Letter to All of my Fellow Japanese Learners as well as Potential Future Learners/Candidates at Cape Town Nihongo Kai (Japanese Language School)
Written by Silvia Akemi Hirano
My name is Silvia Hirano. I am a Brazilian citizen and a granddaughter of Japanese immigrants to Brazil, which makes me a Sansei (one of the third generation children of Japanese immigrants). Although my mother tongue is Portuguese, because of my family heritage and background, I have been exposed to the Japanese language since my childhood and I was learning it until I was about 12 years of age. However, what was required at schools in those days and through my young adult life, unfortunately, shifted my priorities away from the Japanese language, and I ended up spending a good few years without using and practicing it very much.
When I arrived and started to live in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007, I strongly felt the need to get in touch with my roots again, of which I have always been very proud. And to my surprise, I luckily found an Issei (one of those who were born in Japan but who later permanently immigrated to another country) teaching Nihongo (Japanese language) in an area not so far from where I lived! And this was at a school called Cape Town Nihongo Kai.
After the interview and first evaluation session, I managed to squeeze myself in my tutor’s busy weekly lesson schedule, and I attended the LEVEL 3 (Intermediate Level) classes from March to October 2008. One-to-one lessons with him became great opportunities, not only to reconnect with what I had so long forgotten about, but also, more importantly for me, to learn many new things about the language.
My Sensei, Keigo-san, is an excellent tutor, hard working and really keen on teaching all his learners every aspect of the language. I think that his ongoing commitment to improve learners' performance is something rare to find nowadays. He appeared to be a rigorous teacher at times, but in his own special way, he made me feel easy to enter and remain under his apprenticeship and each session was a very pleasant experience for me. I would even say that if only all the other educational system was also like these lessons...
Although I had to be absent from the course for a short while, due to a difficulty in finding mutually compatible time between Sensei and me, I managed to rejoin the lessons as he had started teaching a few small groups of students at similar levels at the same time. It was so amazing how the number of learners had increased in such a short period of time!
The class, which I attended at the time, started with just one other classmate, Zak-san, and myself. However, it soon expanded and welcomed Nicolas-san and Pieter Malan-san (at first he was only a special guest learner from a higher level - LEVEL 4, but because he apparently loved our classes so much, he also became a permanent member of us, the clan!), and then we eventually welcomed Pieter Roodt-san as well.
Despite the differences in age and personality among the classmates, all of us - learners as well as Sensei - got along so well with each other that we became like a small family, gathering every Saturday afternoon for plenty of good laughs but also for lots of hard work together as well. We dramatically improved the quality and the volume of both spoken and written vocabulary, reading skills, grammar and honorifics, parts of speech which show respect, called “keigo” (the respectful and humble forms of the language), which served me greatly when, recently, I had to write elaborate e-mails and speak on the phone to some people in Japan.
We, as learners, often went off track and started discussing things which were not directly related to the topics and aims of the particular lessons, to Sensei's despair - but, at least, we always spoke and voiced our opinions in Japanese during the lesson hours! My friends outside the school never quite understood how I could cope with almost 3 hours of lessons in a row... But it was just so much fun for me that it always felt as if time flew.
Our continuous efforts in class successfully brought all of us to the next higher level (LEVEL 4, Upper Intermediate Level) at the beginning of 2010, and our friendship has become even more special to every one of us in the class. Even outside the class environment, we often had dinner together, trying to evaluate the quality of sushi in restaurants in Cape Town (oh, we love eating!). My classmates and I taught Nicolas-san to try, and hopefully, love natto (famous Japanese food made of fermented soy-beans) and tofu among others, because he appeared to be very reluctant to try many Japanese foods. We sang at the karaoke bars, explored other nearby towns for an excursion, went shopping together for picnics, and so on and so forth...
It has been a great pleasure to attend the Sensei's classes, and it is now with great sadness in my heart that I have to bid farewell to him and my classmates. I am soon off to Japan in June 2010 for 6 months on a scholarship scheme provided by Nagano Prefecture, which is given every year to a sole candidate from the countries of Brazil, Argentina or Mexico, and to an individual who has (ancestral) family ties within the prefecture. In this case, my grandparents were immigrants from that region.
Despite my excitement to soon put into practice what I have learned so far, to meet my relatives and study more about the history of Japanese art, in Japan, I will truly miss the regular Saturday afternoon sessions with my Japanese family - my classmates. I will certainly treasure this period of my life with fond memories.
To my happiness, I am expecting to meet up with Sensei and Malan-san again in Japan when they plan to visit and travel there later in the year. We are all looking forward to having a great time again together, eating, partying and singing, a lot!
I have been truly amazed by how keen many South Africans are to learn about Japan, its culture and traditions, either to understand better the art of manga, anime and Japanese games, or simply for the love of it.
To all of you who are still wondering if you should start studying at this particular school, Cape Town Nihongo Kai, under the guidance of a tutor or Sensei, namely Keigo-san, I would like to say confidently, “Don't think twice, as you will definitely make good friends and learn the language that will change your life in unimaginable and long lasting ways!”
Best of luck to everyone!
End of April 2010
Silvia Akemi Hirano
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