Another approach to the textbook

I haven’t been spending as much time as I’d like on the textbook project and I think I’ve figured out the reason why. It’s just not turning out the way I like and therefore I don’t feel any excitement about working on it.

I’ve been approaching it the traditional style, basing the dialogue on lesson themes such as introductions and greetings. The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to make any kind of interesting dialogue with those kinds of themes. How many more books do we need with the same old dialogue as below?

A) おはようございます。おげんきですか?
B) おはようございます。はい、げんきです。Aさんは?
A) わたしも、げんきです。

I think I’m going to take time to think about another approach. One idea I had was to write all the dialogues first and based the book around them. Each chapter would break each dialogue down and work on practicing and expanding the concepts and grammar within the dialogue. Each dialogue would also build upon the previous one and grow more and more advanced. I know, it’s probably easier said than done, but I think my first goal should be creating a large selection of useful and interesting Japanese and less on the explanations.

Ultimately, my goal is to grab the reader and get him hooked from the very beginning. And what I have now just isn’t cutting it. Any suggestions for topics, characters, and story lines?

By the way, some of you may have noticed already but I added a new Feedback page. It’s currently empty but I hope to build it as a page for your feedback (duh).

17 thoughts on “Another approach to the textbook

  1. Have you had the chance to watch the videos I linked you to on Youtube? I think those can serve as a bit of inspiration. Otherwise, I say start off with an introduction dialogue you feel is common practice in Japan and make the dialogues very culture-driven.

  2. Maybe it’s just me, but something that gets me excited is food. And alcohol. Both were also sorely overlooked in my initial studies. My first trip to Japan as a tourist, I had a lot of trouble with the menu, even though I could read the kana (slowly). eg, “What the hell is たこやき?” “A hamburg? wtf?” etc.

    I think food is actually a great opportunity because the grammar for ordering is simple, and there are lots of foods which are traditionally in kana – even some of the kanji are pretty simple. Not only that, but if you’re really keen you can pop down to the local restaurant and try it out for extra study.

    Introductions always seem to come first, but are something I found I barely needed as a tourist – train and food vocab were way more useful. I didn’t know anyone after all, so no introductions were needed. Not until I went back on business years later did I actually need introductions, and that’s not quite the same anyway.

    Keep up the textbook, I share your feelings about ~ます and ローマ字.

  3. I think it’s also important to lay some kind of foundation for learning kanji– it doesn’t have to be done right away, after all, but if the people who are learning are not children, they might want to get what’s taught to children out of the way. When I tried a textbook for self study (obviously textbooks are more intended for classes and groups) I had a hard time remembering how to write some of the kanji in words, even if they were useful like hospital or library (which isn’t quite as useful for a tourist, but meh). Now that I know basic kanji that are often used as radicals I can remember the difference between characters that look very similar, and I have a much better chance of remembering how to write them.

    Hiragana and katakana are important and all, but so are basic kanji… Other than that, I’ve been reading you guide long enough to trust any approach you take regarding a textbook. =D Good luck.

  4. Romances gone awry is always fun to chuckle along with. My Japanese teacher always created interesting dialogues that involved people doing things that would never actually happen in real life, but were still funny. For example, a topic of interest was always involving Yakuza into the storyline.

  5. Maybe you can try the story of an alien crashing into Tokyo, or some sort of time traveler (either from the future, or waking up after a long sleep since a distant past). That would give plenty of opportunity to ask basic questions about pretty much everything, and anyway, that is a little bit how you feel when you come from anywhere else on earth 🙂

  6. I think it would be nice simply to have information-filled dialogues, i.e. explaining (through words or actions) what the lives and minds of the Japanese are like. Normal textbook conversations are completely boring because they say nothing new. They just concentrate on ‘how’ something is said, completely forgetting the ‘what’.

  7. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but it sounds like you’re slowly arriving at some of the same conclusions that we at ChinesePod reached about 2 years ago. If only there were a way for us to combine forces on some project…

  8. I think that would be very great! I myself am currently writing a Japanese guide in Indonesian language which steps through Moritaka Chisato’s song Watarasebashi as its material, in hopes of giving a real story for the reader to engage deeply with. The order of grammar explanation becomes quite unconventional, e.g. discussing about verb’s location that must be at the end and the で context particle from the get go.

