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Kanji and High Schools

JAPAN | Sunday, 31 January 2016 | Views [253]

Class on Monday had two parts. The first part had us review kanji, the second part had us meet with high schoolers and introduce ourselves. Both parts had homework.

The homework for the kanji part was to write four sentences using kanji on pages 8-9. Pages 8-9 contained 9 separate kanji, so this didn’t make sense as a homework assignment. I automatically interpreted this as “write four sentences for each kanji,” which got me to about an hour of homework for the weekend. Given I should have theoretically been doing 3 or 4 hours each day (one hour for each hour of class), this seemed reasonable, if not an underestimate (I’m a math major. When I professor says “this should take you about an hour” they probably mean “this will take you at least three. I hope you didn’t have any plans for the weekend.” So I wrote 36 sentences.

That was 4 times more than my classmates wrote, and 9 times more than the instructor had expected from me. So I did way more work than I had to, but had the nice side benefit of making subsequent kanji assignments seem so much easier. I’m used to dashing off Japanese homework in the break between doing math, or while I’m procrastinating on French, (or in the fifteen minutes before class while I’m simultaneously trying to play Set) so the idea that I don’t have anything except Japanese is still a pretty new concept. I’m not sure how well I’m adapting to it.

During class, I rerealized how lazy I’ve been getting with kanji. Freshman year, I’d been reviewing kanji competitively with some classmates, and we’d been racing to try and write a character faster. I won, somewhat dubiously, since at first glance, it just looked like scribbles. I responded “I know it looks terrible, but all of the strokes are there in the right place.” And my opponent had to concede that. The lines had blurred together a bit because I’d been writing them fast, but it was technically correct.

Cut forward two years and that’s what all my kanji look like. It’s one of the side effects of being able to write 36 sentences using some complicated kanji and not have it take too long. I write quickly, and my handwriting suffers as a result. But I do have the right strokes in the right order, and you can tell what I mean, and at Carthage, that’s enough.

Here? Not so much. And it’s something that’s probably good for me to start needing to think a bit more about everything I’m writing… but at the same time, it’s just a pain. And I don’t want to have to start writing everything more slowly and carefully, because, especially during classes when I’m taking notes, I don’t have the time for that.

Once kanji were semi-reviewed (we each went to the board and wrote two of our sentences. And then another two. My biggest struggle was deciding which 4 of the 36 I wanted to write up there) we went downstairs to meet with high schoolers.

I read a handout explaining what would be expected of us during this and future meetings with them, though to be honest I’m still not entirely sure what the point of meeting with high schoolers was. But we were told to, so down to the basement we went to meet with the fourth year students and high schoolers and introduce ourselves ad nauseum.

There were 12 Japanese students and 7 exchange students. We split up into four groups so that each group had 3 Japanese students and 1 or 2 exchange students, then every 10-15 minutes the foreign exchange students rotated.

Indu was the other American in my group, and, although she did a slightly better job at talking to reticent Japanese students, I found out later that she hadn’t enjoyed that activity any more than I had. The problem was that almost the entirety of conversation fell on us, as Americans and as the older students. Yamauguchi-sensei said that before we went in. They were Japanese and they were high school students and they were shy, but we were Americans and college students, and therefore even though we were speaking to people we didn’t know in a language we weren’t comfortable in, we should be outgoing and friendly.

I’m increasingly thinking that this program doesn’t realize that introverted Americans exist.

There were only two situations in which the Japanese students seemed to relax. The first was that the penultimate group we talked with were really chatty. I’m not sure if it was because the three people who actually liked talking were grouped together, or they were comfortable with each other, or something else. But talking with them felt more like a real conversation than the conversations my dentist has with me as he’s poking around at my teeth, so that was nice.

The other thing that relaxed the students was when a specific one of their two teachers showed up. Often, them just seeing him standing there was enough for them to ask a new question to us, or turn to him to get a vocabulary word in English so they could give a better answer. At one point, there was a student who was not instantly made more relaxed and talkative by his presence, so the teacher asked him a very specific question, and, still addressing the teacher, he answered it. It was the most he talked “to us” the entire time. He’d clearly earned the confidence of his students, and that was nice to see. Would have been even nicer if he could have been around during all of our conversations with his students, but so it goes.

Tags: classes, high school, japanese, kanji

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