Thursday mornings I’m scheduled to teach English at a countryside middle school and trek all the way there, but today they had exams or something so I wasn’t required to go in; instead I went to my main school and desk-warmed.  Being the great NYer I am, I efficiently used this free time to prepare a lesson for next week!  I saw a post on FB from a facilitator from EPIK’s orientation on St. Patrick’s Day, and thought I could work with that.

So I’m doing research on the holiday, the origins, related and associated things, and figured maybe I’ll include a section on leprechauns and have the students draw a comic strip.  Naturally they have to learn what leprechauns are, what characteristics they have, and implement that into their comic strips, but it was shocking to see what little visual aids that was readily and immediately available over the internet!  I remembered watching many cartoons, animations and/or movies on the little lads, and yet came up short.  Ideally I wanted a short clip displaying all their famous features, but there was always something missing!

It’s not finished yet, but it’s almost there I suppose.  It’s difficult coming up with a very educational and fun lesson plan that helps the students’ English language abilities in the long run!  Ever since I left NY to study Japanese in Japan, and now coming to Korea to teach English, I become more and more appreciative or my former teachers, and acknowledge those who can speak and/or teach foreign languages – especially as a foreign language in a foreign country!


#1 Asked Question

Part of my introduction is a slide on Rock-Paper-Scissors, and the winner gets to ask me any question they would like (or what the class tells them to ask…) and the most frequently asked question is without a doubt, “How old are you?”

If you don’t know Korean culture much, this will seem very personal, intruding and strange to you, but it’s very normal to ask someone’s age when you first meet them.  “Why?” you may ask, well it’s because they have a vertical formality culture in how you treat others, and how you speak to them.  It’s similar to the Japanese culture in this aspect, but from what I’ve seen it’s a little more prominent.  I could be wrong though.  Perhaps the reason I say this is because the age question isn’t as frequent, and the language used outside of professional settings tend to be more lax than what I’ve seen in Korea thus far (granted it hasn’t been that long yet…)

If you’re not familiar with this cultural aspect, this can range in differences from how you address someone, the conjugations used, formal language, body language, and ultimately, respect.  But I think my students are simply curious – they are after all only middle school students!

I Love You 사랑해

So it’s around 4pm and I’m sitting at my desk making lesson plans when unexpected visitors come to me – 3 high school girls.  Have I met them before?  No.  They’ve sorta met me before though, at the opening ceremony earlier this week.  They introduce themselves and shocked when I could almost say their names properly, and even more shocked when I was again, almost, able to correctly write their names in Korean.  One of the chicks admitted of having some interest in me which is probably her and her posse came by.  She said something in Korean along the lines of, “We’re going to come back and stay here for a while.”  And I agreed because it didn’t bother me at all and it was the first time I actually had a conversation, although really short, something more than the standard greeting in the hallway since I haven’t taught a class there yet.

Long behold, a period later they came back and I was in the middle of rushing to finish another lesson plan and they sensed it so they didn’t stay long; they possibly had cleaning shift as well, who knows.  But sure enough before they left, one said, “I like you.” And another said, “I love you.” And they chuckled, and in the spirit of it all I said, “사랑해” (Saranghae) which stands for the latter.  Probably not the best environment to have said it in the teacher’s room and all, but everyone understands that I’m a foreigner, lol.  Thoughts?  When we learn a new language, we all learn the unnecessary vulgar language first anyways, and although this may not be “vulgar” in a sense, it may be considered inappropriate.  I’ll stick to the 외국 waygook (foreigner) card for now though and watch myself from hereon out?

Things I missed about Japan

I spent almost 2 full months in South Korea before going back to Japan to obtain a certain Korean working visa, and realized while being in Korea, and when arriving back in Japan of several things I missed about Japan.

  1. The Food
    • I mean who doesn’t love Japanese food! Tonkatsu, Tonkotsu Ramen, Curry Rice, Yaki Udon…
  2. The Culture
    • I had gotten so damn used to how polite the Japanese have to be, and how polite they simply are, that I started to see it as the “norm.”  What I mean by the “norm,” is that now I compare every other culture to the Japanese, as well as to American too, but that defeats the purpose.
  3. The Language
    • Although I spoke some Japanese during my stay in Busan – it was not the same as talking with my Japanese friends in person and being able to use the Kansai dialect without having to concern myself with the other person not understanding it.  I mean, the language was the reason why I went to Japan in the first place!
  4. The Country
    • I was quite emotionally devastated during my last few days in Kyoto before I left for Busan, but I didn’t let it show! (not sure if that’s something I should be proud of or not…) But let’s think about this for a second – why was I feeling that way?  Was it because I didn’t want to separate from my friends?  No, it was simply the fact that I love the city of Kyoto and was sad to be leaving it after 1.3 years of living there.  And then I came back to Japan, and realized that Japan really is apart of me!  When sitting at the train station waiting for the train, I noticed myself feeling happy from just looking at the scenery in front of me; I’ve grown very fond of how Japan has developed their infrastructure and cities.  I found myself feeling the same way as I gazed upon the view from the top of Namba’s Park of Osaka city…
  5. The Order
    • Dare I say it…I actually missed how structured everything is!  It may be because of how unorganized a certain organization is here in South Korea, but it does make a significant difference for the organization, its members, and others directly and indirectly influenced by it.  Structure is necessary for organization, for society to be civil, and it comforts those afraid of risk, danger, and unknown potential and hazardous things.