    If you’re thinking about writing a story, then the topic that definitely would excite me is fantasy. Magic, warriors, and stuffs. Romance would also do great :). But at any rate, when reading stories, any genre, from I often wished that someone would do a grammar tour on the hard points. So if you’re making a story of significant length and try to explain the Japanese behind it, whatever it is about, that would be like a dream come true :).

  9. Great suggestions!

    Yep, Kanji will definitely be covered very early. (You might be surprised at how early I’m thinking of covering it.)

    I’ll definitely throw a 三角関係 in there somewhere. 🙂

    Great idea though a time traveler or alien might involve too much new vocabulary at the bat. I’ll definitely have a couple exchange students though. Maybe John and Jane Smith? Joke, joke.

    With the success of ChinesePod, you’ve certainly plenty to be proud of!
    Well, wikis are great for working collaboratively. Let me know if you have something specific in mind.
    I think I’m getting close to a syllabus and approach I’m happy with. While I have to start again from scratch, I think it was worth it to really see what didn’t work.

    I’ll probably stick to modern day setting for the more practical vocabulary. But romance and 人間関係 in general will definitely be there.

  10. Try making a single unifying story made from a bunch of anecdotes of real life situations using a certain pool of characters with different personalities.



    水木:。。。 おはようっ、田中君!
    田中:ん? ああ、おはよう水木ちゃん。

    yeah… basically get a bunch of those kinds of stories strung together from the same pool of characters and you will be able to make dialogues for use in both lessons and exercises. Furthermore, the added predictability of each character’s, well, character makes it easier to predict how people would react in certain situations, making it easier to make exercises based on personality and speech patterns.

    I think you can figure out the rest for yourself. 頑張れ =P

  11. You could try listening to NHK’s Japanese lessons if you’re thinking of adopting the situational approach.

    I think you could also try to identify the target audience of your textbook and how it is supposed to be used. Many textbooks claim to be equally effective whether used as a self-study guide or in the classroom (with a teacher), but not many live up to it.

    And I think it would be good to incorporate kanji like how they appear in real life from the beginning, though with furigana. (I’ve been trying to type up a blog entry about my experiences using two beginner’s Japanese textbooks but it somehow hasn’t attained a form where I can click the “Publish” button yet. Maybe when it’s out, it could contribute by airing some gripes of a beginner.)

  12. @flmwzy21
    Thanks, I intend to do just that.
    As you can imagine, it’s difficult to not use more advanced grammar such as 行こう from the very beginning.

    I think you’ll be pleased by the next post I’ll have up during my lunch break.

  13. I think there is no way to avoid cheesy dialouges that are written only in Kana OR many many hours of learning fundamental grammar and some Kanji. Probably we all agree that both are not easy ways to start with Japanese learning. Maybe the clou is that Japanese is not easy to learn, but that explanation would be too lame for me.

    So what are the things that need to be realized?
    *The reader/student should not be bored with lots of boring grammar at the beginning (note: I am talking about the casual “hey let’s learn a language” student)
    *Kana-only dialouges that are cheesy should ne avoided
    *The grammar should be explained in a way that makes sense (i.e. not explaning the polite form before the dictionary form, etc.)

    How could this be realized?
    I think there’s a way to do this, maybe like this:

    1. Introduction (the typical this textbook is the best and Japanese is such a intesting language “blah blah”)
    2. Hiragana
    I think we agree that Romaji should be avoided from the beginning.
    2.1. Some practice to read and write Hiragana
    3. An explanation about Kanji, what it is, why it is necessary, how it is written, and so on, I think you know what I mean. Maybe some writing practice could be added.
    4. The first “text”, I think a better expression would be “few sentences” instead of “text”. This text should contain Hiragana and some Kanji and only basic grammar. It could be a short description of a place or something. Maybe something like but with less of everything. Less text, less kanji, less grammar (especially particles). I think that an average learner will be quite happy and proud when he mastered to read 3 lines of Japanese.
    4.1 Of course there would have to be explanations of the grammar…
    4.2 …and vocabulary…
    4.3 …and some exercises.
    5. The second text. Some more lines, some more Kanji and some more grammar. Maybe a introduction to Katakana.

    I think as long as the reader feels that he makes progress it is not necessary that there are dialouges that teach how to greet and introduce yourself. You could write in the introduction that this “classic” is not covered at the beginning because it would be too confusing. In my opinion all the grammar from section 3 of the guide should be covered before there are dialouges. As long as the learner feels that there’s a progress and when he feels that everything is straightforward this is okay.

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