Kana (Kazumi Hatasa, Mariko Kaga, and Peter Henstock)

System Requirements: HyperCard Player 2.1 or higher, 2.2MB of disk space; JLK not required
Price: Freeware available for download at ftp://intersc.tsukuba.ac.jp/pub/KANA/
(or through http://www.sla.purdue.edu/academic/fll/Japanese/).
Review by Atsushi Fukada, Purdue University (IN)

Kana is a program which introduces hiragana and katakana and provides practice in recognizing them. The hiragana stack and the katakana stack have the same structure, consisting of three sections: Presentation, Flashcards, and Guessing Game. In the presentation section, you first specify which row you would like to look at. Let's suppose you chose the first row ("aiueo"). One presentation cycle goes like this: First, you are presented with a simply line drawing of a person ice-skating and hear the audio say "Ann is good at ice-skating". When you press the proceed button, the shape of hiragana "a" gets gradually highlighted in the drawing and you will hear "a as in ice-skating" (meaning that hiragana "a" sounds like the first part of the first vowel in "ice skating"). When you proceed further, parts of the drawing not highlighted gradually disappears leaving only hiragana "a" and the audio says "a". Pressing the proceed button once again, the somewhat odd-shaped "a" is replaced by a well-formed version, and you are prompted to type "a" on the keyboard. Memorizing kana is a memory-taxing task if done completely by rote. This program provides help through visual and verbal mnemonics. The drawing and the subsequent animation sequence provide the shape of kana while the mnemonic phrase links the drawing and the sound. The system thus helps establish an association between the shapes of kana and the sounds they represent.

The other two sections provide two kinds of kana recognition exercises. In the flashcards section, you first specify which row or rows of kana to be quizzed on. The program prepares randomly ordered stack of kana flashcards for you to go through. You can control the speed with the "Set interval" button. Once you start, you are presented with one kana syllabary at a time, to which you respond by typing in its roomaji representation. If you take too much time, the program will go on to the next item. Items missed will come back later systematically for reinforcement. Recognizing kana should become instantaneous for learners to start reading Japanese. This exercise is designed to develop that automaticity. The Guessing Game is another type of recognition exercise in a game format. As with the flashcards exercise, you can specify which rows to work on. This game first presents you with nine panels arranged in a 3x3 format behind which hides a kana syllabary. The object is to guess what it is, removing as few panels as possible. The more panels you open, the lower your score becomes. This exercise is designed to sharpen your kana recognition skills, especially the ability to distinguish between similar ones; e.g. "re", "wa", and "ne", or "ha", "ho", "ke". If you know which one differs from which others in what way, you should be able to open panels strategically and improve your score.

In short, this is a good self-contained package providing learning aid and some fun in what could potentially be a tedious and difficult task.

Most appropriate venues for use: CmpLb, RscRm, SlfSt

Note: I have successfully used kana with a large screen monitor for the whole class by dividing the class into teams to take turns trying to guess the hidden kana. The kana starts out being worth 10 points but loses one point for each tile turned. If a team ventures a guess but is wrong, it loses point. The team who can guess the kana on its turn gets whatever points are remaining for the kana. By calling on a different spokesperson for each group each time and requiring that students use Japanese (3-ban onegai-shimasu.), the teacher can present a lively and valuable activity (C.Darnall)