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Learn to Read in Japanese: A Japanese Reader Paperback – December 30, 2016
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The learning element that Lake and Ura have mastered and that was missing from all of my previous studies, is the active learning portion. What they did for spoken Japanese, they do here as well. This is a huge book (103 chapters, in all) but it isn't overly scholarly. This is an important point to make because there are hundreds of books out there that can suffice for your textbook. This isn't a textbook. It is -- as they state -- a reader.
If you are thinking of purchasing this book, be sure you have adequately studied your hiragana and katakana. You will need both in order to maximize your benefit. On the left hand side of the page, the authors have written the sentence in mostly kana with a few target kanji added. On the right hand side, is a romaji version and an English translation.
So that I could write a quick book review, I read through three chapters. On the whole, I found that I could understand or guess most characters from the sentence context. I could also quickly check my answer on the other side of the page. Kanji are also provided in a table at the top of the chapter, and numbered so that you can cross-reference it at the end of the book as well. I give extra points for the large font Japanese, which makes for easier reading. The labor of love that went into the making of this guide is quite apparent.
For those thinking of buying this book, I'd suggest downloading visiting the couple's website too. The spoken grammar and the reading go hand-in-hand. As an honest review, I'm not sure how well the transition from spoken to written will go for other students, but I do know that if this book was available when I started listening to their audio, I’d have found it a very useful tool for reiterating and branding lessons into my longer-term memory.
1) The focus of each chapter is a small number of kanji, which allows you to focus your study and review. The same chapter will introduce and provide natural speech examples of the kunyomi and often one or more of the onyomi for the same kanji--this differs from SRS methods like the Core 2k/6k/10k flashcards, where different pronunciations of each kanji are introduced almost at random.
2) Grammar and usage are introduced throughout, instead of in stages. Most of my experience is with SRS systems, which introduce new kanji and new pronunciations at a high clip, while keeping the grammar rather simple. In this reader, new kanji are introduced alongside new rules of grammar and usage. The reader can infer the rules from the English translations and from the words they already know, or use a grammar guide (or the internet) as a supplement.
3) Good mnemonics for remembering the kanji. Some people swear by Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji," but I couldn't get into it when I read it. I find the explanations in the Kanji guide here easy to follow, full of useful details (in particular, it identifies other kanji that could be easily confused with the particular character of interest), and helpful for bootstrapping the study of the 1500 remaining jouyou kanji.
I'd corresponded a bit with Roger Lake, the author, while using the excellent and free (!) Japanese Audio Flashcards that he and his wife and co-author Noriko Ura have assembled (Amazon does not allow links in the reviews, but definitely google it). When he mentioned that they had written a book on reading Japanese, and I jumped at the chance to purchase it. The way that this book teaches Japanese fits very well with my learning style as well as my learning goals. I'd like to learn to understand, to speak, and to read Japanese, in that order, and this book allows me to apply what I've learned in spoken Japanese to the task of learning to read.