日本語教室で多読のコースを開いてみたイギリス人日本語教師の感想

日本語教室で多読のコースを開いてみたイギリス人日本語教師の感想

私はどっちかといえばもの静かなほうだと思いますが、日本語を教える時はうるさい時もあります。授業では歌を歌ったり、盆踊りを踊ったり、にぎやかなゲームをしたりしています。隣の部屋で会議を行おうとしていた人たちに「少し静かにしてくれませんか」と注意されたこともあります。 

でも、2018年に私はとても静かな日本語の授業を開きました。この授業では、生徒は主に一人で黙って勉強していました。 

私はその授業の「先生」だったけれど、私も一人で手作りの絵本を読んでいて、時々生徒が大丈夫かを確かめるために目を上げただけ。

これは「多読」です。普通の日本語の授業と全然違う読解の学習法です。

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'Tadoku': Here's What I Learned From Running a Japanese Silent Reading Course

'Tadoku': Here's What I Learned From Running a Japanese Silent Reading Course

I’m not a particularly loud person, but some parts of my Japanese classes are quite loud. We sing and dance, talk and play games. We’ve even been asked to keep the noise down before by a group in the next room who were having a meeting (sorry about that!)

But in summer 2018, I ran a very quiet course. Students worked alone, in a comfortable silence.

And I was the teacher, but I mostly sat reading a hand-stapled book, looking up only to check that students were happily entertaining themselves.

This was Tadoku - a reading class with a difference.

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What to Write in Japanese New Year's Cards

What to Write in Japanese New Year's Cards

Every year, Japanese households send and receive New Year’s postcards called nengajō (年賀状). The cards are sent to friends and family, as well as to people you have work connections with.

If you post your cards in Japan before the cut-off date in late December, the postal service guarantees to deliver them on January 1st.

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Your First Ever Beginner Japanese Class


You've signed up, bought the textbook and are on your way to class. The day is here! It's your first ever Japanese lesson!

So, what are we going to do? What are you going to learn? Can't you just stay home and talk to the dog instead?

Your first class can be exciting, but also a bit daunting.

I've taught lots of first-ever Japanese classes to beginners over the years. Here's what we do.


A brief introduction to the Japanese writing system


Lots of people are really interested in the Japanese writing system, and it's a bit complex. So I usually start with a quick rundown of the three "alphabets".

The main reason I start with alphabets is that it helps you with pronunciation.

Pronouncing words in a new language can be difficult. Especially when those words are as long as:

Hajimemashite. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

"Nice to meet you."
Understanding the sounds of Japanese from the start will help you pronounce words correctly.

Introduce yourself!


Next, we learn to introduce ourselves in Japanese:

  • "Nice to meet you!"

  • "My name is..."

  • "I'm from..."

  • "I'm a teacher / engineer / lawyer, etc."

You'll learn to say your job, of course - not just the generic ones in the textbook. This is important.

By this point, you've learned to introduce yourself politely. And to tell a Japanese-speaking person something about yourself. Awesome.

Time for a break, and a cup of ホットコーヒー (hot coffee) from the reception cafe.

Question time!


Next up, we learn some questions:

  • "What's your name?"

  • "Where are you from?"

  • "What's your job?"

We'll practice them over and over, until they're glued into your brain. 

Depending on how much time we have, we might practice introducing each other:

"This is Agnes. She's from Poland. She's a structural engineer."
Phew!

With lots and lots of practice, that's probably all we have time for. But look what you've learned in one lesson!

Hopefully, you'll go home with your head full of new phrases, ready to test out on the dog.


(Pictured: graduating Beginner class students, 2016-17)


"You Said, I Did": Using Your Feedback To Improve Classes


Ever wondered what I do with your feedback forms?

Student feedback is super useful - it lets me know what I'm doing right, and what I can improve about our classes.

Here are some of the main points from February's mid-course feedback, and the action I took based on it in the Summer term.

It's what "you said", and what "I did"!

You said...

"Listening is difficult. Can we do more listening?"

I did:

Now we do listening practice in class every three weeks. It's on the course outline, so that I don't forget.


You said...

"We should have to ask questions in Japanese and not use English." 

I did:

In all classes next year, we'll learn some key questions like "How do you say...in Japanese?"

And then - this is the key point - I'm going to remind you all to actually do it!


You said...

"I like the fun and friendly atmosphere (including the drawing and singing and games)."

I did:

I've included even more singing, videos, drawing, and some board games too. Learning should be fun!


You said...

"I learn visually, and by repetition. Using more visual aids in class would help me remember."

I did:

I've tried to bring more picture flashcards. It's good to be reminded that people learn in different ways.


You said...

"Could we have a review week every month where we go over everything?"

I did:

We actually already do this every four weeks, so I obviously haven't explained that well enough! 

I started the summer term by explicitly telling students about review week and explaining what it's for.


You said...

"We'd like more one-on-one conversation with the teacher."

I did:

I've worked to make sure not every activity is pair work. I try to include myself in speaking activities too, so we can talk one-on-one.


You said...

"The class size is good - it gives us an opportunity to discuss complexities of the language."

