Inside the KCP Classroom by Spring 2017 Alum Sarah Peters

KCP’s Spring 2017 student Sarah Peters shares her experience and insights on the KCP classes. Thanks, Sarah!

As I said in my previous post, one of the most important things to remember about full immersion classes is that you are in the exact same boat as your classmates. You are all at the same basic skill level because you’ve all tested in together. From this shared dilemma, you can form excellent bonds with your classmates by organizing study sessions outside of class. I highly recommend it!

At KCP, each teacher will likely have their preferences for how the class is conducted, and it may be different depending on your skill level. When I compared notes with students in other levels, however, they seemed to be rather similar, but I’ll be sharing my experience in a Level 2 classroom.

The class is a mix of students, who are primarily American, European, Chinese, and Korean. Of course, as KCP is an international school, there may be students from other regions of the world, but this is what I noticed of the class population. Because of this variety, there is really no choice but full immersion. That shouldn’t be a worry, however, because it’s important to remember that everyone else in the classroom is learning alongside you. As their Japanese improves, so does yours, and eventually you will have very little problem communicating with your classmates, even in Level 1. I had many friends in Level 1 who made friends with people whose native language they did not know. For me, I made friends with most of the people in my class, and we are able to keep in contact even months later. Some of the other students may also be learning English, so this is an excellent opportunity for you to assist them with their studies just by talking to them. But remember: first and foremost, practice your Japanese!

KCP Flickr

In class, we usually arranged the desks in a circle, which is ideal for communication. The teachers also encourage you to sit so that someone who doesn’t share your native language is on either side of you. It can be frustrating not to have a neighbor to check in with if you miss something, but this fosters strong relationships with your classmates. Though you may be in classes with different people in your next semester (if you attend for more than one), don’t wait to get to know your current classmates.

Being different from everyone else won’t ostracize you in any way; if anything, it will make class more interesting. For instance, when it came to kanji study, the teachers would often ask questions relating to the kanji and our own cultures. If the kanji was the character for “capital,” the teacher might ask the students to share with the class what their country’s capital is like. Usually, the teacher would pick a student to represent their country—of course, if there is more than one student in a class from a given country, the teacher would be sure to rotate who they ask each time!

At the beginning of class every day, we would have a discussion question on the board to talk about with a neighbor for one to three minutes. It was essentially just a period to chat, but by doing so in Japanese we became not only interested in the subject, but used to it as well. It’s not always so uptight and formal—soon people would be chatting up a storm with their neighbor, and there could be lots of laughs, too! I loved being able to leisurely talk with my neighbor without worrying about grades or anything. During those few minutes, the emphasis was just on communication.

Presentation. | KCP Flickr

In the classroom, I’d say the biggest struggle was the improvised presentations we ended up doing twice in a semester. The day before a presentation, we were given a variety of scenarios and the next day we were assigned a partner and we had to write a skit in only a few minutes, memorize it, and then present in front of the class. It was incredibly stressful, as the only way we could prepare was to study our lessons and make sample sentences that we might not even use. This is where teamwork became essential—this exercise is hard enough to do in your own language, but in a language you’re still learning, it’s quite a challenge. However, because of the way the class works together, we had a collective sense of how to approach various problems. Though everything about this assignment was continuously stressful, in the end my classmates and I ended up doing pretty well. It is also wonderful practice for getting you to conjure sentences on the spot, just as you would outside the classroom.

Though some students did better than others in the class, their skills aren’t too different because everyone is in the same level. You could take the students who struggled the most and they would still be able to communicate just fine. There’s no reason to fear that you won’t be able to communicate with your classmates. Even in Level 1, where some people had no experience with Japanese, don’t worry, KCP is so thorough that you will be communicating with your classmates in no time.

In addition to short discussions with your neighbor and the presentations, we also worked on intonation and pronunciation, kanji (both how to write the character and practicing sentences with a neighbor using the character), vocabulary (which tends to involve a graphic provided by the teacher to communicate unfamiliar terms), grammar (both basic forms and full sentences), and homework review. Classes are three hours long with a 15-minute break. That may seem long, but since we did so many different activities in that time, not a moment was wasted. Whenever it was possible in class, the teacher encouraged students to practice with their neighbor, so classmate solidarity was basically inevitable. The chances to practice your Japanese will be just as plentiful as your chances to make new friends!

While the classroom environment is rigorous, it’s also a place where you’re safe with your peers. Everyone is there to help with the goal—to learn Japanese. The teachers’ main concern is your progress. A word of advice, though: don’t neglect the homework! Even though you’ve worked hard in the classroom, you’ll only do better if you continue the challenge outside the classroom.