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4.3 out of 5 stars42
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 16 December 2008
I studied Japanese and lived there many years ago and have been trying to keep up with the language every since, with varying success. I've purchased some Japanese games for the DS recently, which have been useful for Kanji and Kana learning (Kanji Sonomama DS Rakubikjiten and Tadashii Kanji Kakitori kun - both available from Amazon Japan).

I think this is the first game released for the DS that takes English speakers through the basics of the Japanese language. English learning games for the DS at all levels are very common in Japan, so this is well overdue. The Japanese games for learning English often don't have enough Japanese in them of the right level to be useful to English speakers, so this is a really interesting development.

Unlike books, this is very interactive and the games are very effective for testing your memory and learning. They allow you to practice and learn very efficiently if you are short of time. I don't think you can learn to speak Japanese fluently just on the strength of this game alone, but as a companion to a good teacher or textbook such as Japanese for College Students: Basic Vol 1 (Japanese for College Students Vol. 1), it is very useful. For me, as a revision aid, I have found it very helpful.

The main gripe is, as others have noted, the errors in the stroke order for the Kanji and Kana. You can work round this, but I suggest using a textbook, or Kakitorikun if it is important to you to learn these correctly.

The grammar explanations are complicated, because Japanese grammar is actually quite complicated in places and its difficult to condense into a DS screen. Again, I'd suggest A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar or equivalent here.

I find the bridge builder game and the flash card game on Audio only (you hear the word spoken in Japanese and choose the English option) to be the most useful so far. The write card game is also useful, but spoiled a little by the dodgy stroke order on a few of the characters. The microphone play-back function where you can compare your pronunciation to the game's voice is also very useful indeed, particularly if you are new to Japanese.

I think the built-in dictionary and phrase book would be very useful too, although I use Kanji Sonomama's dictionary now.

If you already have a DS and are serious about learning Japanese, you should get this game to help along your study, particularly if you are not fortunate enough to have a Japanese speaker giving you regular lessons.

I intend to buy My Chinese Coach when it becomes available in the UK, and I'm also looking forward to the DS Mind Your Language Japanese game, to see how they compare.
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on 14 October 2009
Having been to Japan two years ago I fell in love with the place. It is without doubt one of the few places you must visit before your heart stops beating. I used to download my Japanese lessons from ITunes and whilst in Tokyo it proved quite invaluable - one of the locals even asked me if I studied the language (we were in a pub at the time so perhaps the alcohol was the cause of flattery?) made me smile though!

This game arrived yesterday (just missed the pesky postal strikes - hurrah) and I must say that I am simply blown away! The learning curve is just right and it allows you to go at your own pace. Fun games and the prospect of 'mastery points' keep you coming back for more!

In less than a day I now know my colours, the days of the week and my numbers up to nineteen! (No need for the applause but thank you all the same heh heh)

What is really wonderful about this lil gem is that you can revisit all the lessons you've gone over and repeat them for all eternity! There is also a glossary of words and phrases that range from Entertainment to Conversational - you can tick your favourite words and phrases and they'll appear in your 'favourites' - you can then practice them until your pronunciation is spot on!

Another cool innovation is the 'mimicry feature' which allows you to record your pronunciation and play it in unison with a local, ensuring that you say the correct thing and not something rude by mistake!

I plan to return to Japan again before the year is out and will be taking this brilliant learning tool along with me (who knows I may just click the things I want to say n let the Dsi do all the work for me? : D )

No, no I won't do that especially seeing as I can now say:
"Sumimasen, nomimono wo oggotte mo ii?" (Excuse me, do you want a drink?)

I'm not psychic or anything but something tells me that that lil phrase with come in handy ; )

Get this game - you will love it!
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on 1 February 2009
I am not going to repeat the comments from the other reviews. However, I would like to add to those reviews...

