What I found most difficult of learning a language remotely is the isolation that one is faced during self-study. I must try to learn the alphabet but as I encounter it, I am unable to complete the first activity in the main coursebook. I am still having to deal with a completely foreign alphabet and my go-to second language is Korean. Obviously I see some similarities to Korean but I still feel very much a baby in Japanese.
I was hoping to learn some basic grammar constructs independently but I feel that this is a very slow process. Hopefully, as the weeks progress, I will start to achieve more in my (own) language learning journey with minimal sessions online. So far, the online sessions have been great but I still feel very motivated to achieve more.
I decided, after teaching the summer remotely during a pre-sessional course, to undertake an online language course with my institute. The reason for this was that I had been teaching and delivering course content over the summer months but I had never undertaken an online language course and had no experience of being a student. Thus, I decided to start an online language course and registered for Beginner Japanese. At this point, I should state that I have never studied Japanese, have no knowledge of the alphabet, understand the grammar is similar to Korean, yet am very new to this language. I have taught many Japanese students in the past and I thought this would be a chance to enhance my linguistic awareness while also experiencing what my students experienced, within an online context.
I started by ordering the recommended coursebooks from Amazon: “Japanese for Busy People I: Kana Version”, “Japanese for Busy People I: Kana Workbook”, and “Japanese for Busy People I: The Workbook”. At this point, I had no awareness of what I was embarking upon but as soon as the books arrived I realised that there was a lot more to Japanese than just remembering grammar and vocabulary – I had to learn a completely new alphabet and practise writing individual words. Not one to give up, I decided to download the Duo Lingo app to help me learn the Japanese alphabet and memorise Hiragana. Naturally, comparison between the Korean alphabet (Hangeul) and the Japanese alphabet arose, as did much frustration. Yet, I had the online lesson to look forward to.
I also had to download and print off the vocabulary before the first lesson. I used this to refer to during the lesson but there was vocabulary sheet which included different countries and nationalities, jobs as well as honorifics. I started to notice similar patterns to Korean with the suffix with countries to create the nationality, honorifics, and job titles. This made understanding the culture of the language a lot easier but I stumbled with the Kana (Hiragana and Katakana). I am sure with continued study, I will improve my Japanese reading.
I arrived to the online class five minutes before it was due to start. I remember myself starting lessons around twenty to thirty minutes before the start of the class to allow students to have a chat before starting the class as scheduled. Nevertheless, the teacher was present with her mic and webcam off, and there were a few more students that had already arrived. What was interesting was that there were different nationalities that had decided to learn Japanese – these included students from India, Chile as well as students from the UK. The teacher also used the breakout rooms quite a bit for students to get to know each other – I was placed in the room with the most animated and enthusiastic (I would say loudest) student. We introduced each other and why we decided to study Japanese before returning back to the main Zoom session to report back (in English).
After a short while of drilling and introducing new Japanese vocabulary and grammatical structures, we had a chance to practise this in breakout rooms again. I was so keen to try out this new linguistic knowledge with my students but my favourite and enthusiastic student took over AGAIN. I had to step up a little and allow the quieter student to speak up a little. I wonder whether I was starting to act more like a teacher again. The more enthusiastic student was so keen that he had difficulty remembering what we were doing and had to go through the phrases twice as long as the less vocal students. This got me thinking about allowing space for acquisition to occur rather than trying to produce the language immediately. As much as one wishes for language to be acquired as quickly as possible, you cannot hurry the process.
Anyhow, I had a short while to practice the phrases with the other students and before we realised, we all returned to the main room again before being introduced to questions and basic negative verb conjugations by the teacher. The teacher decided to ask me a question in Japanese and fortunately I was able to understand: “Are you Japanese?” (日本人ですか) and I replied “I am not Japanese” (私は日本人ではありません). I felt a sense of achievement. Not only had a learnt basic grammatical constructs in Japanese but I also was able to respond to basic questions in either the affirmative or negative. I heard the teacher use Japanese vocabulary with other students such as ‘student’, ‘teacher’, ‘lawyer’, ‘secretary’, etc – all from the word list that we were provided before the class.
The class finished after an hour and a half, with the time flying by. Everybody said thank you and goodbye, before the lesson finished. There are a few things that I have to undertake before the start of the lesson next week and these include learning Japanese numbers (0-10). If Japanese numbers are anything like Korean numbers, it will be quite easy to acquire. I also have to introduce myself to the class Padlet using the Roma-ji (Romanisation of Japanese phrases/grammar) which I completed immediately. There are also a few personal things that I would like to complete before the end of this week: learning Kana completely (I don’t want to be constrained by the Roma-ji and wish to read and pronounce Kana naturally), learning basic phrases, understanding simple verb forms and learning the grammar. Actually, that is quite a bit to complete but I think it is possible if I decide to study a few hours each day. I certainly have time at the moment to study as there are not many English lessons that I am teaching. And you never know, it would be really interesting to see how far I can push my Japanese language skills in three months.
I would like to share my progress of learning a language remotely to see if it is possible and also learn more about best practice for online language learning and teaching. And what better way to review this by undertaking an online language course. It would be interesting to hear whether other teachers have undertaken an online language course, and if they have the challenges that they have encountered. One thing that I have enjoyed with my first lesson is the opportunity to have a place to practice the pronunciation of Japanese within a supportive and encouraging environment.
See you in an update soon, where I share my online/remote learning journey.
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