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Review: Read Real Japanese

Today I came home from class only to find a package by my door. I am not sure why, but I love getting packages. I recently ordered a few books, so the contents were still a mystery.

I opened the package and found the book Read Real Japanese, a compilation of short stories by contemporary Japanese writers. I bought my copy on Amazon, and it wasn’t expensive at all. Between my excitement for the book and lack of other things to do, I dove right in.

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First off, the book reads right to left, as Japanese books traditionally do. I thought this was a nice cultural touch, which really helps the reader become accustomed not only to the language, but all aspects of reading a Japanese book. The book also comes with a CD, so you can listen to the stories being read aloud–perfect for pronunciation and listening to the speed of natural Japanese.

When you open the book, there is a lovely, witty introduction by the editor, Michael Emmerich, explaining the process of the book and briefly outlines the stories.

The book is then divided into three sections; 1) 6 short stories, 2) a Japanese to English dictionary, and 3) notes on cultural and linguistic content.

When you open to a page of the short stories, the right page is the story in Japanese, written vertically and read from right to left. The Japanese is written with Furigana, or the phonetic reading of each kanji. This makes the book perfect for learners of the language, because it allows you to read straight through without stopping to look up the meaning or pronunciation of a word, or skipping over words you can’t make out.

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The left page translates the right page, breaking down even the sentences into parts of sentences with direct translations. This really helps the reader to understand the grammar and helps with understanding the meaning of the text without looking up individual words.

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If you do need to look up a word, the book has a 48 page Japanese to English dictionary in the back which includes every word used in the short stories. This is really great, as it helps narrow down the search if you are looking for the meaning of a particular word. Also, as I mentioned before, the book translates sentences or parts of sentences. With the dictionary, you can go deeper and figure out the meaning of single words. This is helpful when you are unsure of a word conjugation or where one word ends and another begins.

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Finally, the book has about 60 pages of cultural and linguistic notes. I think this is absolutely incredible. This section explains and gives insight to grammatical structures, the use of a structure in written versus spoken Japanese, hidden cultural meanings, nuances to words, and the meaning of set phrases in certain situations.

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I have been looking for so long to find a book like this in Japanese! I think it is perfect for language learners of any level. To start off with, it is engaging. I think this is a real problem for language learners older than the age of 10 when they are looking for reading material. Typically, if a beginning language learner wants to be able to practice reading, the only materials that are at their level are children’s books, or whatever happens to be created in a textbook. This book is not only engaging, it is real—made up of short stories of currently popular authors, who didn’t write them targeted to language learners. However, with the help of the furigana and the notes in the book, even I, a mid-to-upper-beginner student of Japanese feels comfortable muddling my way through it. That said, because it is “real” Japanese, a student at an intermediate or even advanced level would be comfortable reading the book.

I hope this is helpful…or interesting, whether or not you are studying Japanese. 🙂

Rating: 5/5 stars

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