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Posted May 17, 2005
A language is one thing... a mechanism for writing a language is another thing entirely. OK, there, I've said it. This textbook series tends to attract vitriolic critics whose major complaint is that it does not provide exposure to the Japanese writing system. However, if you recognize that the series has a different goal -- namely, teaching and promoting proficiency in day-to-day spoken Japanese -- complaints about the [non-]treatment of written Japanese can be ingested with the appropriate degree of skepticism. I am a professional Japanese translator who has also taught undergraduate Japanese language courses at a 4-year US university. Although I agree with those who point out that the Jorden presentation is a bit dry, in my experience, there is simply no better introduction to the Japanese spoken language for native English speakers. The content is extremely detailed, accurate, and thorough. There is nothing else even close in terms of quality and depth. That having been said, if you plan to use this series to learn Japanese, you will need to keep a few important things in mind. 1) You will need to rely on other sources to study the Japanese writing system (there are many excellent options). 2)You will need to plan to work through all three volumes in the series before you have a complete introduction to the basic language. 3)You will need to base your study on religious use of the the cassette tapes (or in the case of volume 1, interactive CDs) that accompany the series, using the text only for grammatical/lexical/linguistic background information and guidance. The second point listed above is important because the order in which new material is introduced in the series is based upon grammatical/structural features of the language rather than upon functional concerns. In other words, you won't necessarily learn the most common or frequently encountered words/phrases early on. What you learn early on are fundamental structures that then lead in a logical manner to ever more complex structures. The limitation of that approach is that you may need to finish volume 3 before you can effectively manage a visit to the post office. The third point listed above is also critical. The efficacy of this series is contingent upon its use with the accompanying recorded dialogues and drills. Using only the books, you may be able to develop an appreciation and understanding of the structure of Japanese, but only with regular use of the recorded material will you have any hope of developing competency. To sum up, in spite of its quirks and its generally dry presentation, this series outclasses all the competition when it comes to an introduction to the Japanese spoken language. If you'd prefer a glossy presentation with a lot a colorful illustrations, or an approach that exploits fascination with the Japanese writing system at the expense of depth of coverage, you can look elsewhere and find a lot of competition. If you're interested in a grammaticaly sound and extremely thorough introduction to the Japanese language, however, you just can't do better than this series.
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Posted August 15, 2003
Having just survived the intensive elementary Japanese course at Harvard, which covers an entire year in seven weeks, I feel well-qualified to offer the following advice: CAVEAT EMPTOR. The Jorden system can be summed up in one simple English word, but instead why don¿t I write it for you in Jordenese: âbusúrudo. Anyone who wants to learn how to speak, read and write Japanese would do well to avoid these texts at all costs. I am thrilled to report that Harvard has finally seen the light, and has now adopted NAKAMA (to begin in the fall of 2003), a text with examples written in Japanese and English explanations. At last, after decades of inertia, the experts have finally recognized that the worst way to learn a new language is to do it via another new language, in this case, ¿Jordenese¿. It does not take a pedagogical genius to recognize that the best way to learn a new language is through the use of examples written in the language itself. How many people learn German via Esperanto? Answer: none. How many people learn Japanese via Jordenese? I ask you sincerely. The last thing that Japanese needs is gratuitous obfuscation and that, in my view, is Eleanor Jorden¿s sole contribution to language pedagogy. Leave the accents circonflexes where they belong, namely, in the French language, s¿il vous plaît. Japanese is a phonetic language: what you see is what you say. All you have to do is learn the basic phonemes (syllables) as represented by hiragana and katakana, and you are on your way to reading and speaking Japanese. The real challenge of Japanese is not how to pronounce syllables, which is in no way clarified through romanization (and even less through jordenization), but how to learn the kanji and their multiple interpretations. This task takes time, and the sooner you begin the better. Spending a year or more learning ¿spoken Japanese¿ via the Jorden method will make it MORE not LESS difficult to advance to the written language, which is undoubtedly the primary attraction for most people who decide to learn Japanese. I will, however, concede that if you buy only the drill tapes (not the textbooks) and the ¿instructor¿s supplement¿ typescripts (which are written entirely in hiragana, katakana, and kanji), then you will not sabotage your acquisition of fluency in Japanese. But what beginners really need is a well-organized text with clear explanations written in good English (which, by the way, Jorden¿s is not), accompanied by examples written in Japanese. Far from being user-friendly, Jorden¿s texts are user-hostile. It is virtually impossible to look even the simplest grammar point up, so in order to review, one is forced to completely re-read entire chapters. This is a complete waste of time (not to mention painful, given Jorden¿s horrid English). Aside from the ridiculousness of forcing students to learn Jordenese when they really signed up for a course on Japanese, I would like to explain why reading Jorden¿s texts is a complete nightmare for anyone with a strongly visual memory. The grammar explanations in Jorden¿s text are of course written in English. But the examples of ¿Japanese usage¿ are written in Jordenese, which is NOT phonetic English. This means that after having suffered through thick passages of Jorden¿s ugly prose, one must first translate her Jordenese examples into phonetic English BEFORE translating them into Japanese. This is likely to induce severe cognitive dissonance in anyone whose memory is primarily visual (as is my own). Ironically, the people best-suited to learn Japanese are least likely to be able to read Jorden¿s text and, sadly, many of them have probably dropped their classes in despair. In addition to impeding students¿ acquisition of reading fluency in Japanese, the Jorden method is a complete waste of time. There are many languages out there worth learning¿finitude dictates that we choose some small number of those to make our own. Jorden¿s Solipsistic Language (JSL)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 25, 2009
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