Learning Japanese in Atlanta (at GSU and Beyond) [Part 1]

This is part one of a two-part entry.

Learning Japanese can feel a bit overwhelming when you realize there are around 1,945 kanji (characters/symbols borrowed from China) that you must learn in order to be considered about 90%-95% literate.

Many students interested in the language start out with Hiragana, which has 46 simpler characters to memorize, followed by Katakana, which are those same 46 simpler characters, but in different shapes. When English students already begin freaking out over Hiragana and Katakana, I liken it to learning lowercase and capital letters, which helps them grasp the concept better.

Despite the seemingly endless and arduous task of learning the language, there are many different resources and paths one can take with the same end goal in mind: Learning Japanese.

At Georgia State (for Spring semester 2014), students entering the language courses for the first time will be greeted by an unknown instructor (named “Staff” on the description) as their only choice teaching Elementary Japanese I. The course is only offered for a MWF configuration from 9:00 a.m-9:50 a.m. Once past this first hurdle, students take Elementary Japanese II, which is helpfully offered with more choices: MWF 9:00 a.m-9:50 a.m, MWF 10:00 a.m-10:50 a.m, and lastly MWF 12:00 p.m-12:50 p.m. The instructor for this course is a Masaki Shibata, who has rave reviews on Rate My Professor as being kind, patient, and passionate.

Image by Wikipedia.

Unfortunately for GSU students, once you pass Elementary I and II, there is oddly no Intermediate I class. I have noticed this on three separate semesters at this university; it shoots straight to Intermediate II. Perhaps they are training their students in preparation to skip from Elementary II to Intermediate II in seamless and successful ways? The Intermediate II class also forces the students out of a comfortable setting with the same instructor they have had for a year now, and into the hands of a Yuki Takatori. Personally, I have had a rather rude experience with her on a couple of occasions, though I am sure there are students who adore her manners and style of instruction.

Regardless of one’s preference for instructors, the textbook used for GSU’s Japanese courses (“Japanese: The Spoken Language”) has been consistently made fun of and attacked in many other university settings and online forums as being extremely outdated, as well as for its use of romaji (Japanese written with English letters, rather than Hiragana or Katakana). Often preached by Japanese teachers and those-in-the-know, using romaji for anything more than a couple of weeks when beginning Japanese simply acts as a giant crutch and winds up teaching students incorrect Japanese when they actually begin learning the writing system. This entire textbook relies upon romaji, using absolutely no actual Japanese in it whatsoever. This is a huge oversight, and, combined with vocabulary words such as “typewriter” and “soviet union” (these are not jokes), creates a bad experience for the modern student.

Part II to follow.


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