Japan Language Books II
If you ever want to eviscerate a full day, you could always go to a large bookstore and try to pick out the best book on learning kanji (the Chinese characters used by the Japanese as their main written language). Some of Tokyo's largest bookstores have literally hundreds of books on learning kanji, and attempting to pick out the best one would take you long past closing time.
To save you time, you might just pick up Japanese Kanji Made Easy by Michael L. Kluemper (Tuttle Books). Kluemper's 216-page book shows the 1,000 most commonly used kanji using mnemonics, tricks to help someone remember things. In this case, the author incorporates background pictures with the kanji to help the reader remember the kanji more easily. One example is the kanji for the word person (人). Onto this figure the author adds a head and two arms, thus making the kanji look like a person with two legs. Voila, you have an easy way to remember the meaning of the kanji (人).
Preceding the 1,000 kanji in this book are sections on hiragana and katakana, the phonetic alphabets that are used only in the Japanese language. Even before learning some of the tens of thousands of kanji, learning just the 46 simple katakana will help you read a fair number of restaurant menus in Japan.
Next to each kanji is a count of the strokes it takes to write it, although the stroke order is not listed. If you don't know what this means, then it is nothing to be concerned about as you probably are more interested in learning to read than to write kanji.
The highest number of strokes necessary to write any kanji in this book is 20 for the words which mean bout (競 on page 84) and consultation (議 on page 117). Don't worry, most are much easier than these. A few kanji have only one or two strokes to memorize.
The book is conveniently divided into 10 chapters with headings such as Numbers and Colours, Person, The Body, Animals and the seemingly mismatched Vehicles and Buildings. Each chapter is then subdivided into smaller sections. For example, the Animals section is divided into sections such as Cow and Pig, Horse and Sheep and the interesting pairing of Bugs and Meat.
The groupings are usually logical, with a few not quite meeting that standard. For example, it might be difficult to see why soldier, co-operation and emit have to do with numbers.
If you want to find the kanji for a specific English word, you could always look it up in the complete index in the back.
Some readers might be challenged by the fact that the book doesn't start off with easy kanji. In fact, the first kanji taught in the book, meaning mathematics (数), uses 13 strokes to write. Studying kanji isn't for wimps.
The book contains a helpful CD which gives you the pronunciation of each of the hiragana, katakana and kanji in the book, as spoken by a native speaker. It also gives useful derivatives.
Becoming competent in reading and especially writing kanji are major, time-consuming roadblocks for learners of Japanese. If you are serious about learning, this book is a good choice. Besides, if you go ahead and get this book, you have the rest of the day to do what you want; no need to spend it standing in a book store by yourself while the staff waits to turn out the lights.
Note: This book's forerunner was Remembering the Kanji 1: A Complete Course of How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters by James W. Heisig. Heisig's book is still widely available.
Japan remains a travel destination where speaking just English will only get you so far. If you wish to endear yourself to your hosts and begin to understand some of the complexity of this multi-layered country then some basic Japanese will go along way to achieving both. Outside of the big cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima lost in the deep countryside or staying at a mountaintop onsen resort, then some survival Japanese could well be essential to avoid misunderstanding or even secure you a booking at a rural ryokan in the first place. Tuttle's Essential Japanese: Speak Japanese With Confidence is a recommended phrase book to get you up and running with some key words and phrases in the shortest possible time. The book employs a phonetic transliteration scheme to aid the learner with Japanese pronunciation. This differs from standard romaji transliteration and I must admit at first I found this rather confusing and off-putting. Thus doshite is rendered as doh-shtay, desu as des and dai as digh. Elsewhere the pronunciation guide is the same as standard romaji. Once I had got over the different rendering of the pronunciation in romaji and actually began to appreciate it, I found the book to be highly practical.
There are 14 sections to the book and a concluding English-Japanese word list with over 2,000 words and phrases list. The sections cover such travel essentials as Eating Out, Getting Around, A Place to Stay, Shopping, Health and Emergiencies. Each section begins with a short introduction to the topic in English followed by a list of useful sentences on the topic first in English, then in romaji with Japanese underneath. The key here is memorization and if you get really stuck you are encouraged to hand over the book to your interlocutor who can read the boxes with a hand signal and encourage them to point to the appropriate answer in the text. Essential Japanese: Speak Japanese With Confidence is recommended for both the novice or beginner alike on any vacation or short trip to Japan.
by Scott Rutherford; Revised by William Matsuzaki
Heading to Japan? Terrified of kanji and don't speak a word of Japanese? Well, Japanese For Travelers: Phrasebook and Dictionary can come to the rescue. This handy volume can fit into a backpack, smaller bag, or even a large pocket. It moreover combines language lessons with travel tips and explanations on Japanese culture. The book includes chapters on the following areas: meeting people, asking directions, shopping and asking about prices, ordering food and drinks, getting connected to the Internet, taking a subway, bus or taxi, asking for help and daily conversations.
