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Book Review: Japanese for Busy People Kana Workbook by the Association for Japanese-Language Teaching

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The Japanese for Busy People series is a well respected standard – and the name really says it all. "Of course! I'm a busy person! I want to learn Japanese! Why wouldn't this be for me?"

I received my copy of the Kana Workbook while struggling through an elementary Japanese class. I was using a different series of texts, and falling way behind in class because I simply couldn't master the phonetic alphabets, hirigana and katakana (collectivley known as kana), fast enough to be able to follow along. I was confused, I was puzzled — and I was desperate.

In comes the Kana Workbook. Although it felt a lot like elementary school handwriting class, I sat down to follow the program. The workbook takes you through a series of steps – memorizing the symbols while learning to write them properly through guided repetitions, then you move on to writing and recognizing short words. The book also comes with a CD, so listening comprehension and reading skills can be combined.

It's an incredibly effective system. I found that by writing the kana, I was much more likely to recognize them. The steady progression had me looking for details early, distinguishing somewhat similar kana from each other (a task that can definitely lead to puzzlement) and looking at the symbols in common groups.

Learning a new language can be incredibly frustrating; it takes a lot of time and a lot of repetition. The beauty of this system is that it lays out the repetitions for you; following the instructions and doing the exercises accomplishes what writing spelling words five times in elementary school might have. As busy as you may be, there is no substitute for practice, and these books do everything they can to make that practice productive.

And I ended up passing the class. So what else needs to be said?

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About Claire Marie Blaustein