To put my situation in context: I have been studying Japanese for over 10 years. I have passed the JLPT N2, working on the N1 for about 6 months, and am a translator.
The reason I wanted to study in Japan for 6 weeks was to improve my speaking for interpreting classes (which are on summer holiday). I also hoped it would help me with N1.
I initially chose the Japanese Language School (JaLS) in Hokkaido because they offered afternoon internships. I figured this would be great for improving speaking in a natural environment. But they told me the advanced level classes were full and I couldn’t do the internship without the classes.
So I went to Kyoto JALS where more “advanced” classes were available.
“Advanced” Level Classes
To work out what level class you need you do an online Japanese test with a questionnaire about what books you use and what you’d like to achieve.
My first lesson I thought I might have been placed in the wrong class. The book we used was ridiculously easy. N3/N2 level grammar and readings. Most of the kanji had furigana and I found myself crossing out almost all of it with a pencil.
We didn’t do the exercises in the textbooks that much (thank goodness), mostly used them as tools to have discussions. Which was certainly great for speaking!
But then it turned out I was in the highest level of class. I was in the highest level for Kyoto but the school in Hokkaido didn’t even have an advanced level class! Meaning the “highest” you can go at the Kyoto school was up to N2 level material and N3 for Hokkaido.
Other students had apparently asked the head of the school if they could use a different textbook but teachers must use the materials the school gives them. Every student in the advanced class had passed N2 and were not being challenged.
So, really, there were no advanced classes at JALS Kyoto.
The activities are typical Japanese culture activities. Which I’ve done many of in the past and was not particularly interested in.
A large number of them involve going out to places or famous sights in Kyoto and mostly talking to other students. There is normally at least one teacher, but it’s hard to practice Japanese with them when everyone wants to practice Japanese.
The School and Staff
All the staff are incredibly kind and hardworking. The teachers are mostly contract workers and I found most of them simplified their Japanese because that’s how they’ve been trained. This is great for beginner levels, but again, not so great for advanced.
I was lucky that we had one teacher who really pushed us to use more grown up language. And who corrected mistakes we made when we made them.
The school itself is really nice. It’s a new build with a small cafe. They also have an English school in the afternoons and evenings. So there are always Japanese and foreigners around the cafe area. It’s incredibly easy to sit in the cafe for several hours and work or study.
Accommodation varies depending on what you go for but I have heard no complaints.
I stayed in a shared house which was also a new build. There was a shared bath, toilets, kitchen and living room, everyone had their own TVs and air conditioner. Everyone shared chores so the place always stayed clean.
We didn’t really interact that much, which was a shame, but everyone was busy with their own stuff. Not all the residents were students, many were Chinese with jobs.
Great if You’re Beginner to N3, Not Great for N2+
The staff are really great, but whoever chose the curriculum did not understand what advanced level learners NEED. Just because a book says “advanced” does NOT means it’s advanced material.
I don’t think they really pay attention to the questionnaires that you first fill in, either.
I really wish we had been allowed to use materials that native Japanese people use like short stories, news clippings, opinion pieces, etc.
Furthermore, I mostly wish that when I had initially filled out the questionnaire they had told me that I might find the classes here too easy. I would not have come here had I known these last 6 weeks would not be a challenge.
I have certainly learned a fair bit and feel my Japanese has improved. But I didn’t feel like I was challenged or learned what I wanted to learn when I signed up.
However, I do think it’s a great school for beginner to N3 level learners. You are forced to speak a lot, which is great for daily conversation if that’s what you’re after.