Studying Japanese at degree level

(26 Posts)
Japanquery Sat 02-Jun-18 19:26:56

Anyone have any experience of studying Japanese (as main subject) at a UK university? DS (Year 12) has expressed an interest in studying Japanese. No previous experience of studying Japanese, but he is good at languages (doing A level French) and a school trip to Japan has sparked an interest in Japanese culture, so not a completely random suggestion.

OP’s posts: |
ThroughThickAndThin01 Sat 02-Jun-18 19:32:06

Ds2 currently in his second year. Unis don’t want students with qualifications higher that gcse, ds was a total Japanese speaking novice, but has always loved everything about japan. He’s currently in Japan for his year out, and loving it.

Japanquery Sat 02-Jun-18 19:40:24

Thank you, that's good to hear. Would you mind telling me which university? Happy for you to PM me if you prefer.

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ThroughThickAndThin01 Sat 02-Jun-18 19:43:48

I’ll pm, could get identifying!

BubblesBuddy Sun 03-Jun-18 21:22:05

Oxford says that an A level in a MFL is helpful for applicants to have for their Oriental Studies (Japanese) course. They don’t say they don’t want an A level in MFL. No doubt if you could take Japanese A level, they wouldn’t say they didn’t want it.

shockthemonkey Mon 04-Jun-18 14:57:55

DS is at Cambridge studying AMES (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies). He has chosen Chinese but knows many who have chosen Japanese.

It's supposedly ab initio but in reality they expect (at the top unis at least) such a high level of interest in the language that you should have basic conversational ability for interview. You should have looked into the basics of the written language including some of the classic texts in preparation for your PS.

Even though my DS had what might be considered the equivalent of GCSE Mandarin, the pace of learning is such that the "advantage" held for the first term only -- by the second term everyone had caught up with him.

It is an intensive and very very rewarding course if your level of interest is deep and wide.

shockthemonkey Mon 04-Jun-18 15:00:18

I might have overstated that a bit. My DS had good basic conversational ability but others could just about get out the initial niceties. I think that would also be acceptable if you could demonstrate your interest in other ways.

A very high level of interest in history and current affairs relating to Japan is very important too.


Skiiltan Mon 04-Jun-18 21:18:46

My eldest is hoping to study Japanese this autumn. She hasn't done a language A-level (highest is French at GCSE) but has self-taught a fair amount of the language and has a long-standing interest in the culture. She got offers from four of her five choices: the one that rejected her did so on the basis of her predicted grades rather than subject choices.

Japanquery Mon 04-Jun-18 21:59:53

Thank you very much for the replies.

Skiiltan, if your DD has reached a view as to which of the four she prefers based on the course on offer, I'd be interested to hear (happy for you to PM me).

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BubblesBuddy Mon 04-Jun-18 23:30:18

Did they tell you it was predicted grades? Most rejected students do not know why. They just get a reject.

Needmoresleep Tue 05-Jun-18 10:36:14

It might be worth putting Shock's comments into context.

I once met a professor of Russian. (DC's school was relatively unusual in offering Russian A level.) He explained that though his department was strong, the reality was that they only got second pick at applicants. The super bright, prepared and motivated, the ones that Shock describes, would be heading to Oxbridge and perhaps one or two other places. They instead would offer to either bright motivated applicants without language A levels (he claimed that those with a good maths A level often did well, and we know a girl who studied an east Asian language on the back on Classics A levels) or those with, but perhaps without the grades that would get them into Oxbridge.

Skiiltan Tue 05-Jun-18 12:51:36

@BubblesBuddy - Did they tell you it was predicted grades? Most rejected students do not know why. They just get a reject.

Yes, I got her to ask. I'm an admissions tutor myself, so I have a reasonable idea what universities will & won't tell applicants.

Personally, I regard predicted A-level grades as somewhat less reliable than chicken entrails, so it was a bit painful to know these were the grounds for rejection. On the other hand, I think she could probably have found out before applying that this was likely to be the outcome. It doesn't really matter, anyway, as her fifth choice turned out to be her favourite when she actually went to visit. We're going again in a couple of weeks so she can see what the train journey is like.

BubblesBuddy Tue 05-Jun-18 13:10:16

My DD did MFLs at university. Quite a lot of students add an ab initio language such as Russian, Italian, Arabic etc to their degree when they are already doing their first choice MFL to A level. So French and Russian, French and Italian etc. Many schools do not teach languages other than French, Spanish and German as standard and often only two of those. Therefore a strong linguist who wants something a bit different, goes for ab initio. This is almost inevitable for languages like Japanese. It is no doubt true that many MFL Departments are struggling for capable students and do make lower offers for the unusual languages. Eg: I know someone who was offered CCC for Italian at RG university.

Talking to DD, a strong attribute for learning any language is a good memory. You have to learn it and remember it! You need an ear for it too! Not entirely sure maths helps with this but being interested and capable in languages is the best prep if possible. Classics would fit this profile too.

Needmoresleep Tue 05-Jun-18 13:30:10

Bubbles, I am not sure I really understand. I assume your daughter did not attempt a non European language?! Perhaps not even a northern European one?

I happen to speak three European and one Asian language. Asian languages, certainly the one I speak, has a very different structure and you express yourself differently. No word for "no", no articles or tenses, adn some odd approaches to plurals. I disagree with your daughter. I think maths ability, certainly at the philosophy/logic end, does no harm. And would guess that musicality might be the biggest predictor of sucess, especially with tonal languages. My experience and that of DC is that German is easier than French if you are more maths than humanities, because of the decoding required, though happy to be corrected. I assume the same might be true for Russian, and is certainly an element in Latin.

shockthemonkey Tue 05-Jun-18 13:59:08

Thanks Sleep, very interesting.

