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    • Thread Starter

    Been posting in the SOAS section for a while now
    Sorry for the long post, didn't intend on it being this long. But any help is appreciated!

    After lots of help from Mani Katti (thanks! ), I have a rough idea of how the course is taught.
    I've been told that on the Japanese BA, the Minna no Nihongo textbooks are the staples for learning grammar, vocab and listening. Aswell as the SOAS workbooks.

    Mani's assured me it's not just learning from the textbook. But I was wondering how the tutors make things interesting, and what else do they do to ensure students have a high ability using Japanese? It can't just be reading from the textbook, and a tutor reading it out loud?

    I'm also a bit worried over how 'real life' student's ability will be over 'textbook Japanese'? Are the listening exercises from native Japanese speakers? I suppose that wouldn't be as big a problem with people being taught by native Japanese speakers, but it'd be nice to know ^_^

    Another question I have is about tutor support. How good has it been in your opinion and the people who were/are on the course with you? I've looked at unistats and which university statistics, and the areas Japanese at SOAS seems to lack on compared to other universities are receiving sufficient advice and support (61%), and prompt feedback on work (57%), and ability to access IT resources (73%, compared to Sheffield's 89%). Just wondered if anyone could explain why they think these figures are pretty low? I particularly don't understand because I've heard there are two optional clinic sessions in the week. Maybe people couldn't attend these, and the tutors didn't support much outside of class/clinic time?

    Lastly, how do SOAS help with getting jobs after students graduate (specifically for a Japanese single honours)?

    Hi Matt, I'm a 3rd year BA Japanese candidate, and I'd like to give you as much info as I can regarding the structure of the course.

    Coursebooks constitute the majority of language learning on the Japanese programme at SOAS. Minna no Nihongo is only used in the first year, at least for the BA Japanese (not Japanese studies) students. In the first half of the second year, the coursebook used is called "An integrated approach to intermediate Japanese", and this is adhered to rigidly, as opposed to Minna no Nihongo, which is largely skimmed, or at least it is when you do AJ in the first year. The result of this is that learning Japanese at SOAS at a degree level revolves entirely around the cousebook, as well as the workbooks produced by SOAS containing vocab, grammar and Kanji. The workbooks themselves correspond with the content of the coursebooks, and these constitute the greater part of your own development as a learner of Japanese, as the exercises in the workbooks are handed in every week, marked, and then handed back to you. If your grades aren't great, then you go to the clinic. Actually, you're kind of expected to go to the clinic even though it's not compulsory, kind of to give face to your teacher! But many people don't.

    Now, about lesson content and contact time: The classes are quite big, at least in the 2nd year, so you don't really get much contact time, which is why it's often a good idea to go to clinic if you need help. The grammar classes involve the teacher going through the latest chapter of the cousebook and asking the students (in pairs) to try and explain how a paticular grammar function works. This is done by students conferring with each other and the teacher then goes around the class pair by pair correcting their responses where necessary. The teacher also displays example sentences on a projector and gets the students to spot and correct the errors in the sentences. The listening class revolves around an audio file and accompanying handout with gaps that need to be filled in, it's pretty basic really. The translation class involves volunteering to write your translation that you did for homework on the board in front of the class, where the teacher then asks the class if they have any other alternative translations, after which the teacher gives the correct answer. The "practical" class was so banal and partronising that I stopped going. The teacher genuinely seemed to think we were all ten-year olds. Ditto the writing class.

