Let’s Learn Japanese Basic I:Yan and the Japanese People

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The time has finally come for me to start my review of Let’s Learn Japanese Basic I:Yan and the Japanese People. I kept telling myself that I should put this one off until I finished using it. Well, now that I have, I’ve got no more excuses. It’s not that I don’t think I’m going to enjoy writing a review, it’s that I’m still hesitant. You see, I don’t really like how my last review turned out. It was lacking a “lively(?)” tone that I would have liked to somehow inject into it.

Still, I can’t let that stop me from informing people about this. I’m sure many of you have never heard about Yan and the Japanese People before coming to my blog. Truth be told, I’d never even heard of it before about a year ago. See, while I was looking around for something to help me out with learning the language, my Mom decided to surf the internet and found a clip from Yan and the Japanese People. Needless to say, I fell in love. It took about another week before I tracked down someone in England who was selling a copy of it.

I guess since I’ve gotten my little introduction out of the way, the only thing left is to actually review this thing. It’s times like this that one wonders where to even begin. I think I should start with the general structure – the meat and bones that makes me love it so much.

Your standard episode is laid out pretty similarly every time. They give you a brief introduction, Althaus Sensei greets you, and then leads into today’s episode of “Yan and the Japanese People”. The basic premise behind these episodes is that they want to make you comfortable with listening to people talking Japanese at a normal pace (rather than all of those various other programs that slow their speech down to a crawl), and are generally very enjoyable little skits following the adventures of Yan and his friends.

The stories of these episodes are about Yan moving to Japan. They cover everything from his search for an apartment to falling in love with a certain co-worker. You generally have to guess what is happening based on the situation, but it allows you to pick up words here and there. One other aspect I like about these is how much I was able to understand toward the final lessons.

I have to be honest – when I first started, I couldn’t make out a single syllable they said on screen. I’m serious, it was almost like all of their speech blended together rather than forming separate words. Of course now, when I watch the various skits, I tend to have a surprisingly easy time understanding everything they say. It’s a nice contrast that I think most programs don’t introduce you to. Let’s face facts, people just don’t talk like those prerecorded voices that you normally follow along with.

Anyway, once you finish your trip with Yan for the day, you head off back to Althaus Sensei. Now that you’ve seen the episode, she’ll take a small sample clip from it that covers something very basic. After doing this, she will explain what was said, how it can be altered, and gets you to try using it too.

To assist you with your learning, Althaus Sensei comes equipped with three helpers. We are quickly introduced to Mine-san, Kaihou-san, and Sugihara-San. Now, instead of just giving us an explanation of why the sentences are used, these three perform skits to show us the various different ways they can be used. These skits are always over-acted and tend to be silly. I just want to assure you all now, this is a very good thing.

I know some people take this whole “learning” thing very seriously, but I think the reason why it’s so easy to remember is because it’s silly. If you just watch some bland clip of a guy telling you, “There is a chair”, it’s not nearly as interesting as watching two people walk through a dark room with a flashlight terrified and crying out in shock and terror, “Isu ga arimasu!” (“There’s a chair!”).

After teaching you a few new sentences/words using the method shown above, they move on to showing you the stroke order and pronunciation of the various Kana. I’m not really the best person to comment on this part. You see, I already learned Hiragana by the time I started with this, so I can’t really speak to its effectiveness.

Finally, to finish the episode, they show you as much of the relevant portions from the episode of Yan as they can. Of course, this time, you can actually understand some of what they’re saying, and you’re listening very intently for anything that you can actually understand.

I’m sure from what I’ve said above, you can see that I really like this method of learning. Now don’t think it’s over yet. In addition to the 26 episodes, there is a textbook that comes with it (well, actually three, but you get the idea). The textbook is very nice. In addition to providing a transcript of each Yan episode (in both Japanese and English), they cover the sentences that you’ve learned in the episode in more detail and provide more thorough examples of how new sentences can be constructed from what you’ve already learned. They give you a list a words in every chapter that are just extra vocabulary (should you wish to expand beyond the lessons). They give you a test (along with the answers after it) at the end of each lesson to review what was covered. To finish it all off they tell you some interesting information about Japan that you might not have known (things like what’s considered a traditional breakfast or telling you why the color of their mailboxes are different from ours).

Despite my generally “glowing” review so far, it does have some “issues”. I know that most people would likely complain about how much they try to teach you in a single episode. I think there was one time when I was taught three new sentence structures and 6 new verbs in just a single lesson.

One thing to keep in mind about this is that this program was meant to be used in a classroom. You weren’t really meant to purchase it and use it at home (or cover a new lesson every 2-3 days like I’ve been doing). Really, this is meant to be taken at a single episode a week, with the workbook being used to reinforce what you learned in your lesson over that time. So if the pace does bother you, I recommend that you slow down a bit. Take it from me, you’ll be at this for a while, no sense in rushing yourself. =P

I’ve only got one more complaint. For some reason the workbook has got “errors”. I don’t mean typos, I mean asking you the occasional question that you were never taught the answer to. Generally, this isn’t that big of a deal. You just look up the answer and add it to your lesson as something to memorize. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you’ll do these lessons when you’re tired and going to be heading off to bed soon. I tended to get very frustrated over this kind of thing as I was progressing. I know it’s not that big of a deal, but it was rather annoying.

Alright, I think it’s about time for me to wrap this thing up. To put it simply, this program is awesome. I know I have some complaints, but I wouldn’t let them stop you from using this gem. Althaus Sensei just feels like a real teacher, the kind that you had sitting in front of your class as you were growing up. Thanks to Mine-san, Kaihou-san, and Sugihara-san, I was able to learn some of the finer uses of Japanese sentences, and I enjoyed learning it while I was doing it. Of course, we can’t forget about Yan either. The value of learning to listen to people talking in Japanese at a normal speed, and in realistic situations, is immeasurable.

Despite the fact that there are two other installments in the overall series, I’m sad to see the first one go. There’s a magic to this that, if you can manage to track it down, you should definitely experience.

-Felirc-

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