Classes Suck

Listening to girls called Stacy squeaking out “ah ree gar toe go zai moss oo” is not to your advantage. Especially if you are the girl called Stacy. That chick needs help.

Classes suck. Not only do they cost money, but they’re boring and they don’t work. You only need look as far as the number of people taking Japanese classes, versus the number of people who are actually good at Japanese. The people in charge of the classes will tell you that it’s because “Japanese is hard”; “Japanese is different”; “it’s the kanji”; “those East Asians are so inscrutable; they just don’t think like we do”. Bollocks! Absolute bollocks! There is nothing fundamentally difficult or different about Japanese. Very normal human beings speak, read and write it on a daily basis. The problem might be with the way we are learning it, but it would be unprofessional, dishonest, and an act of the most severe bollocks, to blame the object of our learning.

I’m not saying you can’t get anything valuable from a class. And I’m absolutely not saying that teachers are bad people. On the contrary, there are wonderful, dedicated teachers out there. They’re victims, too. They know it doesn’t work. They know that success in their classes is only tangentially related to success in actual Japanese. Many of them even admit that “you need to do Japanese outside the classroom”, but too often, that takes the form of goofy busywork assignments. Filling in the blanks. Woo! I’m going to be the best Japanese-blank-filler ever!…Please.

What helps in the real world of Japanese is something almost all classes punish: the ability to wing it. Of course I believe in preparation, but real life situations rarely follow the plan in all but the most general sense. The plan gets twisted and even broken, you forget a word and have to explain your way around it. Stuff happens, and you need to be able to think on your feet. In class it’s called BSing. In the real world, it’s called common freaking sense.

Perhaps classes and textbooks for Japanese made sense when they had a monopoly on information. Back in the day, outside of a class, there probably were no Japanese materials readily available to a person outside of Japan. And certainly for a rarer language, like Dzongkha, you might want to seek a class because materials are so scarce (but that’s a big “might”).

In any case, with the end of their monopoly on information, the typical Japanese language class as it exists is long past its expiry date. You have the information in your hands now, and you can use it far more efficiently than a class can. And yes, a lot of it’s unedited information, but the real world never did come neatly shrink-wrapped in mind-numbingly boring vocabulary lists with chapter headings. Plus, a lot of the stuff out there actually is edited. For example, Japanese dictionary companies have both an economic incentive and a Japanese cultural bias to do things well. So there. Class 0, You 1.

I’m 23 years old and very arrogant, but I still believe in asking people who know better for help. In this on-demand, consultative form (like Dr. Mary Noguchi’s Kanji Clinic), a class would have use.

But if you’re signing up for a typical “watashi wa sumisu desu” textbook-centered Japanese class hoping for a teacher, through the magical power of the textbook written by the experts at the Takagawa-Jones Institute for Samurai Studies and  Good Japanese, to inject the special invisible Japanese sauce (that they keep in the closet at the back of the room) into your brain in 45-minute increments every weekday…then don’t hold your breath. Instead, save yourself the time and heartache, take your precious money and go buy some anime, or whatever, just something in real Japanese. Take a shopping trip to Amazon.jp. Trust me, it’s better this way…

  49 comments for “Classes Suck

  1. Brian
    July 13, 2007 at 19:33

    Haha….wow, brilliant. So, I was doing self-study for 3 months, then I was like “ahhhhh…too friggin hard!!!,” so then I signed up for a class and was bored out of my mind for 4 hours every night. Luckily I found this site, by the way it’s like a bible for myself as a Japanese learner. And now, I dropped that god-awful class. Hell, I learned more in one night with my nice SRS than i did with 2 weeks of that boring class. I think they are still stuck on hiragana in that class…pathetic waste of time that was.

    Ok, enough of my rant, but seriously, this guy knows what he’s talking about. The fact that I actually felt comfortable with Japanese in one day of this method shows that it works.

  2. Largo
    February 19, 2009 at 06:50

    I admit it. I’m taking classes every week and still somehow enjoy them. Yes, there are complainers, people who ask why that kanji is so friggin’ illogical and yes it’s expensive. In Fact 20 lessons are half of my monthly income. It’s maybe that Switzerland is expensive or because I’m an apprentice. Not sure about this one.

