View topic - Elementary Japanese by Yoko Hasegawa - Review
So while I am definitely not the most qualified person to review this I am doing it anyways. Hopefully others who use it will (join this site!) post their experiences and thoughts of it so there is a well-rounded and helpful thread about it. When I considered buying it I found no detailed reviews on it anywhere online, just the odd love/hate blurb posted on Amazon reviews. That’s not good enough!
Why I bought Elementary Japanese instead of Genki, Minna no Nihongo, etc
I wanted a university level textbook that used hiragana/katakana/kanji as much as possible. If I’m going to learn a language I’d like to learn it the way a child might, not worry about different systems of Romanization and then trying to switch all the words my brain has associated with romaji to kanji all of a sudden. That really narrowed it down.
I didn’t want to be subjected to learning vocabulary I likely won’t use (such as extensive university-only situations, words like “alien” and other crazy sci-fi stuff that sure, would help me understand what was going on in anime but would never utter in real life). I didn’t want to be juggling books. I neither wanted nor could afford to buy multiple things like workbooks, textbooks, various answer keys, sets of CDs… “Good lord, can’t people put this all in one box?!” That went through my mind quite often while deciding on which text to get. Also, the odds of me being a study buddy to anyone on the www was slim to none given my “schedule” or lack thereof. Also, I am 3 hours away from any Japanese classes (using Genki in a university course). Which means self-study almost totally.
The 2 Volumes of Elementary Japanese, both of which come with a CD-ROM containing listening exercises, and the Teacher’s Guide cost me $132.88 CAD altogether (shipping included). This was not only the cheapest viable text for me (its only real competitors for my money were Genki and Minna no Nihongo) but actually fulfills all of my above requirements. YAY!! The shopping experience tends to be a lot different for us Canadians, please understand. I’m sure in the USA or even large cities like Vancouver/Toronto, you have a lot more options. Not in rural Canada.
First of all, you need to know hiragana before you even start. I think there was romaji in the first chapter only, if I recall. Each Lesson/chapter starts with one page of comic/manga panels of conversation following Miller-san and his dealings with various characters. There is new kanji/vocabulary/grammar in this conversation that will be explained fully throughout the lesson. That is followed by a full recap of the conversation (sans pictures) with English translation and usage notes. The next section in each lesson is Grammar. The entire approach of the text is to teach based on grammatical construction, not by situation. The explanations are really clear and have examples of how to use the construction, although I have to point out that sometimes the English is somewhat unnatural (you can see English is not Hasegawa’s mother tongue). I think only a native English speaker would notice this, however. After the grammar section are exercises, followed by the kanji in the lesson with stroke order diagrams, and then a vocabulary list of what was introduced in that lesson.
What I personally like/don’t like
I basically love the approach of the book. When I first opened it up and started reading, I thought “Thank goodness this has been written from a purely logical standpoint!” I’ve seen some really bad textbooks (not just Japanese learning texts, I mean textbooks in general), and this one is great. It is clear and concise. If there is any chance to use kanji/hiragana/katakana, it does so. If it isn’t teaching a particular construction which could be used to answer a question, it says so. “that construction will be taught in Lesson x” The literal translation of what you’re learning is given, along with the general. It doesn’t give heavyhanded explanations of every tiny detail, but teaches them to you by exposure. For example, the character Miller-san seems to deal with most is Son-san. It is impossible not to clearly know the difference between the katakana for “so” and “n” after just a few chapters. Brilliant! It’s little touches like that which I find heartwarming in a textbook. Incidental learning is a beautiful thing! Although I don’t have the slightest clue who Yoko Hasegawa is as a person, I have the utmost respect for her as a teacher just from this textbook. Seriously.
Although the main character is a university student and all situations are around the campus, the vocabulary is not specialized to that. Other than basic (dormitory, major, which-year student) words, the rest of vocabulary is real-life/general-life based (not sure how else to put that, please don't take offense!). So far I haven't seen a single word in this textbook that I can't see myself using regularly, other than "mid-term exam"!
The exercises are picture based. I both love and hate this: it’s wonderful because your brain is associating the sentences you’re using with a picture, therefore a situation. You are imagining yourself in the picture (that’s how pictures work!) instead of reading a sentence in your own language, then imagining a picture, then using the sentence. It’s so much better to use what you learn without the subconscious attempt at translation muddling things up. But sometimes, I look at the exercise pictures and don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to be doing with them. This is where the Teacher’s Guide comes in, as it has explanations of the basic types of exercises and very importantly, the ANSWERS! It has the keys to all exercises in both texts and CD-ROMS, as well as Sample Lesson Plans for teachers to use.
I’ve hardly used the CD-ROMs because most of my studying is done on night shift where I can’t use them. When I did use them I found them helpful, but when I’m at home any listening practice I get is from Japanese movies…I guess I’m hardly the person to ask about proper study methods. I read ahead in the textbooks sometimes five/six chapter ahead of where I am in the exercises. I’m terrible at studying regularly, which is why I’m still on Volume One of this series. I’ve never held the Genki or the Minna no Nihongo textbooks to compare them to this. All that being said, I highly recommend you consider this text if you’re textbook shopping!
Please post your own experiences with this textbook, so others can make a more informed choice! (I will try to add pictures once I figure out what size is usable here.)
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