Sunday, 13 April 2008

JLI Sapporo


My arrival was timed to be able to attend the orientation for students starting the JLI in April. They have these orientations quarterly, and are largely aimed at the long-term course students, who can only start in April, July, October or January. As a short-term course student can start any time, if you are not starting at one of these times of the year, there won't be an orientation. But as I was, I decided to get here in time for it.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the orientation, but in fact it mostly consisted of them giving us some bits of written information about school rules, school calendar and the like, and emphasising strongly that we shouldn't skip classes. If you do, and your attendance falls below 90%, you won't get your certificate. And lateness for classes adds up to count as absences, so you have to be on time. And having your mobile phone go off in class counts as an absence. And so on and so forth. Those were the main messages. How they did this was that they split us into various classrooms (mine was only students staying 90 days or less), and within each, they split the room into 3 areas for English, Korean and Chinese. The school officials made the announcements at the front in Japanese, and in each of the 3 areas a translation was given by a more senior student. The only other thing to note was that even though my room was only people staying less than 90 days, they announced things about the foreigner registration. You don't need that if you are staying less than 90 days on the tourist visa. That was what I understood, and I checked at the end of the orientation with them, and they confirmed I was correct. So if you're staying in Japan less than 90 days total, don't let that confuse you.

The final thing that day was the interview, for those of us who had not yet had one. This was where they tested you to decide which class the students would go in. The placement interviews were divided into different levels, based on the information the applicants sent in advance in a level check sheet, and then in the interview itself (in my level, anyway), each student was given a passage to read, and then asked questions about it. Based on what I've seen, from the class I was placed in, and the classes other people in my interview room were placed in, they seem to get it about right.

There are 11 classes, and Class 1 (1組) is the most advanced level, and Class 11 (11組) is beginner level. Whether there are always 11 classes, and whether any of the classes are the same level as each other, I don't know. I just know that, for example, I am in Class 4, and a friend I have made in Class 2 is using the same text book as I am, but starting at a later chapter, and people in Class 7, for example, are using less advanced textbooks, etc.

Lessons Begin

Having now completed the first (albeit short, as we started on the Tuesday) week, and also in that time completed the first chapter of our textbook, I've got a reasonable idea now of how classes work at the JLI and what sort of thing anyone coming here should expect. Although some of this is specific to my class, much of it will in general apply whichever level you are at.

The classes at the JLI are broken down into four 45 minute lessons a day, with a 15 minute break in the middle and two 5 minute breaks between the other lessons. One teacher gives the lessons before the 15 minute break, and another gives the ones after. So, for example, on the first day, the class began with Ichikawa Sensei giving us the syllabus, explaining something about how the classes would work for those newbies of us, and then going through the Kanji and starting on the grammar. And then after the break, a second teacher, Takeda Sensei, came in and took over. Takeda Sensei got us to fill in a sheet with our names, interests in things Japanese, and what we wanted to get from studying at the JLI. She then continued from where Ichikawa Sensei left off, but using a rather different style and method. A lot is down to personal style, and each teacher will be different. I've found the same thing with teachers at SOAS – but there, the teacher is taking the whole course, not just a part of it. It seemed a little odd to change teacher – and teaching method – part way through. But I guess it makes it more interesting, and as different students will respond to different methods, I guess it might be better for a class as a whole, too.

We had a total of 5 different teachers over the 4 days of the first week (so, that was Ichikawa Sensei, Takeda Sensei, Fujiwara Sensei, Kumamoto Sensei, and Ikeda Sensei). I have been told that the pattern of teachers each week will be the same, so, taking the first day as an example, each Tuesday we will have Ichikawa Sensei in the morning and Takeda Sensei in the afternoon. Takeda Sensei also announced that she is our “home room teacher” (a bit like a form tutor, or something), although we don't physically have a “home room” at the JLI, as they do at some other schools.

In my class, most of the students are doing longer courses – 1 year or more – and so this is just another term for them. My class is quite large (currently 18 students – although over the first few days there's been a bit of shuffling around as students get transferred to make sure they are in the best class for them), but at least one is larger, and the others are not a lot smaller, so I suspect that's not atypical. There is quite a varied mix of nationalities in the class: there are several Russians, several Hong Kong Chinese, a handful of Koreans, a few Italians, one Taiwanese, one American, and one English (that would be me). It's possible there are a couple of others. But as I'd hoped, there aren't a lot of Anglophones about, and even though in the breaks quite a few people are speaking in their native tongues, that mostly means I'm hearing Russian and Cantonese, rather than English. The same is true of the other JLI students I've met at the dorm, and seems again to be fairly typical of JLI classes. So I think that aspect of my choice of Sapporo, not hearing too much English spoken, is going to work out just fine.

