Fundamental Japanese (Do Hiragana, Count in J., Do KANJI Grade 1) (Kojima)

System Requirements: System 7; 256-color /16-shade gray); 2.1 MB free RAM; 15 MB disk space for full set; JLK not required
Price: Set of All Parts: $63 ($53 each for 6 or more) Do KANJI Grade 1 only: $39 ($29 each for 6 or more)
Review by Cliff Darnall, Elk Grove High School (IL)

Fundamental Japanese by Kenji Kojima includes three separate programs with a common home page. The page layout is attractive and uncluttered throughout. Do Hiragana includes a brief introduction to hiragana (but only to say it is "one of two versions of the English alphabet") and then presents the kana column by column and then as a whole chart. Students can hear the sound of each character they click on and toggle roman script in/out. Charts are also available for syllables such as ga, gi, gu, ge, go and combinations such as kya, kyu, kyo. Another section allows students to practice writing the characters on screen. They can see an animation of a pencil quickly tracing over the characters to demonstrate the stroke order and direction for characters. Students then have the chance to practice writing by tracing over the characters with a mouse, but there is no correction or alert given if they are tracing the characters in the wrong direction or order. Students are given the chance to read words written with the hiragana learned to date and can hear the words pronounced and see translations of the words with a click of the mouse. The sample words are read as character rather than with natural cadence and intonation. They can also trace out the words, but his time there is not only no correction but also no stroke direction/order model conveniently available. Finally, students work from roomaji cues to choose the hiragana character needed to complete words. An appendix shows the katakana syllabary, but no tutorial for katakana seems to be available.

Count in Japanese shows sets of numbers and allows students to click on individual numbers or hear the numbers counted off in ascending or descending order. Numbers are shown in kanji and hiragana, with the corresponding arabic numeral briefly flashed on the screen. One screen even includes hyaku-cho (1,000,000,000,000,000). Clicking on any number button invokes its pronunciation.

Do KANJI Grade 1 begins with a chart showing the kanji taught in the first grade kanji of Japanese schools. The student clicks on the kanji he wants to study. A page for that kanji appears with the character in a two-inch font in the middle. On the left and right are the kun- and on-readings written in hiragana and katakana respectively (but there is no pronunciation samples available for them). Stroke order and direction can be overlaid on the kanji along with hints on writing the character properly; alternatively, the animated pencil-trace which demonstrates stroke order and direction can be summoned. A handful of compound words made using other first grad kanji are shown. When the student clicks on one, the compound word is pronounced (this time with natural intonation and cadence) and the meaning and pronunciation (in roomaji with accents indicated through bold face) appear on the screen. When the student feels he has mastered the kanji, he can click a box which marks that kanji on the original screen showing the kanji table. Exercises in which the student chooses the correct kanji to complete a compound word or types the pronunciation are also available.

Fundamental Japanese has several useful features but I have areas of concern. Strong points include the attractive and easy-to-use interface and the methods of showing stroke direction as well as stroke order. Having sound is certainly a plus. Moreover, if the computer has a microphone, students can record their own pronunciation of a compound to compare it with the sample. I have some concerns, however, in addition to those mentioned above. Although the kanji portion has the best soundtrack of the three, still the voice tracks overall sounds "computerized" in nature, perhaps due to the compression involved. The kanji study portion, moveover, could have been improved by including mnemonics for the kanji, by providing sample sentences showing how the kanji and compounds are used, and by giving the student the ability to create his/her own sublists for study. Moreover, a list of first grade kanji may be of less value to non-native speakers of Japanese than to native speaker; and certain compounds made from first grade kanji such as tsuki-hi and shinrin are surely low priority words for non-native speakers learning the language.

Most appropriate venues for use: CmpLb, RscRm, SlfSt