Japanese Studies Program @ York University

JP1000 Lecture Notes


Lecture Notes is designed to assist you to glance through the important items in each lesson, and to provide further information for clarification. Content is updated on a regular basis. In the Appendices, vocabulary, useful expressions, and other practical information are provided for reference. Please make good use of them. The following are the basics of language learning and acquisition.

Why learning language?

Multilingualism is a key to the future. Language is by far the best medium to educate yourself to be a member of the global community. It is quite exciting to find and learn how other people in different cultures perceive world, express themselves, and interact with each other. It is no exaggeration to say that you will learn about another world. Learning languages as well as your native language is a must for living in an ever changing world.

What is required?

Acquiring another language, however, is not an easy task. It requires much time, patience, self-discipline, strong motivation, and active participation. What is more, once you begin to learn another language, you cannot stop in the middle, for you will forget what you have learned very quickly. In this regard, language-learning is a life-long commitment. Good language learners are those who develop originality and creativity, sensitivity to another language and culture, communicative competence and skills in the native and target languages, and personal opinions on various issues. If you are not communicative in your own language, how can you be communicative in another language?

Why learning language in the university?

In foreign language courses at the university level, students are expected to go far beyond learning four skills [listening, speaking, reading, writing] in the target language. By being exposed to a different language and its culture, students will learn to be cross-culturally communicative. This education and training for cross-cultural communication is the core discipline involved in language learning. Our objective is to help you acquire cross- cultural education and training by using the Japanese language as a medium. University-level language programs are designed to provide students with knowledge and experience that they do not learn in other courses, such as self-reflection, cross-cultural experience, risk-taking, and life skills based on experiential learning and various specific narratives. Interdisciplinarity is the major strength of language learning.   

Why the Japanese language?

Japan is ranked as the fourth largest trade partner for Canada (2020). People who know about Japan and speak the language fluently are still in short supply. There exist various opportunities for study and work in Japan and Japan-related fields in Canada and other countries. Exposure to a seemingly quite 'foreign' language and culture helps students develop awareness of themselves and appreciation of their own cultures as well. While there are many differences between Japan [Japanese] and Canada [English], students will also find a lot of similarities between them. It is also important to note that Canada has Japanese-Canadian heritage.

Is Japanese unique and one of the most difficult languages to learn?

When one looks at languages in the world, the Japanese language belongs to the majority which are based on the word order (SOV: Subject-Object-Verb). It is considered to be one of the Ural-Altaic language family, which includes Korean, Turkish, Mongolian, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian and others. As far as the grammar and vocabulary are concerned, Japanese is not any more difficult than other languages, but reading and writing pose a considerable difficulty for Canadians because of two basic writing systems and Kanji [Sino-Japanese characters].


Language study involves not only passive aspects [memorization, recitation, drills, pattern practice and so forth] but also active and creative aspects [analysis and comprehension of what is said or written, synthesis of what is learned, and communicative application of the language in actual situations]. In this course, communicative aspects are strongly emphasized so that students will be able to function in actual conversation. Therefore, tutorials will not be conducted in such a way that the instructor gives lectures and drills and the students respond to him/her, but instead the students are encouraged to interact with both the instructor and other students in the class in actual communication [active participation]. Those who are not familiar with this type of individualistic, heuristic, and creative language study will need to change their views and learning strategies very fast. Communication involves at least two parties. Here good pronunciation is crucial, because the other party tends to judge your linguistic ability based on your pronunciation. Even if your grammar is correct, if the pronunciation is poor, people think that they cannot communicate with you. Poor pronunciation also hampers your listening comprehension. Non-verbal communication, body language in particular is also a very important factor in communication.


There is no one way to study language that is good for every one; every person has a different learning style and strategy. Try out various ways and find the best method and system for you as soon as possible. The following are some suggestions.
  • Good preparation and review are very important. Always read the explanation of the Lecture Notes in order to familiarize yourself with the dialogues, important grammatical items, and new vocabulary before you go to class.
  • Try to use what you have learned in class and elsewhere in your own way. Repeating the utterances presented in the text material alone is not sufficient. Think of situations where you can say what you want to say and how the other party may respond to you.
  • In recitation and drills always be aware of what you are saying with what purpose. Automatic recitation without knowing what you are saying may be good only for basic pronunciation practice.
  • Do not try to review everything at once. You will not have time to go back to review all the lessons covered. Steady accumulation of the knowledge and use of the language is the only way to proceed further in language study. You cannot cram everything overnight for the test either.
  • Make use of weekends for review. When you review, focus on the items difficult to understand, and make sure you understand all the important items involved in the lesson every week. It is helpful to change your review method to avoid boredom.
  • Study with your friends and if you should miss a class, make sure you get all the information from them. Oral performance will benefit greatly from practising with your friends or other Japanese students on campus. Viewing Japanese films, TV programs and videos is helpful for listening comprehension, pronunciation and understanding of socio-cultural aspects of Japan.

Online learning and teaching

The entire course might take place on line using Zoom and Moodle.
Students participate in this course through video conferencing and appear on video for seminar participation and activities, remote proctoring for skits and tests. Students are required to have stable high-speed Internet connection and a computer with webcam and microphone.

Norio Ota 2021