Understanding Written Japanese I / II (Contact Person: Hiroshi Nara)

System Requirements: CD-ROM drive; Hypercard 2.2; Apple Sound Manager 3.0; JLK
Price: To be announced when a distributor has been found
Review by Cliff Darnall, Elk Grove High School (IL), first reviewed for ACTFL '92

Interactive Japanese: Understanding Written Japanese I / II
provides the user with a great wealth of realia-based reading material for computer-assisted study. The first set, reviewed in 1992, is primarily aimed at students at an advanced beginner to intermediate level in their study of written Japanese. Though the examples below refer to the first set, the second set, which is aimed at advanced learners and contains advanced texts, continues the thorough and praiseworthy emphasis on crucial reading skills.

The central part is a set of ten lessons, each containing several sublessons based on real-life-type examples of Japanese script and focusing on various reading skills such as skimming, scanning, complete comprehension, critical reading, or task-oriented reading. Through pull-down menus, students can easily remind themselves of what reading skills they are focusing on or see a listing of important grammatical topics incorporated into the text. Students can also easily call up the meanings of words, phrases, and sentences in each text. Many of the selections in UWJ are task-based, such as choosing a restaurant based on information the learner can glean from shop fronts or reading the directions on a package of curry or frozen pizza. Lessons 1-5 are primarily realia-based materials, much of which is in the form of scanned-in photographs of signs or products. Lessons 6-10 are more in the form of memos, diary readings, directions, letters, and short essays. A useful feature of lessons 6-10 is that any sentence in the texts can be heard read by a native speaker by simply clicking on the sentence and using a pull-down menu option.

Each sub-lesson includes clearly stated objectives and instructions. The program provides comprehension questions which tie into the nature of the reading task being focused on. Scanning and skimming tasks have time limits which the user can adjust to provide an appropriate level of challenge. The program keeps track of each user's score and the amount of time spent on a task. This information can be saved on disk for students' or teacher's later reference.

Tests are included at the end of each lesson, but some are more like games than the typical tests students take. In chapter one, for example, the learner becomes the mother who must take her bratty five-year-old son Ken-chan to the department store, reading road signs along the way, finding him a lunch at the restaurant which he will eat given his likes and dislikes, finding the closest men's bathroom, and finding the emergency exit sign when a fire breaks out. My high school students loved it and wanted to do the test again. In chapter 7, students assemble a jigsaw-puzzle-type map based on information in the text.

Interactive Japanese: Understanding Written Japanese also contains an abridged on-line version of Nelson's kanji dictionary containing 1850 commonly used characters and several search options, as well as an on-line Japanese-English dictionary containing all the vocabulary needed for the various texts and exercises in the package. The reader can also search for English words appearing in the definition section, allowing the dictionary to be used to some extent as an English-Japanese dictionary as well.

Although I have a few minor concerns, overall the program provides a very motivating and pedagogically sound introduction to the world of written Japanese.

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