Over at the All Japanese All the Time site Khatsumoto says:
Classes suck. Not only do they cost money, but they’re boring and they don’t work. You only need look as far as the number of people taking Japanese classes, versus the number of people who are actually good at Japanese. The people in charge of the classes will tell you that it’s because “Japanese is hard”; “Japanese is different”; “it’s the kanji”; “those East Asians are so inscrutable; they just don’t think like we do”. Bollocks! Absolute bollocks! There is nothing fundamentally difficult or different about Japanese. Very normal human beings speak, read and write it on a daily basis. The problem might be with the way we are learning it, but it would be unprofessional, dishonest, and an act of the most severe bollocks, to blame the object of our learning.
While he brings up some good points there I do have to say classes do offer some benefits as long as you have 2 criteria. Practice and Passion. If you really want to learn Japanese then learning in school is by no means going to be enough ever. To some degree it should be common sense since it is common knowledge you only learn a little bit in college what you use in real life. The same goes for Japanese. You aren’t going to learn everything you need to know in class. In order to do all that practice you need passion to not only go beyond what class teaches, but learn your own methods to learning.
I am making this post based on experience of where classes DID help me to learn. I started by listening to JapanesePod 101 for a few months, but not knowing where to go from there. I would ask questions about different things, but couldn’t figure or find the answer very well or got an answer beyond what I could understand. Even from there I would hear things about AJATT, SRS, and other things, but had no idea what people were talking about. And when it came to kana had no idea about that either or any idea how to start learning it.
However, I decided to take a Japanese 1 class because it could start me down the line of comeing up with a structure to study upon and someone to ask questions to that i could ask over and over until I understood it. For me I needed some sort of structure to start with and help me to find a more structured way to learn. Later on while in class and after being able to understand more when I would research other methods of learning I knew I could always fall back on how class was taught so finally figuring out the Ajatt method and learning about SRS just helped me even more. I think having some structured way to learn is a good place to start and classes provided that.
Besides classes do three other things for you as a side benefit, especially if you are going to learn to peak Japanese no matter what like me. It gives you goals to reach actual defined goals of something to meet to make sure you are on the right track. Class credit, this was a big one for me as I needed some classes to do good in and also as a bit of a filler. I also plan to minor in Japanese since it would just be an easy minor because of my intention to learn/speak Japanese no matter what. Finally, it gives you friends that are into Japanese too. I don‘t have a lot of friends in general and none that are in to Anime or Japanese so having people to practice with or talk to about learning is a great help.
So, in the end it is very beneficial to take classes as long as you aren’t relying on it as your primary and only source of learning. While I do disagree with some things Khatsumoto on some things, AJATT is a very good way to learn things, in fact many of the things he suggest I naturally already was doing. Like listening to music and watching Japanese TV. So have fun learning.