Japanese Class in Japan is our equivalent of English Class in the United States. There, they learn how to read, write, and to speak the words correctly as well as work on grammar, penmanship (writing the kanji or kana), spelling, and understanding the words.
For 1st graders, they will have two textbook readers, two writing workbooks, one calligraphy text, two workbooks to provide basic materials for reading and writing for the whole year, and a drill and exercise book for homework. Text stories range from 30 words in nine sentences to 425 words long. Most text are fiction but some poetry and nonfiction entries are included as well. Each story done in class is followed by a discussion, questions, and exercises. As with English class, what is taught in school is proper written Japanese instead of spoken Japanese with it’s slang, abbreviated sentences, words, and other “enemies” of the written word.
It is surprising to note that accurate pronunciation and reading in a fluent and expressive style is a goal for Japanese classes. Major emphasis is placed on reading out loud where the whole class speak in unison or in smaller groups or individually, passages are spoken repeatedly.
First grade students begin learning their kana’s while each successive grade then begins to learn kanji. By sixth grade, elementary students should have learned about 300 kanji characters which are the more widely and daily used characters in the Japanese language. The remaining 700 or so characters needed to read a newspaper is taught in high school. As with the English language, there are some words that may be in the dictionary but the average person may not know that word exists. Medical terminology comes to mind for instance.
Deviating for a bit, kanji was borrowed from China. For the Japanese, there are generally two different pronunciations of a character. There is the on, or Chinese pronunciation, and the kun which is the Japanese pronunciation. Depending on whether the word is used singly or with another kanji, the on or kun pronunciation is used. That is why some people may mistakenly mispronounce someone’s name as it may have one or the other pronunciation.
Another problem that students have to content with is the proper writing of the kanji characters. There is actually a dedicated calligraphy class specifically for learning how to write them. They basically have to learn the stroke order and practice diligently to learn how to write the characters legitimately without thinking about it.