2017.07.20: Page still in progress.
JAPANESE 3-YEAR (BACHELOR'S) DEGREE at Högskolan Dalarna in Sweden.
Högskolan Dalarna is (as of the time of writing this) the only place where you can get an entire Japanese 3-year degree online in/from Sweden, and the only in Europe where there's a class teaching entirely with manga (no textbook). Because these classes are taught in English, you don’t need to know any Swedish or have even ever visited Sweden to take them. And of course, if you're a European citizen or live in Europe (on a spouse or work permit; not a student permit) classes are completely free.
Here’s the 2 related official pages (the links are now broken since they changed their site, but you can use the Wayback Machine):
VG = best grade (you can only get this if you've never been late on an assignment. sadly that wasn't me.)
G = normal passing grade
VT = VårTerminen = the Spring Semester (of).
HT = HöstTerminen = the Autumn Semester (of).
(VT2017 = Spring 2017)
30 credits per semester = full-time studies, equivalent to a job that's 45 hours a week. 3-5 hours of class time a week. You're supposed to study about 8 hours a day outside of class. 1 semester = 20 weeks. Actual class weeks are usually 17 or so because we have "self-study weeks" every few weeks where we still have homework but just no class. You can skip 6-7 classes per semester in 30-credit classes I think it is; in 7-credit classes you can only skip 1 class per half-semester.
The list below is assuming you're taking all classes at 100% speed (30 credits per semester).
1st semester: Japanese I (Basic Proficiency + Language Proficiency; 30 credits total). I took this VT2015.
• Genki 1: 1 chapter per week. First HALF-semester ends at chapter 6. Each chapter has 200-250 things to memorize (kanji words + pronunciations + memory refreshers).
• Audio/reading quizzes, forum & handwriting tasks once a week. Occasional recording tasks. "Forum tasks" are just writing 1-2 sentences. "Do you like dogs? I like dogs."
• Class is doing a bunch of talking & listening & going over the grammar in Genki.
• Final essay is about 500 characters; I wrote about dog cafés.
• We had bonus sessions where we gave PowerPoint presentations in Japanese about ourselves/our countries to fellow students of Japanese in Spain. Our Japanese was better than the Spanish students'.
• Final exams are about verb conjugation, single kanji writing, single kanji reading, and oral questions (asked in Japanese) about what we wrote in our essays, ex. "Have you ever been to a dog café? Do you own a dog?"
1st semester started with around 200 students, by the end we had 30-50. At this point you basically can't understand anything in Japanese (though that didn't stop me from trying to translate manga / subtitle anime anyway).
2nd sem: (Japanese II: Oral + Written Proficiency, 30 credits together). I took this HT2016.
• Genki 2: 1 chapter per week. Each chapter has 200-250 things to memorize.
• Forum, handwriting, grammar & recording tasks usually once a week. Occasional reading quizzes. Forum tasks slowly graduate from sentences to paragraphs.
• Class is doing a bunch of talking & listening & going over the grammar in Genki.
• Final essay, about 1000 characters; I wrote about family/marriage relationships.
• Last class day is optional and a review of all the grammar from Genki 1 and 2.
• Final exams are reading paragraphs aloud (not translating); reading and translating full sentences with kanji. Questions on what we wrote in our final essays are asked in English (ex. "I didn't understand what you meant here, why did you write that?"). The final exam instructions, during the actual exam itself, are given in Japanese.
By the end of 2nd semester we had 20 students. At least 6 of those had visited Japan for multiple months at a time, or were living in Japan, or had Japanese parents and/or girlfriends etc. After these 2 semesters you can study abroad BUT you still can't even make daily conversation. You can MAYBE get your point across with a LOT of effort. Class hasn't even taught real, informal/spoken language yet and your keigo / polite language is going to be almost nonexistant. Classmates who visited Japan after 2nd semester say it felt like they knew nothing at all. If you want to go abroad I EXTREMELY HEAVILY recommend you take 3rd semester and study ahead until you've finished N2 or N1 on the JLPT.
3rd sem: (Japanese III; 15 credits). I took this VT2017.
• Tobira chapters 1-7: 1 chapter every 2 weeks. Each chapter has around 400 things to memorize/refresh your memory on.
• This is the first semester we really start learning "casual/impolite" speech. Class is taught 90% in Japanese, likewise you're expected to speak 90% in Japanese. There were still a few people who usually spoke in English when answering the teacher though (sometimes I was one of them).
