IUC Series: 10-month program (Part 1)

We’ve already covered a variety of topics about the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language studies, including introductory information, apartments vs. monthly mansions, IUC-sponsored housing (Star Heights and Toriumi Haimu), and the summer program, but most students are interested in hearing the nitty-gritty details about the 10-month program that starts in September. How difficult is it? What’s the entrance exam like? What courses are offered? What can I expect? Can I do individual research while I’m there? These are all important and valid questions that the official websites do not offer in detail, partly because the content of IUC coursework varies somewhat from year to year. In the next two articles, I’d like to address my own experience in the IUC 10-month program and outline the coursework that was offered during the year. Part 1 of this article will discuss the entrance exam and quarters 1 and 2, and next week’s article will discuss quarters 3 and 4 and the final project/presentation. Enjoy!

Photo by horschmology

For a broad description of coursework for the IUC 10-month program, you can look at the English-language website run by the Center here. As the site describes:

IUC’s 10-month, intensive program starts in September and ends in early June. Classes are conducted from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Wednesday afternoons are reserved for extra-curricular activities. The number of classes per week is reduced in the latter half of the program to accommodate the increase in specialized study and tutorial instruction. Students admitted to the Center should be prepared to devote themselves full time to language study. The workload does not leave time for dissertation research or for outside employment.

Classes actually begin at 10:00am, but you’re expected to come in around 9:30am to work on your kanji exercises. More on that later. There are roughly 6-8 students in each class. My year had the record-breaking attendance of 59 students total. Also remember that there is a language pledge—no English (or any other language) is to be spoken to teachers or classmates from the moment step into the Center until the moment you step out! 🙂

The Entrance Exam

Every student who enters the IUC 10-month program is given two packets of review materials one is expected to master before the entrance exam. The first of these packets includes basic grammar 基礎文法, basic verbs 基礎動詞, basic nouns基礎名詞, and basic kanji 基礎漢字, while the second is Basic Situational Japanese (a series of dialogues about daily life in Japan and the Yokohama area). You are expected to know all the materials in the first packet in order to take the exam (and function successfully at the same level as other students in your class!) and the second is more for your reference and general practice.

The exam itself is five parts and takes roughly three hours (with breaks) to complete. You are tested on grammar, listening comprehension, reading comprehension, kanji, and have an oral interview separately. There is also a one page take-home essay to evaluate your writing skills. The IUC then maps your results (you are not expected to get 100%!) on a 5 point spider web chart (seen on the right) that gives your own score along with the class average. My results were just below the class average, which placed me (as in the summer program) in the mid-level classes. When you finish the 10-month program you also take a substantially shorter exit proficiency exam that covers only listening comprehension, reading comprehension, kanji, and an interview.

The purpose of the entrance exam is to measure everyone’s proficiency levels in order to appropriately group students into classes as well as provide a baseline for judging improvement at the end of the program. As with the summer program, classes are divided roughly into lower, middle, and upper level groups (although you will not be told which one you are in) for grammar classes. However, this is no reason to panic! Part of the reason for separating students into these initial groups is to effectively mix things up later. As the program progresses, IUC challenges students by putting lower-level students in with mid-level, mid-level with high-level, etc. Plus, your electives disregard these separations entirely and you’re likely to have a class at least once with nearly every single person in the program. Also, regardless of how you’re grouped during one quarter for your grammar class, each quarter your professor and classmates will change for every course.

On the courses by quarter! Bear in mind that my descriptions are only meant as a rough template of the coursework at the IUC. Your individual experience will vary.

Quarter 1
(in my year, 9/7/09 – 10/30/09)

The focus of the first quarter of the 10-month program is building a foundation for the skills you’ll later use for more advanced work and research. Keeping in mind that how the IUC sets up classes is variable from year to year, here I’d like to go over my schedule.  In the morning, I had Grammar Review 文法復習from 10:00am – 10:50am and Formal Expressions 待遇表現from 11:00am – 11:50am.

Most grammar classes* go through the entirety of the IUC textbook Introduction to Advanced Spoken Japanese, which covers everything from particles to causative-passive. Essentially, the textbook covers in a single volume what most English textbooks provide in their entirety (JSL 1-4, Yookoso 1-2, Genki 1-2, etc). Depending on what level class you’re in, the pace with which you move through this book will be different, but you will finish all of it so that all students can be said to have the same foundation to build on. You will also work with the formal expressions 待遇表現 textbook to learn honorific and humble phrases for everyday situations. This part of class involves a lot of memorization and role play and you’ll discuss variations on things you can say in formal situations (like calling a company to request a meeting for research) and in a pinch (like having an emergency and calling the IUC secretary to request that they pass a message along to your instructor about something). It’s very useful and during the first quarter my class covered chapters 1-10. You will have two intructors (or sometimes three) that rotate handling your morning classes.

