンズ
I would be very happy to hear in the comments section what pros, cons, and any tips you have in regards to Japanese classes!

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Should You Take A Japanese Class? — 6 Comments

  1. As an English teacher, here is a con that I’ve noticed whilst teaching English!

    – Often you are made to write when you have hardly read anything. Same with speaking. This means that you are much more likely to just translate literally from your own language. As Japanese and English (European languages in general, really) are so completely different, most of the time this will not work at all.
    When the teacher has to mark something which is written like that, they have a choice between just correcting grammar and ignoring the fact that it is completely unnatural, or changing the entire sentence so that it is much more natural. The second is obviously preferable, but often the teacher will not have time to do that, so you are left with really strange English which you think is completely correct.

    Also, Japanese seems to attract a lot of people who seem to go to classes purely to point out how pathetic all of their fellow students are, and how they know so much more than everybody else. Who are for the most part completely wrong, but it doesn’t make for a particularly nice experience.

    I would recommend going for smaller class sizes if at all possible – I’m an ALT, so I teach 40+ students most of the time, and I honestly do not have time to correct all of the individual errors that students make.

    I studied Japanese for 4 years at university (including a year abroad in Japan), so I’m definitely not against learning through classes, but I did come across some pretty stupid teaching methods in my time, which I didn’t necessarily realise were stupid at the time.

    For example, in my second year of university we were all told to buy the same kanji dictionary, and then given a list of 10 or so kanji to learn each week. We were also told to pick from the list of vocabulary using that kanji in the dictionary, and learn the words which we thought were useful. This led to me learning some EXTREMELY useless Japanese, as all I had to go on was the English translation.

    I also had a super fun kanji class when I was studying in Japan where every week we were given a list of 15 or so kanji, and lots of vocabulary using that kanji. And the class consisted on a test, and then the teacher going through the meaning of each piece of vocabulary. Such a waste of time. (such a typical Japanese style of teaching, which didn’t sit at all well with our class of mostly Europeans)

    On the other hand, I think that if I hadn’t chosen to study Japanese at university, I would have never had the discipline to do it, and that’s definitely a huge plus for most people.

    Another plus point is that it’s much easier initially to speak to a teacher in Japanese than it is to a real Japanese person. If you are very shy or nervous about speaking Japanese, that can really help initially.

    I also think that for most people, once they are at an intermediate level, they probably will do much better and learn much more if they study by themselves. That was certainly the case for me.

    …sorry, didn’t really mean to write so much there. Heh.

    • Hey Jen,

      Really great comment!! You’ve pointed out some really great observations that I think will help a lot of readers.

      Like you said, teachers will definitely often take the easier way out, which is why I agree with what you said, that smaller classes are often better. 40+ is definitely way too many.

      And yea, other students in the class can make or break the class just as much as the teacher can.

      It’s always easy to look back in hindsight on bad methods. That’s one of the reasons why I created this blog. To help those studying Japanese not make all the mistakes I did.

      Kanji quizzes and tests are often ridiculous.

      I hope to see more comments from you!

  2. When I was in Japan I found that it was hard befriending Japanese people (I was not working/teaching and was just in a really long 6 months vocation and dedicated my time to studying Japanese) so apart form the stuff you pick up at the supermarket and other places where you interact robotically with the staff, I didn’t get much speaking practice.
    That is why I took private classes and specified that my main goal is speaking practice. We also did some other stuff but it was nice that the teacher tried to make me speak by asking questions and so on.

    I knew I can do all the other stuff by myself, reading, kanji, vocab, writing… but speaking – I needed help so I took those lessons and I think they went great!

    I’m actually planing to go back for 3 months and take more lessons.

  3. I’m learning Japanese as my 3rd language, and being not the disciple type I was taking a class for the last year. So far, it has been good … until the end of year test, where I have to score at least 50% to pass, in all subjects. I only learn Japanese to read novels, so while speaking is passable, my listening is abysmal, couldnt hear a thing in the mocking test. It is really putting me in a bind here :

    Its said in the article already, but I think it s really important to repeat it: class requires your focus on unnecessary things, esp. if you goal isnt true fluency but only parts of the language.

  4. From reading your posts, ( I stalked you blog a little bit) I realized that the way your Japanese class was conducted is a bit different from the class I used to attend. I attended a prep school for students who want to study in Japan so my class was more intense. We learn Japanese from 8pm to 4pm with only one hour break and as a result after 9 months, we reached 中級 level.

    • Yes, that’s a completely different experience than one I’ve had. I agree that language schools vs. language classes (especially in university) work in a very different way.

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