Definitions of key words used in my Japanese reviews

Words, words, words. Those of us learning Japanese are very familiar with all types of words.

When I rate Japanese language learning courses and materials, quite a few unique terms surface. These aren’t words I find myself speaking unless discussing language learning methods and products. In the interest of clarity, I’ve decided to make a kind of key-terms list or glossary. I have a precise concept in mind when I use these words, and I tend to use them frequently throughout these reviews.

Many of these words are quite basic. If you find yourself stumped by my use of what would be an otherwise easy word, take a quick glance below. No one will tell.

If you came here looking for guidance on learning Japanese, I recommend that you start with parts of speech and affixes). Includes sentence structure (like word order and the use of parts of speech in a sentence).

immersion (immersive): used to express the sense of “direct” contact with the target language, usually indicating an emphasis on exposure to a language rather than explanations of how a language works.

intermediate: strong command of writing, still struggling with kanji, understands all Japanese parts of speech, but few of the finer details, proficient in a wide variety of conversation topics.

kana: two syllable-based systems used to write Japanese. Unlike an alphabet, a syllabary has symbols that stand for syllables in a language. The two kana are hiragana (for writing word endings, particles and certain native Japanese words) and katakana (for writing borrowed or foreign words).

kanji: the third system used for writing Japanese. Imported from China to Japan in ancient times, “kan-ji” (“Han-characters”) include thousands of characters that stand for syllables, whole words, or sound-alikes.

lesson: presents a way of learning Japanese unit by unit, with each unit building on the last. Most lesson courses follow a traditional layout.

mastery (to master, to conquer): as a student, when you’re at the point that you can use a certain language function without hesitating or consulting another source.

method (approach): way of teaching you Japanese, usually because someone thinks it’s a unique way or the best way to learn the language.

multimedia: a mix of audio (like recorded speech), visual (images and video) and traditional components.

organization (layout): the order in which material is presented, especially in a lesson.

pacing: the way a student is directed through material, including the amount of material covered, the consistency of that coverage, and how (and how well) the material is divided up – chapters, units, sections; days, weeks, months, etc.

phrasebook (phrase book): a selection of Japanese vocabulary words and phrases along with their English translations, often with pronunciation cues. Phrasebooks aimed at helping you cope with the absolute basics of potentially difficult or serious situations are sometimes called “survival phrasebooks”.

program (course): a specific language learning product along with the intended use of that product.

pronunciation: how to speak the sounds of Japanese aloud, without attention to meaning or grammar (linguists know this as phonology).

readings: the way kanji characters are pronounced. The same character may have different pronunciations depending on context (for example, if it stands alone as a single word or is part of a compound word with other characters).

romaji (roomaji, roumaji): Roman alphabet characters (same ones used to write English) used to represent the pronunciation of Japanese. It is sometimes considered a separate Japanese writing system, but more precisely it is a way of transliterating Japanese.

source language: the language of the learner, or “native” language, especially when translating.

student (learner): anyone dedicated to learning to speak, read or write Japanese, whether in a classroom or teaching yourself, on your own.

target language: the language being learned, or “foreign” language, especially in translation.

traditional: common lesson book format. Each unit or chapter has at least one dialogue, vocabulary list(s), explanations of grammar and writing. Often emphasizes the written language.

transliteration (to transliterate): way of representing the pronunciation of Japanese in written form, usually using romaji or “Roman” characters (the same alphabet we use). Often found in beginner materials where it is sometimes praised as a stepping stone or criticized as a crutch. “Real” written Japanese only uses kana and kanji, with progressively larger numbers of kanji in advanced literature.

vocabulary: individual words and their meanings, usually focusing on content words (nouns, verbs and adjectives), especially when presented outside of a context involving exposure, like a vocabulary list.

written language: here it specifically deals with learning Japanese kanji and kana.

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