Breaking news is flashing on the TV screen for yet another time this week, the local store has a hand-written announcement on its door and the building manager just rang the bell to hand in an important notice regarding safety regulations (if that’s what it actually was).
If there is one thing that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has clearly reminded us foreigners who have made Japan our home, it’s that living here without a good understanding of the Japanese language can be not only challenging but also frightening in times of chaos. The good news, however, is that it’s never too late to start mastering the language — and now that we have some extra time as we’re staying at home more frequently, it could be the best timing to give your Japanese another push forward. Your first goal? Finding the right partner to help you.
Customized instructions and real-life situations
One of the key reasons why many of us gave up on studying Japanese at language schools is because we didn’t want to take the traditional route of climbing the ladder from “Genki desu” Japanese for beginners to “Iie, jozu ja arimasen” advance level. What many of us want when pursuing a new language is speed, efficiency and real-life situations.
The Akira Online Japanese School Tokyo, founded in 2019, bases its education policy precisely on this: tapping into people’s real motivation for learning to communicate in Japanese. The school starts with trial lessons in which they request students to list up all the themes and real-life situations in which they would like to become language experts. The list they offer is long: from daily hacks to business and travel scenarios — and even dating. In fact, the school has its own love drama series on its official YouTube channel that teaches you everything from how to politely decline an invitation from your ex to how to respond if your Japanese soon-to-be partner expresses their love for you.
“With a mission to ‘brighten expat life in Tokyo,’ the school is after not only teaching the linguistic side of living in Japan, but also the social.”
After fully grasping its students’ needs, the school then customizes the core parts of its lectures — key phrases and case studies — to address those needs through real-life situations. For example, if an expat’s motivation for learning Japanese is to communicate with their Japanese colleagues, a typical class will include key phrases inspired by a business setting. During class, the students would then practice these key phrases through a series of verbal exercises and a case study that involves role plays set at the office.
In other words, Akira Online Japanese School Tokyo’s lessons are curated on terms, phrases and dialogues learners can immediately put to use.
The best route to fast learning: Science and output
Another distinctive feature of the school is that it bases its teaching on a very specific scientific method, which fully utilizes an output style of reproducibility to ensure that learners are efficiently acquiring Japanese communication skills.
Akira Online Japanese School Tokyo is, as of present, the only language school in Japan that bases its instruction method on the Second Language Acquisition Research (SLA) approach, a scientific method of analyzing how one acquires the knowledge of a foreign language through psychology and linguistics. A central theme in the SLA approach to studying is the idea that the language learners use is not only the result of differences between their mother tongue and the language that they are learning, but that it’s an entire language system in its own that has its own rules. With this approach, a learner’s progress is not directly affected by instructors’ individual approaches — everyone who follows the steps of this scientific model can thus acquire the same set of results.
The SLA method is further based on a strongly-emphasized output. The idea is that learners become more advanced in the language only after they are immersed in it through an input, followed by an intensive output such as speaking.
To help its learners achieve this, Akira Online Japanese School Tokyo has introduced the new “flipped learning” method of achieving the perfect input and output balance. Before each class, students are given a list of key grammar and vocabulary elements to practice and comprehend (with a throughout explanation in English), which are then further explored and practiced in class.
A typical speaking lesson at Akira is built on three steps: a “Conceptualizer” (thinking of what one wants to say), a “Formulator” (making sentences in Japanese), and an “Articulator” (using Japanese verbally) surrounding specified key phrases, which the learner has already been introduced to in advance. The lesson is then put into practice through a series of curated key phrases and case study role-play exercises that are created based on the learner’s needs.
Helping Tokyo’s expats
Though Akira Online Japanese School Tokyo hasn’t been around for long, it has already helped dozens of expats living in the capital to improve their language skills and incorporate them into their work environment. Among the school’s regular clients are foreign expats working at IT and e-commerce companies such as Rakuten and Amazon, pharmaceutical firms and recruiting companies, among others.
Targeted to people constantly on the go, Akira Online Japanese School Tokyo’s classes are taught entirely online and can be booked daily from 7am to 11pm. The school also offers three monthly class plans ranging from ¥4,550 to ¥4,800 per class, as well as free trial lessons, which include a 20-minute interview and two free classes.
With a mission to “brighten expat life in Tokyo,” the school is after not simply teaching the linguistic side of living in Japan, but also the social — which is something a lot of people are eager to have more of during these times of social isolation and distancing.