Because I hope for this to eventually give insight on how I got to Japan as an illustrator (stay positive!), I hope the occasional personal post is not too annoying. I think the thought process is also good to consider when making these kinds of decisions. This time, I’m going to talk about school.
For me, school started last week. Usually, American students start school in September, but in my case, various things have happened, so I had to start with the winter term instead. At any rate, I’m here now, and very happy about it!
One of the things I want to do is attend a specialty school (専門学校 senmon gakkou) for game illustration, but the ones I looked at required a near-fluent level of Japanese speaking and comprehension ability. Because of this, I decided that I would major in Japanese, and possibly minor in art; however, I may also consider the reverse. For now, I just want to focus on taking as many Japanese language and culture classes as possible so that I may be more prepared for the later steps in my plans. I feel like taking a major rather than a minor in Japanese will be more beneficial in the long run.
I was a little concerned about what level courses I should take for Japanese. At my school, once you reach third-year, the classes are actually split up; you have two terms of Speaking and Listening (301/302) and two terms of Reading and Writing (304/305), which overlap during winter term. When I went through the placement screening, my adviser told me that I would be fine in the third-year level classes, but technically the major requires a student to take 301, which I had missed. Additionally, once a student takes 302, they cannot take 301. But, she told me that if I absolutely did not want to wait for next year to start taking Japanese classes, that I could take 302 and fill in 301’s slot with a different class. Sounds good to me! So I decided to do that.
This term, I’m taking the two Japanese classes and one General Studies class (here we call them “University Studies”). Unfortunately I transferred in with a credit amount just short of the threshold to only require two University Studies classes this year rather than three, so I’ll have to take the remaining two next term alongside the final third-year Japanese class (305). That will make for a slightly boring term, but this one is pretty fun, so I think it balances out!
One thing I’m a little worried about is that everyone says the jump from third-year to fourth-year is pretty high. I have a somewhat strange situation, where unlike most of the students, I’ve actually been studying Japanese for a very long time; through a mixture of self study, podcasts, and classes in high school, along with some befriending of and chatting with some native speakers online, I’ve come to a point where I am very comfortable with the language comprehension-wise (though I’m a bit shaky with vocabulary; nothing some flashcards won’t fix). Actually speaking, though, is a little different.
For the most part, my writing (er, typing) seems to be understood, though I’m sure there are errors here and there. But for speaking (as in verbal communication), I have very little confidence. Not only do I have a bad habit of completely forgetting how to use keigo (polite speech), especially when conjugating verbs, I also have a habit of speaking much more quickly than I can think, which leads to a lot of grammatical errors and stumbling over words. There are also several grammar points that I remember learning but have forgotten the details of; as a result, I use them incorrectly. I think this is because I haven’t actually been in a class since early 2010 (almost 6 years!), so I’ve mostly been exposed to purely casual settings and conversation (and maaaaaybe a little anime…).
I feel like maybe I shouldn’t worry about this as much as I do. After all, many of my classmates seem to also struggle with their speaking ability; but I think they have a better all around stable level and more recent practice using specific grammar points whereas for me it’s very hit and miss; I have a tendency to cling to the ones I know best. In the end, I think it will come down to putting forth more effort and making sure to practice often.