I bought this game for myself and my 12-year-old son to use. I studied spoken Japanese 20 years ago and wanted to brush up my Japanese, learn the kana and some kanji and expand my vocabulary. I am now on lesson 29 and my son is a few lessons behind me, and I have to say that so far the game has proved excellent for both of us. I have now learned the Hiragana and I am working on the katakana - thank you previous reviewers for the warning about stroke order as I had not realised there was a problem.

Overall I am very pleased with this game, although I would have a couple of suggestions for the developers if they plan to bring out a revised edition: (i) an expansion of the hiragana and katakana exercises would be good so that you could, for example, go into a game to test only your hiragana; (ii) what has sometimes happened is that I have supposedly 'mastered' a set of words but I really only know the romanized versions and I need more practice on the kana characters (I am not on to kanji yet) and at this point the game takes me on to the next set of words before I feel ready. This could be overcome if the games did not start testing you on new words until you had gone through the lesson in which the new words are introduced; and (iii) it would be good if in Options you could click a button to make all words shown in kana rather than in romaji (and change the option back as needed) to help with learning the kana in some of the games.

Sorry if all that sounds complicated. They are actually only small criticisms of an otherwise EXCELLENT and FUN piece of educational software.
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on 8 April 2010
I was very positively surprised with this game. I have been studying Japanese for around 5 years now, including a year in Tokyo and have since tried to expand my knowledge or at least keep what I have.

When you first start the game gives you a test to judge how far you are already and put you into the correct level. Sadly you can't jump very far ahead with this test and it also does not keep track of individual words reviewed in previous lessons that the student might not know yet. I got an awful lot of colours wrong, but because I didn't get 3 questions in a row wrong, it just assumed I already knew all the colours and gave me full mastery points for the words in question. Also, despite jumping as far ahead as I believe possible, I still ended up reviewing some Hiragana and having to work my way through all the Katakana lessons - which is a bit of a pain if you can write both Hiragana and Katakana, as well as around 100 or so Kanji. There is also no way of manually marking words or letters as "needing review" or "mastered", so there is no way of jumping ahead or reviewing specific words. Yes, it is possible to track down the individual lesson that taught the word in the first place, but I feel there should be a way to include certain words more often than others in the games intended to drill the meaning of words into you. Also it would be nice if after your initial test it would give you lessons which include words you got wrong, but skipped over other lessons where you got all questions right. The lessons themselves are fairly short though, so overall it is not much of a problem to quickly play to the point that your Japanese is actually at.

The best part of the game are definitively the mini games, which drill the meaning of words, the writing of Kana and Kanji, as well as sentence structure into you. They unlock fairly slowly, so even if you are relatively far into the game, there still remains things to be discovered. The curve from Romaji to Hiragana/Kanji is fairly well done and I believe will slowly introduce a beginner to the new writing without overwhelming them. For each successfully completed game you get Mastery points for the words that you got correct in the game, depending on the difficulty you played at. You can choose if you wish to work on "open words" (words you haven't mastered according to the game) or "Mastered words" or both, which I particularly enjoy, as it gives you a convenient way to regularly review words from previous lessons. Sadly, if you actually did not know a word from a previous lesson or could not remember it, this doesn't help very much as the word might pop up once per session but rarely more. I am still struggling with the colours and I haven't seen a colour in any of my games for several lessons now, despite the fact that I always choose to review both open and mastered words. What I would have really liked to see would have been different mastery bars. One for initial mastery, then one that fills more slowly over time. In my experience - if I still know a word a year after I originally learned it, then it is firmly lodged in my memory, but sadly the game does not test for that. Initially you learn a lot, but how much of that actually stays in long term memory remains to be seen. You can also not loose mastery points, even if you get a word wrong repetitively, which again is a shame and keeps this game from being brilliant.

