Over the past few weeks it has been rather wet in Costa Rica, so I took the opportunity to work through the Michel Thomas programme for Japanese.
The idea behind the method is to sit back, relax and enjoy listening and repeating, following the CDs as if you are a part of the class. You are not to write anything down, try to recall words or stress about forgetting and by the end, you will have a functioning knowledge of Japanese; but does it work?
The beginners’ course (Total) is 8 CDs and starts off teaching English words taken in to Japanese. There are more of these then I realised and this gives a good basis for forming your first sentences. The instructor on the foundation course is Helen Gilhooly, a softly spoken, patient and articulate Brit. She explains how basic verbs work and how to use classifiers to complete sentences. There are two students on the recording, one male and one female and you should pause your recording to say these sentences out loud to make sure you are enunciating everything correctly before the students. Helen’s pronunciation also sounds very clear in Japanese, but she is joined by Mikiko, a native speaker to make sure you are pronouncing things correctly.
The course progresses at a good speed and previous learning points are covered again and again in the future lessons to make them stick. I particularly liked Helen’s mental pictures to get a word into my memory, mnemonics really do help when words are so different from English.
The foundation course covers a wide range of grammatical structures from asking for things to the present/future tense and the past tense. Adjectives and the negative present are also covered, as well as time expressions, questions and suggestions. Vocabulary is introduced slowly, but the main aim of the course is to understand the structure of the language.
My only bugbear is the female student on this course. She does not seem to listen and slows the pace down while simple points have to be explained to her again and again. I understand that she is also new to the language, but several of her questions and mistakes are from points raised immediately before.
By the end of this course, I felt I had a good grasp of basic grammar and the ability to make my own sentences, no matter how convoluted they might sound! Once you finish the foundation (or Total) course, it is time to pop in the advanced (Perfect) CDs and pad out your knowledge.
The advanced material is presented by Niamh Kelly, with her beautiful Irish lilt. I did find, however, her Japanese pronunciation to be very anglicised and was glad of Mikiko’s presence to clarify the correct pronunciation of new words.
The advanced course seems to move at a quicker pace than the foundation, more vocabulary is introduced, but there are less mnemonics for remembering them, which I thought was a pity. I definitely found it harder to recall the new words than the ones Helen had taught in the foundation course.
As for the grammar points, we covered more negatives, joining sentences, expressing simultaneous and consequential actions, asking permission and expressing ‘if’.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this course to those who want a good overview of the structure of Japanese. I’m not sure how useful it would be to anyone with a basic knowledge already as the repetitions may be too easy. It definitely isn’t an all in one course to fluency, but it is a very useful springboard into a course to learn and develop your speaking. Because this is an oral course only, the Japanese script is not covered (although it is mentioned) so learning to write would also be a requirement afterwards, but there are plenty of books and websites to learn this.
Source of image: michelthomas.com