Learn to Speak Japanese (Hyperglot--part of The Learning Company)

System Requirements: CD-ROM drive; 2.1 MB free RAM; 952 KB of hard disk space if run from CD; JLK not required
Price: $99 list. Approximate street price through computer mail order: $55
Review by Cliff Darnall, Elk Grove High School (IL)

Learn to Speak Japanese consists of twenty lessons. Topics include self-introduction and basic personal information, likes and dislikes, offering and requesting, telling time, using past tense, making suggestions, indicating this and that, and asking where something is. Lessons 10 and 20 are "aural" (should be "oral") tests, upon completion of which a certificate can be printed.

The first lesson begins with the student being introduced to the family of a young woman named Masako. Each character is sketched, and the lips move to indicate which character is speaking. A list of new words written is kana is available with English translations. The Japanese or English side of the list can be hidden. Here as elsewhere in the program, the user can record his or her voice to compare with the sample. A game at the end of the lesson has the user listen to the family members introduce themselves again, this time without lip movement by the character, and then click on the character.

The program has utilities that are easily referenced. The first is a six-hundred word dictionary which displays Japanese entries in kana or roomaji and allows the user to search for English and Japanese words. Each word is recorded with the voices of two native speakers. The second reference tool is grammar notes to accompany each of the lessons. Key sentences of the lesson are listed with brief grammar-translation notes tied to each word in the kana sentence, which is something many learners will surely desire. The sample sentences are recorded for playback. The final reference tool is a kana tutor with three main parts. The first is a kana charts which also include columns such as ga, gi, gu, ge, go next to the basic columns of the syllabary. The student can click on the characters to hear them pronounced and shown in roman script. The charts offer brief but overly-simplified notes on the use of kana to represent various sounds. A second part of the tutorial is a game where the computer pronounces a character and shows it in roman script and has the learner try to select it from a table of ten characters. The third part is a kana-reading exercise where a word is given in hiragana and English and the user must type it in English. The 150 words can be studied as flashcards first. (Learners can get additional practice from Hiragana Word Torture and Katakana Word Torture games which are free on the CD-ROM.)

Although there are several useful features, problems of limited sound quality, oversimplification, and a tendency to translate directly from English rather than teach more idiomatic Japanese are definite weaknesses. The voices are obviously "recorded" (none of the recordings is of CD quality), the cue sounds in the hiragana game are particularly muffled, and the yoku dekimashita used throughout sounds somewhat wooden. Having more than one speaker's voice recorded is good for developing listening comprehension, but sometimes the intonation varies considerably between the two speakers, which might lead the learner to conclude that intonation is not important. Notes on the kana are overly simplified: there is no stroke order indicated; there is no reference to consonant-glide combination syllables such as kya, kyu, kyo; the pronunciation of the particle wa is discussed but not the particle e; and the use of u to extend an /-o/ is mentioned but not the use of i to extend an /-e/ sound. Moreover, there is little r eference to the situation in which certain oral expressions are used, and examples are sometimes misleading. O-genki-desu-ka is simply translated as "how are you" without comments on usage and is included in Masako's brother's self-introduction, even though this expression would rarely if ever be used when meeting someone for the first time. This tendency to translate directly from English rather than teach more idiomatic Japanese is also evident in examples such as Watashi-wa Itoo-desu. Anata-no namae-wa nan-desu-ka . These problems limit the value of what is an attractively low-priced program.

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