Now that I have settled into a routine with my life here in Tokyo, I’ve been able to reflect some. I feel that I have mostly adjusted to the way Keio University conducts its Japanese classes, so I’ve taken a moment to compare them to my previous instruction.
The main Japanese course I am taking at Keio is very strict, fast paced, and is constantly pushing me towards perfection in my Japanese. The professors set a very high standard for us, and developing our Japanese until it is perfect does seem to be their ultimate goal. Though never directly stated to us students, the University of Washington seemed to focus a lot more on communication, while Keio puts more emphasis on composition and writing skills. This is to my benefit though, because honestly if conversation and verbal communication are my strengths, kanji and writing composition are my utter weaknesses. However, my classes at Keio are always and only taught in Japanese; the professors only speak Japanese, and we as students are only supposed to communicate in Japanese as well.
UW tended to give us more time to prepare and broke things down into more bite sized increments, while Keio piles on our work load and sets a fast pace for our progress. I feel I have to work much harder here to keep on top of things. UW gave me a greater amount of homework on average, but I feel I spend more time each week studying, doing preparations, and reviewing materials for Keio’s class. My grades here are not as good on average as they were at the UW but my progress has been much greater. I feel I have accomplished or progressed more in the last two months at Keio then I did during one quarter (10 weeks) at UW.
My homework is always carefully scrutinized with a red pen. We are even required to rewrite homework problems (practice sentences, answers to chapter questions, etc) over again and resubmit them if they were not correct the first time. It’s frustrating for me to see my homework returned to me, covered in red ink marking simple mistakes that I somehow didn’t notice.
The way that class time and even tests are structured is very different as well. Of course that is always part of the adjustment process. Each teacher or institution conducts things differently and it’s my job as a student to figure out what it is they want from me.
For the most part Keio and UW test us on the same subjects (grammar, kanji, etc), but there are certain tasks I am required to do here that are unique. For example, Keio regularly tests us on dictation, something I had never done before. At UW it was always listening comprehension questions, where we would listen to the audio recording then have to answer true-or-false/multiple choice questions, in order to test if we had understood what we heard. But Keio’s dictation tests are just that, pure dictation. We listen to the audio recording and have to write down verbatim what was said. Needless to say I have become much faster at writing in hiragana.
At first, since we are given three chances to listen to the audio, I would write down what I heard phonetically in roman letters (romanji) and then go back and rewrite the whole thing in hiragana, all the while checking for any mistakes. This became so tedious that I finally gave in and now write it all in hiragana the first time – something I hadn’t thought I was capable of doing. I have yet to make up my mind though as to which university’s style I think is more helpful for my listening comprehension skills.
Generally Keio has been covering a greater number of grammar points. We usually run-through one in class, have to write practice sentences for homework, but then never cover it again. UW tended to spend more time on each grammatical structure, and go over them in more detail. Yet I feel like the same grammatical structures keep repeating themselves from one chapter in the Keio textbook to the next, so it’s like a review every time that form appears again.
So far I've only covered the major differences between my UW Japanese class and the main Japanese class here at Keio. I haven’t even mentioned all of the “subjects with a specific focus” that I am taking at Keio, which UW doesn’t even have any equivalent for. For example, I am taking courses that solely focus on conversation, pronunciation/accent, honorifics, etc. I understand that the UW couldn’t possibly afford to offer such classes, and so it’s nice to be able to take such focused electives. As a Japanese linguistics major I find it terribly fascinating to study pronunciation or conversation in such exhaustive detail. For me its Japanese study all day every day. I could have taken some Asian Studies/International Studies courses, but improving my fluency is most pressing at the moment.
In conclusion, UW was overall more comfortable for me, but undoubtedly Keio is pushing me much harder towards reaching my full potential.