One thing that makes mastering a foreign language tricky is how the vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation can change depending on the environment and situation. For example, watching an cartoon targeting children and a comedy show broadcast on TV will be extremely different experiences.
For Japanese, assuming you have a good foundation in grammar, if you watch enough dramas and TV shows (the more variety the better), you can start picking up some phrases and eventually learn to understand conversational Japanese as spoken by everyday people. Make some Japanese friends, practice on Skype, and then travel to Japan once in a while for some extra practice.
This is all well and good, but even if you become pretty adept at everyday conversation, there are surely some areas where your language is especially weak, even just considering comprehension ability. One exercise I like to do is think of how I learned my native language, English, in terms of what types of situations I was frequently placed in.
When doing this, one giant hole I became aware of his how I’ve spent a great majority of my life attending some sort of school, whether that be elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate college, or graduate school. Besides reading books and watching documentaries, school is one of the major influences for our intellectual development, and that includes not just ideas, but the language to express those ideas. But I had no experience in attending school in Japanese (classes where you learn Japanese don’t count).
In the past, I recently tried some YouTube searches to find classes taught in Japanese and watched a few videos, but there was a few problems. First, the sound quality was not that great. Second, it was hard to find a set of videos on the same topic, so I had to jump between unrelated topics, which made it hard to learn the terms for a specific topic. Also, watching videos on your computer, smartphone, or tablet is quite different than actually attending a class, especially in terms of interaction with the material and other people.
Then, a few days ago, I did a search for “オンライン講座” (Online Course) on Google and found what I had been searching for so long.
Gacco is a website dedicated to free online classes in Japanese. Though I have known for some time these existed for English-speaking people, this is first time I discovered a comprehensive website which aims to provide online learning for Japanese speakers.
Here are a few classes available, to give you a taste for what is offered:
江戸文化入門: Introduction to Edo Culture
初めての情報システム: Beginners class for Information Systems
脳と創造力: Creativity and the brain
It’s pretty easy to sign up, assuming you can read enough Japanese to get past the signup pages. I created an account linked to my Google account, and was able to join a class and start watching the lectures in under 10 minutes. And it really is free, with no strings attached yet, at least from what I’ve seen.
For the class I joined (社会人のためのデータサイエンス入門), the portion of the lecture I watched had relatively good sound quality, though there was some papers rustling and people talking part of the time. Since this is a domain I am pretty familiar with I was able to understand the general idea of what he was saying, but he spoke too fast for me to get all the details. I’m sure that if I keep listening to it I’l pick it up quickly, though.
There are several styles of classes, but the general flow is something you are already familiar with: watch lectures, do homework, and take online tests. Each class has their own dedicated discussion board, and apparently some of the classes involve meeting in person for discussion. When you complete a class you receive a certificate.
The main disadvantage I can see is that the class selection is relatively limited. Only around 30 classes showed up on the listing, and a portion of those hadn’t started yet. But I’m sure they’ll adding more going forward, and if you just manage to complete all the ones available now, you’ve gained a great amount of experience in Japanese.
I think Gacco is an amazing resource for anyone who has a few years of Japanese study under their belts, and wants to take their intellectual language to the next level. It wouldn’t hurt to try even as a beginner if you have the ability to deal with the difficult level. Aside from the content, just listening to the professor’s speaking style was an interesting experience in itself.