January 2, 2011 | Japanese

Multimedia Merits

One self-teaching tool is not enough.

The end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 has been a busy time of family visits and parties, dotted with Pimsleur lessons, Rosetta Stone sessions, and Japanese writing drills. 

Rosetta Stone Pronunciation Lesson

Rosetta Stone Pronunciation Lesson

I am enjoying Japanese more now that I am not quite as clueless. Rosetta Stone has been a lot of fun. Pimsleur remains difficult, as it tends to be for languages that are wholly unfamiliar, so I sometimes have to gear up for those lessons, but whenever I successfully complete one, I always feel I have advanced my skills in a meaningful way. I am also enjoying all my Japanese books.

Especially with non-Western languages, the multimedia approach is really beneficial for me, I find. By that I mean a combination of oral Pimsleur lessons, Rosetta Stone (which is both audio and visual), and books, where I get more in-depth explanations of grammar than I do with either Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone. Without having different instructional sources, I get frustrated easily and often.

As an example of why: today I did a pronunciation unit in Rosetta Stone (screen shot above) in which katakana symbols were shown and I had to pronounce the corresponding syllables correctly. I believe this was the first time I had been asked to read and pronounce katakana, the Japanese syllabary used primarily for words of foreign origin. Up until now, the Rosetta Stone pronunciation and writing lessons have focused entirely on hiragana.

The thing is, the two syllabaries represent the same set of sounds, just with different symbols. So there are—for example—two different symbols in Japanese for the syllable yo, one in hiragana and one in katakana.

Two Ways to Write the Same Sound (Yo) in Japanese

Two Ways to Write the Same Sound (Yo) in Japanese

As I made my way through this Rosetta Stone pronunciation lesson, if I hadn’t already learned elsewhere that there are two competing systems in Japanese, I would have had no idea why I was suddenly seeing totally new symbols for sounds I had already learned to associate with other symbols. A little explanation would have gone a long way; fortunately, I didn’t need it this time.

From my point of view, this lack of occasional English-language explanation is a weakness of Rosetta Stone, but I have come to the conclusion that one self-teaching tool cannot reasonably be all things to all people. People who learn on their own, I have decided, have to be aggressive about seeking out different sources of information or they will lose their language-learning minds.

The advantage of a class is that you can always ask your instructor questions. When you are studying on your own, you don’t have that option, but if you have different materials and tools around you, it is kind of like being surrounded by a small population of not terribly responsive instructors. Maybe three of them will ignore your burning question, but then the fourth will answer it, and you will get satisfaction and be able to move on.

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