It has been some years now that I come regularly to Japan to pursue research collaborations with my Japanese colleagues. Then one of my pleasures, during my free-time, is to improve my Japanese level to have a better understanding of the surrounding culture.
After passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N4 in December 2014, I succeeded in the more difficult N3 in July 2015. I was really satisfied to get such results, which in a sense has embodied my efforts in Japanese study.
But how was it possible to have a time-consuming job (all in English) in a research institute and, at the same time, get improvements in Japanese, from very basic skills in Summer 2014 to passing JLPT N3 one year later?
The answer is simple: thanks to a very good Japanese school in Tōkyō which targets foreigners, Coto Academy.
But first, let’s go back in time, in 2013, at the time when I started coming frequently to Japan. I was willing to continue my learning of Japanese, started in a small, yet active, French association in Nantes. Then I came 3 months in Japan in 2013 and went to two different schools: one was very rigid and not friendly at all; the other was great, with good teachers, but the other students were only French, mainly teens and university students, making it very different from the atmosphere I was looking for (i.e., being in a class where most other students are people a little bit older, working in various fields, with the possibility to have some flexibility in the schedule).
My wife heard about Coto Academy (which was known Iidabashi Language School at this time) from a friend. She gave it a try, and 3 days after, I came for a trial lesson.
The very URL of Coto Academy at this time, http://www.funjapanese.net, was giving a very promising first taste: this would be fun! And this had been much fun for more than a year now!
Why is Coto such a good school, that I strongly recommend to any professional (engineers, researchers, teachers, artists… every profession is represented!) arriving in Tōkyō and willing to find a good place to improve in Japanese?
Here are my three favorite points:
1/ All staff and teachers are very skillful and friendly people. When you arrive at a new school, the sense of hospitality is crucial. Coto really offers top Japanese omotenashi, i.e. this quality of welcoming everyone.
2/ Coto proposes various plans, from intensive classes to private lessons.
The most surprising plan is the Nihongo Plus package, a.k.a. follow the courses you like when you want. Every lesson (or every two lessons) at a given day and time is self-consistent. So you may skip one class because of professional (or other) obligations but you will not feel lost when coming back to class. There is a maximum number of 8 students per class, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to practice speaking skills. Generally, I followed between 2 and 4 lessons of Nihongo Plus every week. I gradually attended more difficult classes, allowing me to deepen my study of the Japanese language.
Private classes constitute a very interesting complement to the aforementioned Nihongo Plus classes. When you are used to study by yourself during the week, it is very useful to have some dedicated time to ask specific questions to a professional teacher. With only a book, it is sometimes difficult to catch precisely the context in which grammatical notions should be used. I really appreciated to get feedback from Coto’s teachers, while I was going on in my study of various books.
3/ Coto staff puts much effort to organize cultural activities for their students: visit of matsuris, mountain climbing, cooking classes, or calligraphy. Among this diversified program, one experience will remain as one of the most original and enriching moments of my trips to Japan: a one-day visit to an organic farm, on which I wrote a blog-post.
These activities offer the occasion to broaden its knowledge of Japanese culture, while giving a good chance to speak with both foreigners and natives.
I am really grateful to all Coto staff, from welcome desk people to all teachers I met. They were always really supportive and that strengthened my motivation.
Good location, good amenities, good staff, good teachers. Going there always sounds like having an entertaining moment and learning at the same time, which is why I definitely recommend it 🙂