When I reviewed TextFugu for a second time, I mentioned Gakuu and how TextFugu members could get 80% off. Well, I decided to give it a go and see what to make of it. What I discovered is a goldmine for sentence mining, and a great way to understand the way the Japanese talk, especially when things aren’t nice and clear like they are in textbooks. My first impression was that it was TextFugu for intermediate and advanced students, and what I found was something different, and almost better. It won’t overshadow TextFugu, which will continue to grow into its own advanced material, but is excellent as a supplement for a textbook, or an amazing find if you’re an input person. Output people, I’m afraid this might not be your cup of tea.
Apparently the Gakuranman, as he studied Japanese through textbooks, discovered that they just weren’t doing it for him the way they were when he was a beginner. Basically, they didn’t seem to be teaching “real world” Japanese, and thus most of his learning at this stage took place outside of the classroom. His new website, Gakuu, is dedicated to bringing the odd and bizarre of the Japanese language, and presenting it in a way that even the most incompetent gaijin can understand.
Now, this is a website that’s excellent for sentence mining. You can find sentences everywhere, from anime, to pictures of billboards, to websites, but deciphering them can be a real pain. Let’s face it, the Japanese don’t talk like English speakers do. If I have a headache, I say that I’m going to take ibuprofen or something. In Japan, you would say that you’re going to drink ibuprofen. They just have different ways of saying things, and sometimes this can be downright confusing.
For example, go to this Japanese wikipedia page in your Firefox browser with Rikaichan enabled. Now, Rikaichan might be able to give you the definition of each word, and you probably know enough grammar to understand things like the various verb forms, etc., but are you still having a hard time understanding exactly what it says sometimes? I even tried to make it easier by directing the link to the wikipedia page for The Legend of Zelda – something you might be familiar with.
Now, I’m going to bet that it was rather difficult to really understand it. You might get the gist of it, but the real understand just isn’t there. That’s what makes Gakuu so wonderful; the ability to tell you how to put it all together. Sentence mining only works properly if you know how it all comes together, and this site gives you a good head start towards understanding real Japanese. You can take this knowledge and apply it to other areas of Japanese, or add it to your Anki deck when you collect sentences.
If there’s a con to Gakuu, it comes from its non-linear style. This isn’t a problem for me, but for people who like plans, charts, and lessons, it’ll be a bit daunting. Gakuu isn’t a textbook, it’s a site striving to bring learners of Japanese the real language, in its raw, uncut form and bridge the gap between the two languages so you can grasp its real meaning.
I also don’t recommend Gakuu for early beginners going the textbook route, at least not yet. Sure it has hiragana and katakana charts, but you should have some basic grammar under your belt before diving into this. If you’re an inputter, then I’d say go ahead and sign up. The cost really isn’t that bad and there’s plenty of information here.
All in all, Gakuu defied my first impressions and turned out to be a really great resource that I’ll be coming back to a lot. The explanations are clear and concise, it helps make sense of some of those stranger expressions, has slang, and is perfect for sentence mining.