Hiroshima-ken JET Jonathan Fisher reviews various tools for learning Japanese, including books, websites, flashcards, podcasts and more. Tools are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the best.
By Jonathan Fisher
AMICA Intensive Japanese Language Course
If you are a JET, you have likely skimmed over an announcement for an intensive Japanese language course in one of your recent National AJET news emails, squeezed in between advertisements for international banks and notices of volunteer opportunities in Japan and abroad. The announcement offers special rates for JET participants who wish to join special five-day classes offered at convenient times of the year — usually summer vacation, Golden Week or the winter holidays. But who has time to study Japanese during the holidays? And even with the discount, 30,000 yen is a lot of money to spend to sit in a classroom for 15 hours. Who goes in for this type of thing, anyway? Joining such a class may look like a risky proposition, especially given the dearth of information provided on AMICA’s website about course content. Who goes in for this sort of thing? Well, last December, I did. And I’m pretty happy about my decision.
In the research I did leading up to applying for this class, I found little more than the few sentences AMICA itself provides as a description of its classes.
“You will be interviewed on the first day. We will listen to what you want to accomplish. We are very serious about helping you achieve your goals. Based on the result and your needs, we will decide the method and materials best suited to you. We can do that with our systemized theory of language instruction and experience.”
It seems straightforward enough. If anything, I thought, perhaps it sounds a little too simple. But sure enough, when I arrived in Tokyo on the first day, I was met at the train station by a friendly Japanese man and woman (two AMICA teachers) who led me on the short walk to the school’s office, just a few blocks away, with an awesome view of Tokyo Tower, which made me feel happy about spending half of my winter vacation in the big city.
I was lucky enough to have been paired with another JET of intermediate Japanese abilities. If a class has only one student sign up, or they can’t match any other students to your Japanese level, then you must pay the same price for fewer hours of private lessons. Most of AMICA’s students appear to be true beginners. And actually, I think beginners are likely the individuals who stand to gain the most from this style of intensive instruction.
That is not to say that I did not benefit a great deal from my 15 hours of intermediate instruction. In fact, I likely gained a good deal more from the class than my classmate, a JET from Hyogo Prefecture, whose comfort with speaking and knowledge of Japanese grammar was significantly higher than my own. The pace of the course was indeed vigorous, and there was plenty of time to ask questions as well as make valuable mistakes. Most of our time was spent doing transformation drills in a sort of hypnotic dialogue, with the instructor stepping in from time to time to make a correction or clarification. It was a mentally exhausting, and by noon, when our three-hour class was over, I was always ready to go back to the hostel for a nap before my supplementary night time activities in the city. What intensive foreign language course is complete without the chance to practice what you’ve learned during the day at bars and dance clubs each night? In many respects the AMICA course resembled a private, smaller scale version of the Hiroshima Prefectural Japanese Language Camp that JETs are required to attend, with better nightlife.
In short, it was a vacation well spent. There is nothing extraordinary about AMICA’s methods. The teachers were knowledgeable and experienced and kind. The coursework was certainly challenging, though never overwhelming, and I think, well suited to my needs and desires. We even got to keep the photocopied course materials, which amounted to approximately half of a Japanese textbook’s worth of dialogues, examples, exercises and explanations. But perhaps the best part of the course for me personally was the motivational boost I received from the intensive level of practice. I left Tokyo much more confident in my Japanese abilities and much more motivated to continue studying on my own with the start of the new year. So, next time you see that advertisement for intensive Japanese in Tokyo, take another look. The next intensive course being offered is during Golden Week, March 29 through April 2.