Hiroshima-ken JET Jonathan Fisher, based in Kure, reviews various tools for learning Japanese, including books, websites, flashcards, podcasts and more. Tools are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the best.
By Jonathan Fisher
When I began writing this column, I set out to review a variety of tools for learning Japanese language. I defined “tools” very broadly — anything from books to websites, games, flashcards, reference guides and coursework. But one tool it hadn’t occurred to me to review, but which is actually becoming more and more common, is the language learning tools review! That’s right; I’m convinced that merely by reading this article (or other articles like it) you are actively involved in learning Japanese. But before we go overboard congratulating ourselves for all of our hard work, I think it’s time to take a look at a well established website that is full of reviews like this one, as well as advice and a variety of other original methods for Japanese self-study: Khatzumoto’s blog, “All Japanese All the Time.”
“Khatzumoto” is the screen name of the self-styled host and creator of “All Japanese All the Time” (AJATT), a long running self-help guide of sorts for all those seeking Japanese fluency. Khatzumoto opens with his own story, at age 21. With almost no formal training in Japanese, he begins an 18-month total immersion course of his own design (with inspiration from others, to be named later), at the end of which he is able to apply for, interview for, and land a job as a software engineer in Tokyo. Khatzumoto, generous as he is, wants to share his success at language learning with the world. While his blogging style is at times rambling, and can border on obnoxious, his good points make up for these shortcomings. His aims are sincere enough, he is forthright and honest when he has received compensation for product placement, and his approach is largely based in the notion that learning Japanese can be entertaining and enjoyable for anyone who is actually interested in fluency.
At the heart of Khatzumoto’s curriculum are spaced repetition systems (or SRS) like those found at smart.fm (previously reviewed), which Khatzumoto prefers, as well as James Heisig’s kanji and kana memorization systems (previously reviewed). But what makes the AJATT system unique is its focus on sentences and on the individual creation of a full-immersion environment, wherever you live. Khatzumoto created such an environment for himself in Utah, where he was largely isolated from native Japanese speakers but had plenty of access to authentic Japanese media. And he utilized such Japanese media fully to create his own personal Japanese-only space. In addition to using the more traditional study materials he describes, Khatzumoto injected all manner of pop culture into his life, from Japanese music to streaming NHK video to manga to anime. He even gave his dog a Japanese name! But the point is — and the author of AJATT returns to this often — that this method works.
While it’s unlikely that we will all be willing to spare as much time and energy as Khatzumoto put into his own personal Japanese learning adventure, living in Japan gives us a major advantage and a quick way in the door, so to speak, when it comes to immersion in the language. AJATT can easily be overwhelming. All its emphasis on fun and entertainment, while it is ideally true, can just be frustrating to read at times. Then again, AJATT casts such a broad net that I think everyone, regardless of how much anime you can stand to watch, will be able to find something of use there. And the bedrock of Khatzumoto’s claims and methods are definitely solid. Finally, while the tone of AJATT can be like that of an angry drill sergeant, if you are ever lacking in motivation in the area of language learning, one of Khatzumoto’s inspired rants might be just what the doctor ordered.
Special thanks to Hiroshima-ken JET Darren Carter for recommending AJATT for review!