21G.502 | Spring 2020 | Undergraduate

Japanese II

Instructor Insights

Instructor Insights

Below, Masami Ikeda-Lamm describes various aspects of how she teaches 21G.502 Japanese II.

OCW: This course emphasizes an active command of Japanese, with a focus on communication. As an educator, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in helping students at this particular level move from pure memorization to active communication?

Masami Ikeda-Lamm: Active command of Japanese is one of the main focuses of our Japanese courses at MIT. Therefore, from the very beginning, we introduce various communication tools and strategies, such as non-verbal communication, aizuchi, fillers, and shifting of politeness levels, as well as exposing our students to Japanese at natural speed.

Also, to engage our students and elicit their utterances, we create contexts where students have to use Japanese appropriately, make students pay attention to cultural aspects such as politeness, and encourage them to be as communicative as possible in a natural way.

The students who took 21G.501 are therefore already familiar with what makes conversation natural. However, as more patterns and vocabulary are introduced and the sentences get longer in 21G.502, it becomes harder for the students to fully utilize or pay attention to these communication strategies while trying to master the new patterns and words. Though we still do the speaking activities within communicative contexts, we often need to remind the students to be more communicative by using communication strategies and by expanding the conversations.

Ideally, all the mechanical drills with rote memorization should be done outside of class as preparation for drill sessions so that the class time can be spent utilizing the language in actual communication. As the course progresses, it becomes increasingly challenging to engage in active and natural communication with others while focusing on mastery of new forms and words.

OCW: Presumably many of the students in 21G.502 are coming to it directly from 21G.501. Do many of them know each other from the earlier class? If so, what can you tell us about the sense of community this creates in the classroom?

Masami Ikeda-Lamm: Though most of the students have taken 21G.501, that course is offered in four sections in the fall semester and in two sections during the IAP. And some of the students have previously studied Japanese elsewhere or by themselves and placed into 21G.502. Thus, many of the students are actually new to each other at the beginning of the semester.

"A sense of community facilitates language learning, and a feeling of belonging is critical to ensuring students remain involved."
— Masami Ikeda-Lamm

However, students from different backgrounds and majors seem very excited to meet new classmates who all have a shared interest, namely Japanese. This contributes greatly to establishing a sense of community in the classroom, increasing students’ motivation, reducing anxiety, and maximizing student-student interactions.

We start with self-introduction in Japanese on the first day of classes in 21G.502. Then, a sense of community is fostered among students through daily class activities where they share their thoughts and experiences and ask questions and respond to each other. There are also various community building projects throughout the semester, which give the students opportunities to interact with others across all the four sections.

I believe that a sense of community facilitates language learning and a feeling of belonging is critical to ensuring students remain involved. When the class instruction suddenly shifted online due to the pandemic in March 2020, the sense of community had been already established in 21G.502. Under such an unusual circumstance, we all felt uncertain and disconnected, yet this sense of belonging helped everyone remain engaged in the new virtual learning space.


Grade Breakdown

The students’ grades were based on the following assessment elements:

  • 25% Daily grade; three lowest scores dropped
  • 35% Quizzes: lesson quizzes 25% (lowest score dropped); vocabulary, grammar, and kanji quizzes 10% (two lowest scores dropped)
  • 24% Tests: two interview tests 12%; one-hour exam 12%
  • 10% Workbook homework
  • 6% Projects

Curriculum Information


21G.501 Japanese I or equivalent

Requirements Satisfied


Every spring semester

Student Information


49 students

Breakdown by Year

42% first-year students, 25% sophomores, 18% juniors, 3% seniors, and 12% graduate students

Breakdown by Major

45% Computer Science, 10% Mathematics, 6% Aeronautics and Astronautics, and 39% other

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class

Met 4 times per week for 1 hour per session; 49 sessions total; mandatory attendance

Out of Class

Outside class time, students completed homework assignments and prepared for tests and quizzes.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Instructor Insights