OP, you say your DC is very interested in Japanese culture since a recent visit.

Worth looking closely at course content for places like Leeds, Durham vs SOAS for instance. Some unis put more emphasis on current language, culture and foreign affairs whereas others are more (or at least equally) into the classical texts which are, to say the least, an acquired taste.

Durham allows you to combine Japanese studies with Politics and IR through their Combined Honours in Social Sciences and this kind of combination was really tempting for my DS when he was looking.

The entry requirements at SOAS are particularly interesting for such a respected university.

Needmoresleep Tue 05-Jun-18 14:16:11

I sat Institute of Linguists exams rather than do anything academic, and without A level, or discernable language aptitude.

I agree about thinking through what sort of language you want to study: literature,. current affairs, linguistics etc. I would also note the study abroad arrangments. Back in pre-history when I was living in Asia I met a group of language students from an English University, and the kindest thing I can say is that they just been dumped. And at an Argricultural University, so the cultural chasm was huge. I took them out a couple of times for pizza, which I hope helped a bit.

Japanquery Tue 05-Jun-18 17:33:43

Thank you all. Lots of very interesting comments! I am inclined to steer DS away from SOAS due to the difficulties with finding accommodation in London.

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BubblesBuddy Tue 05-Jun-18 19:36:04

The best language degrees will expect a bit of everything in their core subject areas. You can pick and choose options. There can be an exciting choice but each university will have its specialisms.

I am not really sure what you don’t understand needmore. You didn’t do a degree in MFL. I’m not sure what your DSs are doing but I think learning Japanese at undergrad level is not often attempted by mathematicians. (They are more likely to do shorter language acquisition courses later for work). Musicality definitely helps an ear for languages.

The great thing about language degrees though, is that it’s not all about speaking the language. The courses are much broader and there is a lot of essay writing. I

I suspect if DD pitched up in Japan she would pick up Japanese. She used to do a bit of Mandarin with school friends. Our school system tends to look at languages as add ons. Nice to have but not essential. Scientists and Mathematicians tend not to take them to A level so it’s difficult to say if they would be good at degree level MFL or not. Very few try.

BasiliskStare Tue 05-Jun-18 19:56:03

A friend of DS is studying a joint Japanese / other subject course at university. No opportunity to have studied at school. I think maths ( not at a hugely high level - but a logical way of thinking ) helps with the logic of grammar. But then my German A level was years ago - so what do I know ! & yes there are two parts to it - i.e. the literature ( which I loved ) and the language . If you can - going to the country and speaking it until you think in it is a great thing if you want to immerse yourself in a language.

BubblesBuddy Wed 06-Jun-18 13:34:50

Having a good memory to remember the grammar is even better!!!

abilockhart Wed 06-Jun-18 22:12:48

Japanese seems to exist in a language family of its own and the sentence structure is fundamentally different to other languages. There is also a respect for abstraction which is alien to many Westerners.

Japanese grammar rules are very consistent and logical. Logic is even more important than memory when learning Japanese.

Needmoresleep Thu 07-Jun-18 08:20:50

(Thread derail alert...)

Interesting. My understanding is that Chinese in contrast has relatively little grammar, or more precisely, not much that a casual learner needs to grasp. Ths is certainly true for the language I speak. However there are a ton of communication issues. How do you address other people? There are so many words and a need to get it right. So complex that even native speakers will use the English word "you" when searching for something neutral. And though there is a word for "sorry", the concept is different, and so on.

I also suspect that people learn differently. So some may focus on grammar, others not. Dyslexic DD learns orally (aurally?) so acquired French through exposure. She understands and speaks far more than she can write, and seems to pick up languages quickly. So no A level or any chance of her ever taking a language degree, but during her ski season, the property owners preferred to commmunicate through her rather than with others who had A level. I wonder whether some of the problem we have with languages (and possibly maths) learning, is that kids are taught by people who are "good" at their subject and so expect pupils/students to learn in the same way.

Studying a language, especially a non European one, is an amazing way to learn about another culture, and thus by extention, to gain insight into your own. I hope OPs DS does well.

French2019 Thu 07-Jun-18 08:41:23

Japanese grammar rules are very consistent and logical. Logic is even more important than memory when learning Japanese.

Sorry, but I don't agree with this at all. Memory is absolutely key for a language like Japanese where you need to memorize thousands of characters in order to be able to read.

I speak Japanese fluently. I also have knowledge of a couple of other Asian languages and have studied five European languages to varying levels.

I was very good at maths when I was at school, and always enjoyed logic puzzles. Maybe that helped. I was also reasonably musical. However, I think the thing that most helped me acquire Japanese quickly was undoubtedly my experience of learning other (European) languages.

So I am with Bubbles' dd on that one!

AJPTaylor Thu 07-Jun-18 08:46:50

my dnephew did Japanese and Politics at Oxford Brookes. He loved every minute of it, lots of exchange visits and therefore native japanese speakers to practice on. he did gcse japanese in 6th form. is currently working in japan.

BubblesBuddy Thu 07-Jun-18 15:07:43

I have found down the years that quite a few linguists are also good mimics. They have an ear for language and sounds. I also think one of the reasons young people drop languages is that they are hard work if your memory is not so good. There is a lot to be memorised and recalled. Reading and working with literature in another language means the language has to be embedded. I have no doubt Japanese is hard. I would love to live in Japan for a year though: it is a great country.

Thanks for your input French. Appreciated.

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