On LaTeX, self publishing, and another dialogue

Though progress continues to be slow, the textbook project is finally turning into something I’m getting excited about. Lately, I’ve been thinking about layout and presentation.

Here is the second dialogue designed to demonstrate positive and negative state-of-being for nouns and adjectives. As usual, this deceptively simple conversation had a lot of thought put into it. This dialogue will be followed by pretty standard explanations of the conjugation rules and a brief description of よ and ね.

スミス: おはよう。
キム:  おはよう。
スミス: 元気?
キム:  あまり元気じゃない。
スミス: そう?
キム:  うん。最近、とても忙しい。
スミス: いいね。
キム:  全然よくないよ。
Smith: Morning.
Kim: Morning
Smith: How are you?
Kim: Not very good.
Smith: Is that so?
Kim: Yeah. I’m very busy lately.
Smith: That’s good.
Kim: It’s not good at all.
  1. おはよう [casual, exp] – Good Morning
  2. 元気(げんき) [na-adj] – lively, healthy
  3. あまり [adv] – not very (used with negative)
  4. そう [adv] – so
  5. うん [casual] – yes
  6. 最近(さいきん) [adv] – lately
  7. とても [adv] – very
  8. 忙しい(いそがしい) [i-adj] – busy
  9. いい [i-adj] – good
  10. 全然(ぜんぜん) [adv] – not at all (used with negative)

As you can see, it uses a two-column format for the Japanese and English translation. I debated on adding a kana-only version but couldn’t figure out how to fit it in. In the end, I decided if the vocabulary with the readings are right there, the reader shouldn’t have much trouble figuring it out. I’m still debating whether or not to add furigana however.

Though I had initially wanted to concentrate on the content only, I decided I should also think about the layout, presentation, and format. This is especially important for creating a printable book because I have to think about what size paper I want to use. And DocBook, as we know, deliberately leaves out any shred of formatting information. So I’m looking into setting up LaTeX and will see how that works out soon enough I hope.

I’m also looking into Lulu.com for self publishing. They even do audio CDs though they don’t currently package it with a book. Now all I have to do is figure out how to find other speakers besides myself for the characters and how to get some recording done with reasonably professional quality.

But first, I guess I should concentrate on writing the rest of the book. The next dialogue will cover the polite positive and negative state-of-being and the question marker 「か」 but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Random question, why do spell checkers keep telling me “dialogue” is misspelled? It is a word, isn’t it?

28 thoughts on “On LaTeX, self publishing, and another dialogue

  1. Your spell checker is flagging dialogue because it’s using an American dictionary.
    dialogue (UK) = dialog (US)

  2. I’ve heard that self-publishing via Lulu or other less scrupulous sites (CaféPress, etc.) is really not the best way to go about launching an item. It’s nice because it removes the burden of providing overhead, but it also sort of cages you in. I’d contact an actual publisher. But that’s me.

    Also – “dialog” is the accepted American spelling of the word, apparently. I too have written the word “dialogue” all my life. I vote we rebel against the spell check.

    Lastly, I think you should completely eliminate romaji in your book as fast as possible once hiragana and katakana have been introduced. Japaneses in Japanese is always best, I think. 🙂

  3. Hi Tae,
    This is Tsubasa from Singapore, a current JLPT 3 and 4 part time teacher.

    Interested to help you out in this project.
    Do contact me at my email address if u need help. My MSN is the same as my email address.


  4. American English uses either dialogue or dialog. Typically, computers use “dialog boxes,” but people have “dialogues.”

    I still think the princexml is the way to go, since you can put all the formatting info about page size, etc. into a CSS file pretty easily, and you already know how to write HTML. You can even use tags for furigana in princexml if you have the right CSS settings.

  5. I would think LaTeX is a good choice. It allows for automatic numbering of chapters, sections etc, and it has different preset formatting for books, journal articles and so on. It displays mathematical expressions very nicely, so I suppose it can do the same for Japanese characters. The formatting is customisable too.

    A minor drawback is that the setting-up process is a little more complicated. But there are documents to guide you through the entire process.

  6. My 2c:

    furigana isn’t necessary – you’ve got the readings down below. As for romaji, I really feel it’s more hindrance than help. I say spend the effort on a hiragana section, it’ll benefit the student more in the long run.

  7. If you’re set on having an actual full translation of the dialogue, then disregard the following, but the books I use just have the full Japanese dialogue, no furigana at all, and then just have a new vocab list and a list of what could be considered new phrases afterward.

  8. “最近、とても忙しいよ” sounds strange for the answer of “なんで”. If that’s the reply for “ここんところどう?”, “最近、とても忙しいよ” is OK.

    The examples I’ve come up with are

  9. Thanks, but I can’t use those constructions when I haven’t even covered the topic particle yet. Remember, these are people just starting out in Japanese.

    Personally, I would have said 最近、とても忙しくてね but again, it distracts from the main goal of the dialogue and I think we’re splitting semantic hairs at this point.