    I totally agree to you in most parts of this articles. Lessons don’t work, they take you nowhere and you have to listen to people who aren’t used to Japanese pronunciation. I won’t quit them so soon though. Why? I think you’re missing the social part in your method. Those people can motivate me to stay on path. So I won’t abandon the learning completely before I can make the time to start your method in the later half of this year, after my final exams in french and english.

    • H4
      May 31, 2014 at 01:34

      I like the idea of Classes if I could afford them, but you’ve got the method wrong. “I won’t abandon the learning completely before I can make the time to start your method later this year”. Firstly, his method IS learning, as long as you spend time on targeted SRS as well as immersion. Also, you don’t need time:

      I’m going through a period of 29 exams in the course of 4 weeks, 8 of which are other foreign languages and none of which are Japanese. Yet I can still make ALL my short leisure time Japanese (they tell you to take 15 min breaks between study sessions, you know) by watching Let’s Plays in Japanese, anime from crunchyroll.co.uk (unlimited, legal and free), and listening to music and podcasts when I’m travelling. Heck, I even have Let’s Plays in the background when I’m practising maths questions because the mathematical logic and language comprehension are very different skill sets that don’t interfere with each other. And I make time for an hour of SRS before bed.

  3. Cihan
    March 29, 2009 at 14:45

    I understand what everyone is saying! Khatz, I don’t even know you but I feel like do so it’s creepy. Anyway I think taking classes helps me score on Japanese. I mean even though they suck and stuff, I still don’t want to fail so it keeps me studying personally and it lets me study even more. I don’t know the more I surpass my classmates, the more I want to study. Your method is very addictive I must say and I’m grateful.

  4. Bobo
    June 8, 2009 at 12:23

    Honestly, I loved my classes. My classmates were so supportive and fun, and I honestly didn’t find that in any other class at university. I tried learning on my own and was way too overwhelmed. Classes helped me focus a lot better. I now have to start learning on my own again as I’m finished university, but I can’t say I regret at all taking my classes.

    One thing that I know I will miss is the camaraderie of trying to learn another language with others. It’s not the same as when you’re asking questions online.

  5. July 15, 2009 at 06:13

    Classes are only as good as how much exposure to the language they provide. As the people in language acquisition theory says, you don’t learn (say) Japanese because the class teaches grammar, you learn Japanese despite the class teaching grammar. They could as well be teaching tea ceremony or enka singing or Dragon Quest strategy—the only real benefit is the exposure to Japanese.

  6. shipshape
    October 15, 2009 at 08:25

    Hello

    I’m not learning Japanese, but what you write is relevant for all language learning in my opinion.

    I’m also an English teacher in a foreign country.

    Shock horror, I agree with your sentiments completely. This may be why I have self-esteem issues.

    My lessons are pointless and only enable my students to complete a few gap filling exercises in an exercise book and read some graded and, somewhat ineffectual, texts that bear little relation to real English.

    The only benfit that a class gives people is the opportunity to interact in English where otherwise they would have none. However, what with the internet and everything, face-to-face language exchanges offer people the opportunity to do this from the comfort of their own home with a native speaker.

  7. Nick
    December 1, 2009 at 14:06

    lol i agree classes suck. Im moving to japan next year and taking a class but only so i can
    get a visa to stay there. Your way of learning is way better then some crappy class. Classes are super boring times 5! Anyways thanks for all the awesome posts. Hope to meet ya in japan next year

  8. stacy
    December 18, 2009 at 04:57

    🙁

  9. ancurio
    September 14, 2010 at 20:30

    Dude, Anime is the exact opposite of real Japanese (for the most part)

    • Jason
      January 9, 2011 at 02:09

      Lol

      How is anime the exact opposite of “real” Japanese. Okay, if anime isn’t “real” Japanese.

      Then why is it made for Japanese people? Then why is it that Japanese people can understand what they’re saying?