Classes are either morning, starting at 9am, or afternoon, starting at 1pm (and, as they repeatedly made clear at the orientation, you are expected to be there for when the class starts). My classes are on afternoons. That actually is slightly less of a benefit than I might have thought. Firstly, I have to be up in time for breakfast at the dorm anyway, so I can't have much of a lie-in. And secondly, the 1pm start means I have to have lunch a little early. On the first day, that meant I had a small lunch bought at a local Seicomart convenience store, and then it was a long gap before dinner (although the dorm serves dinner from 6pm, that seems too early to me, and besides, the friends I've been eating with here are mostly in a morning class, so would have a later lunch, and we had dinner together around 7.30pm that first day). Although a bit of exploration has found some lunch options nearby which are open early enough to eat and be at the school for around 12:45. I may write something about them another time, if I decide to do a foody post later.

On the first day, there were 8 of us who were new, and so had to be given the text books and have explanations of how it all works. For my particular class, we are using Chuu-kyuu kara manabu (中級から学ぶ) from Kenkyusha (ISBN978-4-327-38443-2) and 200 Essential Japanese Expressions: A Guide to Correct Usage and Sentence Patterns (どんなとき、どうつかう日本語表現文型200) from ALC Press (ISBN978-4-7574-0174-7). Actually, I'm very familiar with the latter, as I already have a copy at home which I bought several years ago. I can highly recommend it: I've previously used it for self-study and to complement other text books on previous courses. It's particularly useful for clarifying subtle differences between similar expressions. But I didn't bring it with me from home, so it's not redundant being given another copy (although whether it's worth lugging home with me is another matter: if I can find someone here who can put it to use, I might pass it on before I leave).

By the way, there's a follow on book with 500 expressions which is also very good, though definitely a step above (the 200 expressions book has English explanations, but the 500 expressions one does not). I've already got that, too, although I haven't really made extensive use of it yet.

And talking about textbooks I'm very familiar with, some of the less advanced classes are using the Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語) books, which are used at SOAS for beginner through to lower-intermediate levels, and seem to be widely used, from my discussions with other students from various countries.

Anyway. The level of my course is aimed around about the Japanese Janguage Proficiency Test (JLPT) level 2 – which suits me fine, as I failed (or “didn't pass” -「不合格しまた」- as the result sheet nicely put it) that last year, and plan to take it again this year. So although it's not exactly a stretch, and I've previously studied (often more than once!) most of the Kanji and grammar we're covering, I don't know it all as well as I should or would like. Besides, for me personally, my main aim in coming to Japan to study is to improve my recall and retrieval of the Japanese I supposedly already know, and make myself a more confident, fluid communicator. So frankly, it suits me fine to be in a class which is maybe a little on the easy side (I was rather worried I was going to be in a class which was too difficult, from the interview I'd had at the orientation, so I'm somewhat relieved).

The syllabus for each lesson follows a similar pattern. So that we do Kanji and grammar, then the main text, with comprehension, then speaking and listening practice. For the main text for the chapter, first, we listen to it on CD without following in the book, then the teacher reads it in short sentences or phrases, getting the class to repeat it each time all together, then we read it over on our own, then we each take turns in reading a sentence or two until we'd read the text out again twice. After that, we go though it in great detail, to make us understand it as well as we'd need for the JLPT exam. We then answer questions on the text, to ensure we've understood it, and finally there is a precis exercise. There's not a lot of scope for interactivity in this part of the lesson, but in my current class, people seem a little on the quiet side, anyway. After that, the speaking practice was a little freer, with a bit of a game played to help us introduce ourselves to our classmates. I imagine this section will be the most interactive and least rigid. Then finally there is the listening practice, including dictation.

There is homework set on the Kanji and grammar, and there may be more on other sections, although it seemed a little light last week (of course, as we have a syllabus, less homework just means more time to prepare for class, though). Aside from the sort of thing covered so far, the syllabus also has separate grammar lessons, where we will be using the 200 Essential Japanese Expressions book, and there is a test: I don't know how frequent or infrequent tests will be, but there is only one in April.