• NO kanji writing homework starting from this semester to the end of the degree. Kanji reading quizzes & grammar worksheets every 2 weeks. We had (5 minutes and under) recordings & powerpoint presentations, (1500-1700 characters) essays and (1-2 paragraphs) forum posts but only 2-3 times in the semester.
• Class has a huge focus on reading aloud, discussing, summarizing & finding info in nonfiction paragraphs.
• The final essay is a (written in Japanese of course) research paper on a topic within the first 7 chapters of Tobira, mine was "Do Japanese people think about their religion on a daily basis", which you then do a powerpoint presentation of for your final spoken exam.
• The final kanji reading exam is taken online; the final grammar exam is taken in "class" (you download the question and answer files, and answer them within the time limit while also keeping your webcam on). You can use notes for the grammar exam, but can't talk to anyone. When I did it you only needed 70% to pass and I think there were 2 possible retakes.
My advice for this class: Translate the reading passages as best you can before they're read aloud in class. Study ahead in the textbook as far as you can in general. Do the grammar homework the same day as class so that everything is fresh in your head; if you get stuck, use the "extra grammar handouts" that basically have the answers in them. Secondly, learn N3, N2 and N1 vocabulary as soon as you can.
3rd sem, 1st 10 weeks: (Short Stories class; 7 credits)
• Book reports (written in English, 1 page long) & reading comprehension questions (written/answered in Japanese) every few weeks. Book reports are just "what happened in the story, and what are your thoughts about it?". The comprehension questions are easy.
• We take turns reading aloud very short stories from Aozora Bunko; translate short bits & the teacher points out words and sentences (dialectal stuff, difference between 木 and 樹; 聞 and 訊 etc). When the teacher asked questions only 2 people (me & another person) seemed to always answer from memory / reword things instead of reading directly from the story.
• Final essay was a 1000-1500 character book report on any of the stories read in class, written in Japanese.
This class sounds scary but the teachers for this degree are all very nice and forgiving; what makes it scary is really just that so many people who are living in Japan are taking the class that the Japanese level raises too much if you compare yourself to them instead of to the actual course expectations. Before class you read the story and memorize any previously-unknown words; listen to a sound recording; try reading aloud to yourself. Book reports for a story are due before we've finished that story in class.
My advice: Translate the entire story as best you can before it's taken up in class. Also plan for that the in-class powerpoints with the text are unreadable - I had two computers open, one had the text from Aozora in big font and the other with the class website. Other people did stuff like printed out the story onto paper and read aloud from there instead. It's not really feasible to switch from tab to tab during class and read it that way. And just like with the other class, memorize N3, N2 and N1 vocabulary as much in advance as possible to taking this class.
The stories we read:
4. 林芙美子の蛙（a little difficult）
5. 岡本かの子の愛よ愛 (too difficult; the teacher walked us through the entire thing)
3rd sem, 2nd 10 weeks: (Reading Manga class: 7 credits). I took this VT2017.
Here's the list of manga, you can buy them on Amazon but do it through a shopping service like "fromjapan.co.jp" so shipping is cheaper. Or just find scans somewhere, since we don't need the physical book in class:
1. Doraemon 1 by Fujiko. F. Fujio ISBN4-09-140001-92
2. Rakudai Ninja Rantaro 1 by Amako Sobee ISBN978-4-02-275001-33
3. Chibimaruko chan 1 by Sakura Momoko ISBN4-08-618115-04
4. Gegege no kitaro 1 by Mizuki Shigeru ISBN978-4-12-204821-8
• Reading 70-100 pages of manga a week. The final week was 160 pages.
• Each week before class we have a reading comprehension worksheet to do; it has "match the words/phrases to the meaning" practice and then questions about the very basic contents of the chapter ("why did he get mad here") etc. Sometimes with a 300-character long answer about ex. "describe this character's personality", "what did they do for New Year's". The questions are in general extremely easy.
• No reading aloud in class; instead the teacher asks questions about the chapter contents andabout if people know certain phrases or bits of cultural info. Some in-class questions are the same as in the homework and others aren't. You're actually supposed to have your homework open in class and read directly from your answers, apparently.
• In the last few weeks of class we start "really" learning casual/spoken language.
• Once during the class everyone does a 5-10 minute PPT presentation on a topic the teacher chooses (mine was on "school events in Japan", ex. cultural festivals and sports days).
• The final paper was 1200 characters and about "How is manga good for learning Japanese?".
My advice for this class:
— For the love of all that is your sanity, learn N3, N2 and N1 vocabulary as soon as possible. N2 and N1 words especially are super heavily used in manga.
