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Recommend a book

Have a textbook or grammar book that you find particularly helpful? What about a learning tip to share with others?

RE: Recommend a book

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 11.05.2006 4:25 pm

The other thing that JSL deals heavily with that most books do not is the social and cultural context of the language. Through the videos and the "cast of characters", each conversation and phrase is situated in a specific context, making clear the relationship between the speakers and the location the conversation is taking place. This is especially important in Japanese with the complexities of its polite language.

People tend to think of language structures, phrases, and sentences as being either "unnatural" or "natural" with no in-between. JSL recognizes that almost nothing in a language is natural in 100% of contexts. Even a simple sentence like "kore wa watashi no hon desu" would sound strange in some social contexts (in this case, you would find very few native Japanese who would say that sentence to a friend, or to a young child.) On the other hand, seemingly archaic and "unnatural" phrases like "sayou de gozaimasu" are actually quite natural in some situations (in this case, perhaps a very formal phone call).

The main reason the material in JSL is so complex and seemingly unusual in some places is that it sets up the goal of having the learner speak Japanese as native Japanese speakers do, a goal that most books do not work towards.

(But this isn't supposed to be a JSL-discussion thread so maybe this should be done somewhere else...)
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby Infidel » Sun 11.05.2006 5:08 pm

Let me put it this way: when the US Government needed to train its employees to speak Japanese effectively in the shortest amount of time possible, THIS is the course they chose.


Of course, that was many years ago, and most of these other learning courses were not available then. So that policy does not reflect a comparison of current learning methods. I have managed to get my hands on many out of print Japanese courses dated the same or earlier than the first edition of Barron's, and Barron's is certianly better than any of them. The U.S. government is also famous for beaurocratic inertia, so I wouldn't really cite the goverment recommends something, unless it is also a current recomendation based on current research.

You'll find, more and more, that advertisers regurgitate "facts" long past the point they are applicable. As only one example, one hard Cider company has "award winning" as part of the logo, although it hasn't won an award since the gold rush, and they don't even make the product that won the award anymore.
Last edited by Infidel on Sun 11.05.2006 5:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby magma » Mon 11.06.2006 3:55 am

The U.S. government is also famous for beaurocratic inertia, so I wouldn't really cite the goverment recommends something, unless it is also a current recomendation based on current research.

According to this talk, the FSI not only keeps up with current research, but is an ideal laboratory for testing new theories in Japanese pedagogy.

Of course, that was many years ago, and most of these other learning courses were not available then.

That's true. The "Mastering Japanese" box still boasts, "the same course used by the U.S. Government to train diplomatic personnel". Although I doubt the government is still using BJ, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they're using JSL or something like it. (Anybody here know what textbook the FSI Japanese program is using now?)

All that aside, the main thing that makes BJ and JSL superior for independant students is the abundance of audio drills--10 CD's worth for the first 20 lessons alone! What other courses offer anywhere near that level of audio practice?

And it's not just any old audio, it's drills--sharply focused verbal exercises. The linguistic equivalent of the exercise machines at the gym. Each drill exercises a specific grammatical muscle, training your brain and your speech apparatus simultaneously. After a few sets, the patterns become instinctive, and you can use them correctly without even thinking about it. Complete sentences just flow out of you as naturally as a trained athlete performs a routine.

Once long ago, I kept getting fed up with Japanese textbooks, so I went on a quest looking for the holy grail of textbooks (for me). In the process I have actualy tried out a large number of them, as opposed to people that might have seen a couple at the local bookstore.

I had the same problem, and although I haven't tried all the ones in your chart, I did look at a half-dozen different texts (real college-type textboooks, not the fluffy touristy stuff) before I realized that they all suffered from a severe lack of fluency-building audio.

