When I first started thinking about how I could make the most out of WLAIP’s support for a meaningful Summer experience, it didn’t take me long to set my heart on studying my target language abroad. That said, my program in Japan was cancelled due to concerns over Covid-19. However, thanks to the gracious support of Wabash Professor Yao Li, as well as to the diligence of the WLAIP staff, I have been able to receive a hybrid experience this Summer that imitates well the benefits of immersive learning.
Professor Li and I meet twice each week: in-person on Mondays, and virtually on Thursdays. During our Monday meetings we sit down to review the weekly-assigned episode from a TV Tokyo program for its contextualized and colloquial content. I prepare for each of these meetings by learning a new set of vocabulary words, phrases, and sentence structures provided by Professor Li, who then analyzes and explains their meaning and usage as they come up in real conversations. During our Thursday meetings over Skype we continue last semester’s work progressing through exercises in the class textbook. For these meetings, I prepare by reviewing essential points of grammar and formulaic sentence structures.
In addition to my preparation for these meetings, I am also being held accountable for extensive writing practice. Since most of the Japanese language is written with them, this means that I spend a significant portion of my time learning new Chinese characters, or “Kanji.” For this purpose, I have written about 400 flash cards so far this Summer. My writing practice also includes completing the workbook packets that accompany each chapter of the class textbook.
By combining authentic conversation with the fundamentals, my language-learning regiment has enabled me to gain a better appreciation and understanding of the many nuances that make Japanese a particularly difficult language to learn. As a highly contextualized language, Japanese requires this double focus on the part of students serious about mastering it. And that’s not all—by coming to see with greater clarity the differences between textbook and spoken Japanese, I have become a more confident user of the language. So, as I move with even greater enthusiasm than before from novice to the intermediate level, I have my sights set on returning to Japan where I can speak with old friends and new teachers with greater fulfillment than I would have been able to just a couple months ago.