Thursday, October 4, 2012

Recent Happenings, Halfway There!

So, I know, it's been a while. As the summer grew hotter, it became harder and harder to force myself to go to class and study, much less update my blog. I know for a fact, however, that I was not alone. Many of my fellow students were feeling a similar amount of heat / study exhaustion as I was, and attendance across the board suffered. When every single day has a triple digit temperature and every single morning the decision must be made as to which would be the best way to get to school: bicycle or simply swimming your way through the intense humidity, it's difficult to function. I don't know how people here do it.

103 Summer Semester Students!
That having been said, I (and everyone else in 103) passed the class, and the ones who aren't going home or leaving Yamasa for some other reason are continuing on to 201! There are five of us in total, and I'm also told that one of the prior semester's 201 students is repeating the class, so that makes a total of at least six students in my class this upcoming semester. That doesn't count the students who have just arrived and took a placement test. I have no idea how many of them placed into 201. Probably not many; they seem to prefer rounding down in their placements into classes here. Not necessarily a bad thing. I guess I'll find out tomorrow when I head over to the classroom building for my first day of 201!


So, what have I been up to recently? Due to Heat Apathy™, I didn't do much during the semester other than go to class, come home home, and eat. However, over the break I did a number of really fun things. I guess I'll go in some random order that makes absolutely no sense.

This past week I went on what turned out to be a three-day mountain climbing trip in Kamikōri, up to a peak called Yarigatake (the route we took was the Yarisawa route, if you are curious). It was, without a doubt, the most physically difficult thing I've ever done in my life. I wasn't able to go down stairs for a few days afterwards, and I still have tons of blisters all over my feet from walking such a long distance in hiking boots. However, it was a ton of fun and I'm glad I got to spend the time with my fellow students. Especially because one of them (the one who organized the trip actually) won't be continuing on with us this next semester.

I've been going out with friends a lot, since between semesters there's a lot of opportunity to have going-away parties for people. Pictured on the left there is one of my favorite places in Okazaki to hang out, Shinjidai. The food that they have is generally in small portions, but it's about ¥105 per plate so it's totally worth it. Plus, they have a half-price happy hour and you really just can't beat that.

I also started my new job yesterday! Yes, that's right, I have a job now. I'm the resident English-speaking clown at a kindergarten in Obu. It's a really fun time and the children are super cute. They don't understand a lot of the grammar (and I had a hell of a time yesterday trying to explain the difference between "in" and "on" to them) but they generally enjoy running around the room and being loud and obnoxious, and as an American I have no difficulties facilitating that. What's nice about the job is that it pays a lot more than I would get for an eikaiwa job (English conversation school for adults) and it's a lot easier and more fun. I lucked out big time. And not a moment too soon, either. My savings are dwindling and the money I get from this job should cover food and activities for the rest of the time I'm at Yamasa. Woo!

The rest of the break that I didn't use for brutally punishing my lower extremities or liver, I spent punishing my brain with as much study as I could possibly cram in there. I've decided to take the JLPT N2 in December, so I've been studying as hard as I possibly can for it. Currently it's way above my level but the N3 would be way too easy for me. I have tons of books from which I am making flashcards and reviewing every day, and what's cool is that next semester I'll be able to take N2-prep electives, which will be totally awesome. Lots of work, but awesome.

My Impressions of Yamasa After Six Months

So, I guess since it's the halfway point I should write a bit about how my Yamasa experience has been and how much I've learned. Warning: boring realtalk ahead.

I posted a while ago about how I was considering skipping 103 and going right onto 201. Obviously that didn't happen, and it wasn't because I failed the skip test. I never took it, actually; I came to the realization that skipping 103 would have been doing myself a great disservice. Yes, most of the stuff we learned in 103 was review for me. Yes, the stuff that I didn't know in 103 I could have looked up myself. But the reason I didn't want to skip 103 is the same reason I've come to Japan to take classes in the first place.

Sure, anyone with enough time and a grammar dictionary can teach themselves Japanese given enough time. The idea of taking classes that are taught entirely in Japanese and having to survive in the country without the use of English isn't to learn new textbook grammatical structures. Instead, it's about seeing those grammar points as they are used in a native speaker's speech. It's about having the opportunity to practice those things so that I not only know them, but they come naturally to me. I knew, for example, what 学生じゃないんじゃないかな meant before I took 103, but I wouldn't have been able to say it because I never really practiced it in the sort of environment we had in class. (Sorry for those of you who don't speak Japanese, essentially that construction means something like "he's not a student, is he?" negating a negative when you want to seek approval for something).

And it's fun, too!
I guess I've realized that, while Yamasa is fantastic for giving you a syllabus and the motivation to follow it, the only real way you're going to learn a language is by putting in the work yourself. In other words, it's real easy to memorize a certain amount of information and then regurgitate it onto a test paper, but that doesn't at all mean that you have mastered the information. There's no way to do that other than to put in the work yourself and really immerse yourself in the information.

So, would I recommend Yamasa? Definitely. The classes and teachers are good, but that's not necessarily why. Being a fulltime student in a foreign country with other students who may not even speak the same language as you is really a great catalyst for improvement. And indeed, I've improved vastly since I've gotten here. I'm more confident in speaking, I can read way better than I could when I got here (can't read a newspaper yet of course), and my listening... well... yeah.

I'm looking forward to class tomorrow, because it will be a nice change from my methodical and slightly-boring N2 study regimen. The thing is, though, that I can't really slow down on that regimen. If I'm going to pass N2, I need to put in a ton of study time and I know it's going to get nasty. I'll try to pace myself though.

And I'll try to update my blog more often. Now that my brain doesn't have to compete with heat the likes of which it has never seen, maybe my updates will become more regular.

'Till next time!