Attending a language school in Japan is a great way to learn the language while immersing yourself in Japanese culture. This is a guest post by Lena at The Social Travel Experiment. She’s talks about her experience studying in a Japanese language school for three months in Kyoto and some of the advantages of doing so.
Why you should attend a Japanese language school
After I graduated from University in Germany, where I had studied business and Japanese, I wanted to focus on my Japanese language skills before finding a job. The reason for this was apparent to me – if I wanted to find a job using Japanese, I had to seriously work on my language skills. While I could understand basic Japanese and was even comfortable to talk about easy topics, I was nowhere near a level where I could do business in Japanese.
From previous experiences, I knew if I wanted to learn Japanese efficiently I should do it in the most beneficial environment. Simply put, I had better get to Japan and surround myself with Japanese people who only spoke Japanese. So, that’s what I did: I found a language school in Kyoto (my favorite city in the world); I requested to stay with a host family; and I set myself a goal to pass the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) N2, the second most difficult level.
Due to visa requirements and because I was a poor student, I decided to stay in Japan for only three months and make the most of my time. If you are thinking about finding a language school in Japan and learning Japanese, there are a couple things you should consider. Based on my personal experience, I would like to share some insights and points worth thinking about.
Choose the City – in my case, Kyoto
The decision to stay in Kyoto for my language learning adventure was obvious. I had previously lived in Hirakata, a city between Osaka and Kyoto, for one year and just loved visiting Kyoto. So, I knew I wanted an opportunity to explore more of this culturally vibrant city.
While I was planning to do a lot of studying during my stay, I also knew I wanted to experience more of the Japanese culture. I think in everything you do balance is essential. And I was looking forward to my weekends where I would be able to explore Kyoto after a week of studying Japanese.
If you are thinking about attending a language school, think about the city you want to be in and why you want to be there. Some cities are better than others in supporting your effort and in motivating you to do your best. I wouldn’t recommend staying in a city where you have a lot of foreign friends who you are going to hang out with often. Why? Because this won’t help you learn Japanese. I know you will have a lot of fun meeting your friends, but is this really why you want to attend a language school and how you want to spend your savings? Ask yourself these questions.
Staying with a host family
If you want to make fast progress learning a language, it is not only about what you learn at school. It is important to use what you have learned and to challenge yourself constantly. One of the easiest ways to achieve fluency quickly is by staying with a host family. I have stayed with a host family twice in Japan – both times while attending a language school. Living with a host family challenges you to become comfortable with the language.
Every morning I would greet my host and talk about my plans for the day. After school, I would come home and do my homework. We would watch TV together in the evening, have dinner together, talk about what we did during the day, and make plans for things to do together.
The activities I got to do thanks to my host family were terrific. I got a glimpse into the real life of Japanese people. I participated in school sports days, dance practices, watched a play at a local shrine, listened to traditional poetry recitals, and even tried my hand at playing the Shamisen (a Japanese three string instrument).
Sure, staying in a share house, or your own apartment has its benefits. But in my mind, staying with a host family is the best way to experience the culture and further your language skills as much as possible. Many language schools offer services that will help you find a host family quickly. This can be much more convenient than looking for an apartment or share house by yourself.
Finding a language school
Choosing a language school is difficult because there are so many out there. I recommend you find out exactly what they offer and have a look at what other people say about the school.
I can highly recommend ARC Academy. They have schools all over Japan and have a two-year program. There are courses for absolute beginners and people preparing for the JLPT N1. Many students attend for the whole two-year period and become fluent in that time, which in my mind is amazing. It took me roughly six years to achieve fluency.
You will do a test on your first day of school where your proficiency level is evaluated. You are assigned to a level based on your score. Classes generally consist of grammar, pronunciation, Kanji, and conversation. My classes were in the morning, but some levels only have classes after lunch. You will get quite a lot of homework, which you are expected to do every day.
In addition to regular classes, I was preparing for the JLPT at the same time. So I was quite busy studying every day after school. I guess it all depends on how seriously you take your time (and money), whether you want to spend all your time studying or if you would rather enjoy yourself.
Can you afford to attend a language school in Japan?
Of course, studying in Japan is not cheap. Let me give you a rough breakdown of my costs studying in Kyoto for three months so you can get an idea of the cost.
- Flight: 600 USD via Emirates; from Munich, Germany with one stop in Dubai
Depending on where you fly from and how far in advance you book, prices to Japan vary. It also depends on the time of the year you fly, such as whether it is on or off season in Japan. Just make sure to check prices as early as possible.
- Language school: 175,000 Yen (1,750 USD) ARC Academy 5000 Yen registration fee, 170,000 Yen for 50 days
I found that the prices for Japanese language school don’t vary too much.
- Homestay: 380,400 Yen (3,800 USD); 5,400 Yen arrangement fee, 5,000 Yen per day for 75 days
My homestay included breakfast and dinner, so thinking about it that way, it was quite cheap.
- Food: 45,000 Yen (450 USD), 600 Yen per day for lunch
I calculated roughly 600 Yen to have lunch every day. Usually I would either buy my lunch at a convenience store or eat at a chain restaurant such as Yoshinoya (Gyudon) or Nakaku (Udon). If you eat big meals, 600 Yen might not be enough for you.
- Other costs: I bought a bicycle to get around Kyoto which cost me 10,000 Yen (100 USD). Additionally, you should calculate for public transportation and other activities that might require money. In my case, for example, I paid entrance fees to different temples or gardens.
So, why should you attend a language school in Japan? Attending a Language School and living in Kyoto for three months was one of the most excellent experiences of my life. Not only did I learn to speak Japanese much better, but I also got to know the lifestyle of Japanese people and incredible insights into the Japanese culture that I would have otherwise never had.
If you want to challenge yourself, step out of your comfort zone, and experience something entirely new and different, then I suggest you also attend a language school in Japan and do a homestay during that time. My experience helped me grow up immensely. I can imagine it will help you grow as well.
I hope this post will help you decide if you want to attend a Japanese language school. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below, and I will do my best to answer.
Author bio: Lena is the creator of The Social Travel Experiment. She blogs about how to see the world through the eyes of the locals she meets. She teaches her readers not only about the culture, traditions, history, and food of Japan, where she currently lives, but also the other places she visits during her travels. If you want to read more about what Lena has to say, follow the link to her website: www.socialtravelexperiment.com
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