Unlocking the potential within you ―― 学び続ける人のそばに

Vol.391 2021.03.29

The appeal of self-learning, through the eyes of someone who completed the Kumon Japanese program.

Develop a “can do” attitude
through self-learning and
do anything you want!

The Kumon Method of learning revolves around self-learning. Currently, around 580 Kumon Centers provide the Japanese Language Program to students of various nationalities, from children to adults. We interviewed Dennis Michael Sullivan Junior (from the U.S.), who has been teaching English as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) at public elementary and junior high schools in Hokkaido. Dennis enrolled in Kumon in May 2019, starting with Level C (the first half of the beginner’s level) and completed the final level in October 2020. Follow his journey and learn about the appeal of self-learning.


After encountering a method that allowed me to advance at my own pace, I said to myself, “This is it!”

Dennis at an English Summer Camp
Dennis at an English Summer Camp

Dennis studied in Japan for six months as a university student. Currently, he is teaching English conversation and grammar at public elementary and junior high schools in Hokkaido as an ALT. In addition, he actively participates in social events. For instance, he volunteered as a teacher at an English Summer Camp for local elementary school children and has also appeared in a tourism promotion video. We asked him what made him decide to pursue the Kumon Japanese Language Program.

When I was looking for a systematic way to study Japanese, a friend of mine showed me the Kumon worksheets, and I thought, “This is it!” When I was a student, I was not fond of classroom lessons. Kumon’s learning style, which allowed me to study at my own pace, and see my progress as I advanced through the worksheets, was perfect for me. Furthermore, the program was convenient since I could bring worksheets to school and study between English lessons. Also, most of the teachers and students know about Kumon, so everyone was very supportive of me completing the program.

Taking advantage of the free time he had during the COVID 19 pandemic, Dennis completed the final level (Level L) of the Japanese Language Program and is currently on Level CI of the Kokugo (Japanese for Japanese students) Program.

How Dennis studied Japanese Level G
How Dennis studied Japanese Level G

Dennis studied Japanese on his own before starting Kumon and his starting point was first assessed as Level E (the second half of the beginner’s level). However, he told his Instructor that he still struggled with using particles correctly, so his starting point was changed to Level C. Eventually, schools closed due to COVID-19. During that time, when he had no classes to teach, he studied the Kumon worksheets five hours a day and accelerated in the program. As he advanced to Levels G, H, and I (intermediate level), he gradually started to understand Japanese grammar. Since his goal was to be able to read Japanese novels, he was excited to find that, when he advanced to the reading section of Levels J, K, and L (advanced level), he could read texts from actual novels in its original form, not those re-written for easier reading. In particular, he said he enjoyed reading The Takase Boat, The Restaurant with Many Orders, and The Snow Woman.

Eventually he grew tired from studying and at times could not complete any more worksheets. However, this changed when he read a psychology article through the Kumon worksheets called “Let’s lie around at home on holidays.” After reading this article, he realized the importance of taking time off when needed and, after taking a break, his motivation came back. As a result of maintaining a positive attitude and continuing to study even in the COVID-19 crisis, he started to understand Japanese signs/writing found in the streets. He said he gained an immense amount of confidence through this experience.

After completing the final level, Level L, in October 2020, he passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N3 in December 2020. Now he is studying Kokugo Level CI. Knowing that some philosophical texts that he read in university appear in the higher-level worksheets, he is continuing to study hard and is looking forward to reading those same philosophical texts, but this time in Japanese.

Detailed communication at the beginning of his studies supported his motivation for learning

One reason Dennis could smoothly proceed with his studies was in due to his Kumon Instructor, Ms. Chisato Saito. She recognized that it would be better for him to study how to use particles again rather than skip ahead to a higher level. Ms. Saito gradually built trust with Dennis thanks to her careful communication at the beginning. She supported him in studying at a “just-right” level after coming to understand his current Japanese ability. This allowed Dennis to concentrate on his studies and keep learning with confidence.

Enjoy the road to fluency.

Finally, we asked Dennis if he had a message for those who are planning to study (or are currently studying) Japanese. Here’s what he said:
“To those of you who are thinking about learning Japanese, I recommend trying Kumon to see if it suits you. The journey to the fluency is long and (at times) really difficult. You’ll find it difficult to stay motivated for such a long time, which is why you have to learn to enjoy the journey itself. When studying a language, it’s crucial that you have fun!”

Dennis loved reading aloud many of the stories in the Kumon worksheets, and his superb oral reading of The Takase Boat in Level L, surprised Ms. Saito. Since he always wanted to try reading picture books to children in Japanese, he performed a kamishibai (picture story show) in his local library back in February. Opportunities for Dennis to use his Japanese are expanding.

Through building relationships with the people around him, he is taking on the further challenge of making Japan a better place to live. Through self-learning and developing his “can do” attitude, Dennis is continuously motivated to learn and hopes to continue studying through the higher level worksheets of the Kokugo program. We believe his story will encourage new students who will take part in the Kumon Japanese Program.

日本語版はこちら Japanese version

KUMON Japanese Language Program

© 2001 Kumon Institute of Education Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.