Friday, January 23, 2009

My Take on "My Japanese Coach"

Well, it took me less than one month to go against my original statement, but based on the reviews I have seen and many of the comments that I have received regarding it, I decided it was time I bit the bullet and spent a little money on my quest to learn Japanese.

My first foray into the language was to get the book Japanese Step by Step, written by Gene Nishi, from my local library. It helped me to get a feel for things such as Hirigana and Katakana, and helped me to see how Kanji is constructed. It also showed me a number of areas that I could develop for formal speech. It was an intertesting read and worth it to get through the first five chapters.

My second resource was to use Marc Bernabe's book "Japanese in MangaLand", also from the public library. I quite enjoy this book, as it uses something I'm already familiar with (i.e. untranslated Manga panels) to put the language into situational context that I can actually see, and thus it has helped me increase my immediate understanding of some things. This is definitely going to be a repeat checkout item, and may well be a purchase later on down the road.

Both titles have drawbacks as I see itThe first is the fact that, since Hirigana, Katakana and Kanji are so foreign to me, that I started spending a lot of time writing down the characters so that I could hope to remember them and understand them. I am developing some ability to write and recall Hirigana and Katakana, but I have to admit it's going slowly. Additionally, while it's great to "read" the text and learn how to write it, I was missing a third element, and that was how the words should sound. Granted, the roma-ji and lower-case and capital case helps a little, but there are nuances that are lost when only text is available as a reference. Additionally,I wanted to have something that let me hear what I was saying and give me a chance to critique it. Short of finding someone who is fluent in Japanese (and has a lot of patience to sit with me) what's a guy to do?

An answer was shown to me when a co-worker suggested that I check out the video game "My Japanese Coach". This is a title published by Ubisoft and is made for the Nintendo DS (of which I just happen to have :) ). It has the ability to show pronumciation, allow the individual the ability to record their voice and compare it with the original pronunciation, and it has a writing tablet that lets the user practice writing Kana and Kanji as often as they wish. Each level has a variety of practice exercises and "mini-games" that must be cleared to earn "mastery points"; you have to earn mastery points before you can continue to the next lesson. There are a total of 1,145 "lessons", with various mini-games packaged with each lesson. I have gotten through just three of them so far, and with that, my master rank is that of "Baby"... as you can see, I have a long way to go (LOL!).

So what made me break down and get this title? First, I liked its interactive capabilities, and the fact that it allows me the ability to practice writing characters endlessly without having to use up reams of paper (environmentally sound, ooh :) ). Second, the pronunciation element is very helpful, as it lets me hear how the words are supposed to sound, and the ability to record and compare my voice with the game voice is neat. The mini-game aspect is cool, in that it gives me several ways to master the material and it does so in an engaging and fun manner. The real kicker here, though is the replay value and the total time per dollar of purchase. If we look at each "lesson" and say that each one will ultimately average an hour of my time at minimum (currently, I think that is possibly an understatement, but it may be more accurate as I become more proficient), then this is a game that has, at minimum, 1100 hours of play time. Take some time to think about that... that's a lot of replay value for $30.00.

Does the program have its drawbacks? According to a number of native speakers, yes. There are some isses with stroke order on certain characters (and yes, that can make a difference in how the words are pronounced or accented, I've discovered), so this most certainly will not be my be-all and end-all or definitive source. Still, with what it offers, and for the price, I felt it would make for a good investment.

No matter what method is employed, the user ultimately has the best chance with the tools that work the best for them. I'm intrigued to see how this program holds up in the days, weeks and months ahead.

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