History of the Lessons

Development of the current JAFL Japanese Lessons

After completing the Berlitz, Pimsleur and “Learn in Your Car” Japanese audio courses, I had learned to say a number of basic sentences and had learned more than a thousand Japanese words, but I still didn’t have a good grasp of Japanese grammar. I didn’t fully understand the various ways that Japanese people “soften” their sentences to make them sound more humble or friendly. I had only a limited idea of the differences between “u” verbs and “ru” verbs or how to conjugate them in plain speech and polite speech. I had not been introduced to the passive, the causative or the passive causative verb tenses, in addition to many other details that one needs for a basic understanding of Japanese grammar.

A Toro at Kiyosumi Garden, Tokyo

By this time, I had come to believe that the audio flashcards method was the best way for someone like me to learn to speak Japanese. For one thing, this method didn’t make me feel incompetent. I felt good when I was able to give a correct answer to a question, something that happened more often as I repeated lessons. The questions were presented in my brain’s native language, so that even though I might struggle with a given question, at least I understood what the question was. If the answer that my brain arrived at was incorrect, I would sometimes laugh at myself, but fortunately no one else was present to laugh at me.

Another critical advantage of the audio flashcards method was that it required that I say all of my answers aloud in Japanese. Over time, my brain and tongue were getting used to a new way of talking and thinking that eventually became second nature.

In addition, those early Japanese audio lessons (after I’d modified them to remove redundant material) allowed me to review material many times without getting bored or even arriving at a sense of diminishing returns. Since I could stop playback and take as much time as necessary to formulate my answers, and since I had a transcript to help resolve any questions that came up, I experienced very little frustration and actually found myself looking forward to the lessons (and also to the physical exercise that I usually did while listening to them).

After completing those early lessons, I wanted to continue Japanese language study. Experience had shown me that I was unlikely to make significant progress unless I used some version of the audio flashcards method, and there didn’t seem to be any other suitable audio courses available. As a result, my wife and I started to develop the JAFL Japanese audio lessons offered here. At first, the recordings we made were intended for personal use, but after some time we began to feel that they should be offered to a wider audience. Of course, I could never have developed these lessons without the assistance of my wife (and teacher).

Two Major Barriers to Studying Japanese

With these JAFL Japanese lessons, I’ve tried to address two major barriers to Japanese language study. One is the emotional barrier, which refers to the fact that a person may lose motivation to accomplish a task if he or she doesn’t get enough positive reinforcement.

A Column of Torii at a Shrine in Fukuoka

To address this problem, I’ve tried to structure these lessons in a fair way and to provide students with clues in the English questions. This has meant taking pains to translate Japanese into English literally, even when this results in English questions that sound awkward. I’ve tried to be consistent in using the same English words to translate Japanese words. Testing the lessons over and over, I’ve made hundreds of corrections to them over time, trying to make them more accurate and user-friendly. As a result, students should be able to complete them with a minimum of frustration.

When one is studying Japanese over a prolonged period, it’s satisfying to have a number of easy questions mixed in with the difficult ones. When students are able to answer questions with ease, that reinforces the progress already made and encourages them to press on. No doubt you will find some very difficult questions in these lessons, but I think you’ll find a lot of easy ones as well.

A complete transcript of the lessons is provided, including extensive grammatical explanations and context-specific answers to questions that have come up as I studied the material. In addition, there is a grammar guide, a guide to the use of the particles ga and wa, and a guide to Japanese verb tenses.

A second barrier to Japanese language study is the lack of time to devote to the task. Audio flashcard lessons use time efficiently, since they allow students to combine Japanese study with other activities, like exercising and commuting.

I hope that students will be motivated by these lessons to take long, enjoyable walks, or to exercise in other ways. If so, they may be able to improve their Japanese language skills and their health at the same time.

Next, read about Recommended Study Methods