*I’ve been told that the advanced classes did not use the ASJ book directly, but were given a folder that included excerpts from the book as well as other materials. They also may not have used the formal expressions text as much either.

For me, class content for the Grammar Review 文法復習and Formal Expressions 待遇表現 classes was as follows:

–          lessons from Introduction to Advanced Spoken Japanese textbook
–          speeches (1 person per day, 5-10 minutes) + discussion
–          daily ASJ grammar quizzes
–          daily listening quizzes
–          待遇表現 lessons
–          daily email/letter/role play/composition assignments due outside of class

At the end of the quarter, there is an exam on the Introduction to Advanced Spoken Japanese materials and待遇表現 materials.

Keep in mind that the content varies depending on how advanced your class is and whatever the teachers assign. I know that some of the higher classes had daily essays and speeches for pretty much everyone.

The afternoon class was Applied Japanese Skills総合運用1 from 1:30pm – 3:00pm. This class aims to familiarize you with comprehension of formal texts and materials, such as news articles and news reports. The class kicks off with an interview project where you are paired with someone else and assigned at random to conduct an interview of two IUC instructors, which you then have to report on later to the class as a mini-speech. Your afternoon instructor will be different than your morning professors.

In my 総合運用class, we focused on reading news articles and listening to news reports, and then had extensive discussions of the content. The goal was to become accustomed to the styles these materials are written in, expand our vocabulary, and improve our listening skills. We read personal essays, newspaper articles on disasters, watched videos and listened to audio clips on varying topics. Our class content was roughly as follows:

–          news articles
–          interview project
–          watch videos
–          listen to/watch news reports
–          daily vocabulary/kanji/grammar quizzes
–          speeches on news articles (5-10 mins) + discussion

Again, how the class is structured and run varies depending on the instructor. Mine liked to have students discuss the meaning of key vocabulary from articles with each other and do expanded projects with our mini article speeches. We read our speech reporting on a news topic out loud once, then gave handouts of the speech with vocabulary eliminated from the script in order to test the listening comprehension skills of the listeners. Based on what was heard, students asked the speaker what they thought the article meant, posing questions and attempting to fill in the blanks with vocabulary.

Quarter 2
(in my year, 11/9/09 – 12/22/09)

During the second quarter, students begin to delve more deeply into grammatical patterns and language usage. Three courses are offered: Conjunctive Expressions 接続表現, Integrated Japanese Advanced Course 1 統合日本語, and Applied Japanese Skills II.

The former two are your morning classes, again taught by a pair of teachers that rotate which days they teach. You use three textbooks, Conjunctive Expressions in Japanese, Integrated Japanese Advanced Course: Volume One, and Formal Expressions for Japanese Interaction (待遇表現). The conjunctive expressions course, especially, is incredibly useful, as it teaches you all the finer points of when and how to use connective words like それで、それから、そして、そうすると、ところで, and tons of others both formal and informal. I can safely say it was one of the most useful courses I had while at the IUC.

In the IJAC section, we worked on the following:

–          textbook lessons
–          speeches (2 people per day, 5-10 mins) + discussion
–          daily vocabulary quizzes
–          待遇表現 chapters 11-12
–          daily composition assignments due outside of class

Again, your individual class/teachers will vary the content. But the IJAC textbook is the first of two that will be used and is an excellent resource for advanced grammar explanations, contextual usage of vocabulary and grammar patterns, and the finer point of comparing similar patterns (the bane of every student of Japanese).

The afternoon class is, like in quarter 1, a course that focuses on practical applications of your Japanese with formal materials like news reports and newspapers. You’ll have a whole new set of teachers and classmates, and in my case we had three teachers that rotated during the week. We covered:

–          daily news articles
–          daily videos (listening)
–          speeches (1 person + discussion leader administering class)
–          weekly vocabulary/kanji quizzes

My class covered topics like how culture spreads and its impact on society, the education system, foreigners and citizenship, women and the workplace, and others. Each year teachers update the materials and may change it, so keep in mind that this is just an example.


In addition to all of your work in class, the IUC expects you to engage in SKIP (Special Kanji Intensive Program) activities on your own time. Divided into 143 lessons that each have a quiz, you study kanji outside of class. The IUC website perhaps summarizes it best:

This program, pursued by students throughout the year, is one of the most important features of the Center program. Using the Kanji in Context Center texts, published by the Japan Times, students are able to systematically study the 1,947 kanji used in modern Japanese. The materials focus not only on the study of each individual kanji, but also on the vocabulary in which the kanji are used. The Center now has available a computer-based version of Kanji in Context which enables students to do highly efficient flash-card recognition of kanji/kana and students are exposed to a wide range of vocabulary throughout the year. By combining this with intensive study of individual kanji using Kanji in Context, students have the opportunity to totally master kanji before the year is over.