Although it's early days, I think this probably gives a flavour of what to expect at the JLI. The pattern of the syllabus itself would seem to be fairly formal, although there is room for some variance according the the individual teachers' styles. Anyone looking for more conversational and interactive classes might prefer another school, based on this first week (but I will let you know if my impression of that changes as the course progresses). Again, I think it suits me fairly well, although I would like there to be more actual conversation in the class, and more scope for my spoken Japanese to be corrected: it's all very well having conversations with classmates, but as we're all learning, we'll all be making mistakes, and I would actually like to know the correct way to say things.


The BBG said...

Not that it's probably that interesting to anyone else, but since I did list my teachers by name, I thought I ought to mention that one has changed: today, instead of Fujiwara Sensei, we had a new teacher Imai Sensei, who has just started at the JLI, and we'll be having her instead of Fujiwara Sensei from now on. That was it. Nothing else to add.

Fabrizio said...

Dear BBG,
I am sorry to bother you, but I am an ex student of JLI Sapporo. My name is Fabrizio.
I studied there from march 2006 to march 2007. It was fantastic. I had great teachers (I must say the only ones I recognized in your list are Ikeda and Ichikawa)and learned a lot of things.

I have a question for you : I recently opened a discussion group on Facebook for students of JLI. We meet there, exchange our experiences and share photographs. This leads me back to the reason why I am writing to you. We need a good main photograph of JLI to represent our group and until now, nobody proposed anything. I wanted to ask you if we could use one of the photographs of the building you took and posted in this blog ? Obviously, if you do not want to, I will not do it ! ^_^
If it is ok with you, or if you have even better pics of the school, please let me know. My e-mail address is and my Facebook ID is "Habu Shugenlord".

I wish you all the best at school and I hope some of my teachers (Iizuka, Morioka, Takebayashi) are still doing well with all the work they have.

Take care and good luck !


The BBG said...

Feel free to use my photos from the site. Let me know if you need larger versions, or if these are OK.

Fabrizio said...

Thank you soooo much! ^^
I'll try post these on our group and see what the other students say...

If you have any good photograph of the main building taken from the street, where you can see ALL the structure, that would be perfect ! But I will first try with these,again thank you !

Oh, one more thing : are you in class with some of my fellow university classmates ? Stefano, Alessandra or Elisabetta, maybe ?

Sorry to bother you, hahaha...

The BBG said...

I don't think it would be easy to get a decent one of the whole structure, which is why I didn't take one! The ones I put on the blog are what I consider to be the best ones I took.

And as it happens, Stefano and Allessandra are in my class!

And if you can put a link to direct people to where the photos came from, that would be great...

Fabrizio said...

Direct link, huh ?
I will try it now. I'll post on our discussion group the link to your blog. Is that what you mean by "direct link" ?

Hope I am doing the right thing, hahaha...

The BBG said...

Yep, posting the URL and saying that's where you got any pictures of mine you use is all I meant. Thanks for that, and good luck with your continuing Japanese studies.

Fabrizio said...

Thank you !
I heard on the "Spank the monkey" blog that you will be staying there only for 3 months. That's too bad, Sapporo offers sooo many places to see and so many matsuri to go to... Have you heard of the Yosakoi Soran ? I went there in 2006 and it was great !!!

Well, that's it for now. Your URL has been posted without any problem on our discussion group, so I hope people will come and visit your blog !

See you !

The BBG said...

Changing the subject back to my course...

I never did mention how we were using the "200 Essential Japanese Expressions..." texbook: that was because at time of writing the original post, we hadn't. How we used it was that, as well as the classes I described which were based around the "Chuu-kyuu kara manabu" chapters, we have specific "Grammar" lessons, and in those, we went through about a chapter per 90 minutes.

Well, we finished that book last week, and so have moved onto a new textbook, specifically for JLPT Level 2 grammar. This one is the grammar book of "Nihongo soumatome mondaishuu 2 kyuu" (日本語総まとめ問題集2級) from "ask" publishing (ISBN978-4-87217-615-5)

Similarly to with the previous grammar book, we seem to be covering one "day's" lesson each 90 minute grammar class. It looks to be potentially a very useful book for using in the run-up to taking the JLPT level 2 exam.

The BBG said...

Quick addendum to the above comment. We seem to be covering one or two "days" per 90 minutes (if we ever cover 3, or less than one, I'm not going to bother coming back in to say so). But I also want to qualify my recommendation of the book, as it could be read as being more whole-hearted than I'd intend.