— First watch the anime episodes for the corresponding manga chapters (the scanlations I read had quite a few big mistakes in them.) For Gegege, someone matched up the drama CDs to the manga panels and put them on NicoNico so I watched that. Then read the manga and look up every single word you don't know as you go; do the homework at the same time. For me, reading went faster after I'd already seen the episodes beforehand.
At the beginning of 3rd semester we had 17 students. By the end we had 13 (and at least 3 failed the final exams); as far as I remember 4-5 were living in Japan at the time and had been doing so for at least half a year, 2 had Japanese parents (one lived in Japan as a kid and visited often), 1 had been an exchange student; others had visited for several months at a time multiple times. Only 3 people had never been to Japan (me and 2 others) as far as I remember.
By the end of this semester I had made it to essentially N2 level via personal study, and had started writing in Japanese every day online to various people (through Twitter and joining a Japanese guild in a phone MMORPG). I also started watching almost all my anime without subtitles, and reading even adult manga without looking anything up (not that I could understand everything; just that I understood so much that what I didn't understand no longer bothered me).
4th sem: (Japanese IV)
• Tobira gets finished.
Other than that I know nothing because for 4th semester I went on exchange to Japan (Sendai: Miyagi University of Education). This was HT2017.
According to JLPT level:
N4, N5: You know all the verbforms except for some archaic ones and some "slang" ones. Other than that you can't understand much at all. This is Genki level. "I like dogs" level.
N3: You can now pick up a manga and learn from immersion, but it'll be a bit difficult. This is Tobira level (it also dips a bit into N2 but not even halfway). "I like dogs and I had a dog when I was a kid" level.
N2, N1: The most useful vocabulary for anime and manga. Reading novels and manga (yes, even adult manga without furigana) feels pretty easy. Especially after N1. "Y'know, I had dogs when I was a kid, and they're really cute so I like them" level.
After finishing Tobira you'll understand 60-90% of all modern Japanese. You can technically pick up most manga and just "pick up" the word meanings you don't know, and many people end up doing that, though personally I think you should learn N2 and N1 vocabulary first in order to make it tons easier on yourself. You'll often automatically understand slang and abbreviations you come across for the first time (ちな —> ちなみに etc). Your listening skills will be that you can understand, usually, 30-50% of unscripted spoken Japanese (mostly because Genki and Tobira don't teach slang, "bad or subculture words" like "okama/onee, otaku, videogame demo, aniki" etc).
After Tobira / at the beginning of JLPT N2 you're still nowhere near "excellent" at Japanese, but living in Japan shouldn't trouble you for more than the first couple months. You'll have:
• 90% understanding in: certain books/modern manga, ex. よつばと and shoujo manga; most videogames; a webpage like this: http://ryugakusei.miyakyo-u.ac.jp/faq/index.html
• 80% understanding in: A lot of stuff in general, including BL, doujinshi, everyday (non-political) tweets, memes, lots of movies (as they have manga-like dialogue) etc.
• 70%: Most things meant for adults or written by/for very literate people — think Vladimir Nabokov & university websites. Ex. news articles, political stuff, government papers (detailed scholarship application info, laws), linguistics papers; stuff full of slang or dialects; manga set in historical time periods (ex. カムイ伝); crime/detective movies... Novels, news articles etc ARE doable but you'll need to learn around 1,000 more of the common words used in news articles before the news gets actually "easy".
• 30-70%: most unscripted SPOKEN stuff like street interviews, talk shows, radio programs; rakugo; people who speak too fast or unclearly (old people, punks, kids etc). Keep in mind that the majority of Japanese people ARE those kinds of people.
My best study tips:
1. Start watching anime via animelon.com as soon as you know basic Japanese grammar (Genki I level). Here's a continuously-updated list that ranks anime in terms of difficulty (by the way, the screenshot below is from N1 difficulty level:
"Psycho Pass" (N1 level)
"Parasyte" (N2 level)
"Hunter x Hunter" (N2 level)
2. Read the other tips here: http://learning-japanese.dreamwidth.org/1614.html
3. Use "An Intermediate Dictionary of Japanese Grammar" instead of or alongside Tobira (depending on if your class forces you to use Tobira or not). You can use Tobira for reading practice if you really want to, but its grammar explanations suck. The “Sou Matome” and “Kanzen Master” series that everyone seems to recommend instead have just 2-3 example sentences with extremely vague, or almost no, usage explanations.
There's still quite a few phrases whose meanings aren't obvious that you've yet to learn by the end of Tobira, and these "dictionaries of Japanese" also have tons of useful words in their example sentences like "pass an exam", "acne" etc. so I really recommend them alongside learning from anime/manga.
