I say “Potato” you say “ポテト”
Living in a foreign country can be exciting, adventurous and thrilling. It can also be scary, intimidating and bewildering. There is no clearer example of this than trying to communicate in your newly chosen homeland when you don’t know the language.
Every trip to the grocery is like Indiana Jones navigating a dusty tomb… dangers around each corner. “Did I just buy 3 bottles of conditioner…one of them has got to be shampoo…but these are definitely not soups!” The first time I correctly requested gas at a service station I did a little car dance, solidifying the attendants belief that foreigners are a strange and unpredictable bunch.
I remember at some point hearing that all it takes is 3 months of immersion in a foreign country to learn the language. Keep in mind, I think I heard that from watching the Simpsons. Either way, I’ve met a handful of expats and they’re all at different levels of Japanese. It’s made me wonder
“What makes one person an instant expert at 6months and another still struggling after years?”
I’ve no clue.
What I can tell you is this…
A foul disposition with perfect language gets you less than a good attitude, a pleasant smile and no language.
When you do sit down to learn a new language it’s a good idea to look through all your options and decide what kind of learner you are. Perhaps you’re the bookish kind of person who loves to read every grammar rule and memorize vocabulary before you set out on your first conversation. Are you the “Don’t bother me with text, I want to listen and watch and be immersed” kind of learner? I’ve even met a few people who’ve learned a great deal just through playing video games.
I’ve tried a few different approaches and I’ll give you a break down of what I thought worked and didn’t work about each. You decide from there, remember the most important part of it all is to just keep practicing. It might feel like you’re rolling up hill wearing lead pants but you’ll make it to the top eventually.
What a fantastically in-depth product. With a dictionary, 8 cds and a book that reads like a college textbook it’s one of the most comprehensive packages I’ve seen. You can sift through verb tenses, particles, sentence structure and conjunctions to your hearts content. As thorough as it is I would mention there are a few drawbacks. Because of the depth of the books I wouldn’t recommend this for quick visit travelers who just want some help with hotel reservations. It is also not my first choice as a stand alone resource for those of you wanting to live and learn using this book, it’s use of Romaji throughout the book is useful for pronunciation, however… Romaji is not something you will see posted on signs or products. The book devotes only one page to the other 2 alphabets, Hiragana and Katakana which are much more useful for persons staying in the country.
Who this works for: Bookish learners, grammar enthusiasts and immersion folks who want it all.
Who this won’t work for: People staying in the country for a long time and needing to learn the local alphabets. People just passing through and needing to know common things like “Please get your squid off my head”
Why you should buy it anyway: It’s really a great piece of work that, even if it’s too much information will give you what you need to know and if you can purchase a separate resource for learning Hiragana and Katakana it would make you unstoppable.
The power of listening. The idea is simple, you learned your first language by exposure…just hearing it. You’re trained to do it. So, what better way to learn a new language than by letting your brain do what it does best, without all that fuss about grammar. The lessons are broken down by conversations and then broken down into sounds that you can repeat and practice and build on. It sinks in your brain without you really noticing…like the words to every Lady Gaga song. The downside…you need to have a player for this to work. It’s great if you’re playing it in the car, running around up town. But, it’s easier to pick up a book spontaneously and read a few pages than to find a cd, pop it into whatever player you have handy and que up the last spot you were on. It goes without saying that this won’t do much for folks who are looking for grammar particulars.
Who this works for: People who are plugged in, have a lot of time either on the pc, in the car or by a cd player. Also, people who want to see results quick.
Who this won’t work for: Those of us who still feel the need to see something for it to really sink in, folks who want a more challenging grammar focus and any one who needs to learn Hiragana or Katana.
Should you buy it anyway? It’s a fun resource that mixes up your learning and really lets the info sink in. It’s also expensive if you’re only using it as an addendum to your primary stuff. My advice…put it on your wish list and drop a few hints to people who love you. If you don’t have any of those, step one should be… get off the computer and make some friends.
I picked this up at the local library in Omaezaki, Japan. Definitely a great find, it has a nice flow of information that’s easy to search through. The book includes a handy illustration of common road signs which is truly useful and (according to the cover) a pull out bilingual dictionary. The library copy didn’t have one so I can’t comment on that. I found the book to be entertaining and engaging. It’s fun illustrations and easy to understand conversations made it a genuinely interesting resource.
Who this works for: I’m going out on a limb here and I’m going to have to say, pretty much everybody can use this book. It’s not going to be at the grammar level of the Living Language series and yet you’re still going to pick up a load of useful sentence structure. I think the best feature of this book is it’s accessibility. The whole presentation makes it fun and simple to understand.
Who this won’t work for: Immersion folks who want a pack of 8 cd’s are going to be disappointed. I searched through Amazon and it seems there is an edition that does come with cassettes, so go ahead and dust off that old Sony Walkman player. Throw on some oversized head phones and rock it like 1999.
Should you buy it anyway? It makes a great addition to your library if you’re on the ground in Japan. Additionally, the presentation and pace of the book is going to keep you interested even when you’re frustrated and saying to yourself “I just learned Hiragana and now I still can’t read anything!” You can find some great deals online for used copies. Keep in mind, because of its size it’s not really a back pocket reference…unless of course you have immense back pockets.
By now the Dummies series has been around long enough for me not to be offended by the title…almost. That aside it has some great features. The content is straightforward and easy to understand with plenty of humorous illustrations to keep you grinning, smirking or smiling. I consider this book and the Barrons to be direct competitors. They both emphasize fast, fun and easy to learn content. I would say, they both deliver. The Dummies book does have the advantage of coming with a cd. So, there’s that. You’re not going to find loads of in depth grammar or conversations besides the usual “How much is this hotel?” “Do you want the squid or eel sandwich?” and “Ouch! you stepped on my foot, where’s the hospital?”
Who this works for: Just like the Barrons book, this is an easy win for most everyone. It’s got tips, tricks and useful bits that will help beginners as well as intermediates.
Who this won’t work for: For the advanced among us, it’s not going to cut the mustard so you’re going to have to look elsewhere. It’s not heavy on Hiragana, Katakana or Kanji so you’ll have to get an extra resource for those things as well.
Should you buy it anyway? I like having something fun to propel my learning when I’m feeling bored, stuck or just plain not in the mood. It’s not a stand alone resource but I’d recommend having either this or Barrons handy for an easy to understand explanation. Check them both out from your library and decide which you like best.
So, there you have it. I’ve given you 4 really quick reviews of books that I’ve used or tried to use. When it comes to language learning remember that it’s not easy, give yourself a reasonable amount of time to progress and I’d bet you’re already doing better than you think you are. The internet has so many more options, I’m going to post a review of the most helpful online resources I’ve found as well. So, check back soon and best of luck learning!