For each grammatical structure it covers, it gives very few examples, and little detailed explanation. So if you're going through it with a teacher (as we are) or using it to revise already studied structures in the run up to the exam, I would say it is potentially very useful. As a self-study book to learn structures from scratch, I'd say maybe not so much.

kusogaki said...

Nice blog, BBG. Thanks a lot for taking the time to show your impressions. I was wondering what you thought about JLI in Sapporo. I'm seriously interested in enrolling come April 2010. It's either there or Yamasa, but I'm more particular to the Sapporo area. I really like it up there.

The BBG said...

kusogaki - thanks for leaving a comment! I'm afraid I have completely neglected this blog since my course finished, over a year ago. I always intended to come back and do one (or a few) final posts to sum up my experience (and finish off a few things left unfinished). Maybe I will one day...

Anyway, yes, I thought JLI was great, and I loved being in Sapporo. The teachers are very good, and the location and facilities are decent, and there was a good mix of nationalities on the course.

Most of the people on the course are doing their gap year from university, in my experience, and so are around 22 years old, but I didn't feel too out of place, even though I was twice the age of most of them.

From what I have heard, there is a wider age range at the Yamasa courses, as there isn't the focus on university gap year. I understand that the short courses in Yamasa are specifically designed as short courses, whereas at JLI you are just fitting in part way through a class's 1 year course. But I didn't find that too much of a problem, personally (although I did do a complete term, from start to end, which maybe helped).

Also, I understand Yamasa is far more focussed on conversation skills, and the classes are more interactive and less course-book driven.

At the end of the day, I think both schools are good (although I haven't been to Yamasa - I'm going from reports I've heard from people who have). It depends very much what you want.

If you want emphasis on conversation and interaction, particularly if you are doing a short course, then Yamasa would probably be better.

But if you are doing a whole year or term, or are happy to join in part way through an ongoing class, and particularly if you respond well to more formal book-led teaching, then JLI is great.

Also, Yamasa's location is far less convenient, from what I understand, but if you like cycling, that's supposed to be the best way to get around.

But JLI is well located, and not far from the subway, and if you're happy with the dorms, there are several not very far. And Sapporo is great - and especially if you'll be there over the summer, the climate is far better.

And if you do decide to go there, you'll find a few recommendations for places to eat and things to do elsewhere on this blog!

Whichever school you go to, I suggest you apply some self-discipline and try to speak Japanese all the time, outside class as well as during. I know that helped me personally.

Whatever you do, good luck, and have fun.

kusogaki said...

Thank you for taking the time to write up such a detailed account, The BBG. I've done a bit of searching. It was by no means exhaustive mind you, but I ran into problems connecting the dots (deciphering mixed reviews) to decide on one or the other. After reading this, and getting a perspective on it other than my own, it makes the choice easy for me. JLI it is.

Again, sincerest of thanks.

dramacloud said...

Hi Kusogaki and BBG,

I am intending to attend the summer course [with an extension of another 2 months doing the normal course] at JLI this coming July 2010. I've been reading mixed reviews about the school [especially the comments posted on Facebook page]. Could I verify how true the comments are? Are the negative reviews anything to worry about? Woul really appreciate your inputs before I commit to the school fees! Thanks so much in advance!!

The BBG said...

I can't comment on any negative comments on Facebook - I don't do Facebook myself. I can't really add to anything I've said here. I enjoyed my time, and I think I've gone into quite a lot of detail about what I think the pros and cons are, both in my posts and in my replies to the previous comments.

Bear in mind also that it is now two years since I was there. But I certainly thought it was a good school, with good teachers, and in a good location. But it does depend what you want. If you want text-book led teaching, it was great (some of the materials had their drawbacks, but that will always be the case, and the good teachers generally made up for that). If you want something more conversational and more interactive, maybe another school would be better. But it worked for me.

Good luck wherever you go. Sorry I can't add more.

dramacloud said...


Thanks very much for your comments. Your posts were certainly very helpful. I definitely understand things can change in 2 years. I'd just have to make a decision and stick by it! Thanks for replying :)

li said...

Hi everyone, I'm planning to enrol into the Autumn course 2010. Hope it's gonna be great! Would any of you be there from Sept to Oct? I don't know what to expect yet - need to do more research on that! Cheers!