    I think if you heard the audio that’s in my head, it’ll sound a lot better than it looks.

  10. Certainly, the order of study is essential, but the way of making a response is just unnatural because “最近、とても忙しいよ” describes only the state. It doesn’t state the reason. So “最近、とても忙しいよ” is a proper reply for HOW” , not for WHY. The answer in your example makes me feel ズレてる/噛み合っていない in Japanese… You have to avoid teaching learner wierd Japanese due to tutoring, I think.

  11. I see your point but I really don’t want to introduce additional grammar. And I don’t think it’s that big a deal. I’ll think about the dialogue a little bit more to see if I can improve it.

  12. Ok, I made a few tweaks. How’s that?

    This is going to be so much easier once I get past the first chapter.

  13. Hey, I know this isn’t the point of the dialogue as such, but I remember not being able to grasp the word あまり very well, because of stupid dictionaries defining it as ‘not very’.
    This definition when taken litterally ruins a sentence!
    あまり元気じゃない。 = Not very not healthy. (riiight)
    if you can explain that it means ‘excess’ then it could be translated like
    I’m not so good. (I have no excess ‘lively’)

    This would also stop the learner choking so much the first time they see the verb あまる.

  14. @ノーガス

    The same thing applies to 全然 as well. I’m hoping the “(used with negative)” part of the definitions will make it clear that it needs to be with a negative tense to have that meaning.

    Unlike this blog where I can ramble on a particular topic, I’m trying to let the Japanese speak for itself (hands-on learning, so to speak) without inundating the reader with excessive explanations.

  15. I think the dialogue is perfect. It captures a real time situation instead of the same old “Hi, nice to meet you, my name is fill in the blank. How are you today?”
    I was talking to my friend about this the other day, the language book dialogues just don’t help in a real time situation, so I think you’re doing rather well.
    And i agree about dropping the romaji, it’s just a crutch anyway.


  16. My only suggestion is to move the indentation of the definitions. It looks very awkward where it is right now. Aside from that I say move onward to the next section. You’re making a lot of progress these days! Where did all the free time come from?

  17. Thanks for the suggestions and comments! I’ve started to think about the next dialogue.

    I think it’s a lot easier now that I’m happier with the general approach.

  18. I like the two-column approach. Very good for if the reader wants to quiz himself by covering up one side or the other.

    Also, putting the kana at the bottom of the conversation is maybe a good idea, because if the reader has to go to the trouble of looking down at the bottom of the page to see the reading and definition, they are more likely to remember it, in my opinion.

    The dialogue is very good, and I think you shouldn’t worry about it being “dead-on” when you haven’t introduced the necessary grammar points in order to do that yet.

  19. Speaking of Japanese in LaTeX, you’d probably avoid a considerable amount of head scratching by using XeTeX (XeLaTeX in this case). Unlike most other TeX flavors, it has a sane, Unicode-savvy font management system which uses TrueType/OpenType fonts.

  20. Thanks! Does it work for Linux or Windows (preferably both)? Ugh… why does this have to be so hard? I don’t get it.

  21. Thanks, I got the examples to work on OS X since all the examples use OS X fonts but still struggling to figure out how to link with other true type fonts like MS Gothic.

  22. Lulu, while better than conventional press, is not your best option–basically, it guarantees that you’ll be forking over much more of your $$, upfront AND ongoing, than you need to. Please check out LightningSource, which is a POD printer which is owned by the same company that owns Ingram, and distributes direct to Amazon. All the benefits of POD plus better distribution channels. You buy (and own) your own ISBN numbers. Aaron Shepherd’s pages will give you a good overview. (Sorry if this has already been mentioned…)

    (Disclaimer: I have no connection whatsoever with LS or Aaron Shepherd.)

  23. In this situation you can do without furigana (much less a kana-only column) because the readings appear on the vocabulary list just below.

    TeX (and LaTeX), like any software that comes out of ancient Unix tradition, may be difficult to learn initially, but once you are familiar with it, it will ultimately make your life much easier than the more “user-friendly” solutions like DocBook and so on. If you are so inclined, spending a little time in learning the system can be a very worthwhile investment.

    If you are an Emacs user, you should be aware that there is an editing mode for LaTeX that (among other features) display what the result will look like. I think it’s called AucTex or something like that, and everything I’ve ever heard about it is very positive, but I’ve not used it myself, on account of the fact that I’ve never worked with TeX. If you’re not an Emacs user already, you should probably disregard this whole paragraph, because Emacs has almost as high a learning curve as TeX. (But, again, once you get through the initial learning phase, it makes your life much easier than any other text editor.)

    Regarding dialogue, I would consider both spellings (dialog and dialogue) to be equally correct at this point, comparable to doughnut/donut, although the longer spelling (dialogues) is substantially more common in the plural. Certainly dictionary.com has no problem finding definitions for either spelling, so I would say use whichever one you prefer. Spellcheck dictionaries are not comprehensive, and for a language like English, with uncountably many perfectly cromulent words, I’m not sure how they ever could be.

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