Making Sense of Japanese by Jay Rubin

Score:
8 / 10
Pros:
short & medium-length essays ease your concerns about the toughest aspects of Japanese grammar; puts conversational spoken & colloquial written Japanese in context through numerous insights; filled with the author’s personality and literary touches; makes some very tricky aspects of the language accessible

Cons:
more of a pleasure read than a serious resource for learning Japanese; better for intermediate learners still struggling with things like the difference between particles wa & ga or sentence structure


It takes so much time and involvement just to start to learn Japanese that after a short while, beginners find themselves overwhelmed and confused. The Japanese language is different, to be sure, but Harvard professor and translator Jay Rubin intends to show you just how non-threatening and straightforward the ins and outs of Japanese are. As you read his wordy but thoughtful essays in Making Sense of Japanese, you’ll take a literary and linguistic journey through a variety Japanese language functions.

Each essay sorts out your confusion on one specific piece of language use. For instance, one explains the differences between wa and ga, while another debunks the “myth” of subjectless sentences. This means that you’ll only deal with certain slices of the language selected by the author for their difficulty.

Along the way, you’ll find far more explanations, sidetracked musings and food for thought than actual examples or anything resembling lessons. Don’t be put off – it’s a good, fun read that can complement your study and give you a stronger framework for learning the language.

Of Japanese lesson books and language courses, there are many. But few books offer the chance to spend time with a seasoned Japanese learner, teacher and translator, gathering the kinds of language learning tips you’ll encounter here. It’s not complete, perhaps not even robust, but it’s a good read for those in a position to get something out of it. Recommended especially for intermediate students – put the heavy-duty materials away for a day or two, and take this joy ride through the Japanese language.

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