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日本語 Basic Japanese

Basic Japanese takes a friendly and innovative approach to beginner Japanese, emphasizing the structure of the Japanese language rather than just

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As the title implies, Basic Japanese is a book generally targeted towards beginners, but also provides an avenue for higher level learners who would want to review and strengthen their fundamentals of the language.

This book is an improvement by Eriko Sato, Japanese lecturer and Pre-College Japanese Program director at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also received her doctorate degree. While making changes, she stayed true to Samuel E. Martin, fellow Linguistics Ph.D.’s tried-and-tested revolutionary Japanese language teaching methods. Both authors have written many books on studying Japanese, geared not only for beginners but also for advanced learners.

The authors have aimed for this book to introduce the Japanese language through contemporary and realistic sentences and vocabulary words. Also, they think that it would be suitable for quickly learning the ropes on how to express one’s self in Japanese by being able to construct grammatically correct sentences and convey natural expressions.

While not without fault, the reviewer thinks that these objectives of the book were decently met, just that the way its contents were presented may present certain issues on the learners’ side. Explanations can get confusing and long-winded at times, that it could take a good while before you can understand what the concepts are and how to effectively use them.

Nevertheless, they did splendidly on covering most topics on grammar and vocabulary. Compared with other Japanese language books for beginners, they have covered a wider range of topics that range from the most basic ones up to the extent of glossing over keigo, the Japanese respect language.

Basically, the book has four main sections which appear in every lesson:
  1. Basic Sentences
  2. Structure Notes
  3. Conversation
  4. Exercises
Of course, it would never do without a Vocabulary List, and features interesting Cultural Notes as well.

The Basic Sentences give you a teaser on the grammatical concepts you are to learn in the lesson. Structure Notes is where these sentences are discussed in detail, with more example sentences. The Conversations sound natural as well, that they are almost as how you would expect native speakers to talk in real life. It does help that it has been published only a few years ago that the words used are relevant up to this date, that the Vocabulary Lists are filled with timely entries such as J-POP, パワーポイント(PowerPoint) and ファイル (file).

A major gripe about this book, as well as most Japanese language books from the publisher, is its bias toward Western learners. The reviewer practically skipped the first lesson as it only talked about how to pronounce words correctly in Japanese, while heavily comparing the sounds to American and European languages. While the effort and detailed explanation is highly appreciated, being an Asian learner, the reviewer felt distant to the discussion on the topic. Hopefully, the CD would be a more useful alternative in learning pronunciation for such learners.

Another would be the book’s heavy reliance on Romaji, that it did not even mention of learning Hiragana and Katakana, especially if the learner decides to be serious in learning the language. While it might be okay for beginners, it will only serve as a handicap when they take their language journey to the next level. Also, a noteworthy thing to mention would be how they based the verb conjugation chart in Lesson 4 on Romaji sounds than the Kana syllable group which the verb is under.

Having said that, this book excels at differentiating really similar concepts, even adding more to the never-ending question of “What is the difference between は and が?”. The vocabulary words are also thematically arranged, usually with illustrations for some words for better memory reinforcement. Pronunciation in the CD tracks actually sounds natural compared to other learning materials.

Overall, this book is a good reference for learning Japanese especially for beginners. However, you might want to supplement this with other materials for a complete learning experience.

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Samuel E. Martin and Eriko Sato
Tuttle Publishing
Year of publication
Number of pages
$19.95 / ¥1,700 (SRP)

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