Hiroshima-ken JET Jonathan 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
Japanese Phrasebook: Making Out in Japanese, Revised Edition by Todd & Erika Geers. (Tuttle 2003)
Phrasebooks — there may already be more than one of this variety of brief, purportedly handy, thematically organized guides on your shelf in Japan. They’re often printed in travel guides and other country-specific introductory materials that you likely received prior to your arrival here. These have always been kind of an impulse buy for me, Making Out in Japanese being no exception. It’s kind of nice I think just to pick up one of these cheap pocket-references if the thought of traveling to some foreign land ever crosses my mind (and it does and has often). The real value of foreign language phrasebooks for actually learning foreign languages, however, is questionable. Though most phrasebooks like to pretend some high degree of comprehensiveness, there is often little in the way of alternative examples, grammatical explanations, or even useful indices to aid in language retention. In this respect also, Making Out in Japanese is no exception to the phrasebook norm. While this phrasebook’s 14 chapters and introduction offer a whole array of useful phrases organized thematically from “Chapter 1: What’s Up?” to “Chapter 8: Curses and Insults,” to “Chapter 13: Lovers’ Language,” it is often necessary to thumb through several pages of phrases you don’t need in order to find the one you are looking for. There is no index, and the chapter headings are fairly vague, such that, to find a fairly common phrase like すけべ (vulgar, lewd) you might have to search through the chapter on insults, and possibly “Chapter 4: Say What?” before finding it in the chapter on street fighting. (Yes, there is a chapter dedicated to street fighting.)
With all of the above criticism in mind, however, I would strongly urge that the next phrasebook you purchase be from the Making Out In… series. If nothing else, the Making Out phrasebooks are great to leave around the apartment for parties. And they can be a great ice-breaker for parties where native Japanese speakers are mixing with native English speakers. I might even go so far as to recommend toting a copy along to your next work party (assuming your coworkers are fairly easy-going people). One of the best parts about Making Out in Japanese is that it is easily reversible — it can be used by Japanese people to memorize English phrases as well. But, again, as the chapter headings warn, this is not a phrasebook for the faint of heart. It contains some genuinely offensive language, which probably ought not be used at your workplace or in other polite company.
This is a book which, while not comprehensive by any means, may be another step in keeping you motivated to learn Japanese. It could provide the missing link that will complete your social life as a foreigner in Japan. It may even help you find the man or woman of your dreams. But while it will certainly add some spice to your duller private conversations, it probably will hopefully not be the only reference guide you use to learn Japanese.