On September 11th, I arrived in Tokyo to start my exchange study. I wanted to come here because studying Japanese language is kind of my hobby, and I wanted to experience real environment. In the Lappeenranta University of Technology it is not possible to study Japanese. Therefore I had to study by myself. Actually after 1½ year of self-studying, I have taken my first Japanese classes in Japan. In this blog entry I would like to compare these different approaches to language study.
Basically when starting learning a language, there are two choices; take classes or study by yourself from textbooks or the Internet. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive. Common opinion is that classes are needed if one wants to start learning a language. That is definitely not the case, but classes have two things which can help a learner quite a lot. In language classes a learner can receive feedback and ask questions from an instructor, which can help a learner a lot. No matter what the topic is, self-studying can be exhausting. In classes, however an instructor can also motivate learners.
While classes have two powerful advantages, there are also disadvantages. Often in language classes pace is fixed, and often it is very slow. One research student in my laboratory is taking intensive Japanese courses every day and after following his progress, I think it has been very slow compared to self-studying I did when I started learning Japanese. Another disadvantage is, especially on language classes, examples used during classes feel so fake because they are missing context. That is specially problem with Japanese, because Japanese is very context based language. I believe, one should use material meant for natives since the first day because a purpose of learning a language is to understand material meant for natives.
Advantages and disadvantages of self-studying are opposites of learning in classes. The biggest advantage is definitely that a learner can define her or his own pace, which is much faster than classes for a motivated learner. Also it is not only pace, but a learner can actually select the methods. In language textbooks there are almost as many approaches to language learning as there are textbooks. Self-learner can try many methods and materials and select one most suitable to him/her. The biggest disadvantage of self-studying is lack of feedback and unableness to ask questions.
I think many of disadvantages of self-studying can be overcome with usage of internet which is what I have done so far. Finding native speakers of language that one wants to learn in Internet can be helpful. Of course, they will not be language teachers and therefore their explanations might be lacking a bit, but most importantly they can tell learner, if his language output sounded natural or unnatural.
Still I do not think that disadvantages of classes can be overcome that easily. Slow pace can be overcome just by adjusting the pace by self-studying. But on beginner level it isn’t very efficient because on beginner level language studying is quite straightforward. In advanced classes combining self-studying and classes can be useful, because learner can self-study different content than is being taught in classes. This is what I am actually doing currently. Classes I am taking focus on Japanese Proficiency Test N2 level material and I am self-studying N1 level material. See more information of the levels https://www.jlpt.jp/e/about/levelsummary.html
I would like to add one thing I have noticed here in Japan. People actually speak very differently Japanese than Japanese taught in textbooks or classes. It is not really slang or dialect, just some grammar structures tend to get modified in casual speech. Because I have read quite lot of comics and books and watched TV shows for natives, I was somewhat familiar with it, but still in beginning it was really hard to understand. What I want to say, real interaction is necessary no matter what. You won’t learn a language enough by just self-studying or taking classes.
My exchange can be followed on http://valtteriysep.wordpress.com/
Text:Valtteri Meriruoko, a student in Independent Study of English course