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Walk into any Japanese store anywhere in the world and you will be greeted with a standard Japanese welcome of “irasshaimase” beckoning you to enter and explore. When it comes to the Japanese, language, culture and country are so inter-twined that you cannot possibly appreciate one without the other.
That is why if you want the total Japanese experience, learning the language is an excellent place to start. Here are where you can pick up this centuries-old language in Singapore.
Spoken by over 128 million people, 124 million of whom live in Japan, the Japanese language traces its roots to as early as the 3rd century with influences from the Chinese language. The national language of Japan, its writing system uses three types of characters: kanji which uses thousands of Chinese characters, and hiragana and katakana which uses 46 characters each.
There are two types of language schools you can enrol in – Japanese language schools which specialise only in that language or general language schools that teach different languages.
The advantage of a Japanese-only language school is that Japanese is their specialty. Hougang Japanese Language School is probably one of the oldest and more popular ones, not least because at $250 for their adult classes, they are one of the most price-friendly schools. They have free lessons for children from lower income families, too. Bunka Language School is another highly sought-after school. We like that they offer a free introductory lesson so you can see if they are your cup of tea. If you are shy about testing out your language skills in front of strangers, they also have one-to-one private lessons you can sign up for. At Pyaess Japanese Language School, each three-hour session has not one but two teachers so you have twice the opportunity to learn. With Japanese Explorer, all the teachers are native Japanese speakers certified to teach Japanese as a foreign language. Tomo Japanese Language School focuses more on spoken Japanese using their “shadowing” method which involves listening to a conversation and repeating what is heard. If you are picking up the language for your travels or to better appreciate J-drama and J-pop, this would be the school you would want.
Then there are the schools that specialise in language acquisition like Lingo Language School. They have private classes, native language teachers and even semi-private classes. These allow you to gather a group of your own friends to learn with you so that even if you look foolish learning Japanese, you are among people who know you well. These classes can also be customised to your learning needs and pace. IKOMA Language School has classes for children and adults, private lessons and even holiday courses so your child can get a rash course.
Source: The Japanese Association & Fujina Miarchi
The Japanese Association and the Japanese Cultural Society both offer Japanese classes. The Japanese Association classes are cheaper than those offered by schools ($267.50 compared to an average of $390 per course).
The Japanese Cultural Society gives its students an all-round education. If you sign up for their language classes, you get complementary lessons on how to wear a yukata or kimono, Japanese creative arts, Japanese etiquette, Japanese tea ceremony as well as Japanese performing arts such as drums, dance and singing.
If you prefer to learn Japanese in the comforts of your own home, at your pace, then private tutors are what you need. You can use sites like Smile Tutor, academics.sg or Edu Aid to link you up with a private Japanese teacher. Alternatively, go to tutoroo and take your pick of tutors there.
Then, there are tuition centres such as Wellhands Japanese Language Tuition Centre which concentrates on private home tuitions. Of course, private tutors are pricier - $40 to $50 an hour compared to about $10 per hour at schools.
Upping the convenience ante are online classes which allow you to have your lessons anytime, anywhere. One of the best things that Japanese Online Institute offers is their FlexiLessons. The modular system with stand-alone units means you do not have to follow a rigid course structure. You can pick the units you want in the order you like, allowing you to set your own pace and schedule. The lessons are actual classes in a virtual classroom with other students though the class size is kept at a comfortable seven per class.
Like any school, this one lets you have consultations with your teacher, albeit online. There are also free quizzes, video lessons and weekly teacher blogs to give you more opportunities to practice your language skills.
You can, of course, go DIY and learn Japanese through books and even articles online. Just browse the shelves of Kinokuniya. The only down side to this rather introverted way of learning is that language is best acquired with others. After all, language is meant for communication. If you learn with others, you get to hear the language in use and put your skills into practice. Such immersive ways of learning beat a book any day.
Picking up Japanese need not cost you at all. We have a few ways you can get lessons for free.
For students in Ministry of Education secondary schools, you can learn Japanese as a third language. Because it is part of school curriculum, you do not have to pay extra for these lessons.
Every Singapore citizen aged 25 and older has $500 of SkillsFuture Credit to spend on upgrading himself. This money can be used to defray the cost of Japanese lessons taken at several language schools.
Go to Learn Japanese Online and you can take eight lessons for free. These cover basic topics like greetings, asking for directions, eating out, shopping and taking public transport. It is not much but it is enough for your travels to Japan.
There are plenty of articles and YouTube videos that you can access to pick up Japanese. Simply Google and you are good to go.
If you do not fancy the formality of lessons, you can attend a Japanese language mixer. Learning community, Diverse Origins, which equips people for global interactions. regularly organises Fun Japanese Study with Japanese Expats sessions. At these events, you get to learn Japanese through conversations with a native speaker in a buddy system. It is a relaxed, fun and social way to acquire the language.