A while back I discovered a video series for beginners learning Japanese called “Erin’s Challenge!” The videos followed the adventures of a British foreign exchange student (she’s played by a half Japanese model who speaks fluent Japanese, or so I’m told) as lives and goes to school in Japan. At first I wasn’t impressed. The dialogue is great – nice and casual, which is always a plus, but you have know some Japanese that’s a bit advanced for the beginner level to follow it without subtitles, and the lessons at the end pick only one or two points of grammar to teach you. This leaves some learners in the dust, confused, and ready to give up.
However, it saved itself from getting a negative review from me through its website, Erin’s Challenge. At this point I’m still unsure of what I think about it as far as being for beginners, but I have found some interesting uses it has. It’s got great skits and provides the script to it, a manga form, and you can even download the audio. This is SRS heaven, if you have the patience to work with it. It does have some negative aspects, such as the “Nihongo Quest” which is hardly beginner friendly, and some of the little activities that don’t do much, but I think the website is great. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE!
First of all, each skit is very short and the dialogue can be read underneath the video. You can watch the script in kanji, katakana, romaji, English, or in a combination of any one of these. Heck, why not just watch it with the script written in all of them! This is a huge help for students not at the beginner level who want to try and follow along without the annoying English subtitles turned on, and if your kanji isn’t too good yet, you can just display the kana underneath with a click of a button. Better yet, you can even toggle between them during the video without lag!
For every skit there’s also an advanced skit, which covers some concepts considered too advanced for the regular, basic skit. For what I use the website for, though, I tend to disregard the lessons entirely, so I cannot comment on their effectiveness.
Each skit also has a manga form. You can change the dialogue from being written in kanji, kana, hiragana, or English, and clicking on the speech bubbles will play the audio. I really do like this feature, even if it seems a bit pointless. I always find reading the manga skit to be fun, especially if I don’t want to sit through the videos.
So, how do I use these features? Before I comment on what I didn’t like about the site, I’d like to show you how to take advantage of the script.
First of all, as you can see from the picture that I turned on all the display options, and there’s a highlighted word with a definition. Well, not so much a definition as an explanation about that particular verb conjugation. You can also download the audio from this page.
What I do is I download the audio for the video, use an editor to separate each line of dialogue, and then put it into Anki. The built-in dictionary is pretty good, although for some conjugations I’ve had to look elsewhere because it can be confusing on the site. The -teyattekure in the very first lesson gave me a rather dull translation, but the site is usually pretty good about explaining things well enough that you don’t have to Google everything you see.
There were a few features I found redundant, such as the “Let’s Try” lessons, but one that I found completely useless is the “Nihongo Quest” game. If you’re only a beginner, I guarantee you won’t be able to read all of the instructions, even if the grammar doesn’t get too advanced. Just click the thumbnail to see the last portion of them. For a site that is supposed to help people learn the language, I think that they could have done this section a bit better. It’s hardly “role playing” and is a waste of time. Talking to the citizens gives you some crappy piece of dialogue, and clicking on the entrance to buildings doesn’t do anything but give you another piece of awful dialogue. It’s really just there to let you actually do something with the avatar you create.
So, what’s my final verdict? It’s a good website, and I highly recommend you check it out. If it wasn’t free, I probably wouldn’t use it so much and would instead get my audio exclusively from JapanesePod101.com, which is a paid site that provides tons of stuff. However, Erin’s Challenge does a lot of things right and I use it quite frequently for all of its options.