In Search of Lost Time..

Kyoto dialect characteristics.

Just because you’re in a Japanese school doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll instantly have access to the most efficient methods to learn Japanese. There were a few problems within the class curriculum that could have been better spent doing some other activities. The first activity I’d like to mention is the Kyoto-ben activity that luckily, only lasted 1–2 hours.

Words in Kyoto-ben on the left side, with what it means in the standard version on the right. There are certain differences like おおきに and ありがとう which both mean thank you. That said, everyone still said ありがとう in Kyoto. Heck, the only person who said おおきに was this elderly lady working in a Zen Buddhism temple along with some Maikos.

As you can see in the image here, you can see that there are some differences in the standard Tokyo dialect and Kyoto-ben. There are also some differences in how words are generally pronounced. While it’s definitely good to acknowledge and recognize these differences, this certainly wasn’t worth spending 1–2 hours over.

The reason is because well, everyone in Japan knows the standard Tokyo dialect, and for the most parts, it’s not too different where you can’t understand other dialects. It’s not like Chinese, where Mandarin would pretty much be considered a different kind of Chinese compared to Cantonese, even though they’re different “dialects.” Dialects in Japanese is more akin to dialects in Spanish. While I learned Spanish in Puerto Rico, this doesn’t prevent me from understanding Spanish from the rest of the world. There are of course, differences in pronunciation and certainly different words to express certain things. In some cases, it might even be difficult (Spain Spanish,) but it’s still not impossible. In the case of Chinese, I it would be impossible for me to understand anyone who speaks Mandarin, as I only speak Cantonese.

Peculiarities in grammar and the way things are said.

My biggest gripe with this particular lesson was that for those 1–2 hours, the teacher would try to get you into using Kyoto-ben and have proper pronunciation within that dialect. In my opinion, this is not particularly productive for someone who’s learning the language. Because our classes are targets people in the beginner/intermediate level of Japanese, correcting a person’s pronunciation in what I’d consider their developmental stages of language learning does more harm than good. This is particularly more true for those in the beginner classes. Instead of teaching absolutely useless knowledge, they could have provided supplemental vocabulary instead, which is far more useful when learning a language. Textbooks can only cover so many words, after all.

Another problem with the school curriculum was that there was too much emphasis on the presentation. Every week, we’d have at least 1 or 2 days where we would spend 1 class hour to prepare for our presentations. This is completely unnecessary considering nothing really stops a student from doing this in their own time. This, along with the 1–2 hours lost from Kyoto-ben, we could have easily covered another chapter in the book (maybe even two!)

This probably wouldn’t be an issue if this was a program that spanned a regular school semester. But considering the program only lasts 5 weeks, it largely felt like a waste of time. Alternatively, instead of giving a lecture on “video game and anime culture,” they could have just had a program activity that related to Kyoto-ben.

On the topic of lost time, I asked a few people in the program how they studied while they abroad in Japan. Since this a pretty negative post as it is, I’d like to just post the study methods used by three students who didn’t particularly do too well in class. I would like to point out now, that I’ve spent a decent amount of time with these three people while in the program, and I know exactly why they didn’t perform too well. If I didn’t spend much time with them, I was at least around when they were studying. To protect their privacy, I’m changing their names and the names I’ve chosen were done so randomly.

Before all of that though, I want to point out that I’m not exactly the model student myself. I know that there are problems with my current approach of studying and I really could do things probably more efficiently. I don’t claim to know the absolute best way to learn anything, and by no means am I better than anyone.

With that said, the first person is Natalie.

I asked her directly how she studied, and the reply I got was

“I usually just rewrote the practice dialogs from the book and as well as class exercises. For vocabulary, I would use flash cards to remember the words that we were supposed to learn for class. I practiced vocabulary every day, and before the tests, I would also rewrite the practices we’ve done.”

Well, it’s not too hard to see where things went wrong here. Rewriting isn’t the same as understanding. At this point, it’s pretty much kind of like memorizing math. You could try to bottle up how to use a formula, but without understanding it, you won’t really get anywhere.

It would have been more constructive to try to understand the why the sentence works that way, and to compose your own sentences, ideally complex sentences. It would have worked out well too because she would have had access to the buddies from Ritsumeikan. They would have been more than willing to make sense out of the sentence.