As others have said, some of the Kana strokes and Kanji strokes aren't right. So far I haven't found this to be a major problem and often the game acknowledges both stroke orders (the one it teaches and the correct one). It obviously still demonstrates the Kana and Kanji with the wrong stroke order, so if a stroke order looks dodgy, it is always worth consulting an actual Kanji dictionary. What is also missing (as far as I can tell, I have still two games to unlock) is a game to drill verb forms. While the verb forms are explained, they aren't much drilled, which would have really been necessary - preferably right from the lesson where the different bases are first introduced. Knowing the bases well and which verb belongs to which group makes Japanese in the long run so much easier and I feel they really missed an opportunity here. They also use Romaji excessively in places - like the game where you hear the Japanese word and need to type it out on a Western keyboard. To me it would be much more useful to hear the word (or even the English version of it) and then have to write the word in Japanese.

While you slowly work your way along the lessons, you also work your way through the Japanese school system. You start off as pre-schooler, go to Kindergarden and so on and so forth. I really enjoy that system, as it gives you a very real idea of how far you are. In effect it is only a title and as such has no real influence on the game design, but I find it very motivating.

Short but sweet:
+Small lessons, with a low frustration factor and realistic word targets
+Fun and effective games, with good difficulty levels
+The tool to record your pronunciation and compare it to a mother tongue speaker's is excellent
+Training of writing, reading and listening skills
+It is possible to go back to any lesson to review it
+The game is huge and not only targeted at beginners
+A good curve from Romaji to Kana and Kanji

-Only initial "Mastery" and no meter to assess if a given word is actually in long term memory
-Grammar is awkward to fully comprehend on such a small screen
-No game to practice Japanese Verb forms
-Lessons are fairly stagnant and you have to work your way from one to the next, no matter if you know the content or not
-No way for the user to get the game to practice particular words more often than others
-Incorrect stroke order on occasion
-Overuse of Romaji at times

Despite it flaws, I would still recommend this game to anyone who wants to keep their Japanese up or get an impression of the language. It is fun, motivating and keeps you coming back for more. It is however not a replacement for old fashioned pen and paper flash cards and a proper Japanese book with grammar drills and lots of actual Japanese writing.
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on 24 August 2009
Unless you're some sort of freaky genius, studying Japanese is a challenge for English speakers - but at the risk of sounding like a Tomy advert, this game actually does make learning fun (and even slightly addictive). It's split up into lessons which teach you 10 to 15 words or symbols at a time; you then play a variety of games to earn points and 'master' the words, after which you can move onto the next lesson. There are 100 thematic lessons, and then 900+ "open plan" ones, each of which teaches you ten new words or kanji.

If you learn best aurally then this will be useful for you, as it comes with audio recordings of all the words and sentences covered. For me, this is the biggest advantage of the game as I find the words are much more likely to stick in my head if I hear them spoken aloud. You can also pinpoint specific words or phrases that you have difficulty with, which might be more difficult to do with a CD. The audio is also really helpful for pronunciation, obviously. The second big advantage is that the game gives you time to practice the hiragana and katakana (two of the Japanese writing systems), and after the 30th lesson it cuts down on the romaji so you're forced to read it and eventually pick it up, even if you don't put all that much effort into learning it. If you want to learn a lot of vocabulary quickly but don't have hours to dedicate to it, or are just a bit lazy, then this is a great way to do it.

The downside of the game is the grammar lessons, which are far too brief; after fifty lessons I knew about five hundred words but had no idea how to use them. There are also too few examples; you're hit with a list of ten verbs but only one or two sentences to illustrate how you put them into action. Obviously the DS screen is pretty small so there's a limit to how much text they can squeeze in there, but even so, some of Haruka sensei's explanations were dire. It's easy to keep moving through the lessons as you're only tested on vocabulary, not grammar, so if you want to learn Japanese properly you really need to supplement your learning with a grammar book; personally, I like 'Schaum's Outlines: Japanese Grammar' and 'Japanese for College Students'. (Note: you'll need to be pretty nifty with your kana if you want to get much out of those.) The explanations and reading of kanji are also a bit vague, so I'd recommend buying a kanji book.

