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Choosing to study Japanese GCSE

(22 Posts)
japanesegcse Wed 15-Mar-17 14:56:04

My DC in year 7 has been very keen to learn Japanese or Chinese for a while now. However school have literally just informed us that we have a week to decide whether to drop one of the 2 European languages currently being studied by all year 7 students and take Japanese for GCSE. I believe that all students have to take 2 languages at GCSE.

They have to make this decision without ever having tried any Japanese. Any thoughts? DC has high verbal IQ but poor handwriting so I have no idea how that might impact on learning Japanese. Are there any characteristics making you likely to succeed at Japanese other than the obvious of really wanting to do so.

I believe that previous year groups have not had to make this decision until mid year 8 but school want students to study a language for 4 years before taking the new style GCSE so the decision has taken us by surprise with very little time to look into it.

irvineoneohone Wed 15-Mar-17 17:31:19

Someone posted these links to other thread. Have a look.

kittybiscuits Wed 15-Mar-17 17:34:27

Hi, that's a tough decision. One of my DCs is similar to your DC with handwriting, but loves learning Japanese and handwriting in Japanese is much better than English!

Tikabilla1 Thu 16-Mar-17 00:39:26

My daughter started taking Japanese this year and loves it. Much easier to pronounce than French. She likes the different writing - very artistic.

TawnyPippit Thu 16-Mar-17 08:42:09

The good point is that Japanese is actually quite an easy language. It is a squillion times easier to speak and understand than Mandarin because it is not tonal, which makes it much easier to jump in and progress and the beginner level. The reading/writing thing is quite a lot easier as well, as they have a couple of different scripts (which are not that hard to learn) as well as kanji (the characters), so there are relatively fewer kanji needed than Mandarin.

I would definitely recommend it. Its really interesting, quite a cool language to be able to speak, and honestly not very hard, once you get your head round the fact that its not like a European language. I'd say go for it!

ClaudiaWankleman Thu 16-Mar-17 08:47:58

I would completely disagree with Tawny - Japanese is many, many times harder than Mandarin. Learning characters becomes very easy after a few months of work at the beginning, and Mandarin grammar is very simple (often very similar to English). Japanese grammar is very complicated, very different to English or anything your daughter is likely to have experienced (or even comprehended - I was floored!) Japanese kanji also have multiple pronunciations (very uncommon in mandarin).

BUT - handwriting shouldn't come into it. It may help improve her English writing by learning more consciously to form strokes for hiragana/ katakana and Kanji. The same may happen with Chinese characters.

AChickenCalledKorma Thu 16-Mar-17 08:56:47

It does sound like very short notice for committing to something you've never tried before. Can you make an appointment with the languages teacher and ask them for advice? They will know better than us whether they think your son will enjoy it.

Also, are you sure they have have to do two languages for GCSE? That sounds very unusual.

japanesegcse Thu 16-Mar-17 09:12:44

It is a language school - entry requirement is having lived abroad for over 6 months or being bilingual so yes it is an unusual school. We have always been told everyone has to do 2 language at GCSEs but it may be in reality that perhaps everyone has to study 2 but are not all entered for 2. Certainly league tables don't show 100% of students passing 2. Everyone has to study a language in 6th form too even if not doing IB. I guess a lot of children will also get a GCSE in their first language even if not taught at the school.

japanesegcse Thu 16-Mar-17 09:15:34

Tawny and Claudia have you both tried learning both mandarin and Japanese? They are very differing views. Do you think either language is particularly suited to a certain type of learner? Is it Cantonese that is more difficult/tonal perhaps than Mandarin?

hertsandessex Thu 16-Mar-17 09:43:22

You can't say Japanese is harder or easier than Mandarin. They are just different. GCSE level in either is not that high in the scheme of things and anyone who is reasonably academic and prepared to work hard should do ok. The main thing is being motivated to work hard and having interest.

Nightmanagerfan Thu 16-Mar-17 09:46:52

I've learnt both including Japanese gcse at school which I did from scratch while doing my A levels. I loved it! I think it's much easier than Mandarin and really fun to learn, especially in the early stages.

chameleon71 Thu 16-Mar-17 09:49:48

so the key question is whether 4 years is enough time to prepare for a Japanese GCSE?

Japanese is an easy language to speak - fewer sounds than Chinese and most European languages. It is also a phonetic language with 2 phonetic alphabets so it is easy for a beginner to read and write.

The characters are harder - but there are only 200 to learn for the GCSE and over 4 years I think that would be very achievable. They are fun to learn and I don't think poor handwriting is an issue.

hertsandessex Thu 16-Mar-17 10:10:56

Four years is definitely enough time. Some schools do it in three and I think even in the schools that take four lots of the kids don't really work properly until the last year or two.

