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Hello, everyone! My name is Moyu Araki, and I am a third year student. I have been taking a lot of English classes starting this semester. With only a few days left in the first semester, I feel like I finally understand how to learn in English classes, and I feel that I am learning more than in my Japanese classes. Also, like me, there are many students who are no longer able to go abroad to study, and have started to take English-basis classes at APU to meet graduation requirements. For these reasons, I would like to use this article to share with you some points on how to enjoy classes held in English.
For the 18 years before I entered APU, I grew up in Japan. While I had no experience studying abroad or in an international environment, during my first semester, I have had many friends who are international students and I have been able to communicate with them in English in everyday conversation without difficulty. However, when I finally joined a class held in English, I ran into different frustrations: "What's the teacher saying now?" or "I find something to say after class," or even, "I want to ask a question, but I don't know if it is appropriate." At the same time, I watched international students actively participating in class as I had growing feelings of, "That's so cool!" and "I want to join the discussions, too!" However, it is also true that there are students—not only Japanese-basis students—who simply sit and stare at the Zoom screen. It would be a shame to not use the opportunity of having by a group of diverse students, with fantastic sensibilities and opinions, gathered together.
If you are not a very strong English speaker, you need to choose your classes a bit more carefully than when you are choosing classes in Japanese. If you compromise on your class selection this can lead to a loss of motivation and make it harder to maintain a high GPA.
I would recommend you start by choosing classes that are sensible. To put it another way, take a class that focuses on a systematic overview instead of a class that explains detailed facts and analysis. However, it's not always easy to make a decision like this from just reading the syllabus. Because of this, if you feel that it may be too soon for you to challenge a class once you have actually attended, you may want to use the correction period to change your schedule.
I keep my smartphone just out of reach during class. This is because I have experienced many times when I was so distracted by notifications in Japanese that I couldn't keep up with the rest of the class. Japanese is so much easier for me to read and take in when compared to English, so when I see Japanese I tend to focus on that.
That said, I do keep it within reach when I want to use the scan function of Google Translate for something I need to be able to answer right away. If you want to use a similar function on your phone, you will need to put it somewhere you can reach it quickly.
The teacher is teaching only for me
It feels like international students ask all sorts of questions during class, even trivial ones like "Are you really asking a question like that?" In contrast to that, I was uncertain about my questions, often holding back and thinking, "I want to ask a question, but I'm afraid it may not be appropriate." When I asked a friend from India about my worries, they said, "Don't worry about the other students. You are paying your tuition so that the teacher will teach you." As a point of advice, I would recommend you not use Zoom with the gallery view. If you use Zoom with the gallery view, you will end up focusing more on the reactions of other students and developing a passive learning style, laughing just because they are laughing.
Ask your friends to help you
I asked any friends who had taken the same class before me, "Help me if I don't understand something!" Even though I hadn't been in touch with my friends for a while because I'd been on a domestic exchange program at Ritsumeikan University, they accepted me with open arms. I remember how relieved I was when one friend wrote to me, "Yeah, of course! If you have any questions, you can ask me anytime. I’m sure the professor would be more than happy to help as well." If you are worried about taking a class in English, try reaching out to a friend, even if you have grown apart. One of the advantages of online classes is that you can easily see which students are taking the class with you, so be sure to look for your friends.
My friends also encouraged me a lot when I lost my confidence. For example, in Political Theory, there is a discussion section in every class. During the discussions, there were times when I was not sure if my opinions made sense. I messaged my opinion to a friend, who praised me by replying, "The idea is perfect! You are awesome! Of course you should share it to the class!" restoring my confidence.
One thing that is important to understand here is that "motivation does not last." In this situation, my motivation to tackle classes in English had fallen. In times like this, it is important to think of a way to handle this on your own. If you can do this, by the end of the semester, you will become someone who is able to confidently take classes even if they are in English.
Accept that you don't know what you don't know
Last but not least, I think it can be important to know when to give up. Having spent 18 years of my life until entering university living entirely in Japanese, listening to classes in English—especially when grades are involved—is a very high hurdle for me. The number of things I don't understand is greater than the number of things I do, and if I get caught up in the details of every single thing I don't understand, there's no way I can stay motivated to the end. For this reason, I think that it can be important to, in a way, "give up."
The important thing here is for you to figure out what you do when you "give up." For example, if your teacher is Japanese, you could try asking them in Japanese about the part you didn't understand.
I've covered here some tips for Japanese-basis students taking classes held in English. You may feel anxious until you get used to the classes. However, once you get used to them, you'll be able to enjoy these classes as an opportunity to trade opinions with many other students and teachers. Once you graduate from APU, you won't have many chances to exchange opinions with so many people from different backgrounds as you do on campus. I hope you make the most of this environment!
Nice to meet you! I am a fourth year APS student who loves to try new things. I am 100% Japanese with no experience studying abroad by Japanese standards. I want to have academic conversations with my international student friends, so I'm taking advantage of quarantine to study English! Once things turn around, I'll be back on the road to various places~! Best regards.