I wish I had someone to Critique this before I turn it in at 4. At least I read through it once.
I have studied Foreign Language in school every year since I started 7th grade in 1994. Spanish with Sr. Duffy for two years in 7th and 8th grade more Spanish with Sr. Merritt in 9th and 10th grade, and 2 years of Japanese with Masuda Sensei in 11th and 12th grade. Now as a freshman at UCSC I am continuing my Study in Japanese.
My junior high Spanish class had a heavy portion of games and group activities, as well as tests on written and aural comprehension. Fun stuff like songs and rhymes were used as mnemonic aids for vocabulary and verb conjugation. My Junior high school teacher, Sr. Duffy, used a healthy variety of activities and methods to make class more interesting and help us learn Spanish. I remember once he took photos of class members and printed them out in color onto an overhead transparency. After cutting each picture out him to role-play hilarious scenes and present new concepts using the pictures of the students. Not only was this activity filled with fun and hilarity, but it enhanced our understanding as well. The pre-established intimacy with the characters added an extra dimension to the lesson, making it memorable and captivating. To this day I can still remember most of the Zany dialogues between these Spanish speaking avatars, and can not recall any of the cheesy videos we watched in conjunction with the Textbook lessons.
As the days passed, and we were able to comprehend more Spanish, the teacher phased out his use of English. He would still use English to clarify new concepts or difficult vocabulary or grammatical concepts, but a significant portion of the class was now completely in Spanish. However, despite the teacher's hopes of using Spanish exclusively, the student's level of communication was not high enough to realize this dream. Sr. Duffy didn't give up and encouraged us awarding "Duffy Dollars" when we used Spanish without too much prompting on his part. All and all Sr. Duffy's 7th and 8th grade class was very productive and good for learning. The class mixed grammatical structure teaching with intuitive observation, rote memorization with zany memorization songs and games, cultural information such as customs and capitals of Spanish speaking countries, and English explanation and Spanish explanation.
My younger sister began her study of Spanish at the same junior high this school year. Sadly her experience was not as happy as mine had been. Someone high up in the school's administration decided that it would be a good idea to hire someone who could neither speak nor comprehend English. I don't know the specifics of the class, or the teacher's approach, but I do know that my sister barely comprehended after a semester what my class had down solid after only a few weeks. Fortunately for my sister, the teacher was removed and English native took her place. Judging from my sister's reports the difference was like night and day. Suddenly she began to understand what had previously been gibberish gesticulated by some unapproachable stranger. In my personal opinion, it is ridiculous to try and teach the beginnings of a foreign language to a monolingual class, and not understand the native language--especially when the opportunity of hiring a teacher who knows both is exists. I can understand doing something like this in an impoverished place, but this school is less than a mile from Stanford University! One can hardly sit and tell me that there was no English speakers available to teach beginning Spanish.
Returning to my personal escapades in Spanish learning land, I continued onto Spanish 2 in high school (junior high offered Spanish 1A in 7th grade and 1B in 8th.) Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 with Sr. Merritt was a continuation of the junior high class. Aside from the teacher having a Spain accent instead of a South American accent. The Approach was a similar mix of activities slowly maturing until both teacher and students were speaking near-fluent Spanish.
My junior year I said a fond farewell to the world of my Spanish speaking peers (possibly in Spanish, although I'm pretty lazy and probably didn't,) and said a big ohaiyo to Japanese. I was extremely excited about finally studying Japanese. I had casually been studying Japanese over the last 3 years, and was eager for some actual instruction. Huzzah! I was all prepared to work really hard and use lots of stuff and stuff. In the Japanese class.
I quickly discovered that the Japanese classes were run rather differently than the Spanish classes. First of all there were two teachers, the primary teacher Masuda sensei, and the assistant Mrs. Kamikihara sensei. Both teachers were American citizens, and very knowledgeable about English and American customs. Second, The daily homework metered out over the last 4 years of Spanish class was gone. In fact, we had about 3 homework assignments a year. I can't say I argued.
The actual class was taught in a different fashion compared to my previous four years of Spanish. After the first two days of orientation, the teachers began speaking only Japanese, switching out of it only when it was apparent that no one in the class had any idea what was going on. Fortunately for us the teachers were very good at speaking to us in very simple straightforward matter, supplemented by vigorous pointed and miming. As for the students speaking ability, the official rule was students were to speak only Japanese during class; in reality that rule was only inforced when it was meaningful to do so.
The main focus of the class had moved away from daily homework and grammatical memorization of my Spanish class. Instruction came at a slower rate, the teacher focusing much more on cultural aspects of Japanese society and Japanese language than how to conjugate verbs and the formal names of different kinds of Adjectives. The slow pace and lax grading during the first year of Japanese was a common gripe among my peers, and not without good reason. There was very little rote memorization of vocabulary, and we didn't even learn what a verb was until second semester. We played a lot of games, did a lot of traditional dances, and watched a lot of movies which seemed (at the time at least) to be completely unrelated to what we were doing in class.
One of the Odd things about the Japanese Curriculum at my high school was that the textbooks were entirely in Japanese, and thus, new concepts and vocabulary were largely incomprehensible. Fortunately over the years students had been writing explanations and translations to the things in the book, and thanks to them it wasn't an incomprehensible waste of paper.
I decided to start back at level 1 Japanese upon arriving at UCSC. I felt it would be beneficial to standardize my learning within the UCSC curriculum so that there weren't any holes in my Japanese education. I was very relieved to find that the teacher spoke English well, and that she was using this English speaking skill to explain everything! Anything we encountered in our texts (which were very well written and in English!) that we had not encountered before received a thorough explanation in English. The class went at a very fast pace. I felt that if I had not already taken two years of Japanese and already knew what she was saying I would have been quite overwhelmed. But because I had such a familiarity with the language, I benefited and actually gained a specific understanding for things that I had previously only had a general understanding of. As the class progressed, I realized that my familiarity with the language didn't stop with the simple grammar I learned in high school, but that I had learned a wealth of cultural information that my UCSC peers lacked. I suddenly developed a great appreciation for my once ridiculed High school Japanese class, and thought my self very lucky to have gotten a chance to learn traditional dances, obscure rules for writing new years card, and General unwritten cultural lore. Individually these two Japanese classes would have been nice, but they complimented each other so well that it's a shame they aren't part of one package.