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Elementary Japanese Vol1, Vol2, Teacher's Guide by Yoko Hasegawa, Wakae Kambara, Noriko Komatsu, Yasuko Konno Baker, Kayo Nonaka, Chika Shibahara, Miwako Tomizuka, Kimiaki Yamaguchi. Boston: Tuttle. 2005-2006.

Elementary Japanese is designed for people beginning their study of the Japanese language at the basic level. Because of its ample grammatical explanation, it can also serve as a grammatical reference. It is suitable for college courses as well as individual study. It consists of 27 lessons: 14 in Volume I and 13 in Volume II. One possibility is to cover Volume I in the first semester, and Volume II in the second semester, using the first week of the second semester to review Volume I.

Lessons typically contain:

  1. A dialog
  2. Usage notes
  3. Grammar notes
  4. Exercises
  5. New kanji and explanation
  6. Kanji review exercises
  7. New vocabulary


(i) The dialog is the core of each lesson as it contains all of the grammatical constructions to be studied in that lesson.

(ii) Usage notes elaborate dialog expressions and include social and/or pragmatic explanations, e.g. politeness.

(iii) Grammar notes are linguistically oriented, although technical terms are avoided as much as possible. They attempt to explain the rationale behind grammatical constructions and their usage, rather than introducing them as mere facts. Historical changes and morphological processes, e.g. sequential voicing, are occasionally mentioned, making explanations more readable and comprehensible. Whenever appropriate, Japanese and equivalent English expressions are compared and contrasted, enabling students to utilize their already acquired knowledge of language use.

(iv) The exercises evolved from extending and expanding the materials developed in the Japanese Language Program at the University of California, Berkeley during several recent decades. Virtually all exercises emulate actual uses of the language rather than imposing mechanical drills. They are designed primarily for use in classroom activities, emphasizing interaction among students. They can also be used for self-testing at the end of each lesson, in which case, the user is advised to play two (or more) roles if necessary.

(v) The study of kanji (ideographic Chinese characters) is one of the greatest obstacles in learning Japanese; acquisition of more than 1,000 kanji is needed to read Japanese texts, e.g, newspaper articles. While introducing a total of 313 basic kanji, Elementary Japanese explains the fundamental differences between ideographic (primarily representing ideas) and phonographic (representing sounds, e.g. English) writing systems.

(vi) This textbook considers that the acquisition of kanji is of pivotal importance to any effective Japanese language program; it therefore provides additional exercises designed for both learning and retaining kanji. Moreover, it utilizes kanji while an increasing number of people today use hiragana, e.g. 下さい, 分かる, もらった時, かも知れない. There are two reasons for this choice. First, repetitive exposure to and frequent utilization of kanji help learners to retain them. Second, while the use of hiragana for such words has become conventionalized, many people still prefer to use kanji. If students do not learn, for example, ください is written as 下さい, they will have difficulty deciphering it. For these reasons, Elementary Japanese employs kanji whenever plausible.

(vii) In addition to a vocabulary list for each lesson, comprehensive vocabulary lists (both Japanese-to-English and English-to-Japanese) are provided as appendices. Cultural information and proverbs are interspersed. The importance of inclusion of contemporary interests and the continuing need for sex/gender neutrality in concepts, words, and images are recognized. Abundant and innovative uses of illustrations and visual aids are provided throughout Elementary Japanese. The dialogs employ comic strip format, a method that enables learning sentences strongly associated with actual daily life situations. When a grammatical particle or a kanji radical is introduced, it is signaled by a clear visual marking, enabling students to locate relevant paragraphs quickly and at the point of need.

Upon completing the activities provided in Elementary Japanese, students can expect to be able to
(a) describe themselves, their families and friends,
(b) talk about daily events, using basic vocabulary and grammatical constructions,
(c) understand conversations on those topics as well as classroom instructions,
(d) read and write short, simple compositions.

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