There’s a grading folder used to turn in your SKIP quizzes, which will be stamped each time you finish a lesson. Since you go at your own pace and it’s not graded, not everyone will finish SKIP (although it’s a very good idea to do it while you have the motivation in Japan!). Plus, once a month the IUC has an afternoon class used to review SKIP and ask questions about kanji, grouping students by the number of chapters they’ve completed.

Photo by Jixar

The first two quarters of work at the IUC are, some say, the most strenuous and difficult. While getting adjusted to life in Japan and life on the IUC schedule, you cover a very broad amount of material while learning (or relearning) things in depth and filling in gaps in your Japanese education. There’s a heavy emphasis on grammar, vocabulary and kanji, and, as you can tell from my lists of class responsibilities, a lot more speeches than you’re likely used to. These two quarters are meant to be very intensive to provide a solid foundation for your more individualized work in the second half of the program. If you apply yourself, you’ll definitely progress, and steadily at that. Just be careful not to burn yourself out!

I hope this was a decent introduction to what things are like for the first half of the IUC program. The next post on the 10-month program will have to do with the final two quarters (including elective and extracurricular courses!) and the dreaded final project.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment on this post or email us at shinpai.deshou@gmail.com. Also feel free to drop us a line to let us know you found this stuff useful. We like to know we’re helping you guys out! 🙂

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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20 Responses to IUC Series: 10-month program (Part 1)

  1. hiruson says:


    Thank for putting this series of posts up. As you mentioned in your introductory post, there really is not much information available on IUC outside of their official website.

    I am a current JET who has been here for 2 years and am very seriously considering applying to IUC for the 2012, 10 month program. These posts are extremely helpful and I really appreciate how you spell out the courses and topics detail for detail (I found myself unconsciously nodding my head, thinking ‘this is exactly what I am looking for!’).

    I had been looking at various intensive study programs around the country and Doshisa’s Bekka program had been looking good until I found out about IUC, which is even more in the vein of what I am want. While I have been out of college for 2 years now, I have always been serious about returning to grad school to continue studying Japanese literature (which I concentrated on in undergrad) and ultimately getting a MEXT scholarship. However, for this to happen I know I really need to amp up my language skills, and while I speak an awful lot of Japanese everyday, I live on a tiny little island where there are no places to try and formally study the language.

    Right now, my questions concern the application process and the expected level of Japanese that is required to get accepted into the program. As it stands, I am probably around JLPT N3-ish (though I reckon my listening and speaking abilities are better than that, as I speak Japanese most of the time). Do you have any insight on what the minimum level of proficiency is for one to be accepted to the program in the first place? Also, I was wondering if you could talk about the application process as a whole in a little more detail. I understand there is a test that you must take as part of the application process, but I am not clear as to when you this happens in terms of the process as a whole (I assume it is after you send in your application, but before you are accepted to the program).

    Sorry, this has turned into a real long message, but I got really excited at the opportunity to speak to someone who has some firsthand information on the program.

    Again, thanks for making these posts.

    • Paura says:

      Hello! I’m so glad to hear that these posts were useful. 🙂 I guess that’s some encouragement for me to get off my butt and get back to writing my Part 2 section (concerning your MEXT mention: we’ll also have a funding article after that, and someone else is working on a MEXT application article, too).

      As for the application process, there’s of course the website information here:
      And as it says, the application is due typically in mid-January. The forms are fairly self explanatory as far as content (some essays, teacher recs, etc). It will usually take about a month for the IUC selection committee to go through the initial applications. As I recall, the proficiency test reached me in mid-February. A teacher you specify on your application runs the exam for you (meaning it’s mailed to them and then they put you in a room to take the test. There’s a written portion (including kanji and reading comprehension) and a listening portion. You have a specific amount of time to complete the exam, but as I recall it’s not too bad. Kind of like taking a standardized test. The goal of course is not to get 100% but to give them an idea of your level of proficiency.

      After you turn in the exam it takes another month or so for them to make their decisions, which are sent out at the end of March/beginning of April. So it’s a fairly quick process once you get everything in. Just nerve wracking. 🙂

      As for the level of proficiency, that’s a bit difficult to say. I believe I stated somewhere that students tended to be at a third year level (having learned or just about to learn things like passive/causative/causative passive). But officially, according to a professor of mine who is on the selection committee, they want you to have at least two years of Japanese instruction under your belt– which might put you around that level I stated, too, depending on the program. The important thing to remember, though, is that the committee doesn’t JUST look at your proficiency. Honestly, they look at the entire application and consider your goals, background, personality, etc. as well. And one of the things my professor insisted was that if a student doesn’t get in one year, they should definitely apply again the next year, because the committee *does* remember people’s applications and will give them a fair try again.

