Hi everyone, I’m Bryan. I’m currently a freshman studying Economics at Waseda University’s School of Political Science and Economics. My education journey in Japan might be quite different compared to that of most students – even though my undergraduate degree is in English, I actually studied in a Japanese language school for about a year before matriculating. I would like to share more about the less-known Japanese language school route that few students have chosen.
Unlike students under the MEXT scholarship who are also required to attend 1 year of language school, the language school I attended was not under MEXT but a self-sourced school. There was definitely a lot of apprehension and uncertainty when I was choosing a language school because there were relatively few resources available to consult, but I eventually decided to pursue a 1 year language school at Tokyo Central Japanese Langauge School (TCJ), which is just opposite Shinanomachi station on the Chuo-Sobu Local Line.
A typical day at my language school consists of lessons from 0900 – 1220. On average, we would cover 2-3 grammar points every day, followed by a wide variety of activities or group discussions to give us more opportunities for output and conversation practice. The lesson I found the most interesting was the “Social Lesson”, in which the class engaged in discussions or debates regarding pertinent societal topics. The topics ranged from how artificial intelligence might take over our jobs in future, to whether it is acceptable to tell a white lie. Even though we struggled really hard to articulate our thoughts using the limited Japanese vocabulary we knew, these sessions taught us how to present our ideas coherently in Japanese, a language most of us are not used to speaking on a daily basis (after all, Japanese isn’t our mother tongue).
Outside the classroom, TCJ occasionally organised activities for us students to experience the Japanese culture at a deeper level. During my time at TCJ, I participated in a 茶道 session and an exchange event at a Japanese high school. Besides giving us further opportunities to hone our language abilities, these sessions helped us to finer understand the Japanese society and culture at a different level, something that we may not have been able to do on a day-to-day basis, especially for those for us who had very limited language proficiency, I must say.
The international makeup of the students also made my whole language school experience a whole lot more interesting. I had classmates who were studying Japanese with the hopes of entering a Japanese university, technical school, or even finding a job in Japan. I have a lot of respect for my classmates who had never studied Mandarin (or kanji for that matter) in their lives, but yet still tried their level best to self-learn new kanji characters daily. It was also inevitable that seeing my classmates trying their best drove me to put my best foot forward in learning Japanese. However, the most valuable connections were made outside the classroom – when we gathered and talked about our own lives and experiences over home-cooked traditional food. Unlike universities, language schools have no regular major exams or GPAs recorded, making the learning atmosphere is less tense, and that has definitely made learning a tad more fun for me.
My biggest advice to anyone looking to take a similar path is to be brave and take that leap of faith. It was definitely daunting and somewhat disorientating when I first arrived in Japan knowing very limited Japanese, but it is only through putting ourselves in such unfamiliar situations and getting our hands dirty that we’ll experience growth.