I’ve been to her room once or twice while she was studying, and I would say she put in about a few hours every other day for studying. Which is certainly good, but more often than not, she struggled understanding the meaning of the sentence as a result of either not understanding the grammar, or the word. While I managed to explain it to her, in the end, she went back to the routine of re-writing her sentences rather than experimenting. So whatever I did teach her, left her mind not too long after, usually.

She also often expressed hesitation when asking questions in fear of annoying someone. Unfortunately, if you’re learning a language, you’re pretty much going to have to do that all the time. If it makes you feel any better, even native people (usually kids) do it too. But hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?

Her second part of her study method involved flashcards, I personally think it’s a very good way to study. I do the same thing, except I use digital flashcards. However, the way we studied is still slightly different. In my case, my flashcards have the standard word and definition, however, mine also feature sample sentences which lets me understand the context in which the word is used. After reading the sentence, in my mind, I will form my own sentence with that same word. It helps me retain the word better, essentially. In her case (and a lot of people’s cases,) they just use the flashcard to remember the words. It works for some, but it’s easier to remember when you form your own sentences and read it in different contexts.

Next person is Gabriel.

Oh Gabriel.

I can honestly speak more about Gabriel than I can about Natalie. Natalie was in Arashiyama, if I recall correctly, so maybe she doesn’t exactly know how to study Japanese. Gabriel was in my class, and has supposedly been taking Japanese classes before he even started college. I’ve spent enough time with him to know his study habits.

Which happens to be.. Non-existent.

Well, to be fair, he studied about once, MAYBE twice a week. 
…For about 30 minutes each session.

Exceptions being for that one presentation where he spent a decent 2 hours writing his portion for the speech presentation.

To be honest, he was a pretty horrible student. He either didn’t do the homework, or did them half-way before copying someone else.

Casual conversations with one-liners apparently counts as studying too, which was often his excuse to not study.

Although, to be fair, a bunch of people in the program whom I’ve asked did respond that speaking with Japanese people would be a part of their study time. But like I’ve said in a previous post, casual conversations just simply aren’t as effective as actually hitting the books. Japanese people are far more reserved and are less inclined to correct your mistakes provided they generally understood what you were trying to say. Casual conversations allows one to omit certain grammar rules and in Japanese, particles as well. 
Then again, who knows. Maybe they’re more interested in just learning how to have casual conversations rather than having full understanding of the language. Which is fine too.

Honestly, I’d like to provide more feedback on his study method, but there really isn’t much to dissect in the first place. One thing he liked to do was follow the structure on the book. So he never deviated from the book’s structure and only wrote simple sentences. Since there’s less critical thinking, there’s a lower chance that he’ll retain information. While he had better success than Natalie at remembering grammar, it didn’t particularly help his grades.

Finally there’s Megan.

Not much to say about her, as she’s in the Uji class and I didn’t really talk to her all too much. Megan was generally a very introverted person, and didn’t handle social situations very well. As a result, whenever she got called on in class, she would generally perform poorly.

Whenever Megan tried to study, she’d spend more time stressing out about individual Kanjis than vocabulary or grammar. On average, she’d spend about an hour a day or so.

Learning kanjis by themselves is pretty useless and there’s no reason to learn how to write them. Most of the interaction you’ll have with Kanji really just involves reading them. Learning them individually is pretty pointless too because the reading can change depending on the word. If you have to write, you’re generally going to write it on your cellphone or on your computer, which generally converts the text into the appropriate kanji. For instance, I know a decent amount of vocabulary, but if you were to give me a sheet of paper and a pen, I wouldn’t be able to write down most of those vocabulary words in Kanji. Learning how to write Kanji for all of the vocabulary is time consuming and you’d waste a lot of your precious time learning a skill you’ll pretty much never use. You could use that word to learn how to read more words or practice your conversation skills.

I’ll be able to read and understand them if I see them, but I won’t be able to write them. And that’s completely fine. I hardly write English words in real life either. It honestly got to the point that my penmanship became rather childish as a result. Then again, my handwriting has never really been particularly good either, but that’s another story.

On my next post, I’ll write the responses of students who did well in the program.

Aaaand that’s all for now.

See ya,
 — Charles

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