I’m sure the same can be said about many other countries and their respective cultures, but do you have any similar experiences with Japan?  Let me know!

Japanese Speaking Formalities

If you ever had even the slightest interest in learning Japanese, I’m sure that you came to learn that there are quite some formality differences compared to your own mother language.

The Japanese have this categorized in a completely different manner, but this is mine:

  1. Casual
  2. Normal (Desu / Masu)
  3. Polite (Keigo)

This is what you would use with friends and family. You can sometimes use it when meeting new people, but you have to gauge the person.  For example, it may be safer to use this form when speaking to a younger person, perhaps in university or younger, than let’s say a salaryman in his 50’s.  A friend of mine at KICL did a little survey to see what people felt about the differences if someone started using this speaking form to them and how it made them feel.  To be honest the results varied; I think it doesn’t have to do with their age, but their personality.  But, you should still be cautious; maybe a little more if you look asian as sometimes the Japanese can’t tell us other asians apart.

If you are unsure of which form to use when speaking Japanese, you can always default to this and there won’t be a problem.  Even some Japanese people have problems with the polite form of speaking so they forgive foreigners as well! If you are speaking with a friend/family member, you should try to use casual as speaking in this form may create this “distance,” as they would say in Japanese, between you and the person you’re talking to.  Let’s say you use this form with someone you’re meeting for the 3rd time, they are using casual, but you’re using this normal form.  They might already consider you a friend, but if you continue to use this normal form, you may be indirectly stating that, “We’re not friends yet.”

This is what you hear in stores when you’re a customer.  You may hear a lot of “gozaimasu” as a friend of mine pointed out during his stay here not too long ago.  Even if you know basic Japanese, it may be difficult to understand this polite form as there aren’t many similarities in the pronunciations.  This form is a must for business transactions and relationships, which is why stores use it all the time.  You can always ask them to skip the Keigo and use either casual or the Desu/Masu form!

And that’s that!  Honestly, I try to stick with the normal form when speaking to strangers.  I do mess up and use some casual but I try to keep it all normal.  It’s quite difficult to switch up the forms without practice!

So what do you think?  Is it necessary to have various kinds of politeness in a single language?

KICL – 3 cons

Update: I graduated from KICL yesterday! Not exactly graduated, but I finished my year of Japanese language studies yesterday! It was a long and short experience, and will be remembered forever; only the experiences, the language on the other hand… who knows, I’m not the brightest after all!

Anyways, down to business.  But if you didn’t catch the 3 pros post yet, click here.

As I’ve obtained from my business experience, the following are 3 “opportunities” that KICL needs to focus on.

  1. Information
  2. Target Audience
  3. Common Sense

The school is known not to give a heads up regarding events, deadlines, and information in general; whether it pertains to classes, the school, exams, etc.

There have been too many times when I or other students had to move our own schedules around simply to accommodate the school.

For example, my friend had appointments and meetings for the next following few days when the school suddenly announced that in 2 days they will be holding a mandatory health examination.  Another example is when I had to inform my part-time job a month in advance that I may have to miss a day of work because the school doesn’t know when the graduation ceremony will be held. Shouldn’t the school know when and where the graduation ceremony is taking place months in advance?  Well, I think they should!  At least the date, then the time, and then the location.  Anyways, I know that I’m not alone in this as many other students have complained about it in the past.

Target Audience
Moving on to the target audience.  Now if you’ve ever been in Japan for more than a couple of days, I’m sure you realized that there are a lot of Chinese speaking tourists, visitors, and/or students in Japan.  And that is because there are!  This also applies to KICL.  The majority of students are without a doubt, Taiwanese.  There’s nothing wrong with them, it’s the school!  The school is so geared towards this target audience, that it simply leaves the others in the dark.  Now, the school and their teachers are improving but I still say that there is a need for more progress.  So what am I really getting at?  Kanji, Chinese characters.  The school briefly touches upon them in their lessons, and it’s 99% self-study.  Now what does that mean for someone from the west?  It means a shitload of confusion!  I’m Asian American, however I do not know an ounce of Chinese.  So how did I start studying Kanji?  I did what many do; repetition and memory.  Is that the best way?  Absolutely not.  Is that how Japanese students learn Kanji as they grow up?  Apparently so.  What I’m saying is that they do not teach you how to study Kanji, you have to learn it on your own.  In addition to that, the teachers often write new vocabulary on the white boards with the Kanji.  That’s nice, but what about the reading of the Kanji?  Do you expect us to look up the Kanji in our dictionaries while you continue on with the lesson and then wonder if we’re paying attention?  We not only have to look up the Kanji in the dictionary but have to waste time trying to write the Kanji in order to find it in the dictionary!  Why not save us all the trouble and write it on the board as well!  This of course differs from teacher to teacher.  I told my teacher and she was much more conscious about it from that day forward.  Thank you S!

