Impressively, Kaiser High School set aside resources to give students their own Genki I workbook. It’s the one that looks like this. The book also comes with a CD and MP3 files. The Genki book is well received and used in many university settings. At Sacramento State, Professor Masuyama and Andrea Shea developed a very good website around the curriculum. On their Usagi-Chan’s Genki Resource Page, you’ll find both a hiragana and katakana drag and drop game as well as kanji stroke order for the vocabulary. They also detail how to set up your computer for Japanese character typing.
I must say that the curriculum at Kaiser is rigorous. Students are expected to know their kana (hiragana and katakana) from the start. They also begin to learn kanji early on. (These are the three writing systems, excluding the use of English letters, a system called romaji) So, as a tip to parents concerned with their child’s Japanese grade at Kaiser, make sure they know at least their hiragana and katakana before the first day. Teachers continue to use romaji on handouts, but really, romaji is often considered a crutch and the sooner it’s discarded of, the better. For more on that, read [here] and [here] for starters. Japanesepod101.com is more circumspect about Romaji, they write, “Although some would argue that it is only a crutch and should be avoided, rōmaji does have its place in your repertoire – namely being the primary method of Japanese input for word processors and computers.” This too, is true. Romaji is one of the main ways to type Japanese into your computer or smartphone.
As far as grades go, Japanese is the hardest class my son has. He tells me that most of the kids with the same teacher are failing; I might even believe him. To his teacher’s credit, she does let the kids do makeup tests and if they’re on the borderline for grades, projects that can help push the grade to the next level. I can empathize with her however. Despite being a difficult class, it’s still something of an ineffective class. Tests rely on short-term memorization, and language depends on long-term memorization. By the way, at the beginning level, there is no logic, just memorization. Students have to reach a certain level before foreign words become logical. I think looking back, this is where I failed to understand the uneven learning curve language takes.
I remember fondly, being excessively proud when my son wanted to be a cookerman (chef), or when he wanted to help with the brooming (sweeping). What that really meant is that he had found logic in language. Ultimately, he had to memorize the words cook and broom, but then he could try putting them together into cohesive sentences. But, that is a long topic for another post. . .
For those curious about Niu Valley Middle School’s Japanese classes, they were less rigorous, but equally hard. There are no textbooks, just handouts and worksheets. I will say this though, if you get that fairly demanding Japanese teacher who learned Japanese as an adult, take advantage of all the wisdom she has to offer. I thought quite highly of her.