      When you read a Batman comic, do they use real English? Do you understand what they’re saying? Or is it all fake English. You have no idea what they’re talking about in there cuz it’s all fake English right.

      Give me a break.

      • K
        January 16, 2011 at 20:33

        While anime Japanese is certainly “real” Japanese, it’s fair to say that a student who makes anime or manga their primary source of study will come out speaking strangely. The intonation, end of sentence particles, even first person pronouns differ heavily from the Japanese that normal people speak. That’s not to say that anime and manga can’t be a great study aid for learning grammar, vocabulary and the general flow of the language, but students should be aware that it’s not an accurate reflection of the Japanese people use in real life situations.

        Then again, you could say the same thing about textbook Japanese.

        I guess my point is that it’s important to vary your sources and learn about the usage differences, which differ pretty radically from English.

        • Ken
          February 2, 2011 at 01:14

          アニメ and 漫画 are types of media, not genres. It’s how you get your 日本語, not what words they use. (Like the internet!) I’ve seen all manner of particles, first person pronouns, etc. — everything I’ve heard IRL, and much more. 本/ビデオ are virtually unlimited in scope, while 人間 speakers are (for most of us outside 日本国) in short supply. Nobody I know speaks 関西弁, for example, but I see it in 漫画 occasionally.

          I think this is the same argument as “people who learn 英語 by watching American TV/movies aren’t going to speak normal 英語”. If there are people around talking like Bruce Willis characters, I’ve never met one. Every foreigner I’ve ever met who speaks 英語 so well you think they grew up in ニューヨーク tell me they learned it by watching a lot of テレビ.

  10. Will
    September 15, 2010 at 03:56

    Why “classes” suck for losing weight as well.

    www.iwantsixpackabs.com/my_video_tips/interval_training.html

    TEACHERS DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT WORKS BEST
    “I know many fitness trainers that put their client on 6-7 hours of cardio training per week for several months. When the clients are frustrated with the lack of results, the only thing that the trainers do is encourage their clients to just stick with the program or to do more hours. So what is the solution? Is it to do more cardio? Of course not! Doing extra cardio will not help you. You will be surprised to know that 6-7 hours will NOT help increase your metabolism. In fact, it can actually slow down your metabolism.”

    IT’S WHAT YOU DO ALL DAY THAT MATTERS NOT JUST THE WORKOUT!(same goes for “studying” japanese)

    “A lot of people focus too much about ?he workout when in fact, they should focus more on the whole picture. It is not the 1 hour of workout that counts but it is the 23 hours remaining in the day”

  11. 4fksake
    October 18, 2010 at 09:16

    I totally agree with you that taking Japanese classes is a waste of time. I took a semester of it in college and learned nothing. In the same amount of time studying on my own, I have achieved an incredible lot more.

    You are correct when you say that Japanese has so many learning materials available and so it is particularly unnecessary to take classes to learn Japanese. But for other languages that have very few resources available (Mongolian for example?) it might be necessary to take some classes.

    The only thing about self studying, though, is that it becomes very, very lonely. Every few months I get really tired of studying by myself and really want to have other people around me who are doing the same thing. Then I will start looking into classes again and making phone calls to ask about the courses. Then the same thing always happens…I come to the conclusion that the classes being offered will be run by morons who will teach me close to nothing but will charge me a fortune for it. It has always been the case that the class will cost hundreds of dollars or more plus the cost of a textbook. For less than a hundred, I could just buy the textbook myself if I wanted to.

    I kind of think that people take classes for two reasons. First, humans are mostly social creatures so we like to have other people around us. Even if those people are irritating, being alone a lot is more awful in most cases than the most awful people. And secondly, sometimes it is tempting to think of letting someone else make our learning decisions for us. I just thoguht of a third reason–the years of compulsory education most of us have had has conditioned us to be habituated to having a teacher and being in a class. Kind of like years of drinking would habituate some to being an alcoholic. It isn’t necessarily a good thing that public education has done to us. We have become sheep.

