Comparison of my class experiences in FIU and RU part 1

Oh boy, here we go. I wanted to post this sooner, but I was waiting on classes at FIU to start so I could get some of the classwork activity sheets in one of the Japanese classes. I also had to trudge through all my garbage to find my past coursework too, hahah.

For about 5 weeks in Ritsumeikan University, I went to class every day for about 3 hours each day excluding weekends. That adds up to about 75 hours taking classes alone during that short program.

Ironically enough, Japanese classes in Florida International University are generally held on Monday/Wednesday/Fridays for about 50 minutes each day. This adds up to 2.5 hours a week. A regular semester lasts about 14 weeks, so that actually ends up being about 35 hours per semester. Crazy huh? I guess the program really was an Intensive Language program.

Although, to be honest, this also gives me some newfound mixed feelings. It takes 35 class hours for FIU to cover about 4 chapters, while it takes Ritsumeikan 75 to cover 5. This makes FIU seem more efficient, but I generally consider the FIU schedule to be incredibly inefficient and slow. Probably because it gives the student too much time, perhaps? I mean, it is spread across 14 weeks, even if you were given 35 hours, considering the student has time outside of school, they probably could have done more.

Anyway, despite the fact that I’ve only been to class for about 4–5 weeks in Japan, it’s interesting to see the crazy amount of difference in the class and coursework between these two universities.

To start, let’s go with homework.

The homework at FIU wasn’t anything special. To be honest, the homework didn’t involve anything that wasn’t part of the Genki coursework/program. The exercises that the professor made us do came from the Genki companion workbook and we often just handwritten our answers and that was about it. If there’s no corrections to be done, she’ll just add a check mark to your paper and you’re good to go.

There’s not much to say about this. The genki workbook questions are pretty well done in my opinion, particularly the final chapter review ones as they are open ended questions and generally allow you to be more creative with your sentences. My only gripe with the homework was that the professor would also provide the answer key for the workbook so you can self-check your answers.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

This is actually the relevant answer sheet for the homework I posted above

As you can see, the professor just hands you the answer, which isn’t really a good thing because most students are lazy and will either copy it, or simply just fix their answers following this format after they see that they got it wrong. Not much thinking involved.

There is another homework that isn’t a part of the Genki coursework. That part involves making an audio recording talking about whatever you feel like for about 2–3 minutes. This always took immediately after a test. In that case, the teacher wouldn’t grade too harshly, because she understands that gaining a Japanese accent and knowing how to properly pronounce certain words isn’t particularly easy for someone learning the language. She does offer corrections on your pronunciation. Which is nice, I guess.

The homework in Ritsumeikan isn’t too different either.

Unfortunately, I had to scale the image because it was stupidly large otherwise, hopefully you can still see the image.

On the left side of the image, this was really just something you had to do on your own in your own time. So it wasn’t actual homework so to speak. I mean, I guess it’s homework in a way, but it’s not graded. The right side of the homework is the part that’s actually graded. Basically, for each new grammar point, you write two sentences using the template given.

That’s really about it. For each chapter we had precisely that same kind of homework. Personally, I don’t like how it’s only two exercises per grammar point. It’s really not too much, especially when you consider the textbook itself doesn’t provide that many exercises to begin with either. If it were up to me, I’d make the homework longer. Two exercises per grammar point really isn’t enough in my personal opinion. In cases like these, you pretty much have to play around and study on your own outside of the textbook material considering how basic the textbook exercises are.

Now I want to talk about the classwork.

Taking class with my professor at FIU, classwork really doesn’t differ too much. At the start of each chapter, we take one day to be introduced to the vocabulary of the chapter. Next day, we’ll start grammar, maybe two or three grammar points from the chapter.

With those 2–3 grammar points introduced in the chapter, the professor provides templates for making mock conversations with whoever is sitting closest to you. Generally this ends up in an interview style conversation, you ask a question, receive an answer, and follow it up with at least 3 questions related to the answers given by your partner. You are encouraged to use the new grammar points and some of the template questions require you to use the grammar points in your questions. This happens all at once and the teacher will drop by to listen in on your conversations every once in a while, so it’s a very relaxed environment.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a particularly effective way to teach because the professor rarely calls out on your mistakes when it comes to particles, at the very least. Also, before this actual activity, the teacher sets some time to pretty much tell the students how to ask the question in said template. As a result, the student rarely thinks for themselves. The first part of the template is fully in Japanese, so the student simply needs to read. The second part is in English and the student has to translate and ask that question in Japanese. Which would have been nice and dandy provided again, the professor didn’t provide the answer before the actual activity.

This was pretty much the basis of my Japanese 3 and Japanese 4 classes at Florida International University. Every now and then we’ll have a quiz, and immediately afterwards, we’ll more than likely have conversational activities following that same format for the rest of the semester. Maybe like once or twice throughout the semester, the professor will ask the students to do some of the Genki exercises and make the students read them out loud. Though usually that’s about 5 minutes of class time.

Overall, too much speaking. And even then, it’s not particularly done well because the answers are pretty much spoonfed to the students.