All in all, this is definitely a worthwhile buy - I've only been learning for a few weeks but I've found I'm picking it up pretty easily. In the past, when I was trying to learn using books only, I found it all a bit overwhelming and didn't get very far, but I now feel like I'm making progress; at the same time, if didn't have a grammar book I wouldn't have a clue what was going on. This is a fun, useful addition to more traditional learning methods, but not good enough as a standalone product.
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Having previously only used books and audio methods to learn a language I thought I'd invest in a DS and this game to see if it could help with my vocabulary retention and general learning. First off it has to be said that it is very easy to set up your profile on this game and get into the learning very quickly. A female Japanese character guides you through each lesson (which are also introduced with facts about Japan as a nation which is a nice touch) and introduces the various words and phrases before moving on to various games to help you remember and apply them. The word games are fairly simple but help concrete the words in your memory and as you progress through the game more are unlocked so that you always have something to aim towards and this also helps keep the overall learning interesting. This game also looks at Japanese writing systems and although this is the hardest part to grasp it is very useful if you want to have a more rounded knowledge of the language. This is something an audio course will never be able to provide. This also has an in-built dictionary and phrasebook, as well as a digital notepad to use when you are on your travels. Overall I have found this game to be engaging and interesting and I have improved my Japanese in leaps and bounds. If you want a good introductory course that takes the pain out of learning, then this is the thing for you. Clear to use, helpful in language use and retention and fun to boot, what more could you want?

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 13 February 2009
I highly recommend this product to anyone who wants to learn Japanese, the exercises and games are a brilliant way to get it into your head. Although I found it difficult learning symbols, all you really need to do is go over it now and again and you will get it eventually.
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on 11 January 2010
When I bought this I didn't expect to learn very much. I already knew a lot of vocabulary from watching endless anime and did not expect much from this in the way of grammar or writing. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that after a few short lessons I was already forming basic sentences and writing down elementary kana symbols.

The game starts by testing how much Japanese you already know, and then determines what level to place you at for you to continue your learning. The lessons alternate between vocabulary with grammar pointers on how to use that vocab, and kana writing lessons, and encourages you to learn the kana in order to continue learning the vocabulary without the help of romanji (phonetically written in English).

You learn approximately ten words or symbols per lesson, and cannot advance to the next lesson until you have proved through various tests and games that you can recognise, understand and use the learned material, thus ensuring you do not skip important information.

There are three ways to learn the material - read, listen and write. Read is the first step, where you are shown the romanji and kana for the word and what it means. In listen, you are encouraged to say the word into the microphone and compare it alongside the native speaker. There is even a sound wave graph to help with comparison. In write, you make full use of the touch screen as you learn how to write the word in kana and kanji - this also has a compare function to check you are writing correctly and with the right stroke order.

There is also a very helpful phrasebook section which is great for if you ever travel to Japan; it contains all sorts of phrases from general conversation, to restaurant phrases, to asking directions.

I highly recommend buying this, however, if you are serious about learning how to write the language, I also recommend buying a Kana workbook so that you can review the letters more easily.Easy Kana Workbook: Basic Practice in Hiragana and Katakana for Japanese Language Students (Language - Japanese)
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on 21 March 2009
This is a great little tool for those of you wanting to learn or brush up on your japanese.

The game starts by testing yuo on any existing knowledge you may already have then proceeds to teach you from that level onwards. Great if you already know bits and peices so you don't have to go over older stuff instead, though you can choose to if you like.

The in learning games anr fun and easy to get to grips with and each lesson is repaeted so that the knowledge really sets in. Plus with each lesson only being around about 20mins ong it's not to taxing as well.

I would highly recommend this as it's great fun and as i've found out, quite hard to put down.
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on 6 May 2009
I got hooked the first time I played it. I'm an avid watcher of Japanese anime, and watching them subtitled rather than dubbed in english is an acquired habit of mine. I hope with this program I will be able to understand the shows without subtitles! (I'm way ahead of myself) I can now read a few Japanese words, which is amazing! Although I did find the lessons tougher as you go along. You can still review and go over the lessons again and again till you grasp the lessons. Great gift for anyone who wants to learn new languages. I like it that I get to WRITE Japanese Hiragana as part of a game! How cool is that!
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