Editor’s Note: In early May, CLAIR will be sending out the Course Guidebook for the 2010-2011 JET Programme Language Courses. Wondering whether to sign up for the course? Here’s Jonathan Fisher’s take on the quality of the 2009-2010 course. Fisher 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
The JET Programme Japanese Language Course (Beginner and Intermediate), published by The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations
The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) released a major update and revision of its JET Programme Japanese Language Course in the 2009-10 school year. I think this deserves some notice. These materials are free for all JET participants, they are easy to navigate, and they are a comprehensive, versatile tool for Japanese self-study. And with the current revision, the CLAIR Japanese course is even more attractive and easy to use.
One of the first things I noticed comparing the stack of CLAIR course books from years past to my quickly growing collection of updated editions is that the layouts are radically different. In addition to a sleeker design, that actually appears to have been produced in the Internet-age, there are many more helpful appendices from “How to Use This Book”, a mainstay of textbooks of all stripes, to “How to Input Japanese Characters”, indispensable for individuals who may be unfamiliar with using foreign language computer operating systems. Likewise, the index of vocabulary is now much more comprehensive and, thus, useful. With this new edition of the JET Language Course textbooks, CLAIR has clearly set its sights on creating a universally useful resource for its target Japanese learners.
Among the highlights of the new course materials content are the excellent leveled kanji workbooks, which was a conspicuously absent element in the previous course materials, and much more clearly delineated grammar notes. Because of the dramatically increased level of organization and clarity of presentation of the grammar points in the CLAIR textbooks, this resource is rapidly becoming an integral part of the core of my grammar study. Grammar points are clearly and consistently presented in bold face with gray borders and illustrated with plenty of examples. Combined with the listening and writing exercises provided (and supplemented with some extra real-world practice) it is difficult to imagine a better system for learning Japanese grammar.
The only way that the CLAIR Japanese course falls short is in its somewhat stubborn reliance on pencil and paper testing. Perhaps in another five years or so CLAIR will be able to move some of its excellent course materials online. Until that time, I suppose, those who are keen can use iKnow or Anki to fill in the gaps.