Product review: Rapid Japanese, Earworms Learning

I've learned a number of languages in my life, to various degrees of fluency and in various ways; English I learned natively from birth(ish); French I learned in a fairly traditional (albeit early-starting) scholastic fashion from ages 8-21, including various holidays and a year's study in Paris. German, I learned in lunchtime classes in a year, followed by some Uni study before living there for a year, and Spanish I learned, again fairly traditionally, from about ages 13-16.

I enjoy languages, have something of an aptitude for them, and don't particularly like holidaying in places where I don't speak the local tongue.

I've also tried to teach myself (bits of) three languages: Irish Gaelic, Italian and Japanese.

Irish because I love the sound of it (I'm a sucker for the accent) and used to be extremely interested in Irish and Celtic legend. I tried to teach myself this from a book-and-tape, listen-and-repeat combination; I failed, dismally. I couldn't even work out the pronunciation (Irish uses letters and letter combinations to represent different sounds than English does) and, to be honest, I had no real motivation or external use for it. Equally, these systems require specific time; you can't read and repeat on the tube.

Italian, because it's one of only a few countries in western europe where I couldn't converse easily. I hate having to expect other people to speak my language. Plus, my partner loves the country (I'm pretty fond of it too), and we both love the food. If you haven't eaten pizza, pasta and antipasti *in* Italy, you have no idea what you're missing. Motivation here: holidays, appetite, and a constant embarrassment every time I lapse into Spanish. The method: a more modern, primarily audio-based, listen-and-repeat learning set - the Berlitz Italian Premier set, in fact. It's pretty good, reasonably varied and quite effective. You can use some parts on the tube to some extent, but you still really have to spend time on it. (I'm not claiming that this is, in any way, surprising or unreasonable).

Most recently, Japanese, because I love japanese food and used to study Aikido; I wanted to get a bit further than "Raw rice, raw fish, rice wine, 1, 2, 3, yes, no, Sensei and *THUD*" (it's considered appropriate, when impacting the floor clumsily, to try and do so in the correct idiom). I initially got as far as the Aikido forms, formal requests, numbers 1-10, and about 12 types of food. The dojo taught us some of this, my appetite supplied most of the rest of the motivation. However, my partner has also suggested we might visit Tokyo sometime, and I'm under no illusion that my current capability will get me *anywhere*.

Now, I didn't want just another listen-and-repeat box set, because, one, I'm theoretically still trying to improve my Italian that way, and two, I really don't manage to make much time for it. So, when I spotted "Rapid Japanese" on, I figured it was worth a look. The fact it was on offer for a fiver helped, too.

It's described by the publisher as follows:

"Rapid Japanese: The Musical Brain Trainer, a genuine breakthrough and your easy and effective access to the Japanese language.

Earworms MBT is a revolutionary accelerated learning technique that takes the hard work out of learning. By listening to these specially composed melodies with their rhythmic repetitions of Japanese and English a few times, you pick up over 200 essential words and phrases that will not just be on the tip of your tongue, but will be burned deeply into your long-term memory in next to no time."

OK, I'll be honest. To me, as a lifelong language student, it sounded like some combination of snake oil and hypnopaedia, possibly with added hippyness. And it's quite possible that many people would still think after they've heard it. But I found it extremely engaging, fascinating, and actually quite fun. I have no idea whether it'll actually stick, although I find on second listening that I'm recalling quite a lot of vocab.

The system is best described as a native japanese speaker casually teaching a few words and phrases to a friend. The whole thing's set to music - running the gamut from chill-out jazz, via spanish guitar, to disco-wakka - and this will almost certainly drive some people off it. Repetition is intense, although the voicing is good enough that it sounds casual; the music probably helps with this- after all, we expect music to echo. Whether we expect it to drop off into an echobox periodically is another matter though.

Yet, I like it. As I've said, it's fun, it's casual and it's happy to be inventive and try something very new. It's also very effective at gaining and holding your attention, even on the tube - we're talking miss-your-stop and possibly even walk-under-a-bus, so be warned! It covers 200 or so words in 72 minutes, so it's not massively in-depth, but you can easily dip in and out of it, and repeat it as you like. Grammar is touched on very lightly, but it is there; this is not purely parrot-fashion learning, which is great for a purely audible course. I suspect that having some comprehension of the basic concepts of grammar help, but Japanese has a very different word order and formative structure from european languages, so it'll be new to most people anyway.

I think I'm learning from it; I'm certainly looking forward to the release of volume 2. But it's not without a few faults. The japanese speaker (who, mysteriously, isn't credited) tends to swallow vowels and isn't always perfectly clear. Now, this may well be accurate, but I've no way of knowing. The english speaker (who actually has a UK accent) is clearer - his pronunciation may actually not be so authentic, but it helps. Due to an unfamiliarity with Japanese pronunciation, it can be hard to figure out the words from the speech - although there is fortunately a pretty good downloadable booklet which helps with this.

In summary - it's good. It's a novel idea which could very easily have been badly executed, and from most descriptions sounds like it should have been, but it works, and works well. Earworms are to be congratulated on a highly innovative and well produced product.

I've downloaded the Italian version too - hopefully I'll be able to report back on that soon.
Posted by parsingphase, 2008-05-16 22:51

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