But yes, the school is growing larger, becoming more popular, more western students are going to study there, so why not start changing your management, teaching, and lesson strategies to accommodate your new and growing target market?

Common Sense
I ranted quite a lot in the previous so I’m going to try to keep this clean and cut.

  • The school moved locations and now it takes longer to get to the classrooms; it’s also a bit of a hike for some of you who aren’t quite fit.  That means that you have to wake up earlier, leave earlier, and arrive earlier.  What it also means is that your lunch break is actually shorter than it is because of the “commute.”  I mentioned this to my teacher a few months ago, but I highly doubt the school will do anything about it.  It’s a shame too since it also effects the teachers.
  • Once a semester there is an event where all students and faculty participate in.  The school always travels to the destination together.  That may seem very obvious and evident, but I beg to differ.  Maybe it is because I grew up in NYC and we always found our way to the destination on our own and met there, or because I’m just unique.  However I do not think it to be necessary for me to travel all the way to the school, just to come back to an area close to where I live.  Now, it would not be a problem if I was talking 10 minutes or so, but I was talking about an hour.  Why can’t they allow it?  Rules.  They love their rules and regulations.  That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Should you study at KICL?  If you are serious about learning Japanese, I think it’s a great language school to do it at!

KICL – 3 pros

KICL (Kyoto Institute of Culture and Language) is a Japanese language school based in Sakyo ward, NE of downtown Kyoto.  It’s a great language school with connections to sister schools allowing a more university campus lifestyle.  When I first came to Kyoto I met some other language students but from another school, ARC Academy, and when they heard that I was going to be attending KICL, they were all shocked and asked isn’t it going to be difficult?  I honestly had no idea what was in store.  

I specifically chose KICL over ARC Academy because of the campus life available through KICL’s sister schools.

Although I do not know the specifics of ARC Academy’s requirements, standards and pace, I can vouch for KICL being a tough language school.  KICL is known for giving their students the abilities to attend a Japanese university or find work in Japan, thus their syllabus is mainly geared towards that objective.  Whatever your reason for studying Japanese is, you will learn what you need to learn here at KICL.

You will learn Japanese here at this school.

  • They only teach in Japanese and even without knowing any Japanese beforehand, you will learn to understand everything in the classroom.
  • If you are a complete beginner, do not worry, there are translated materials allowing a much easier transition.  From what I know, they have English, French, Italian, Thai, Chinese/Taiwanese, and Indonesian.  The textbook is the almighty Minna no Nihongo so there might be other languages as well.

5 days a week, Monday through Friday.

  • Normal classes are held M-F from 9am-12:30pm.  There are two other mandatory afternoon classes which was Tuesday and Thursday last semester, but this semester they have one afternoon class varying depending on your JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) level.
  • Yes, one of the two mandatory afternoon classes is a JLPT class.  You will be provided a JLPT textbook and go over practice problems once a week in hopes to prepare you for the exam.  Even if you do not plan to take the exam, you are required to go to class.  I will say that even if you have no interest in the JLPT, the class is good in enforcing what you learn during regular class and even help you learn more material.
  • The other afternoon class is a supplemental class providing information on Japan, it’s culture and such.  Although it may seem overwhelming, and you will probably think it is overwhelming when you start, in the end it is a great way to be exposed to the Japanese language and culture.

From day one you are to study grammar, writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

  • It will be challenging but it’s a great format for all kind of learners.  For me, it’s difficult for me to learn and remember new vocabulary without seeing it in writing.  Others may learn better from hearing new vocabulary, either way you will be pushed to utilize what you learn through the textbook and class towards grammar, writing, reading, speaking and listening.
  • Since it is difficult to cover all five grounds at the same time, some may feel that one is more emphasized than the other.  I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted out of learning Japanese, but I knew that I wanted to be able to carry out conversations in Japanese.  Knowing that, I soon came to realize that we didn’t have enough conversation time during classes.  The classes are interactive, but for me not knowing any other foreign languages at the time, being able to think and speak in a new language came last.
  • But if you take into consideration that this language school is known for getting their students to universities or find a job, it may make sense that they would focus less on conversational skills.  Or that it will come naturally once you know the basic grammar and vocabulary.  Well, what I’m saying is that it’s a common complaint about KICL amongst its students.

Also, I would like to point out that there are more language schools other than ARC Academy and KICL.  I think that these two are simply the most popular or well-known at the moment.  There are a lot of other language schools in this university city.