Friday, 21 September 2012

Back to school

Classes formally began on Thursday, and I was stoked to get my studyin' on. It might be a little odd that I've never thought of myself as a self-learner, since 90% of my Japanese-learning adventures have taken place outside the classroom. In fact, it's been roughly four years since I last dealt with the language in any kind of formal capacity, so I was a little nervous to be heading back in. Not only is shooting the shit a totally different skillset, but it usually lacks the vacuum that results when you make a mistake, the teacher and your classmates allowing their silent judgment to hang in the air like a cloud of static electricity.

My initial impression of the head teacher had been of a kind woman in her thirties who would nonetheless be stiff and strict once the books were cracked, but this turned out to be totally wrong. Since it is, after all, a conversation class, she speaks to some topic and then question us on our opinions of an issue or how such and such is done in our own country, a technique I've seen in action in any number of ESL classrooms. Excepting pauses for instructions and vocabulary-building, it's really more of a roundtable than anything. Grammar is similar, but more focussed, and, as you'd expect, significantly more technical. There's a lot of overlap, but you could say that Grammar gives us the tools, and Conversation has us put them to use.

Of course, one cock had to ruin it by figuring that, by God, he'd been here six months already, and he'd be damned if this class would not be his personal stage for reminding everybody of how experienced and proficient he is. But there's one of those in every group. Maybe it's you.

The difficulty so far has been just about right. The head teacher's speech is a little bit slow and deliberate for my tastes, but the other one speaks with a more natural speed and cadence. Unfortunately, my reading is going to require a lot more work and likely some preparation before each class, as became clear when I was asked to read a paragraph aloud. My real concern is with what's going to happen when the actual Reading class starts next week, as I fear being booted out of the room in shame amidst gales of laughter, but what do you want.

In addition to our Japanese language classes, we also take a number of courses in Japan-related topics intended for Japanese students who desire the experience of being instructed in English. At first I was less than thrilled by the prospect, because I didn't come to Japan to practise my English, but after attending a few lectures I'm now a little more excited. This is still, after all, an opportunity that would never be available outside the country, and should afford a depth that would be unreachable in Japanese, at least until I reach an academic level.

We're only required to take a handful, but I'll probably end up doing more, because when will I ever have an opportunity to study these topics from a Japanese perspective again? Being a longtime political animal, I was quite eager to join the classes on Japanese politics and government, as well as the one on its foreign policy. I was delighted to find both devoid of the obnoxiously socialist types who tend to populate similar offerings in Canada, where a casual comment about the cost of a large hot chocolate is liable to embroil you in an inescapable hour-long lesson on skim milk protests in Chile, Warren Buffet's Syrian ancestry, and the American government's secret plan to manipulate global weather patterns by controlling the distribution of hemp.

Since I've recently acquired a strong interest in Japanese history, in stark contrast to having previously not given a shit about anything that happened there more than a day ago, I'm particularly stoked for that one, and was doubly delighted to find that nearly all classes are going to have some kind of historical component. Japanese culture? We look at Japanese culture through the ages! Japanese foreign policy? We look at how America was treated differently between now and 1868! All of this is going to be great review for me, since I've always had problems remembering stuff like what year the Nara Jidai began, and how was Heian society different from Edo society, and did Nobunaga have a Zekrom or a Reshiram.

Zekrom. It was Zekrom.

It is a bit of an adjustment from what I'm used to, like the fact that there are so many classes, each with only one 90-minute meeting per week. Even when I came here in high school the more examinable courses, like Kokugo, were given a little more chronological lovin'. Tardiness and absenteeism is also taken much more seriously than in Canada, where as long as you shut up and sit down when you do arrive, it's your business whether you'd been confined to bed by illness or leather straps. Mid-session meals are also frowned upon, quite a shock to a guy who'd watched people consume entire three-course meals over the course of a class. Most shockingly of all, not a single classroom contains a clock, probably to encourage pupils to pay attention to the lecture rather than envisioning the moment when they spring from their seats and flee the scene. In a way it kind of works, since cell phones are similarly banned, and sneaking a furtive glance when there's only five students in the class takes some practise.

Wait, I guess that mean it doesn't work at all, doesn't it? Or possibly that I'm a terrible student. Likely both.

Should be good.

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