Update: For everyone coming here looking for a review of TextFugu, this post is out of date. It was written when TextFugu was in its infancy, and is a first-impression review. A more accurate and up-to-date review is here.
Textfugu makes the incredibly bold statement, “Best way to teach yourself Japanese, guaranteed.” I’ve been meaning to review Textfugu for a while, as Koichi is a hardworking guy who endlessly promotes the Japanese language. He’s a very successful marketer, has a vibrant personality, and is actually dedicated to your success, not his. Well, I wouldn’t wager he’s that selfless, but you get the idea. So, what do I make of his product? It’s a mixed bag, but I’m going to spoil the review by saying I’m glad I bought it. However, that doesn’t mean that Textfugu isn’t without its flaws, so here’s my complete review. Oh, but before that, I’m going to offer a disclaimer. Namely, Textfugu doesn’t yet offer lessons for my level, so a lot of this is the hypothetical if-I-was-starting-again kind of thing, and may not be 100% accurate.
Textfugu is basically an online textbook, but specifically addresses the self-learner. It deals in “seasons” with each season comprising of a series of lessons, and I gather that each season is supposed to take approximately a month to complete. There’s a separate section for studying kanji.
Since Textfugu is specifically designed to center around self-learners, Koichi’s first task was to find out why self-learners have this nasty habit of failing and to make Textfugu a better way to learn. I must say that Koichi does this quite well. He pinpoints the biggest problems with self-learners and does his best to make Textfugu overcome these hurdles.
He gets a good portion of vocabulary out of the way right at the start, as well as some basic grammar. After this point, he accurately predicts how you’re feeling and tells you why you feel that way. He also offers motivation and study tips to help you stay focused on learning Japanese. I really appreciated these chapters. Why? Because I’ve never seen another book address this. AJATT addresses it pretty good, and I know some people would love to compare their styles, but AJATT also doesn’t attempt to teach Japanese, just offer a method for learning it. As such, Textfugu scores big points for this one. Stay motivated, Japanese students!
Another thing I enjoy is the way that Textfugu does kanji. Personally, I was afraid of kanji for a long time, and by that, I mean more than reasonable. I finally started working my way through Remembering the Kanji. As such, I don’t want to switch methods now, but looking at Textfugu’s kanji section, I can safely say that Koichi has the right idea. In fact, his method is, in small ways, similar to Heisig’s in that the kanji just keep building on each other. Great way to learn the kanji, and to get into a good rhythm of studying it.
I think this is important because usually a textbook will offer you 300 odd kanji to learn by the end of the book, but it won’t give you any way of remembering them or learning them! Moreover, the kanji it throws at you is usually in a weird order. So, again, Textfugu shines in this area by making kanji not only easy to learn, but actually comprehendible.
I also like the way the lessons build on each other. Each new lessons feels like you’re getting into something way different, whereas traditional text books can sometimes take baby steps so small, you wonder if you’ve accomplished anything much by doing the lesson. Not to mention, Koichi has an interesting story going on, which is a lot better than the dialogue stories you get in traditional textbooks. This way, you’ll have great writing skills in Japanese, which is something that we self-learners occasionally lack.
Also, Textfugu has a great community. Tofugu is a popular blog, and its followers seem to have migrated to Textfugu. What does this mean? It means that the people at Textfugu are pretty passionate about what they’re learning. You can meet them in the forums, although you’ll have to sign up for that separately.
Now, Textfugu still has its problems, some of them unavoidable. A good example of the unavoidable problems is that it can seem a bit boring at first. Smart.fm (a review coming soon for that one) is heavily utilized at the beginning of the course, so you basically do a lot of memorizing. It’s well worth it, and a quick glance at the lists tells me that Koichi really wants you to get conversational fast, but that doesn’t change the fact that a ton of memorization is just less than fun. Still, you can’t really get around that, no matter where you go or what you do.
Another problem, and a blessing at the same time, is that Textfugu isn’t a traditional textbook. What am I talking about? It updates. This is great because sometimes when you get to that certain level in language learning, it can be hard to find an intermediate or advanced book that you actually like, especially if you’ve gotten used to the style of the beginner’s book you were studying. Textfugu will always update and give you what you need. In the long run, this is excellent, but right now it can be problematic. For example, it’ll be a while before Textfugu reaches my level, and you have to wait until the updates come, although I go through all of its lessons anyway. I really only got it when I did because I knew the price would only go up.
That leads me to the last problem. Pricing can get expensive. I mean, the guy’s gotta eat, and Textfugu is his full-time job. When Textfugu first hit the market, it was around $50. Not to mention, once you paid that fee, no matter what pricing system Textfugu would adopt, you would have a lifetime membership and not have to pay anything afterwards. Great deal! The pricing is a bit trickier now. I think there’s a monthly subscription. I don’t know if I could afford Textfugu now (unsteady income alert), so I’m glad I got it when I did!
All in all, though, Textfugu is a great product. I highly recommend it, especially if you have a hard time finding that right book or software and this blog hasn’t helped your decision so far! So go check it out. The first few lessons are free, so you have nothing to lose.
(Disclaimer – This article could be subject to rewriting after my brain comes out of its illiteracy fog)