Several years ago, I served as a CIR in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture. After participating in the JET program, I came back to California and was lucky to find a university job teaching Japanese; however, when I arrived, there was no established curriculum. Using my teaching experiences, I was able to create not only a new curriculum but a whole new approach to language education.
My time in Kitakyushu was not my first experience in Japan. I had previously lived with family friends and gone to school in Tottori and Tokyo, so I had spent much time in Japan by the time I arrived for my first day of work at Kitakyushu City Hall. Still, living on my own in a new place with no backup and starting work in an unfamiliar and decidedly traditional workplace environment proved to be a daunting challenge. One upside was that I was forced to reflect more deeply on all of my experiences in order to begin to understand the cultural complexities involved in my work and in getting along in the Japanese office environment. Of course, I still made many mistakes, but while I struggled at the time to understand why things seemingly never went my way, I would eventually learn from those failures and build a better understanding of cross-cultural communication.
Through my experiences, I realized that language is a tool for communication and that this tool is born out of a given culture over time. When building the curriculum for my own classes, I realized further that one major oversight in the current language teaching regime is that most courses and materials focus on teaching words and grammar as if they had any meaning in a vacuum. I decided that I wanted to train my students to think like native speakers of Japanese, so that when formulating speech in their minds, they would not ask, “How do I say this in Japanese?” but, “How would a Japanese person express this concept?” When looking around for suitable materials, I found that none of the Japanese learning series had such a focus, so I set out to create my own. The result is the Kakehashi series of materials.
The Kakehashi textbook and accompanying workbook are designed to take readers from knowing nothing about Japan to being functionally fluent by training readers to understand how Japanese people talk with one another. Readers will be introduced to the written alphabets, basic kanji, targeted vocabulary, and the fundamental grammatical forms necessary to express most ideas. The textbook will be useful for beginners and more advanced students alike since much of its content is not taught in most other books. The content of the workbook mirrors the textbook and reinforces the goal of actual understanding, as opposed to rote memorization by providing problems that force the reader to reflect upon the cultural issues affecting usage that are presented in the textbook.
Further materials are on the way! An advanced textbook and workbook will be available soon, as well as a reader and several mobile apps, so please check back periodically.
Barrett Balvanz, Fukuoka, 2006-09
Professor of Japanese and Comparative Culture at the University of the Pacific