How are you supposed to learn to speak Japanese unless you actually speak Japanese? Printed textbook exercises like "look at this picture and describe what you see" are helpful, but they don't build fluency like the fast-pased drills in Jorden's courses. How could they? When you answer a question in a book, you have all the time in the world to stumble your way through a broken Japanese response; you may not even realize how slowly you're speaking. Jorden's drills give you just enough time to reply immediately (typically 4 seconds or less) before the correct answer is given, so if you don't make it, you know you need more practice. And isn't it better to find that out now rathar than learning it the hard way at your next Japanese social gathering when you find you can't formulate sentences quickly enough to hold a conversation?

The fact is, for those who want to learn spoken Japanese, Jorden's courses are superior, and should be our #1 recommendation.
Last edited by magma on Mon 11.06.2006 4:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 11.06.2006 9:44 am

I still think that without the supported classroom environment the books are not necessarily recommendable. The main problem with self studying the books is that you miss out on the opportunity to use the Japanese in (simulated) contexts -- the way the course works at OSU is that the students are expected to study the drills at home and memorize the core conversations, and then when they come to class they learn how to put those together with what they've learned before to interact in plausible simulated contexts. If you just do the drills, I think you're missing something.

However, even that is probably better than the typical course with respect to spoken ability. Aside from the drills, the memorization of the core conversations is a key component -- most texts do not have memorization exercises, and so the students never really learn the words and grammatical structures in the context of real Japanese. Instead, they're asked to construct their own sentences and thus resort to direct translation from English to Japanese.
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby magma » Mon 11.06.2006 4:13 pm

If you just do the drills, I think you're missing something.

However, even that is probably better than the typical course with respect to spoken ability.

I couldn't agree more! So perhaps the ideal course should have all these elements in each lesson:

1. Core conversation memorization
2. Drills
3. Interacting in plausible simulated contexts
4. Reading and writing of the now-understood spoken language

Must textbooks give you only 1 and 4, and not enough of 2 to make any difference. Jorden's gives you 1, 4, and 2. But like you said, you really need other people to do 3, so no textbook can provide that.
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 11.06.2006 5:16 pm

magma wrote:

4. Reading and writing of the now-understood spoken language


In terms of JSL this is actually "Reading and writing authentic Japanese that uses structures and vocabulary understood from spoken language" -- JWL does not contain exercises that are just reading the exact sentences from JSL.
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby magma » Mon 11.06.2006 5:21 pm

Thanks for the clarification--that's what I really meant.

Maybe if JSL becomes widely adopted at Universities, other textbook authors will finally start providing more audio drills?

It's probably unlikely, since textbooks compete on price, and it's cheaper to have fewer CDs/DVDs bundled. But maybe mp3s on a company website can make drills less cost-prohibitive...
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby Infidel » Mon 11.06.2006 5:37 pm

There are a lot of valid points being made. It should be considered; however, that it is the writing system that takes the greatest amount of time to learn well. Thus, it is in the writing that you can get the greatest payoff later on by making a small investment early. Putting this off for later, after you understand the spoken language, may seem like a good idea, at first, but if learning the written language is one of your goals, then you are adding about 1 to 2 years of delay before becomming literate that can be easily avoided. Also, procrastinating this way makes learning the kanji, when you finally get around to it, even more intimidating. It can certianly be more rewarding, in the long run, to make many baby steps while learning the spoken language, than to ignore the writing system completely, then come upon the writing system as a great megolith of frustration later.

Spoken language only courses my be great for foreign dignitaries with entire staffs of secretaries, liasons, and other intermediaries to handle all the written work. Business people also have liasons to handle such things, so they can ignore the writing entirely. I still hear now and again about businessmen that have been in Japan for 20 years or more and can't read, or speak, Japanese.

But even a little investmenet in the writing system can go a long way towards cementing one's understanding of the language. It is much easier to learn new words and concepts when they are combinations of previously learned kanji. There are so many words I memorize the very first time I see them, because I know the kanji that form the word.

Personally, I find drills superflous. All you have to do is memorize the dialogues and you have all the bunkei you need. In fact, I've found the opening dialogues to be much easier to memorize than bunkei. Seperate lists of pattern sentences may look impressive, but ultimately, I think people just aren't seeing the forest for the trees. Just take the dialogues and substitute other vocabulary. And dialogues prodide one crucial thing bunkei do not, context.