There is also information on trains - more and more complex than you can imagine, but the best in the world - and ferries. In the latest edition, there are manga illustrations, and key vocabulary to use at the airport when entering the country and checking into your flight.
For all phrases and example sentences, the Japanese script and Roman letters are included. This is a good guide for those getting used to Japan or vacationers on a visit.
With its contextualized approach to teaching vocabulary, Japanese in Plain English is a practical introduction to spoken Japanese. In this book, De Mente encourages the beginner Japanese student to approach the language from a conversational angle, rather than trying to memorize vocabulary and grammar in the early stages. In keeping with this advice, the book's strongest point is its offering of example sentences for each vocabulary word, allowing the reader to see the word in use in a conversational schema. Too many phrase books offer only decontextualized vocabulary, and understanding the function of a word is just as important as learning the word itself. For this reason, such sample sentences are quite helpful. Be forewarned, however, that as there is no instruction regarding the written language, this is not a book for the serious student of Japanese. This book would be put to better use as a phrase book for the casual traveler to Japan.
The book is organized in a simple three-part structure. Part one consists of an introduction to the phonetics of Japanese; some basic vocabulary, such as numbers and dates; and a passage encouraging new students of Japanese to check their culturally informed judgements of what makes sense when approaching the grammatical mechanics of Japanese. Part two is a "Glossary of Useful Vocabulary." The vocabulary in this section is alphabetized in English, and therefore is only conducive to English searches. The vocabulary provided is limited, but as was mentioned earlier, its use of examples for each word is extremely helpful. The final section consists of a short glossary of terms of modern origin, consisting mainly of technological vocabulary.
Despite the limited size of the vocabulary lists, the lack of a means to search for words in Japanese, the absence of an introduction to kana and kanji and the questionable system of phoneticization (Hokkaido as Hoke-kie-doe, for example); this book could be useful for those who are considering traveling to Japan, and would like to pick up enough of a sense for the spoken language to get around.
The Ultimate Japanese Phrasebook is a handy collection of sentences and phrases for a variety of situations. This is more than a phrasebook for visitors to Japan (though parts of it could pass as such); it is a useful guide for learners at many levels of Japanese who live in Japan and or deal with Japanese often. It is ideal for students, business people, teachers, and longer-term visitors and residents.
There are 1800 sentences divided into 19 chapters in this guide. The situations cover the following: meeting people, shopping, traveling, finding a place to live, getting a job, and having kids. For those with school age children, a chapter on how to speak and interact with a teacher is very helpful.
Another chapter covers the all-important areas of romance and sex. "The Private Zone" guides the linguistic novice from dating and on into the bedroom.
The book comes with an MP3 audio CD that contains all the sentences read aloud. The first time it is done in English, then in Japanese.
I have been in Japan for almost two decades and still learned and relearned from this great book.
Highly recommended for all levels.
by Ogata Sumitani, Hidari Watanabe
ISBN-10: 4872177215, ISBN-13: 978-4872177213
Nihongo Fun & Easy - Survival Japanese Conversation for Beginners is a Japanese language "textbook that is not 'textbook'" for English speakers, filling an until now largely ignored gap in the Japanese textbook market.
The focus in Nihongo Fun & Easy is solely on Japanese as it is used, not as it is defined in "the textbooks." Therefore, it is unique in its level of practicality, frequently omitting, for example, particles (the equivalents of "the," "to," "of," "at," etc.) that are difficult to use correctly for English-speaking learners of Japanese, but which, happily, are often omitted in everyday language by the Japanese themselves, or, even if used, can easily be done away with without compromising comprehension.
There are 12 units, each dedicated to a common question or statement. A unit begins by setting out the functional goals for that unit, and works towards those goals by way of substitution drills, conversations drills, elaborations of the target phrase, dialogs, listening, role play, recollection drills, and a final "Now I can" skills confirmation checklist.
Nihongo Fun & Easy delivers the grammar and writing basics for those interested with a comprehensive grammar section at the back, verb and adjective conjugation lists, and Japanese writing options throughout that are invariably Romanized.
At 210 pages long, amply illustrated in black and white, and including a CD, Nihongo Fun & Easy is reasonably priced at 1,900 yen. Presently this book is only available from Amazon Japan.
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