Blackbelt Japanese Set 1 (Rising Wave / all school sales handled by The Bess Press)

System Requirements: CD-ROM; 256-color mode; 5 MB min of free RAM; JLK not required
Price: $99; Teacher's Version (not reviewed--also allows for individual and class progress tracking) $129; lab pack $500
Review by Cliff Darnall, Elk Grove High School (IL)

Blackbelt Japanese Set 1 is a kanji learning feature with two very strong features from the point of view of high school learners: it has beautiful graphics and it is fun! Students are greeted with relaxing music as they first open the program and a beautiful landscape. They can then, if they choose, proceed through traditional Japanese architecture surrounded by beautiful mountains to a hall of languages with a door for Japanese. Students then choose between shoji-style doors marked hiragana, katakana, or kanji. Any of these lead to lists of generally eight characters each that students must master on their way to earning a blackbelt. Set 1 allows the student to earn blackbelts in hiragana and katakana and white and red belts in Kanji after the learning of two sets of 96 character each (192 total). Kanji in the white belt, for example, include Days, Family 1, Get Together, Numbers 1, Numbers 2, People 1, School 1, School 2, School 3, Self 1, Time 1, and Trip 1.

A game format is used throughout. Tiles are laid out side by side and partially stacked as in a common Japanese game. Each kanji tile has a matching picture tile, while the kana tiles (including syllables such as cha, chu, cho ) have matching characters in roman script. When matching tiles are clicked on, they may be removed from the board, but only if each is not sandwiched between other tiles. In the learning mode, students have a key to the right of the screen which shows the matching tiles and attempt to make the matches within 120 seconds. The sessions are watched by a stern-looking shaven-head martial arts student sitting on the left of the screen. If the student fails to do it under 120 seconds, a message appears from the Japanese Sensei, which admonishes him to practice harder. When students are ready, they enter the challenge mode, where they have only ninety seconds and no key to refer to. At the start of the challenge match, the martial arts figure jumps to his feet in a battle-ready position. As each list is successfully completed, a huge, fat red ogre with four eyes begins to dance and grunt, only to be stared to increasing smaller size by a smiling, confident, improving trainee. Once all the lists in a belt have been completed, the student faces a final challenge. The martial arts student sits across from his master teacher, who sends "mental" images (pictures for kanji study, roomaji for kana study across the screen to his disciple. The student must click on the appropriate character from a display of ten before the image arrives.

The program will surely be very popular with students. I have some concerns. Response to tile selection is sluggish, at least on the PowerMac 5200/75 LCs our school uses. Therefore, students have to click way ahead of the machine in order to beat the time; and if one is doing such, it becomes very hard to correct an error. The introduction scenes are beautiful but time consuming, and the ogre-dance is also time consuming though admittedly amusing. Because the tiles are small, it is sometimes hard to distinguish them. Lists are pre determined, stroke orders are not indicated, and compounds or phrases are not included. Still, Kanji Blackbelt is very enjoyable, and it may be the hook that gets a lot of high school students into the study of what is a difficult part of the language and a chance to make any level of a high school class more fun.
(Note: A teacher version (not reviewed) also allows for individual and class progress tracking.)

Most appropriate venues for use: SmGrp, CmpLb, RscRm, SlfSt