After some of the comments made so far, I guess I will need to add a recomendation for those that have no interest in learning written Japanese. I do know there are many out there. Although, those wanting to learn spoken Japanese so they can listen to anime would be better off staying away from MJ because it is too formal or old fashoned.

Interestingly, I haven't found any full courses made for the Anime enthusiast. One would think this would be a great market to tap considering the popularity of kanji de manga, Japanese in Mangaland, Mangajin, and others. A video course, Learn Japanese through Anime, would make a killing.
Last edited by Infidel on Mon 11.06.2006 5:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 11.06.2006 6:18 pm

Infidel wrote:
It should be considered; however, that it is the writing system that takes the greatest amount of time to learn well. Thus, it is in the writing that you can get the greatest payoff later on by making a small investment early. Putting this off for later, after you understand the spoken language, may seem like a good idea, at first, but if learning the written language is one of your goals, then you are adding about 1 to 2 years of delay before becomming literate that can be easily avoided. Also, procrastinating this way makes learning the kanji, when you finally get around to it, even more intimidating. It can certianly be more rewarding, in the long run, to make many baby steps while learning the spoken language, than to ignore the writing system completely, then come upon the writing system as a great megolith of frustration later.


I think it's the opposite, actually -- learning the kanji tends to be a lot easier for most people when they have enough grammar under their belt to actually be able to read extended passages. There has been a lot of study done by pedagogists in both Chinese and Japanese on the issue of when to introduce characters to a foreign learner, and a fair number of studies and articles on the subject. There's no clear consensus, but it does not appear that a "slight" delay (i.e. a month) in introducing the characters has any long-term effect on

The landscape of Japanese studies has changed as well. I was told by Mari Noda that in the 70's and 80's, the majority of people taking Japanese had no interest in the written language, and the books from that era reflect this. Recently, more people have become interested in reading, and the courses have attempted to catch up with that but have not fully succeeded yet (this is particularly true of JSL). JSL really should start writing everything in kana/kanji around the middle of the second book (at the latest), but it was created at a time when they had to gear the book towards a different audience.

Now, when you talk about delaying the writing system 1-2 years then you probably are introducing delay, and I would not recommend that unless the learner has a very strong and clear preference for not learning the written language. I think that way OSU introduces the characters initially is a good pace (although after that I personally think they go too slow, especially in the higher levels). The first month of 101 is spoken-only, then katakana are introduced and intensively studied (not only how to write them but also how to read the words and convert them back into the English or foreign words they came from). Once this is done, the students have enough grammatical knowledge to read sentences in hiragana and katakana, and the hiragana are introduced at a faster pace. Finally, about 16 weeks into the course, the introduction of kanji begins. I don't think that four months is an excessive time to delay until kanji starts -- similar delays are found even in other programs that do "four skills" teaching.

The major difference in the JSL/JWL approach is the decision to delay kana, not the decision to delay kanji. The major disadvantages of introducing the kana right off the bat are: (1) The learner, not being very familiar with the spoken sounds, will probably try to connect them with roman letters (and thus American-style pronunciation) rather than Japanese sounds. (2) There is almost no authentic Japanese you can read with only kana. (3) The kana can be much more quickly introduced to students who have a knowledge of the pronunciation and basic grammatical structure of the language than students who don't.

I'm not sure it's correct to view learning to read as a situation where it takes X years no matter when you start -- so that if a learner immediately begins learning the characters it will take X years to become proficient in reading, but if they wait a year, it will take X+1 years.

Personally, I find drills superflous. All you have to do is memorize the dialogues and you have all the bunkei you need. In fact, I've found the opening dialogues to be much easier to memorize than bunkei. Seperate lists of pattern sentences may look impressive, but ultimately, I think people just aren't seeing the forest for the trees. Just take the dialogues and substitute other vocabulary. And dialogues prodide one crucial thing bunkei do not, context.