    All in all. I think classes offer very little. Being in a class generally slows down our learning compared to what we could learn alone. First, there is commuting time that is a waste of time that could be spent studying. And then there is all of the usual wasted class time while the teacher takes roll or while you wait for class to start or while you sit on your thumbs while the teacher writes on the board or passes something out to the class. If you counted the downtime in class, I think you would find that off task class time averages 20 to 30 percent. So in a 2 hour class, you are only likely receiving about an hour and a half of time on task. Plus you probably spent an hour or two round trip commuting to get to class. On your own, all of that total three or four hours could have been solidly devoted to learning instead of wasted on commuting or inefficient use of class time.

    But still. That being said. I do really, really wish sometimes to have other Japanese learners in the same room with me. But in the end, it is not worth the waste of time or money. Instead, I will save the class money to go to Japan on a good vacation someday.

  12. 4fksake
    October 18, 2010 at 10:09

    I just thought of another reason why classes usually suck. It is because in almost all cases the teacher is very aware that they are vulnerable to student complaints about them. Students are most apt to complain when the class is too hard. Don’t take my word for that. Study after study has shown the same thing.

    When you study on your own, you are probably always pushing yourself by using materials that are just slightly outside of your comfort zone. For example, when AJATT says keep listening to Japanese tv or music or reading it even if you don’t understand it, that is immersing yourself in a learning environment that is outside of your comfort zone. When you study by yourself, I think you tend to always push yourself to do more and use harder materials than what is really easy. I know that when the material I am using start to become very easy, then I start shopping for more advanced learning materials. I think most self studiers do that.

    However, when a teacher teaches a class, they can not push the majority of students in that way because most of those students will begin complaining to the program director or college authorities that the teacher is too hard, not helping them, not meeting their needs, etcetera. To get good reviews, teachers have to keep the average student at a level where they are very comfortable. In other words, the student has to feel like a genius in class. The only way to do that is to limit the unknown material with which the students are confronted. That therefore limits how much the students can learn also. Having been in the teaching profession, I can assure you that teachers who challenge students too much do not last long. You are confronted with the choice of either lowering your standards or leaving the profession. Basically, students and parents are usually very happy when a student has an A in class. If students are getting good grades in a class but not learning much, that teacher usually gets a good evaluation on their end of term assessment. Teachers who have high standards are usually not appreciated by students until those students look back in retrospect years later. At the time, it is the easy teachers who are usually popular. Looking back, though, you come to despise them and appreciate the ones who pushed you. Of course, it is unlikely that younger people will have that to look back on as our world has become intolerant of the challenging teacher. They are the memories of a bygone era. I well remember the many WWII generation teachers who taught me. They were as tough as nails and as unrelenting as a steel door but they did teach you to have self discipline as a learner. Modern youngsters are much more helpless learners because there is a dearth now of this type of teacher. Now, if the students are given a more challenging curriculum so that it is much harder to get a good grade, then the teacher tends to be rated lower by the students and parents. Studies of teacher evaluations have clearly shown that this is the case.

    A more challenging teacher is going to make class harder of course because they are going to push you more by introducing the concepts faster or by introducing more difficult materials sooner. Many of us would probably like that. I think people who tend to self study are mainly people who do want more challenge and choose to self study because they have found classes to be a waste of time. But the majority of people who are inclined to take a class are the type who are mental midgets. They want to be spoon fed. They want it to be easy and painless. They don’t have the work ethic or heart to be responsible for learning on their own. Teachers are really at the mercy of these types. That is why classes are always too easy and never teach you as much as you could learn on your own. The other students drag the pace of the class down.

    If you want an example of this, then search on GaijinPot for a thread where someone called Caroline. Am I allowed to post a link? If so it is forum.gaijinpot.com/showthread.php?86726-Problems-with-Japanese-learning This is a perfect example of the type of student I am talking about. Teachers are completely at the mercy of this type of student. And if you want to take a class, you are completely at the mercy of this type of student also. This type of student who has difficulty learning/slow learner and has little tolerance for a challenging learning environment has great power to cause a lot of problems for the teacher by complaining about the teacher. This is a relatively modern problem in education. It has to do with the self esteem, progressivist movement that is currently popular in Western cultures. This teaching philosophy advocates that all students are equally capable of learning and that if a student has difficulty, it is the fault of the teacher who is not properly addressing the needs of that student. Of course, it is total malarky. The truth is that some students learn some subjects better than other students do because they have either better study/classroom habits or because they are more intelligent for that type of learning. But that is an unpopular idea. So teachers must water down and slow down the class lessons so that very few if any students are struggling to learn. Basically, teachers must teach to the dumbest student. This naturally means that the brightest students and even average students are not being exposed to as advanced materials and lessons as they should be.

