Master the Basics: Japanese (Second Edition)
March 10, 2013
Authors Nobuo Akiyama, Carol Akiyama
Series Barron’s Mastering Grammar Series
Publisher Barron’s Educational Series
Publication Date 2008
Skill Level Beginner, Intermediate
Master the Basics: Japanese by Nobuo Akiyama and Carol Akiyama begins with a multi-page diagnostic test to see how much you know. Since I personally knew nothing when I opened the book, I was a bit thrown by being quizzed right off the bat. So I closed it and returned nine days later, when I had studied enough through other sources to answer some of the questions in a reasonable fashion.
The test was supposed to help me decide what I most needed to study. The thing is, I already knew the answer to that.
Fortunately, Master the Basics: Japanese offers useful summaries of various Japanese language characteristics as well as many helpful, clearly labeled examples. Chapter 2, which explains the complicated Japanese writing system, is straightforward and informative. The book then goes on to use romaji—a Latin-alphabet-based rendering of Japanese words—throughout, so if you are looking for something to teach you to read and write the Japanese system, this isn’t it. Which I think is fine at this stage, though I was myself studying the Japanese syllabaries known as kana on the side.
The authors of Master the Basics: Japanese inspire a great deal of confidence and cover many interesting and surprising things about Japanese. One is that there is a single all-purpose reflexive pronoun, jibun, rather than our motley assortment in English (“myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” “ourselves,” “yourselves,” “themselves”).
But beware! “Jibun,” the writers caution, “can be used for humans and for warm-blooded animals. It cannot be used for fish, reptiles, insects, or inanimate objects.” Questions of blood temperature have not previously been a factor in my pronoun choices!
And here is something else intimidating: in Japanese, you must select correctly among different politeness levels. I was told by the writers that judging these subtleties requires a great deal of experience with Japanese culture, but was also reassured that the two most common levels are “plain” and “polite,” and that these are what the book would focus on.
One piece of good news involved Japanese verbs: “Verbs do not have different forms to indicate person, number, or gender. The same verb form is used no matter what the subject. This is true for all tenses.”
At the end of Master the Basics: Japanese are a number of review exercises. I read the entire book, but for some reason I can’t remember now, I didn’t do the exercises and therefore can’t include them in my evaluation. Nonetheless, for the clarity of the language explanations throughout the book, I give the authors high marks.