Today, I’ll be looking at two video tapes designed to teach beginner’s Japanese. I actually prefer to learn with books, select software, and websites, leaving video lessons out of the picture, but I have to admit that there are some really good ones. There’s also some really bad ones. What I’m doing today is looking at one of the best I’ve come across and one of the worst. The contestants: Yan-San and the Japanese People aka Let’s Learn Japanese and NHK Japanese Lessons.
Both of these videos are made by the NHK, but Yan-San and the Japanese People (pictured above) is the better of the two videos, and for obvious reasons. It’s used in classrooms that teach Japanese and does a good job of explaining Japanese conversation, and it also borrows heavily from the drama Yan-San and the Japanese People. I think it’s primary focus is for living in Japan, and it does a really good job of teaching basic spoken Japanese, unlike another video I’ll be talking about.
So, what’s so great about Yan-san? First of all, the skits are taken from an old TV series, and Yan-san’s a foreigner, or gaijin (がいじん・外人), and he experiences a lot of common problems foreigners in Japan face. Also, since the character in the story is living in Japan, you’ll be learning how to live amongst the Japanese people, not only in language, but also in terms of culture. That’s a real bonus.
The actual lesson bits are corny as all get out, but they’re very informative and do make me laugh sometimes. Kaiho-san getting mauled by a cat is one of the best sequences I’ve ever seen in a language-learning video! The second series, picked up around 9 years after the original program ended, isn’t quite as entertaining, but the Yan-san segments are loads more interesting.
Before I brag any further, let’s talk briefly about NHK Japanese Lessons. I like the NHK just as much as the next guy (they made the previous series), but they didn’t do a very good job on this video series. I haven’t gotten even half way through it, because it’s very painful to watch, and when I do, it’s only for a good laugh.
Why does it suck? First of all, they try and introduce the tall blonde guy in the picture below Yan-San as an American when he sounds British. He will be teaching you how to speak Japanese with a British accent, which you don’t want to do. Also, he suffers from common gaijin stereotypes, so you won’t want to be acting like him, either. If you’d like to learn Japanese from a British guy, check out the Gakuranman and his site, Gakuu.
Basically, the character is in Japan for business, so you can already tell that this series is less about living in Japan and becoming fluent, and more about coping with Japan while you try and deal with various businessmen. As such, the information isn’t nearly is interesting as what you’ll be learning from Yan-san’s teacher. Not to mention, the NHK guy’s female guide speaks English with a very, very thick Japanese accent, making it difficult to decipher what she’s saying. Think Princess Aeka when she tried to speak English in a certain episode of Tenchi in Tokyo. It doesn’t work really well.
Also, Yan-san speaks Japanese all the time, and he’s really good at. The NHK guy rarely speaks in Japanese sentences and only knows enough phrases to get buy. That’s what you’ll spend your time learning from him: phrases. It’s your basic survival guide to spending a vacation in Japan, and you won’t get far. Another stinky part is that they don’t spend a whole lot of time on proper grammar, at least as far as I’ve watched. The first phrase you learn is, “どこですか.” In romaji, that’s, “Doko desu ka?”, or, “Where is (blank).” They never teach you how to fill in the blank, either. You have to pick it up for yourself, which isn’t too bad, except that it speaks volume for the producer’s willingness to teach you how to speak properly. Your vocabulary will suffer greatly from this method of learning.
As I said, I haven’t watched many of the NHK tapes, but that’s because Yan-san is way more interesting, and the information is great, and they even attempt to introduce you to Japanese writing. You will not achieve fluency with these tapes, and you probably won’t be quite ready to tackle intermediate Japanese throug them, but they are excellent supplements. They do amazing jobs at training your ears to hear up-to-speed spoken Japanese. Just remember not to imitate the blonde guy in the latter series, should you decide to watch it.