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[Review] Tuttle’s Basic Japanese

I… cannot decide how I feel about this book and this is quite a rare occurrence because usually I’m quite clear about how I feel about a textbook! Let’s get into the review proper.

This basic Japanese book appears to be more suitable for someone who has some basic knowledge of the Japanese writing system as it completely skips the usual hiragana / kanatana table. I’m quite used to most beginner textbook having at least one chapter dedicated to the Japanese writing system (or even just having the tables) so this is rather unusual. That said, Chapter 1 essentially introduces the Japanese pronunciation, rhythm, syllable, voicing, vowels, consonants etc which to me was rather strange cos… why have these basic information and yet not introduce the writing system?!

Chapter one also started out with some basic dialogue and basic vocabulary which is written in hiragana, katakana and kanji (without furigana). Ok, I can deal with that, it’s authentic and how Japanese should be written. But why kanji without furigana? …. and WHY ROMANISATION. The whole book uses romanisation which… personally I find an eyesore. I would way rather see furigana on the kanji! It also does not help by romanising Kanji – e.g. 息子 is just romanised as musuko. As a beginner how would I know if 息 is read as mu or musu?

Fine, as a learner, I can ignore the romanisation if I need to (and I still think you should). Although it’s terrible that the romanisation is in bold so naturally your eyeballs are drawn to it. Also, in the explanations, the book uses the romanisation ONLY. Which to me is a huge turn-off and a nono. Because in this case, I see it as an encouragement to rely on romanisation, and romanisation is no longer an “aid” to help you to read the actual Japanese characters.

And at this point, I don’t quite know how to review this book anymore.

Which is a real pity. Because I do think that this point offers quite good structured lessons and detailed explanations of the grammar points, with decent (doable) exercises for the self-learners.

Overall thoughts

What I like:

  • Use of hiragana, katagana and kanji right at the start
  • decently structured lessons and explanations of grammar points

What can be improved:

  • Reduce the reliance of romanisation – either leave it out after 2-3 chapters, or STOP bolding it
  • Stop using romanisation only in the explanations

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  • Reply
    12 May, 2020 at 9:13 AM

    I felt the EXACT same way about Tuttle’s Elementary Korean. I only saw a preview but I don’t know what to think. It has some of the best explanations of Korean grammar I ever saw (luckily no Romanization, just Hangul!), but it approaches verbs in some strange reverse way to avoid dealing with irregular verbs.

    Korean irregular verbs are not difficult to remember at all. But this book, for example, introduces “덥다” as “더w-”

    Not only do I hate to see Roman alphabet mixed in with Hangul like that but it makes it so much more difficult to look up words in a dictionary just to avoid a few rules for irregular verbs. I think that makes the textbook unusable for me.

    As you said, a real pity.

    • Reply
      14 May, 2020 at 12:28 PM

      I went back to see what I wrote about Elementary Korean years ago and yes I did love the detailed grammar explanations too! It’s so frustrating when you want to like a book but had to be disappointed.

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