I am currently renewing a strategy I had at the beginning and which consists in listening to a lot of Japanese sentences (almost until I know them by heart), to learn vocabulary and grammar pattern at the same time.
At that time, I used a Korean book which is called “Japanese Sentences” and belongs to the “Cakewalk series”. Even if the book has a title in English, it is published in Korea and entirely in Korean (and Japanese of course). Now that I am using this book again, I think it might interest other Japanese learners with an intermediate level, even if you don’t speak Korean.
This is a little review of the book. If you want to order it via an Asian bookshop in your region, here is the reference:
book title: 일본어 필수 표연
From the series: 무작정 따라하기
Author: 후지이 아사리
Editor: 이지톡 (eztok)
How the book is structured
It is a small but thick book of 550 pages which contains 990 sentences in Japanese.
It is divided into 4 parts, each containing several chapters:
Part 1: Expressions often used in everyday life
- Everyday life
Part 2: Expressions you will use in all sorts of contexts
- Being ill
- Days off
- All kinds of institutions
- Ceremony of marriage and funeral ceremony
Part 3: Expressions you will use when travelling in Japan
- At your travel place
Part 4: Expressions you will use to express your sentiments
Each chapter is then divided into several sub chapters. For example, the first chapter of the first part, “everyday life”, is dividing into “morning”, “going to school, going to work”, “go home”, “computer”, “evening”. Each sub chapter contains around 20 to 30 sentences and ends with a dialogue.
The book presents, on each double-page, 5 sentences in Japanese on the left page, and their translation in Korean on the right page. There are also some complementary explanations in Korean.
I don’t speak Korean
Even if you don’t speak Korean, you can take advantage of the many useful sentences that are in this book. The CD (see below), is the best merit of this book. Of course, this means that you can understand the sentences in Japanese or know enough grammar to just look up unknown words.
So, what is the level of this book? As is written on the back, this book aims at beginners. But, what is meant by “beginner” is more some kind of “pre-intermediate” or even “intermediate” level. I think that it uses mainly N5 and N4 grammar, but there are some complicated words (I would even say: a lot of) that are above the N4 level.
I will pick some random expressions from the book so you can judge for yourself:
(to me, it is not “beginner” at all… 😒)
In my opinion, this book is great for intermediate students or above. I have just passed N2, but I am far from mastering this book. Even if I do understand the sentences when I see them, I would not be able to say them quickly and naturally if I had to.
I think that there can be a gap between the resources you use to improve your reading skills and the one you use to learn how to speak Japanese. In my case, even if I am studying N2 books, I like to go back to easier material to train my pronunciation and my speaking skills. Being able to understand the sentences without having to reflect upon the grammar or look up words allows you to concentrate on listening and speaking, so aiming at easier material can be a good strategy.
This book’s good points
“The cakewalk series” is focused on listening and speaking. All the books of the series come with a very complete audio (mp3 CD), and the goal of the author is to confront the student with Japanese intonation as soon and as completely as possible.
Our book contains two audio files, and I think you will use mostly the second one.
- The first file contains all the sentences read in this order: Japanese (read by a man), Korean, Japanese (read by a woman). The dialogues are read in this order: First, the entire dialogue in Japanese, then, one Japanese sentence at a time followed by its Korean translation, last, the whole dialogue in Japanese again.
- The second file contains all the sentences in this order: Japanese (read by a man), time for you to repeat the sentence, Japanese (read by a woman), time for you to repeat. As for the dialogues, it is first entirely read in Japanese, then sentence by sentence with time to repeat.
You can easily listen to the mp3 while doing other things, or really concentrate and try to repeat each sentence. I find the CD to be much more useful than the book, in fact, I almost never open the book.
Furigana written above kanji are very useful but not very natural. What is natural is to associate a kanji with a sound, a pronunciation that we hear, not that we read. The Cakewalk series wants us to use our ears, not our eyes, to know a word’s pronunciation.
In this book, the kanji pronunciation in hiragana is given at the bottom of the page. You can hide it or try not to look at it while you listen to and read a sentence. Even if there are kanji you don’t know, try to repeat them, following the sound you just heard, don’t read the hiragana. We have to trust our ears and concentrate on long and short sounds and intonation.
As you can imagine, Korea has tons of great material to learn Japanese. When you are confident enough in Japanese and don’t need translations or explanations, using other’s countries material can be a good idea. I have several books from the Cakewalk series, and they have all been very useful.
This book is great if you are looking for a collection of useful sentences, all in one place, with both a reading and a listening support. Sometimes, I just let the mp3 run and find myself repeating some sentences even without thinking of it. It’s a good way to get assurance in speaking and work on the Japanese intonation.