First-Year Japanese

How did Secondary Division students play their way to learning a new language?
by Junko Hosoi

From Nina Gabelko: Junko Hosoi, long-time sensei of ATDP’s First-Year Japanese and architect of our current Japanese language and culture program, continually amazes me with the joyfulness of her teaching. Her approach to instruction comes under the rubric of “multi-modal instruction,” but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the scope and depth of students’ classroom participation. The activity is so intense that students have no opportunity to be self-conscious; they are much too involved in counting in Japanese while performing calisthenics, singing joyous songs, playing games, entering contests, writing essays, and performing self-authored plays.  Remember, that this class meets 18 times and not 182 times, as it does during the school year.

Clearly, Hosoi-sensei’s expectations for her students are as high as her support of them is deep. But even with such high expectations, not infrequently, her students exceed her expectations by such a degree that she asks herself, “How’d they do that?”  Well, here’s how the sensei explains all of it, except for the magic that ATDP students bring to the equation:

What the students accomplished:

By the very fist day of the class, the vast majority of the students became able to read and write all 46 primary hiragana (Japanese alphabet) with the help of online resources and guidelines in the homework packet distributed at the orientation held two weeks before the class began.

After one week (3 class meetings) almost all students were able to write a 16-line original dialogue in Japanese using expressions learned during the first week. After three weeks, students had the opportunity to introduce themselves in Japanese in a formal manner to a Japanese person in Tokyo via Skype. Students told: name, nickname, age, school and level, home location, likes, dislikes, hobby, ethnicity, and their physical characteristics. The person in Tokyo understood our students very well and asked one or two simple questions in Japanese.

The First-Year Japanese class making mochi

During the fourth week, every student was able to write a letter to introduce themselves in Japanese, including the items listed above. The letters were scanned and sent to Hiroshima, home of the people with whom our students would converse during the final week. By this point, students had written three original stories, narrating about 10 drawings per story in the textbook, using expressions learned in each chapter and entirely in hirigana.

In the middle of sixth and final week, students spoke to people in Hiroshima via Skype. They included descriptions of their favorite activities and family members. Every student performed extremely well, receiving an A for this assignment. People in Hiroshima were truly impressed by our students’ performance.

Throughout the course, even though there were a lot of homework assignments, some students did extra assignments which were beyond the first-year scope. For example, some students wrote their original stories in Japanese, which were quite lengthy, and drew pictures to illustrate.

All students passed the course, and the vast majority of the students received an A, meaning most students in our class successfully learned one-year high school material in only six weeks. They would be successful in a second-year Japanese class.

Comparing these accomplishments to the school year, Hosoi-sensei says:

During the school year, students usually take about six classes over 36 weeks. At ATDP, students take one class in six weeks. So, they only have one sixth of the time but they can spend all of their efforts for one subject. I think the outstanding outcome comes from the following component parts (approximately):

  • Parents’ Support: 100 %
  • Talent: 100 %
  • Passion: 200%
  • Efforts: 300%
  • Learning Among Outstanding Peers and Having Fun with Them in an Inspiring, Supportive Setting: 300%
  • GRAND TOTAL: 1000%
  • Result: Outstanding Achievements

Of course, the true evaluation of such outstanding achievement comes from the students’ own words. Here is how our students illustrated their own accomplishments:

[cc_third_col]I did learn from my classmates: they taught me that as long as you put enough effort into it, learning a new language isn’t completely impossible in a very short amount of time. ATDP really was an interesting and fun experience. It was quite enjoyable. [/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col]These 6 weeks, I have grown most in academics… I am determined to continue my studies outside of ATDP after this but will return next year. I am grateful that I had a lot of fun learning with the morning class. [/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col_right][I] became more responsible with studying. I really enjoyed this class. It was fun to learn, and everyone was nice and funny. I just loved it all. [/cc_third_col_right]

[cc_third_col]I learned a lot from my classmates. Not only did I learn about them, they also helped me a lot. This class was challenging but fun. I’ll miss being with everyone.[/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col]I learned from my classmates that it’s important to study… now I know that learning a new language is difficult. I hope I get into Japanese 2.[/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col_right]I would like to come back for Second-year Japanese at ATDP because I prefer fast-paced learning.[/cc_third_col_right]

[cc_third_col]I think that ATDP is amazing. I’ve learned 92+ unique characters, not counting the secondary characters and combinations.[/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col]I learned a lot from classmates… They know so much about different cultures. It’s amazing… I have grown in my knowledge of Japanese culture and language a lot. Sometimes I can understand bids of the dialogue in anime.[/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col_right][My classmates] helped me when I forgot things, and it was a good reminder on how to share information and get along better with my peers. I learned a lot in this class, and I have certainly enjoyed myself.[/cc_third_col_right]

[cc_third_col]I very much enjoyed the company of my classmates because they would often help me understand words and phrases more. I have grown a lot in these weeks and learned more Japanese than I expected. Now I can talk a bit to Japanese family members and friends. I enjoyed this class a lot and appreciate the work you put in to make it fun and interesting.[/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col]From my classmates I learned to be peppier and a better person. Sounds cheesy, but it was nice and I was louder and louder. Overall, in the class I learned Japanese faster and easier. I also learned the lesson – STUDY MORE! In a sense, I’ve become slightly more mature. But I can improve much more. I’m sorry for not being the best student. But I’ll study harder for the future.[/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col_right][M] taught me by consistently questioning me in the car ride back to his house. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we studied in his father’s office. Also we talked in Japanese while our friend [N] (not in Japanese class) was around, just for a good laugh. But mostly, [M] helped me out. So did the exercises we did with other classmates… I’ve learned the necessities to survive a month in Japan.[/cc_third_col_right]

[cc_third_col]I learned from my classmates how to study and not procrastinate too much, but still have fun! Yes, I have grown. Taking this class has done so much for me and my study habits and vocabulary, etc., etc., etc. I WANT TO COME BACK NEXT YEAR AND I REALLY WANT TO PASS! I’LL WORK HARDER IF NECESSARY![/cc_third_col]

[cc_third_col]I learned a lot from my classmates although most of these things are unrelated to the subject. There were endlessly amusing… I did get to have new experiences. I am really glad I took this class. The people in this class turned out to be amazing, and very interesting people.[/cc_third_col]

Junko Hosoi

Junko Hosoi is a Secondary Division instructor, having taught ATDP’s First-Year Japanese course for eight years. During the year, she teaches Japanese
at Aragon High School in San Mateo.