Genki 1 = 1st year in USA, France, Germany. But 1st semester in Sweden.
• You can finish Genki 1 in 1-2 months.
Genki 2 = 2nd year in USA, 2nd or 3rd in France. But 2nd semester in Sweden.
• Can finish in 1-2 months. You'll be at JLPT N4 when done, aka "A-level" in the European language grading system. This is, according to the internet, the knowledge the average student (world-wide) GOING on exchange has before they leave.
Tobira = 3rd & 4th year in USA. But 3rd & 4th semester in Sweden.
• Can finish in 2 months (I did it in 6 weeks, but would have been much faster if I hadn't had to create the Memrise course for it myself). You'll be partway through JLPT N2 when done. The average student RETURNS from their stay in Japan with about this much knowledge.
An Intermediate Dictionary of Japanese Grammar =
• The same level as Tobira, but with this you'll completely reach N2 (probably C-level). Around 730 pages; after Tobira you can finish it in 3-4 weeks when also memorizing all unknown vocab from it. Some people claim you don't need the stuff in this book but that's completely ridiculous.
An Advanced Dictionary of Japanese Grammar =
• You reach N1 with this, definitely "C-level". Around 730 pages; you can finish it in x weeks after Genki, Tobira & the Intermediate Dictionary. Americans in Japan claim you "never need the grammar in this book" but that's only if you DON'T plan on reading novels, manga, or well much stuff in general. Literally every single anime, manga and novel is going to use words and "grammar" from N1 and N2; having finished N1 isn't the tip of the Japanese iceberg, it's just the end of all the most common phrases that actually appear in Japanese media.
MY STUDY RECOMMENDATIONS
• You can NEVER be too far ahead. Ideally you should be insanely ahead. I was supposedly a full semester ahead of the class pace in both 2nd and 3rd semester but felt like I was still barely hanging on.
• If you don't understand the grammar, skip it, revisit it later (or go read tons of manga). You'll see it 500 times in manga compared to just 5 times in your textbook anyway. "Just skip it" is especially true once you get to Tobira because it reuses all the old grammar and phrases in later chapters, so instead of seeing 4 examples you'll have seen 40 by the time it comes up in class.
• Tobira constantly explains something "lightly" then explains it much better 5-10 chapters later, so I actually recommend memorizing words/grammar starting at chapter 15 and going backwards to chapter 1. The most useful words and explanations, especially for anime/manga, are actually in the last 5 chapters of Tobira + in the Intermediate Grammar Dictionary.
Genki / N5-N4 level:
• http://botsan.com/ (may have to change your text encoding settings) http://www.gonihongo.com/jsl_culture.html
• anime/manga (especially the easier series at animelon!)
That gonihongo site has grammar summaries for Genki and Tobira, I heavily recommend using them as refresher pages for when writing your essays and before final exams. I made my own summary pages using them + example sentences from class, made them into Ebooks and put them on my 3DS/smartphone to read.
During/after Genki I recommend playing:
• Ni no Kuni (二ノ国) for the NDS (not PlayStation); has furigana & is about 1/3rd voice-acted.
• Animal Crossing New Leaf for the 3DS; has furigana.
• Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal (GBC), Sun/Moon (3DS); yes those, no the other pokemon games (Red/Ruby/X/etc) are NOT easier. GSC are only in hiragana and katakana, SM can be in kanji if you want. SM is harder to understand than GSC.
• Pokemon (starting from the 1st season, watch every episode without subtitles.)
• Kobayashi's Dragon Maid (a boring series but it has really generic, easy-to-understand Japanese)
• Look at the list of series at animelon I already linked to via DreamWidth above.
Example of Sun/Moon:
"Even if a policeman's weak, it's fine! 'Cause Alola's peaceful y'know!"
Studying with Tobira:
Simply memorize all the words in Tobira and read all the reading exercises, then go on to read manga with FURIGANA because you want to read ALOUD every manga page as pronunciation practice. Manga also has images, which are an incredible help in giving context clues, and teaches you spoken language (which you can't really get from novels/textbooks etc but which is absolutely necessary for understanding ANY real Japanese at all besides like politicians and your teachers). Depending on how the manga was published, even Very Adult manga will have furigana. I recommend reading よつばと (you can find it online) because you'll understand 90% of it after Tobira, but you can of course read whatever you want.
During/after Tobira or N3 level I recommend playing:
• .hack// (original 4 PS2 games); is about 2/3rds voice-acted. Parody mode after you've beaten the real mode is way easier to understand than the real mode.
