JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Speak and Read Japanese’

Speak and Read Japanese won’t be mistaken for the most thorough guide for learning the language. But it is a nice reminder that injecting humor into language learning can go a long way.” (Stone Bridge Press)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Your JET experience (hopefully) included a lot of Japanese study. Whether you remember what learned is another story. But it might have helped to concoct some humorous words and phrases to help you best retain the new vocabulary.

Enter the world of mnemonics, courtesy of author Larry Herzberg. The longtime professor has created a language guide titled Speak and Read Japanese: Fun Mnemonic Devices for Remembering Japanese Words and Their Meanings.

You might be wondering, just what are mnemonics? They’re tools language learners might find indispensable in preventing the meanings of new words from escaping their minds. Early in Speak and Read Japanese, Herzberg mentions that such memory hooks have served as the best method of learning new vocabulary in foreign languages for him, for if he could tie the sound of words he was trying to learn to a word in English, he was more likely to retain the new vocabulary.

So is Herzberg’s work a productive tool for language learners? Well, much of the book is an English-Japanese dictionary featuring the translation of many common words and better yet (for hardcore Japanese learners), detailed breakdowns of each word’s kanji as well as literal translations for some terms. You might not have known that hikouki (airplane) is literally translated as “flying-going machine” and shinshitsu (bedroom) means “sleeping room.” And those wanting to improve writing kanji will be pleased to discover a chart of radicals toward the end of the book.

As for the mnemonics Herzberg includes, they run the gamut from the helpful (For ten, the author writes, “A perfect ten on a scale 1-10 is an excellent score”) to the funny (For yuube, you’ll be treated to “You, babe, were so fun last night!”) to the seemingly bizarre and long-winded. But most importantly, while reading the book you should remind yourself to create your own mnemonics as what might suffice for Herzberg in learning Japanese might not work for others.

Speak and Read Japanese won’t be mistaken for the most thorough guide for learning the language—at times, it comes across as a largely glorified glossary (the Japanese terms defined in the book are listed in alphabetical order) and lacks grammatical tips. But it is a nice reminder that injecting humor into language learning can go a long way.

For fans of Chinese and Japanese language, culture and literature, Stone Bridge Press is currently offering special holiday bundles of related books from now through December 25! Click here for more details. For more on Speak and Read Japanese, click here.

For more JQ magazine book reviews, click here.