    Hence, why classes are a waste of time.

    If you are like me, when you are learning Japanese, sometimes you feel like you want to beat your head into a wall but you keep pushing yourself anyway. In a few months, the stuff that made you want to beat your head into a wall is suddenly easy and by then you are on to studying new stuff that makes you want to beat your head into a wall. If you always push yourself to do more and more, then you can learn much more than if you are content to only learn if it is very easy. It is like being an athlete. If you don’t make the exercise hurt a little, then your body isn’t building muscle. And when it starts to be easy, you have to level it up again. It always has to hurt a little–but it hurts so good, right? You know what I mean. I know you do.

  13. Daniel Parrey
    November 4, 2010 at 22:00

    Hey Khatz,

    this is a common notion among the Japanese learning community these days, however I think I’ve come to learn the opposite. I spent maybe a year learning by myself, and I had hit a big slow point and I think my Japanese class seriously boosted my learning speed. See I think the thing is going from absolute beginner to a class is not a good idea because as you said they often don’t know whats best. (I skipped to the 2nd class)

    However, it was good for ME, because what I was missing was people to interact with, a bit more structure. Sure I talk to people online via voice chat and text, but its never the same as speaking to a person face to face. So in that way, my class did encourage me to think on the fly, because it gave me people to speak to. Also, maybe its just that I had a great teacher… I wonder.

  14. not all sucky
    January 9, 2011 at 10:46

    Sometimes classes aren’t bad, it really depends. If you limit yourself to only learning what’s taught in class, then that might not be the best idea and it would then be easy to understand why some feel that classes are restrictive.

    You can learn well on your own, and you can learn well in a class depending on who you are. You can always take the class and study on your own as well, no one’s stopping you from doing that. Sure you might outcompete the others in your class but then you would get good marks, and you could always ask the teacher for more challenging work (I think, haven’t actually done that before because I’ve only taken high school Japanese classes, but would imagine that would be the case at Universities)

    Sure the work I did in my high school Japanese classes was relatively easy, but it was still challenging enough and worthwhile for me, I also studied a lot on my own outside of class and have no regrets taking those classes and intend to take more at university (as well as continue self-study).

    I guess everyone is different though, I completely understand why some people would not want to take a class at all and that’s fine, but for people who may be thinking about taking a class don’t feel too discouraged from doing so as I think they can be helpful.

    If they’re not? Quit. If they are helpful, keep doing what works for you and remember your learning is not necessarily bound by what you learn in class, you have the rest of your time outside of class as well to study as much Japanese or any other language you like and improve, all while still getting help in a class if and when you need it.

  15. March 12, 2011 at 09:08

    Hi everybody!

    I’m Gerson and I’m 15 (made in Brazil!). I am really confused because, I take advanced level classes in an English private school in my city, and I’m almost fluent in English but, I really want to take Japanese classes. The fact is that I’ll have to leave the English school to learn Japanese (Money issues), and after reading this I just don’t know what to do.
    I have downloaded some really cool stuff to learn Japanese on my PC (I learned Hiragana alone!), and I’m having feedback.
    Please guys help me!

  16. shiruba
    June 22, 2011 at 16:11

    Yeah, classes suck, except when they don’t. I’m not going to stand here and tell you that classes are the answer to everything, but they are part of a well balanced study diet. Have you ever met an articulate person who speaks English but has never been to school? Neither have I. They may get by, but in order to speak normal, proper English, they actually *do* have to learn the rules somewhere. People don’t tend to naturally know whether the period goes before or after the comma, or how to figure out subject-verb agreement in complex sentences. or how to spell words like “receive”. And the problem is that these kinds of things, while actually important in real life, aren’t exactly fun to study. You need someone who knows to teach you, and you probably need to be forced to learn it as well, or you’ll skip on over to watching cartoons, etc.

