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Monday, 13 February 2012

Book Review: Japanese Core Words and Phrases by Kazuko Shoji

Right now, I'm going for intensive Japanese lessons. I'm not sure how much it's helping, since I need Aki-Sensei to explain everything to me, but it's better than nothing. Apart from that, I'm also trying to read the Japanese textbooks I do have, to familiarise myself with what I've learnt. Then, there are the library books. Japanese Core Words and Phrases: Things You Can't Find in a Dictionary falls under this third category.

Japanese Core Words and Phrases by Kazuko Shoji is published by Kondansha International (which is sadly closing down), and what I consider the "gold standard" for Japanese-related materials. Basically, I had high hopes for this book and they weren't disappointed.

This book aims to take the words and phrases that cannot be easily explained, like のです(no desu) and と言うこと(to iu koto) and, well, explain them. This is done through explanations and example sentences. While generally successful, the book has two weaknesses:

The example sentences all have romaji underneath them. This is actually very strange, because they don't appear anywhere else (like when you're trying to read the words in the explanation). Plus, it also hinders my practice reading Japanese, because I'd naturally gravitate to the romaji. I'd like this book a lot more if they used furigana instead of romaji for kanji.

The example sentences have brief, if any, explanation. To me, part of the reason of using (many) examples is to see how the phrase/word functions in a variety of contexts. In this case, it would be vastly more helpful to explain the sentence, maybe by breaking down the sentence into its components. It would also increase the length of the book (maybe even double it), but I'd gladly pay more for that.

In short, this is a very useful book to have on hand, especially if you're in the beginner/intermediate stage. If possible, I'd say to wait for an expanded edition or for it to go on sale.

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