23 June 2011

Defacing Cute Characters in Textbooks

Japanese textbooks seem to have one unifying quality, which is the inclusion of cute mascots in order to keep the student from feeling like they're actually an adult.

For example, this textbook

has these two bean-shaped people...

Of course, when one comes across such things, the only appropriate thing to do is deface them.

After my last post, I was looking at the doodles in my old nikyuu textbooks and I noticed the further I got into studying, the more abstract and sometimes disturbing these "modifications" became.

At first it they were simple

but soon they became surreal and sometimes needlessly violent.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

If that's not enough, they started to drift into the murky realm of pop culture.

Video games which came out between 1997 and 1998 started making their way into the defacements.



Cartoons I watched as a kid:

Dino Riders

Which quickly became more abstract and quite strange...

And so on. A fun trip down memory lane and a terrifying look into my subconscious.

14 June 2011

JLPT N1 Textbook Quick-Caption Reviews

Since the last time I posted-- last November(!)-- I've been in Canada, to Japan, and then back and am getting ready to start a *nasal voice* graaaaaaaad school program, and as part of my prep, I've been going a bit hardcore with Japanese.

Grind-studying Japanese when you're out of Japan is kind of weird because it doesn't take long before you completely separate the language from the country and kanji and grammar become abstract concepts.

My routine has been, going through two pages from a CLAIR-published "advanced" kanji textbook (basically JLPT N2-level vocabulary) a day.

Even though a lot of the kanji is pretty basic at this point in the game, when I was a JET, I ordered these free textbooks

...and totally neglected to use them. So it makes me feel slightly less guilty for draining the Japanese government's treasury with recycled (literally) textbooks all these years.

Then I go through the textbooks with the cute animals on the cover...


The grammar textbook, 日本語総まとめN1, I wouldn't recommend unless you're pretty confident already and want a bit of review. The reason is, there aren't really any explanations of the grammar points, and it leaves you to figure it out for yourself with example questions (badly) translated into English, Chinese and Korean. I ended up having to hunt for grammar in my Advanced Japanese Grammar dictionary, on the net, and occasionally just through guess-work.

The second one there, にほんご500問, I would recommend for anyone studying for N1. It's really casual yet has a lot of content (500 vocab and grammar quiz questions divided into a month long course with about 5 or 10 useful bits of vocab per question), so doing three questions a day is completely painless and you end up learning a fair bit. I already went through this in its entirety, so I'm going through again and reading the sentences out loud.

And then I've been going through a couple of grammar textbooks.

The first one, 日本語総まとめ問題集一級, is really bare-bones with about 20-50 vocab points per chapter and a handful of test-questions for each, but is -- on the other hand -- really well organized and provides clear explanations of vocab in Japanese. I went through this textbook about a year ago and didn't absorb a whole lot at the time, but I'm going through again, and like にほんご500問, I'm reading the vocab, example sentences and explanations out loud.

The second book, 日本語能力試験N1語彙対策, is somewhat similar, but doesn't define a whole lot of the vocabulary, so get your dictionaries ready, but does have really good example questions, hard quizzes, and target vocabulary is printed in red, and it comes with one of those red plastic sheets, so what I've been doing here too is reading through the example sentences with the target vocab blocked out, which is actually a lot harder than it sounds.

Even though you'll feel like a bit of an idiot doing this, I highly recommend reading the example sentences, readings, Japanese language explanations etc. out loud -- preferably in an huge operatic voice -- no matter what level you are. There are a few reasons for this.
  1. You use a different part of your brain for speaking than reading. The more ways to experience new vocabulary/grammar points, the easier it will be to remember. It's also good listening practice for the same reason.
  2. It's surprisingly hard. Especially if you're like me and studying outside of Japan where everything becomes aforementioned abstract concepts, this sort of thing happens a lot:

    Along these lines, there are a lot of kanji I *think* I know. I recognize the shapes and know what it means, but I'll get to a point where I actually have to produce the sound, and nothing comes out.
  3. If you're in public, especially if you're in a small town where 99% of the people are very very white and couldn't tell the sound of Japanese apart from Hindi or Russian, let alone Chinese, being hunched over a mysterious book with squiggly writing on the cover, concentrating with absolute focus to read "verses" out loud might prompt a terrorism alert, which is always fun. The added bonus is, if you're doing this in Japan, where everyone will understand what you're saying, the assortment of non-nonsensical context-free example sentences will make you sound like a human-Don Hertzfeldt cartoon.