    TBH, if you're looking to learn "real-life" rather than "textbook" Japanese, then learning Japanese at degree level is pretty pointless. If you want to learn both, then make sure you spend all your spare time either watching Japanese TV, learning large amounts of vocabulary and spending the rest of the time socialising with Japanese students. However, if you do too much of this, your study time may be affected, and if you're not already doing these things by the time you start your degree, you might find that the sheer pressure of the workload and demands of the course structure puts you off wanting to have anything to do with Japanese outside of class. You have been warned! Seiously though, this is where absolute dedication and stamina come in useful as the Japanese programme is VERY demanding, especially in the second year, when all of your energies go into the half-year exam (around Christmas), the year abroad placement test (around feb.) and the final exams of the year, all of which determine whether or not you go to Japan in the 3rd year. At the end of the day, the structure of the Japanese language programme at SOAS is designed to be as dry and as no-frills as possible, especially compared with the way modern languages are taught in schools. Due to the academic nature of the couse, you're expected, as a student, to rely on your own initiative and to be possessed of the requisite discipline and tenacity in order to progress. It's not paticularly hard per se, but the way a lot of the teaching is carried out can feel a little fossilised. One reason for this could be that this is the way that the Japanese teachers themselves were taught, and the Japanese style of language teaching is incredibly dry, relying mostly on rote learning and "Yaku-doku" (訳読= Reading and translation), which is believed to be the best method of teaching and learning languages by the Japanese education profession. This could be preparation for life in Japanese society, as it puts you in the same boat as your Japanese peers, who have had to endure a decade of this by the time they reach university.

    Like I said, studying for a language degree won't make you fluent, it's not a magic wand that allows you to walk out of the SOAS building at the end of your fourth year with native level Japanese. BUT, the exposure to Japanese culture and society, especially after your year abroad, will give you a unique insight into all matters Japanese, even if you're not fluent by the end of it. If you expect everything to fall into your lap all at once, especially in the first half of your year abroad, then you're going to be disappointed and de-motivated, and that's the kiss of death for someone doing BA Japanese. Just remember what inspired to start studying Japanese in the first place, and bit by bit your efforts will be rewarded. Just look at some of the professors of Japanese at SOAS, they're experts now, but only after years of exposure to Japanese language, culture and society. Hang in there and you too could be teaching in ten-fifteen years time.

    Oh, and on the subject of employment.... It's quite common for us BA Japanese candidates to, ahem, "freak-out" someway through the 3rd year when it begins to dawn on you that you're actually going to have to get a job in around 18 months time, especially considering that on the surface, there don't seem to be all that many employment opportunities for foreigners in Japan besides teaching English. But don't worry, the SOAS careers department has a lists of potential eployers aimed at students of every type of degree, and there's the annual Japanese employers conference in London where you can go along and gain information on opportunities available and meet representatives of potential employers. My brother works with a few SOAS BA Japanese graduates in Tokyo, and very well they are doing too. The Tokyo correspondent of the Guardian is a SOAS allumnus, too.

    The stats you refer to reflect the slightly idiosyncratic and archaic nature of the Japanese department. Getting feedback for essays takes months, and getting feedback for your homework other than just a mark is dependent on how often you go to the clinic, and how much effort you make to engage with your teacher. Many of the staff are very busy, and may not be all that free and easy with their time, but don't let that put you off. Many of them are involved in teaching other year groups and MA/Phd canidates, as well as studying for doctorates themselves, so don't be surprised if you get the bare minimum in feed back. If you're doing well, then fair enough, if not, then you'll be given ample advice as to how to sort things out. The whole idea of SOAS is autonomy, which is why it's a good idea to get a laptop and your own scanner/printer to avoid any deadline day IT related disasters, as the whole of the school seems to want to use the scarce printers at once!

    All in all, every minute spent studying for your BA Japanese degree is challenging, rewarding, and enriching, which should provide you with the skills and motivation necessary to continue developing your potential in the real world. It's been tough so far, but I don't regret a minute of it, and this is just the beginning! Stay focused and also consider the importance of your own sense of autonomy, which involves being audacious and adventurous when it comes to applying your Japanese skills in the real world.

    If you have any questions, then please feel free to PM me.

    Most of all, good luck!
    • Thread Starter

    Wow, did not expect a reply going into that much detail, so thanks very much!

    PM coming your way any time now

    (Original post by Onkochishin)
    A truly brilliant post, very insightful and helpful. +1
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