Japanese in a sense is an easier language to speak in that tones far less than important than Mandarin but the grammar is a lot harder and stringer that together into longer sentences when speaking can be hard. Also most people who learn Japanese outside Japan (and plenty who learn in Japan) have terrible intonation when speaking Japanese. However, for both Japanese and Mandarin pronunciation in the oral part of the exam is really not that important. You can have poor command of tones and intonation and still get an A*.

TawnyPippit Thu 16-Mar-17 10:28:29

I've had lessons in both Japanese and Cantonese, so do have some experience in both, although not really much Cantonese (My understanding is that Mandarin is harder than Cantonese, but even if it is wrong, I think Japanese is substantially "easier" than Cantonese).

I still maintain Japanese is the easier language for a GCSE. I think you could be up and running pretty quickly. The arguments around the language being difficult I think mainly revolve around different forms and registers which apply at a more sophisticated level. I lived and worked there and was fine with the "polite foreigner" register, actually . I honestly don't think the spoken part/intonation is hard. Most people understood me in day to day life, and I think there would be less emphasis on this in a GCSE context.

Pronunciation is largely entirely phonetic, so once you get the hang of a few simple rules, its not really an issue.

hertsandessex Thu 16-Mar-17 11:03:13

Another perspective:

- Mandarin is easier to get a good grade in GCSE exam because there is a big coursework component (25%?) which teachers can and do "cheat" on in many cases. In Japanese no coursework.

- Mandarin appears harder in that 200 characters to learn whereas less in Japanese but in Japanese although there are a lot less characters to learn for GCSE there are also the two alphabets which is a source of great confusion to many children. Depends on the child which they find easier.

- The oral in Mandarin is probably harder because of the tones but the tones are not key to getting a good grade and not a focus of teaching.

- The grammar in Japanese is tricky for many children. The biggest problem are particles which we don't have in English or Mandarin. Even children studying for several years can't get them right in some cases and this aspect is a significant part of the exam marking.

halcyondays Thu 16-Mar-17 11:28:06

Usually it would be one language compulsory with a second one optional? Has your dc enjoyed learning languages and found them easy to learn?

japanesegcse Thu 16-Mar-17 11:30:09

Herts - Is course work continuing in Mandarin? The impression we have been given by school is that all language GCSEs are changing to 100% exams and no course work which is why they are changing to 4 years of study rather than 3.
Do you have any view on what learning style/skills child would need to be able to grasp 2 alphabets and particles! Would that correlate to high verbal IQ? I cant even imagine it. Are there any tests to assess if a child might be suited to a language?

japanesegcse Thu 16-Mar-17 12:21:43

halcyondays - it is language school so most children are already bilingual. Not really sure if DC has enjoyed/found easy. Certainly easier than I expected and DC has always wanted to learn a language with a different alphabet which not everyone would relish. Hard to compare yr 7 so far as unsure how many of the class are native speakers and don't know how much progress would be expected at this stage.

ClaudiaWankleman Thu 16-Mar-17 14:39:06

I have a degree in one of these, and have learnt the other. It's true Japanese is easier to pronounce, although I maintain that the lack of any inflection in mandarin makes it easier to produce correct and understandable language.

AChickenCalledKorma Thu 16-Mar-17 18:10:55

So is your son bilingual? And if he is, is he therefore pretty much guaranteed a really good grade in another language at GCSE?

If that's the case, and he's saying he wants to learn Japanese, I'd say go for it. He's not got much to lose, if he's likely to have at least one language GCSE in the bag (which is more than many, many students will have). And with four years to study it, in a school that specialises in languages, he's got to have a good chance to getting a good grade in an unusual subject which will make him stand out from the crowd.

japanesegcse Thu 16-Mar-17 19:54:37

No not bilingual. DC only started learning any languages in yr 7. Hence why it is hard to compare progress as most of the other kids appear to be bilingual. The fact the school specialize in languages presumably means it is likely to be well taught and standards high as some of the class will be native speakers and others will pick it up quicker due to early exposure to other languages.

ClaudiaWankleman Thu 16-Mar-17 22:09:00

To be quite honest, GCSE languages don't usually prepare you for anything more than doing the A level. You don't really get to a level that is in anyway useful in work, especially if you go on to do university education so by the time you've finished you are 5+ years away from having learnt any.

DC will, however, have the chance to study something interesting, something that they are motivated to learn and something that they may want to pursue later in life. I did a Russian GCSE, the experience of which motivated me to take an East Asian Language at degree level.

I would let DC choose what they study. It's only a GCSE - even a poor grade is unlikely to affect them much if it is in isolation. Plus, having the agency to choose something 'different' can be motivating in other areas of your life, too.

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