• Sims 4 (if you're trying to memorise N3, N2 and N1 vocabulary). Here's a sample of that:
• Let's Plays, Vlogs (especially those by teenagers; they talk like in anime)
• Random fiction movies (dramas are easiest to understand). Stay away from news, politics, interviews, talk shows, documentaries & crime shows for a bit longer.
• Stuff from the N3-N2 level at animelon.
• Drama CDs (some are easier than others; probably all romance ones are easier)
• Radio talkshow programs (again some are easier than others)
Avoid shows, books etc that were translated INTO Japanese. It makes for really, really weird Japanese and they'll use words they otherwise wouldn't. Ex. do NOT read Sherlock Holmes in Japanese unless you seriously can't find anything else you like.
Once you're at N1 level:
• Graduate from anime/manga to reading real novels, and from watching/listening to scripted stuff to unscripted stuff. Here's an example of a "real fiction book" and the amount of kanji I didn't know when I was at the beginning of N2 level:
My biggest vocabulary tip after 3 years of studying Japanese is (aside from watching "memory technique" videos and to save time in life in general so you have more time to study) is to learn from N5 to N1 at "readthekanji" as soon as possible. N3 and above needs a subscription of $5 a month but you can finish N5 to N2 in 1 month; N1 in another month (some people finish N4 and N5 in 3 days). I timed myself when studying and it took x study hours (within 2 months) to finish N5 to N1. This site works better than any SRS (electronic flashcard) system because you actually see the words highlighted within sentences, and you can have a "natural" English translation shown as well - so you actually have context for that dictionary definition. An ideal site would have multiple sentences per word so when learning "dog" it'd switch between, say, "I have a dog" and "My dog is sick" but both would just be 1 point for the word dog; alas I've never seen such a site (that wasn't fill-in-the-blanks instead) so this is the next best thing.
• For other words use an SRS site/program/app like Anki (I used to recommend Memrise, but among many other reasons Anki's font size is much bigger which is a huge necessity when learning kanji so now I recommend Anki). Learn 3-5 words, read a single manga/book/fanfic page or watch 1 minute of a TV show, then learn 3-5 more words. That's how I can keep up my motivation and study all day long. When reviewing, review 10-25 words, read 1 page etc.
• Set your SRS or general "I read Japanese here" site to a handwriting font so you can grow used to JP handwriting styles. Use black background with light text to save your eyes; this can be done with Stylish and CSS on your computer (for memrise.com), or changing the font type and inverting the colours on your smartphone. Find a font that looks like good handwriting. Pictured here is "Seafont" (海フォント) on the Memrise app.
Pictured here is "Honyaji Re" (ほにゃ字) on a short story.
For handwriting, you can also just read text (preferrably in a font like the above) and copy down a kanji each time you see it.
• Break each word into its kanji (meaning + 2 most common pronunciations), then its compounds, then the full word. Ex: for 子犬 (koinu, puppy) memorize:
子 - offspring, small thing
子 - (Japanese pronunciation) ko
子 - (Chinese pronunciation) shi
犬 - dog 犬 - (JP) inu
犬 - (CN) ken
子犬 - koinu
子犬 - "child-dog", puppy
Find the kanji meanings using the "Chinese Etymology Dictionary" or some other free online dictionary; find the pronunciations from Japanese Wiktionary or something. It's best if you memorize vocabulary using a language that's NOT English because English is way too vague; my retention rate is 70% if I use English but 90% if Esperanto (and English is my first language). Your brain simply has an easier time if you're memorizing via "north, opposite-north" instead of "north, south".
When the word comes up for review in the software, or when you're reading online & using the handwriting font & come across kanji you know, copy the handwriting font and write the kanji down once using a pen and piece of paper. DON'T worry about writing it well; you'll completely naturally get better at it over time, trust me.
Memorizing Kanji Meanings
• Replace the roots of words in a text with matching kanji. This works MUCH better with Esperanto, Swedish etc than English:
I like my black dogs —> 私 好 私y 黒 犬s
Jag gillar mina svarta hundar —> 私 好r 私a 黒a 犬ar
Mi ŝatas miajn nigrajn hundojn —> 私 好as 私ajn 黒ajn 犬ojn
In the English you can no longer tell 私 was a noun, 好 a verb and 黒 an adjective etc so it makes reading the end result text a lot more difficult. Likewise English has, for example, "he ran LIKE the wind", "it was LIKE, almost too big", which is the wrong meaning for the kanji 好 (which only means the "affection" kind of "like"), so unless you're going to very seriously comb through your texts to fix all the billions of mistakes an auto-replacement tool will make....