by Akitaka Yamada
As a Summer Session student, I participated in the English for Postgraduate Students Course in 2012, designed to help the graduate students refine their pronunciation, presentation and writing skills and widen their eyesight to American culture.
In pronunciation class, we had two tasks: in the first three weeks, the teacher theoretically explained to us the American standard colloquial pronunciation system and introduced the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) so that we can analyze and modify our own sounds. In Japan, our attitude to the pronunciation is too narrow. For example, while I had been familiar with the difference between r and l, I had not known that the vowels in ur.ban and in ar.chi.tec.ture are different. Since he himself majors in Phonology, the teacher pointed out our wrong pronunciation one by one and gave us a great amount of useful advice. In the latter three weeks, we were instructed to mimic the vernacular American pronunciations in You Tube. Although our pronunciations did not improve greatly (because six weeks are too short), I, at least, found a key to polish my articulation.
In presentation class, we had three chances to make a presentation: informative presentation, persuasive presentation and panel discussion. In the informative presentation, we were given 5 minutes and introduced our own cultures to the class. This presentation was designed to explain something to the ordinary people. In persuasive presentation, we were given 7 minutes and made a discussion. This presentation was designed to discuss the matter and persuade the audience to agree with us. The final presentation was panel discussion, in which we practiced how to state our opinions with relation to the other presenters and to deal with the question properly from the audience in 30 minutes. Although I wanted to have more opportunities to have a presentation, I could compare other people’s PPW or handouts and got a chance to learn their talking styles and logics of the discussions.
These two classes were held in the morning, from 10:20 to 13:00. In addition to them, I had a writing course in the afternoon from 16:00 to 17:15. This class was a little bit tricky to us. According to the syllabus we had been given in advance, we were supposed to learn the academic writing. By the expression “academic writing,” I had expected the teacher to teach us the construction of the thesis: how to write the introduction part, the main discussions or good tactics to writing the conclusion. This was because in linguistics, which is my major, students are obliged to learn and imitate certain type of writing style using a lucid logic. Rigid but tough, this kind of writing skills will require a lot time from us. But this class was designed to polish our rhetorical writing skills in English. We were taught to learn how to write with metaphors, how to use your compelling moment in your essay and how to write a parody. It was true that this kind of skills were not what I had expected, but it did help us to refine our English proficiency and, what was more, to find writing and the English language interesting.
In addition to these three classes which we had every day from Monday to Friday, we had an America culture course. In this class, we learned English idioms, cultures in Native American people, visiting the public libraries, and so on.
The aim of taking part in this summer session was simply to improve my English. Last year, I visited my junior high school to do practice teaching, where I taught English for three weeks. While most of the students were pretty good, I met only one “poor student,” who was never convinced by my explanation and, what was worse, the more enthusiastically I gave a lecture to the class, the more question would popped onto his mind: There are a lot of vernaculars in English and can I truly conclude this is a wrong sentence? Maybe adhering to the standardized English “dialect,” I evict a possibility from me, a possibility to see the diversity of the English languages… Three months after that, this poor student, majoring in linguistics and now at the doorway to the master course, had to submit his first graduation thesis to his university. Actually, I, the poor student, strongly overwhelmed with my shortage of the English proficiency, lacking in knowledge of the vocabulary and grammar, strongly feeling that I could not make myself understood in this foreign language at all. “I have to immerse myself in this overwhelming language,” I thought, “to make friend with him, whom I have dehumanized as a tool of communication and as only the target of the linguistics.” — This is when I saw the ELI on the internet.
This aim was more or less fulfilled. Although my English proficiency still has much room to develop, I felt I could come closer to “him.” By continuing practicing my English, I am now considering going back to the U.S.A. Before I joined this summer session, I had wondered whether I would get my PhD in Japan or in the U.S.A. but now I strongly want to study abroad. This is not because I found the professors in Japan less intelligent than those in the U.S.A. On the contrary, talking to the American professors, some of whom studied also linguistics like me, and my colleagues from all over the world, I noticed they were of a great intelligence. Nevertheless, I have decided to go abroad, just because I have found it so attractive to see the various opinions for one topic, by discussing the issue with my classmates from all over the world. During my stay there, I was surprised to see my friends’ ways of thinking are always slightly different from mine, the Japanese thinking style. So, whenever we started a conversation, I found myself reach an unknown conclusion which I could not have found on my “map,” my well-established knowledge. Of course, I appreciate my teachers and their lectures very much. But on the other hand, I also owe what I am to my friends — not only friends from the U.S.A. but also friends from Congo, from Greece, from Colombia, from Saudi Arabia, from China, from Brazil, from France, from Belgium, from Czech, from Taiwan and from Korea. In this way, there six weeks fueled me to decide to live abroad in the future.
At the end of this essay, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Friends of UTokyo for supporting me financially and enabling me to stay there. Thank you so much.