It depends on the kind of drills you're talking about. JSL's drills are all "stimulus-response", i.e. things like this (where A is what the audio says and B is what the learner is supposed to provide):

A: Dare to hanasimasita ka?
B: Dare to mo hanasimasen desita.
A: Doko ni ikimasita ka?
B: Doko ni mo ikimasen desita.
A: Dare ga simasita ka?
B: Dare mo simasen desita.

And so on -- in this case, what is being practiced is automaticity; the ability to quickly and accurately produce interrogative + mo sentences. Obviously these drills alone are not going to enable you to speak fluent Japanese, but they are a part of the process. Ideally this is what the learner should do outside of class, and the in-class work should focus on using these phrases in actual contexts.

Speaking fluent Japanese requires you to produce answers quickly, and I don't think you can really do this without repetitive practice. In the case of the material in this drill, you don't want to have to be thinking about which of these use multiple particles and which don't so that you're always saying something like "Doko.................mo....ni mo ikimasen desita". Such speech does eventually get your meaning across, but a potential learner should set the bar higher than that unless their resources are too limited.


Interestingly, I haven't found any full courses made for the Anime enthusiast. One would think this would be a great market to tap considering the popularity of kanji de manga, Japanese in Mangaland, Mangajin, and others. A video course, Learn Japanese through Anime, would make a killing.


How would such a course proceed? Are you talking about an anime course intended for 3rd or 4th-year Japanese students or a from-the-beginning manga/anime approach? It sounds interesting, but I wonder if a school could pull it off.

(I apologize if anyone is put off by these long replies -- I'm studying Japanese pedagogy in OSU's graduate program so this is an area of great interest to me...)
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Mon 11.06.2006 6:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Recommend a book

Postby magma » Mon 11.06.2006 6:44 pm

Edit: Had to edit this post down since Yudan made the points better than I could!

Spoken language only courses my be great for foreign dignitaries with entire staffs of secretaries, liasons, and other intermediaries to handle all the written work.

That's a good point, but actually I always hoped people would study BJ and JSL along with the written language too, since, as you said:
It is much easier to learn new words and concepts when they are combinations of previously learned kanji.

I have also found that to be true. But I think Jorden's method of withholding Japanese writing until Lesson 10, and then teaching one lesson of writing along with each lesson of speaking from then on is a well-balanced approach that doesn't wait too long to give students the opportunity to start learning new vocabulary from kanji. (This assumes you buy the Reading Japanese companion book to Beginning Japanese).

After some of the comments made so far, I guess I will need to add a recomendation for those that have no interest in learning written Japanese. I do know there are many out there.

If you buy Reading Japanese to go along with Beginning Japanese (or JWL to go along with JSL), you can build a nice foundation of 400 kanji to go along with your speaking skills. That's nothing to sneeze at!

I would recommend BJ or JSL for people who who want to try to speak fluently, build an authentic Japanese accent, and learn to do so as quickly as possible. And yes, you can learn to read as well. But for those only interested in reading, there were some better-looking recommendations in your chart.

Although, those wanting to learn spoken Japanese so they can listen to anime would be better off staying away from MJ because it is too formal or old fashoned.

Well, they do teach plain and informal speech levels too, but of course it's not emphasized. Nevertheless, I still think BJ/JSL provides at least as firm a grounding for comprehending rapidly-spoken dialogue as any other course. The audio is all recorded at normal native-speed, so it's better than many courses I've seen where the speakers talk unnaturally slowly.

Interestingly, I haven't found any full courses made for the Anime enthusiast. One would think this would be a great market to tap considering the popularity of kanji de manga, Japanese in Mangaland, Mangajin, and others. A video course, Learn Japanese through Anime, would make a killing.

That is a brilliant idea, and I can't believe no one has done it yet!

If you could get permission to use excerpts from real anime, you could do the video equivalent of what Japanese the Manga Way and Mangajin did. Oooo, that baby would sell like crazy (I know I'd buy it!). The tricky part is getting somebody with connections to anime production companies. Anybody here have such connections? :)
Last edited by magma on Mon 11.06.2006 6:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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