David Chart's Japan Diary

September 22nd 2004

OK, so 'later this week' turned out to be 'tomorrow'. If you missed yesterday's entry about my trip to Hokkaido, go back and read it. I'll wait.

Today was the last day of this quarter. We studied grammar for our last two lessons, and then we received our report cards. Katou-sensei said very nice things about the class, along the lines of 'hard-working', 'talented', that sort of thing. My report card was also nice to get. For the first time, I got an A overall. I'm not entirely sure why, because the grades for all the test categories are B. Good Bs, mind you; the final listening test went well, and I didn't mess the written test up (I was just above the average mark). My conversation test result missed an A by one mark...

Still, the grades are of virtually no importance to me, given that I can't imagine when I'll ever need to show them to anyone. Much more significant are Katou-sensei's comments, indicating that my Japanese has got a lot better over the quarter. I still make small mistakes, particularly in the forms that words take in certain constructions, but apparently if I can fix that I'll be perfect. Well, that's what she wrote...

One Year Retrospective

So, this is the end of my year studying at Yamasa. There's going to be another three to six months, probably six, but this is where I thought I would be finishing my studies and my time in Japan. That makes it a good point to look back over what I've done, and whether I've achieved what I came for.

The basic answer is 'yes'. I'm not, I have to admit, quite at the level of Japanese I was hoping for. I was hoping to be able to fluently read the Asahi Shimbun by this point, and I can't. On the other hand, I can read it un-fluently, and I can read the translation of Harry Potter fluently, if rather more slowly than I read English. Similarly, while I do occasionally miss bits in conversation I can, for example, have a four hour conversation, in Japanese, ranging from house purchase to English attitudes to fox-hunting, and generally be able to say exactly what I want to say.

I don't think I'd quite describe myself as fluent in Japanese, which is what I was aiming for, but I'm not far off, and I don't think I could have got much further in the year. I suspect I will be fluent by the time I finish the extended course.

What do I want to work on? Primarily, listening comprehension. I need to watch more television. This is definitely my weakest point, as reading comprehension is clearly my strongest. The main problem here is finding the time to watch television every day. I've got so much else to do.

So, I think I've got about as much out of school as I could have hoped. Maintaining a 100% attendance record definitely has good effects; even when freelancing has meant that I've not been able to do any homework, four to six hours in class every day has ensured that I've continued to make progress.

I'm also still extremely happy with Yamasa. (They've just been round to inspect my flat, which apparently is very clean, by normal student flat standards. It's a pity that cleaning the bathroom is on the list of jobs to do now term is over, though...) The teaching this term has been uniformly excellent.

In particular, I would single out Nakane-sensei's conversation classes. These were a new format, which she was trying for the first time. Every week we spent half a period discussing a topic. One student picked the topic, introduced it, and then served as chair for the ensuing discussion. This discussion was videoed, and afterwards Nakane-sensei went through the video with us, pointing out problems. Just being able to listen to ourselves made some of the problems obvious, while feedback helped with others. I found these lessons extremely useful, and I'm sure that they helped my conversation a great deal.

Singling out those lessons isn't meant to suggest that the other lessons weren't also excellent. Really, I don't think I've had any substantial criticisms of the main lessons this quarter. There were minor problems with a couple of the option classes, but they really were minor problems.

So, I'm still happy with my choice of school.

Looking back over my travel over the course of the year, I'm happy with that, too. I've been to all four main islands, been to most of the important sites in Kyoto and Tokyo, and visited most of the other important tourist spots. I may cut back a bit; everyone is starting to comment on how much I travel. I've also managed to meet up with most of my Japanese friends from England, which is very good.

It's been nice to have family and friends visit, but I confess I'm looking forward to a holiday when I'm not serving as a tour guide -- first one for nine months.

We'll have to see how next term's class shapes up. There are five of us staying on from this term's A class, which isn't enough for a class by ourselves, so some people will almost certainly join us from B class. However, we finished the advanced textbook (quite a rare achivement -- most advanced classes only stay together long enough to do the first part), while B class have only done the first six (of fifteen) lessons. Thus, there would be a bit of a mismatch between people from the two classes. Not that I have any problems with doing revision. While I can recognise most of the constructions we've done, I can't use very many of them naturally. Revision will help with that.

The Diary

I will be continuing the diary. However, I am seriously thinking about switching to a standard weblog from the beginning of October. It will make entries quicker, and easier, and might allow people to sign up for notification of updates and the like. On the other hand, I have more control over this form, because I know what I'm doing, and I don't think I could embed pictures in a blog as easily. Thus, I may stick with this, or go with some hybrid form.

The statistics from my new web site are much more detailed, and reveal something like 40 hits on a diary page in its first three weeks. I have no idea who you all are, but I hope you're enjoying it.