Coto Language Academy offers various Japanese classes for foreigners. I spent 4 weeks in an intensive course (level Beginner 2) in September of 2017 in order to learn some Japanese to make traveling in Japan both easier and more fun. This post discusses my first impressions of the school followed by a full review in the next post.
I had high hopes for the Coto Language Academy as I enthusiastically embrace the teaching approach stated on their website.
“Our courses are designed for students from beginner to advanced who want to rapidly improve their Japanese speaking ability.”
“Our full time course focuses on conversation within a friendly environment.”
“Improve Your Japanese Speaking & Listening In Just 4 Weeks!”
Although, I’m generally skeptical of of promises to learn language quickly, putting it in the same category as losing 30 pounds in 30 days and earning $10,000 month following our easy program, I was encouraged that their focus was on oral communications skills.
I was further encouraged by their chosen textbook, Genki, as it teaches and practices grammar structures in context with the goal of using the structures in open ended conversation.
First day of class
I was pleased to find myself in a class with only 3 other students, all men and all of them working age as opposed to college students. This was all looking quite good.
My heart sank when the teacher presented the daily schedule and I found we would begin each day with kanji (Chinese characters) practice. OK I thought, not the most useful for me who is just trying to learn enough to get by, but it’s just one section of the class.
The class, however, only went downhill from there. Grammar structures were taught completely out of context and practiced either in written exercises or as a whole class drill, a very outdated Asian style of teaching. There was no one-on-one teacher student activities or pair work. It’s as if she was teaching to class of 50, not four.
As a result, after three hours of instruction the only meaningful Japanese I’d had a chance to speak was a very short self-introduction at the beginning of the class – name, nationality, occupation and what I like to do. I can’t think of a worse start in all my years of language classes. Let’s hope tomorrow goes better.
What a difference a teacher can make! Although we still started the morning with kanji practice – both writing the character using the proper stroke order – you can’t just write it any old way – and the meaning, the morning otherwise was spent on practicing grammar structures, both forming what is called the t forms of the verb and then using them in context for making requests.
Practice still tended to be controlled with no real conversation practice. The textbook actually does give more open ended exercises for practicing the forms, but so far the teachers haven’t used any of them. This second teacher also used far less English but was much easier to understand. She spoke clearly and used gestures and examples to explain the meaning rather than quickly reverting to English.
First exam day
Fridays are devoted entirely to review and assessment, starting of course with kanji. As a class we reviewed kanji flashcards, both the individual characters and then in sentences, going around the room with each student taking a turn.
The test was 9 sentences, first with the kanji characters underlined for which we had to provide the hiragana (Japanese phonetic alphabet) and then with the hiragana underlined for which we had to provide the kanji character. A rather silly way to present a test as it is entirely unnecessary to read the sentence in order to translate the kanji to hiragana and vice-versa.
We then reviewed for the grammar test, going over the grammar structures studied that week. Most of the review focused on action flashcards for which we had to provide the verb in the proper form. The test, however, was 6 sentences which we had to translate from English into hiragana, followed by a fill-in table of conjugation forms. The third section was vocabulary words, 5 English to be translated into hiragana and 5 hiragana for which you had to provide the English word. All in all this was a very non-communicative test. Secondly, the test did not assess what they had you practice in class.
For both tests, the fact that I write hiragana very slowly created a time constraint. When I study I mostly focus on oral structures. In class, too, we focused on oral structures, so a written test of this nature does not match the goals of the class.