Oh, man. One of my biggest goals before departing (the others being saving lots of money and living up NYC) is to learn as much Japanese as is humanly possible. I signed up for a course at the Tenri Cultural Institute in Manhattan, which cost me $290 including fees and books, for 14 hours of classes. It was actually the cheapest deal I found; I also looked at ABC Language school and Hills Learning center.
I had a sample lesson last week, where we learned how to say basic things like our names, eating, some alphabet sounds, etc. It was a small group of people and a very genial environment. The adorable teacher was fresh from Japan and this was his first class. His English was not great, which led to some confusion, but the Tenri idea is that you speak very little English in class at all. Which is great.
I actually signed up for the level 2 course, though I’m a total beginner, because I only have time for 1 class and I want to be as advanced as possible. I’ll have to pass an evaluation test to get in, though, so we’ll see how it goes. I bought a textbook and workbook:
So far I’ve used just the text and I like it. I don’t think it’s a great textbook, but I am learning a lot. And it’s good enough for self-study.
There are also some great online resources for studying Japanese. I’ve been learning the Hiragana alphabet through this website: http://www.thejapanesepage.com. And then there’s LiveMocha, a great website that is pretty much identical to Rosetta Stone. You have to create an account but it’s worth it, with lots of audio lessons and stuff. You can even find language partners that you can chat with over Skype or something, to work on your language skills. And it’s completely free!
Japanese is completely different from anything I’ve ever studied (I speak French and Spanish, too). I’m enjoying learning it, and every JET I’ve spoken to/read says to learn as much as you possibly can before departing. But I’m worried that I won’t be able to communicate with anyone.
Actually, that’s not true. I know that I won’t be able to communicate with anyone. I’m just hoping to pick up enough Japanese to survive!