The classwork in Ritsumeikan is slightly more varied.

For the most parts, the classwork in Ritsumeikan rotated between about 5 different things. The first thing we’d do upon reaching a new chapter is actually discuss the first part of the homework sheet. Since the homework sheet is distributed before the quiz of the last chapter, the student is assumed to have completed the vocabulary portion. So we do a brief vocab overview of what’s covered, and then we move on to the next real activity.

The first thing we actually do is read some of the passages that are on our textbook.

This is the short passage that’s provided at the beginning of Chapter 8 of 中級を学ぼう. The professor pretty much breaks up each session in the different paragraphs/segments you see in this page. The student and teacher will read through this together, and the teacher will explain the new grammar presented as soon as we read the sentence. In this case, it’s highlighted in bold in the second sentence にすぎない.

The professors will also ask the students questions related to the passage to test reading comprehension. Occasionally, after explaining the new grammar point, the professor makes the student do some of the exercises in the textbook concerning that same grammar point. Afterwards, we pretty much just say our answers. After we finish all of the chapter’s grammar points, we usually start presenting our answers for the homework (one by one) and do corrections at that same time.

To be honest, this seems like a very standard and orthodox method. I remember seeing similar stuff like this back in grade school. I honestly have no complaints. One thing to note is that the way my FIU professor explains grammar is vastly different than my professors at Ritsumeikan. At FIU, the professor generally told stories with the new grammar points. Whereas in Ritsumeikan, they’d try to explain it with examples but not stories. I don’t have a preference for any, I think they both work well.

Usually on a day, we’d cover about half of the page and move on to another activity. This is either reading parts of actual newspaper articles, presentation prep work, writing a short essay, or some kind of conversation with the buddies. Unfortunately, I threw away the clips of actual newspaper articles, and so did most of the kids in the foreign exchange program. However, all you really have to know is that they were newspaper articles, and they were generally full of kanji and vocab that a lot of people weren’t familiar with. To say the truth, I’d say most of the people in the class didn’t really enjoy this exercise because most people didn’t understand. In the entire class, I would say approximately 5 people knew what the newspaper said and could read at least 50% of it. Two of the students had a good chunk of vocab under their belts, and the three other students were Chinese, so they had the advantage of being able to understand the meaning of the kanji.

In terms of the news reading activity, I generally don’t think it’s a good idea to do this in a classroom setting unless the classroom was full of students confirmed to have passed N3-N2 where I believe the N2 requires about 6k words under your belt and the N3 requires something around 1k-2k? Why? Because there’s no benchmark here. Especially in a classroom full of students from different universities who took different classes, should be at somewhat different levels and used different textbooks throughout their Japanese studies. You don’t know how many words they know, I suppose this could work as an eye opener to make someone realize how much they don’t know, but I dunno, I see it more as demotivating.

I personally think that professors teaching Japanese in FIU should supplement the regular coursework from textbooks with vocabulary. Provided you took Japanese at FIU for 4 semester, and assume the teacher gives 50 new vocab that’s not in Genki per chapter, the student would have learned at least 800 words (50 words per chapter, 16 chapters by the end of JP4.) Which isn’t much, but it’s a hell lot better than with the few words Genki provides. FIU students would at least be somewhat close to the N3 level after 4 semesters of Japanese, which is far better than right now which is probably N4 level.

Another classwork activity we had in Ritsumeikan was the addition of short essays. I personally loved this exercise. One entire class period, maybe one and a half will be dedicated to writing a short essay. There was generally one short essay per chapter, and the essay prompts weren’t particularly difficult.

On the left, that’s just feedback from the class presentation, which I’ll about later. On the right, there’s my short essay.
All of the coursework I’ve posted from Ritsumeikan comes from Chapter 8 lol

As you can see from the above image, it’s nothing too long. Maybe about 25–30 characters per line?

Like I said, the prompt comes from the textbook as you can see in テーマ:人に会うとき、気を付けていること.

Or, what do you keep in mind of when you meet someone new?
My answer in the essay above was that I try to make sure they have a compatible sense of humor as me. I personally really liked this writing exercise because it helped my writing a lot. At first I made far more silly grammar mistakes and I’ve started to get a better grasp of things.

In FIU, we hardly wrote, and because the answers are generally formatted in such a way that it’s pretty much impossible to mess up unless you don’t follow instructions, there’s really no room for experimentation. As a result, you seldom have the chance to write really long and complicated sentences. Moreover, since the teacher never corrected your particle mistakes during speaking, you develop some really horrible habits. I would honestly say that these essay exercises made my study abroad experiences incredibly worthwhile. It’s certainly worth doing in class as well considering textbooks never really give you an actual answer/solution. Plus, neither books or online resources will provide feedback the same way a real life professor does. Sure there’s a sample/template in the page I’ve provided, but it’s not really the same thing unless you plan to copy the example’s answers for a question that relates to you yourself.

I’m going to call it a night for now. I’ve broken 2k words and there’s still the matter of quizzes, tests and presentations that I want to talk about.

Until then,

— Charles

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