      Hope this helps you in making your decision and alleviates some of your fears! 🙂 If there’s anything else you want to know about feel free to leave a comment. Guess I’ll do some writing today… 😉

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  5. Rylie says:

    Thanks for the information!! this has been very helpful!! i applied to the 10month program this year and im waiting to take my proficiency exam. I had no clue this was such a competitive school to get in…@_@ now im a bit nervous!

    • Paura says:

      You’re welcome! I’m happy the information has been useful. I know it can be frustrating sometimes that so little is out there. I know friends who are going to take the exam soon as well, so good luck to you and all the others! 🙂 It’s an excellent program. I should also add that even if you don’t get in this year, don’t give up! One of the professors I’ve spoken to who’s on the selection committee told me that they get repeat applicants very often and they *do* remember whose information they’ve come across before. She told me that they highly encourage people who don’t make it the first time to try again. Best of luck!

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  7. Chris says:

    I was wondering if you could comment on the oral aspect of the entrance exam. I’ll be attending this year, and this is really the only unknown. I’m just wondering what kinds of things they ask, have you do, are looking for, etc.

    • Paura says:

      Hey there!

      The oral interview is really just like a sit-down chat with a professor (although it is video taped, so that might be a little nerve-wracking). It was a couple years ago so I don’t remember everything about it, but it’s pretty standard stuff about you, your schooling, your experiences, if you’ve been to Japan before, what you’re researching etc. It kind of reminds me of an OPI interview, actually (and we do have an article on that). The sensei will ask you questions and generally just hold an average conversation with you. They’re trying to gauge your various strengths and weaknesses just like the general written exam is meant to. After a few days they’ll sit you down and give you a piece of paper noting your errors and discuss how you did with you, so that’s really helpful. Honestly, I’d say it’s not a big deal and you shouldn’t stress yourself out about it. They’re not expecting you to be perfect, and regardless of if you’re awful or spectacular, you’ll end up with classes that mix up your levels with others anyway. 🙂 Good luck!

      • Chris says:

        Thank you for your quick response. Video taped, yikes! I guess that’s for the other professors to watch later so they can all come to a consensus? That’s good to hear it is more of an informal conversation rather than job interview style though. I always find in these cases it’s best to direct the flow of the conversation yourself. Less surprises that way : )

      • thisisrids says:

        Hi! I’m a tad bit confused. Where is the oral interview conducted?

      • thisisrids says:

        Hi! I’m a tad bit confused. Where exactly are the oral interviews conducted?

  8. Alex says:

    Hello. I am so happy to have found this blog. A friend of mine will be going to this school in September and he put me into the IUC path. I am very excited about it. I will be applying this January for September 2015. I am happy to hear that the review part of the course is a crash course in the equivalent Genki 1-2 books. If I were to get into this program I would really like the review but not to have to do those books all over again. I do have a question about this entrance exam. Is it only for students who have been accepted or is it also part of the application? Ie. if you completely bomb the exam will they rescind acceptance? (I am a terrible test taker) Or is it just to evaluate and be put in the level program appropriate like you said above? Also is the oral interview conducted in just Japanese?

    The idea of signing a contract to speak only Japanese is daunting but just what I need. Sounds amazing.
    I am really excited to apply to this program and hopefully I’ll get in next year! Going to go through all your blog posts now to get as much information as I can. Thanks for writing it all!

    • Paura says:

      Hello Alex,

      Glad to hear you’re so excited! There are two exams talked about in our posts– one is the general application exam that will decide whether or not they believe your skills are high enough for the program. This is sent to your university after an initial review of your application and should be considered part of your application process. Then, there is another entrance exam after you arrive (and are in the program) to help them divide up the classes by a general skill level at the outset (which will then get mixed up later as you trade classes, classmates, etc.).The oral interview that is a part of the entrance exam in Japan is in all Japanese. There is no formal contract to speak only Japanese (like you might find at Middlebury), but it is still a strict rule to be adhered to. Best of luck!

  9. thisisrids says:

    Thanks for the IUC series! I wanted to ask, did the placement test include vocab/grammar/kanji outside of the materials provided?

    • Paula says:

      I’m afraid it’s been so long I don’t entirely remember, but it likely did. I would say study what they give you and whatever else you have on hand! It can only improve your chances of doing well and getting your Japanese level up. 🙂

      • thisisrids says:

        Thank you for your reply! I’m really stressing about it for various reasons. (I’m one of the “working professional” ones.) I guess I just want to do well.

        • Paula says:

          No problem! The most important thing to remember is that there is not an expectation of perfection on these tests– they’re about measuring your current level to best place you in an environment that will help you improve. Good luck!

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