Learning Japanese Book Review – Japanese From Zero! 1
If you do decide to buy the “Japanese From Zero!” books on Amazon, please see my note at the end.
“Japanese From Zero!” is a series of language books written by George Trombley Jr. and Yukari Takenaka of “Yes Japan” corporation. The purpose of these books is to, of course, teach you Japanese. I really like this book for learning Japanese on my own, outside of structured lessons or having a teacher. I think it is much easier to understand this book, than other Japanese Language learning textbooks. What I mean are textbooks that are more likely to be used in college courses. For me, they seem to be more difficult, as they don’t have as many explanations included in the lessons. Makes sense, when the point of a textbook is to have a teacher there to explain all of the little nuances that would take up too much space in a textbook.
“Japanese From Zero!” Book 1 (Amazon) includes many cultural explanations throughout the book for certain phrases, words, and situations. I have not seen the same thing in many other Japanese language books, like ones that would be used in schools. The introduction is fairly short; just a brief explanation of Japanese punctuation, pre-lessons, and a bit about the authors. The “Pre-Lessons” (numbered A and B) start you off with an explanation of Japanese writing systems, pronunciation, counting and number basics, introducing yourself, talking about age, daily greetings, and a few cultural information items.
The lessons, thirteen total, are broken down into a few different sections. There is a brief ‘about this lesson’ paragraph and ‘new words, ‘new phrases’, ‘grammar’, and often a ‘culture clip’ that explains certain ways words or phrases are specifically used. There are also question and answer sentences, practice writing sections, lesson activities, and drills. Additionally, the authors use a sentence to ‘build on’ in each lesson. The book starts off with a simple sentence pattern in lesson 1, and then shows you how each lesson teaches you more Japanese grammar in order to make that sentence longer.
The first few lessons will teach you how to put together a simple sentence and talk about a topic. Lesson 3 gets into talking about possession and some question words. Lesson 4 starts to talk about how to describe things with colors and adjectives. Lesson 5 discusses likes and dislikes, while Lesson 6 teaches you how to express what you wanting and don’t want. Lesson 7, 8, and 9 deal with locations, dates and past tense, and days/weeks/years, respectively. Lesson 10 gets into asking for things, and Lesson 11 will get you started with the many different words used in the Japanese language to count things. Lesson 12 will dive into Japanese verbs and a couple easy verb conjugations. And finally, lesson 13 can help you out with telling the time.
In addition to the above, there are many questions/answers in each lesson in the drills section; with the answers included in the appendix. Also in the appendix is a section for some useful everyday phrases. I just like the way things are explained in this book. It doesn’t give you any useless words or phrases that you will never use; at least without explaining that to you. I remember in my first college Japanese course, the instructor used “Japanese For Busy People”. At the beginning of that textbook, there were some everyday phrases. One of these phrases was “take care”, and the book had two examples in the Japanese language. One of the examples was “きをつけて” (ki wo tsukete), which is fairly normal. The other example was “おだいじに” (o daijini), or something like that. Well, I decided to use おだいじに one day when a friend and I were saying goodbye to a bar owner that we knew well. Needless to say, all of the Japanese people in the bar had a good laugh. Turns out that おだいじに is not used that often anymore, and would be something that a doctor would say to a patient. Not what your friend, or even a family member would say to you.
In “Japanese From Zero!”, book 1, you will also learn how to read, pronounce, and write all of the Japanese hiragana. Each chapter has a set of hiragana to learn, along with instructions and space on how to write the hiragana.
Which lead me to the one thing that I don’t like about this book. I do not like the way that the hiragana is introduced. This may have changed since the publication of the book I have, I have the 3rd edition from 2011. Anyway, you are introduced to a set of different hiragana in each lesson, so you won’t learn all of them until you finish lesson 10. But, the book uses hiragana that you have learned, up to the lesson that you are in, for the drills, questions, and reading comprehension; and romaji for the rest of the vocabulary for which you haven’t yet learned the hiragana. This is very annoying, especially if you already know all of the hiragana and katakana. Here is an example from lesson 5:
Wa たし wa いnuが き ra いです。(straight from the book)
わたし は いぬ が きらい です。(straight hiragana, with spaces between ‘words’)
Watashi wa inu ga kirai desu. (romaji – romanized alphabet used to mimic the Japanese sounds)
Can you see how annoying that could be to read the mix of hiragana and romaji? After you have learned to read kana well, even romaji may start to annoy you. This is because, for me anyway, romaji does not exactly match the Japanese pronunciation.
But good news! There is now a solution! You can learn kana on your own before starting “Japanese From Zero!”. They have a “Kana From Zero!” (Amazon) workbook that you can use to learn kana first. I have not purchased this book and do not know what it is like.
In addition to the “Japanese From Zero!” books, George Trombley has a YouTube channel where he has made many videos teaching about the Japanese Language. He even has videos for each lesson in his “Japanese From Zero!” books. I believe at this point the videos up to some point in book 4. I really like George and his videos. Down to earth, funny, practical, his videos are really interesting. Here is the playlist for Japanese from Zero! Book 1 on YouTube.
I highly recommend the “Japanese From Zero!” (Amazon) Japanese Language books. I really like them and have learned a lot from them. A really good way to learn Japanese if you are doing it alone. And with George’s YouTube channel; use that also for learning Japanese.
**Just recently, George discovered that someone has counterfeited Book 1 and it has been selling on Amazon, from a few different sellers, for the past few months.
The way to make sure that you are buying the original book, and the sales go to the correct company, is to ensure that the book you are buying is “sold and shipped by Amazon”. George said his books are printed on demand (when ordered), and another sign is that if it says that there are only a limited number of books left. There is an unlimited number of original books as they are printed by Amazon when they are ordered.
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