    On the other hand, you can learn all the grammar and spelling in the world, and it won’t make you a fluid speaker or creative writer without practice. To be sure, people should practice as much as possible, and thus immersion (natural or artificial) is a very useful method. To say it replaces class, though, is like saying that cheese replaces vegetables in your diet.

    I think part of the problem is assuming you can make everything “fun”. Sure making it fun is, well, fun, and a good thing as far as it goes. At the end of the day, though, if you want to do something, you need some attention span and tolerance for the “boring”. Just like I need to suck it up and go to the dentist sometimes if I want to keep my teeth in good shape. We all hate going to the dentist, and I also don’t love doing kanji drills, but the *reason* we have 99% literacy here in Japan is because we *do* have Japanese classes for everyone, and they *do* have to do the boring stuff as well. Meanwhile in the US there are people who didn’t go to class, and are illiterate, despite being immersed in English 24/7 right?

    There are things about class that are.. less than optimal, but let’s not throw the baby out with the onsen here. Most important is that school provides a higher base to start with. Granted my Japanese classes were .. normal Japanese classes at a Japanese school, not Japanese classes for foreigners overseas, but I am very sure that f.e. the three years I spend in high-school were useful in most subjects, including Japanese. In short, classroom learning does have value, but anyone who doesn’t study beyond that of course won’t make it far. That’s true with not just Japanese, but Computer Science, Medicine, etc.

    • June 22, 2011 at 21:17

      “Meanwhile in the US there are people who didn’t go to class, and are illiterate, despite being immersed in English 24/7 right?”

      You seem to imply that the US has a lower literacy rate here, which according to a bit of searching turns out to be false. Both Japan and the US share a literacy rate of 99.0%

      I can understand what you’re trying to convey, at least I think I can. The thing is everything is relative, as I’m sure you know, and education isn’t perfect. Many feel it needs to be improved. I think Khatzumoto’s Japanese fluency is a testament to the basic idea.

    • Jason
      August 31, 2011 at 02:48

      People who are illiterate can still speak their own native languages very fluently.
       
      My grandmother was illiterate, and she spoke fluently.

      • October 27, 2011 at 01:11

        And nobody cares because you’re the one who wants to become literate, right?

  17. Dakota
    August 1, 2012 at 01:02

    I’m taking Japanese classes in college, but only so I have it on my study record. The Japanese ‘study’ and Japanese ‘acquisition’ are two different things, although I sometimes to both simultaneously, and by that I mean study Japanese in Japanese. People will look over at me, see my notes, and say “Dude, why are you in this class?” and I’ll say “簡単だよ。退屈だったから、俺は日本語力があると自慢する為にここに行った。”

    • 玄野
      August 1, 2012 at 07:37

      No offense, but you aren’t in the position for much 自慢 right now.

      • Dakota
        August 2, 2012 at 07:29

        I know. But it’s still fun to say to people who don’t understand what I’m saying, and being able to say it makes me feel cooler than I really am.

        I’m not quite sure why my last comment got so many thumb-downs though. Did I say something rude? Was it off topic? Was it too long of a run-on sentence? Or was my profile picture just plain cocky looking? Seeing it makes me kind of embarrassed now. O_O

        • 玄野
          August 2, 2012 at 08:31

          It’s that the sentence sounds unnatural and incorrect, Which goes against the 日本語力…

          • Dakota
            August 2, 2012 at 08:50

            Ahhh. Of course, of course. Thank you for notifying me of that. (Now I know I have a good reason to embarrassed)

  18. Jeff Dillon
    May 19, 2014 at 19:58

    I don’t understand this website! How do I get to the part where you take the money? I read a thousand sentences, but not likely any from the MCD collection. Sorry, if you can’t help me, but you said I could learn Japanese, but Ai can’t understand the words and letters. Please help, if you can. Signed a subscriber.

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