I did:

I've set a maximum class size of 12 people.


You said...

"Can we do more "Step Up" questions? I like having the chance to say something a bit more complex, and more exposure to more complicated sentences."

"Step Up!" is the bit on your homework where I ask you to freestyle a bit. "Write about you" or "Write about your weekend plans". It's optional, but I highly recommend it. It's often my favourite bit of your homework to mark!

I did:

Since April, I've tried to put a Step Up! question on the bottom of every piece of homework.

You said...

"Sometimes we’d like a bit more explanation and time to absorb the more complicated aspects of the grammar."

I did:

I've added in more time in my lessons for you to absorb new ideas before I ask you to apply them - especially when we're covering something new and complex.

You said...

"I'd like to speak more about everyday stuff - go off piste, and have more opportunity to just talk amongst ourselves in Japanese."

I did:

I've introduced fortnightly "Free Talk" sections where we talk only in Japanese for 10 to 20 minutes. 


Thank you so much for your feedback - it helps me work to keep making things better!

P.S. Thought of anything else? Click here to get in touch.

Why Does The Japanese Language Have So Many Alphabets?

Why Does Japanese Have So Many "Alphabets"? - Step Up Japanese

My students ask a lot of good questions. And one that sent us off on a bit of a tangent a few weeks ago was:

“How old is Japanese writing?”

That'd make a good blog post, I thought (after we talked about it a bit).

So, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of Japanese history with a very brief introduction to Japanese writing systems!


Until the 1st or 2nd century, Japan had no writing system. Then, sometime before 500AD, kanji - Chinese characters - made its way to Japan from China (probably via Korea).

These characters were originally used for their meaning only - they weren't used to write native Japanese words.

↓ And at that time, Japanese writing looked like this. Look, it looks like Chinese!


But it was inconvenient not being able to write native Japanese words down, and so people began to use kanji to represent the phonetic sounds of Japanese words, not only the meaning. This is called manyougana and is the oldest native Japanese writing system.

For example, in manyougana the word asa (morning) was written 安佐 (that's a kanji for the a sound - 安 - and another for the sa sound - 佐). In modern Japanese we'd use 朝, the kanji that means "morning" for asa.

Problem was, manyougana used multiple kanji for each phonetic sound - over 900 characters for the 90 phonetic sounds in Japanese - so it was inefficient and time-consuming.

Gradually, people began to simplify kanji characters into simpler characters - that's where hiragana and katakana came from.

Katakana means "broken kana" or "fragmented characters". It was developed by monks in the 9th century who were annotating Chinese texts so that Japanese people could read them. So katakana was really an early form of shorthand.

Each katakana character comes from part of a kanji: for example, the top half of 呂 became katakana ロ (ro), the left side of 加 became katakana カ (ka).

↓ Each katakana comes from part of a kanji.


Women in Japan, on the other hand, wrote in cursive script, which was gradually simplified into hiragana. That's why hiragana looks all loopy and squiggly. Like katakana, hiragana characters don't have meaning - they just indicate sound.

↓ How kanji (top) evolved into manyougana (middle in red), and then hiragana (bottom).


Because it was simpler than kanji, hiragana was accessible for women who didn't have the same education level as men. The 11th-century classic The Tale of Genji was written almost entirely in hiragana, because it was written by a female author for a female audience.

What would 12th-century people in Japan think of my students, 800 years later, learning hiragana as they take their first steps into the Japanese language?

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Three Awesome Reasons to Take an Evening Language Class


There are pros and cons to all methods of learning a language. And when it comes down to it, many people prefer group classes to exclusive self-study or private lessons. But why?


1) Meet other language learners

Classes give you a teacher, but they provide you with an instant group of other people with the same interest as you. You can speak in your target language together, go out for dinner and order in Japanese, and message each other asking "what was last week's homework again?"

(Just kidding - thanks to the course outline I'll provide you with, you'll always know what this week's homework is.)


In a group class, students can support and help each other. It's obvious to me that my lovely students gain a lot from each others' support!

2) Keep a regular schedule

To gain any skill, you need to practice regularly. The great thing about having class on a regular day is it forces you to practice. Unlike exclusive self-study where you'll always have an excuse to procrastinate, weekly classes require you to be prepared for every class so you can get the most out of it.

Practice makes perfect, after all.

3) It's your class

You might feel like the only way to get a class tailored to your needs is to take private lessons. But a good group class - especially one for a small group of students - should be tailored to the students in it as much as a private lesson would be.

That's why I ask my students to give me regular feedback (informally, and through snazzy questionnaires) about how class is going and where you want it to go next. It's your class, and we'll focus on what you want to focus on.



That doesn't mean I'm going to do the hard work for you. If you want to get good at Japanese, you'll need to find ways of practicing and exposing yourself to the language as much as possible outside of class too. But a group class can provide the basis of your knowledge, a structure to work with, and (I hope) a friendly face to answer your questions.

It also gives you a great excuse to go to that great noodle place again...you are learning Japanese after all.

Enrolment is open for 10-week and 30-week courses in Japanese for Beginners (and Not-So-Beginners), starting September 2016. Click here to find out more!