Full Review Of Yes Japan (Japanese From Zero)

YesJapan (or its new revamped name Japanese From Zero), one of the oldest Japanese learning sites on the internet, is full of lessons, games, a forum, and many videos toward helping people learn Japanese.

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Founder and charismatic leader of YesJapan

George Trombley, American and fluent in Japanese, works as a technical interpreter and has created all the material from scratch on his website.  Sometimes it is easy to doubt whether you will ever get good at Japanese when you are just starting to study it, so the fact that he is American and yet got it is significant. He causes you to think he was just like yourself at one point—but he figured this Japanese thing out. So why can’t you achieve the same?

Online Textbook And Style

George Trombley’s style of writing is casual. Unlike many other stuffy textbooks, he shares his knowledge of Japanese as if he were having a personal conversation with you.

He notes what’s interesting, important, or indicative of how Japanese people think. He expresses sympathy when something is hard and happiness when something is easy. As he writes from an American perspective, he even knows what mistakes you are likely to make and offers helpful tips for avoiding them.

All this makes the lessons seem much less like something you feel duty-bound to finish and much more like incredibly educational and time-saving conversations—which they are.

There are 5 courses available at YesJapan.com, each of which has on average 13 lessons each. And, like other textbooks, they deliver the most common patterns of the language.

The one weakness I have to point out is that there are mistakes, ranging from redundancies (such as a note about “な adjectives” repeated in each lesson) to grammatical errors in English (such as “more strong”).

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Ease of use

The lessons at YesJapan differ from other textbooks in the relative ease at which you (or anyone new to the language) can make use of them.

This is especially true for those studying Japanese on their own, because aside from the conversational tone that Trombley keeps throughout the lessons, all the instruction and examples—many of which are funny—come with spot-on translations and easy-to-understand explanations.

All the vocabulary words, example sentences, and conversations have sound files read by native speakers, as well. There are nice “play-all” buttons for the lazy who don’t want to press the play button for each individual file. And the site even has a feature that lets you toggle from romaji to hiragana and katakana (or to kanji) as you learn each.

Forums and games

The forum is rarely (if ever) as lively as other free options. The games are outdated. This is unfortunate, as it is a big part of the site that needs an overhaul.

The videos are where it all shines

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At first glance, the quality and class of the 500+ videos on the site appears low. They don’t follow a script, go off into casual tangents, and feel a bit like old school home movies sometimes.

However.

These videos are one of the greatest resources for learning Japanese online.

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If you start watching the videos from oldest to newest, you may initially feel like you are watching (and paying for) a side project.

That is, in fact, what it probably was. However, this “side project” turns out to have gone on for many years. It got more and more professional along the way. And any weaknesses it had or has are very tiny compared to its strengths.

Almost everything I said about the lessons applies to the videos. Because they are much more entertaining than the lessons, however, the videos allow you to in effect to continue studying Japanese even while you feel like you are taking a break from it.

While it’s true that they don’t follow a script, this gives the show a life that strict adherence to a script would make impossible. It keeps you watching even the seemingly dull “words that begin with x” shows. And it doesn’t leave you with regrets that you did so.

The topics covered in the videos include Japanese tongue twisters, mistakes that foreigners make, answers to questions submitted by users, vocabulary they don’t teach you in textbooks, tricks to sound good in Japanese, the art of conversing casually, famous Japanese proverbs, an amazingly helpful series on the verbs of the language, and on and on.

Worth the cost?

It is free to sign up, and try some of the basic features. However, unlimited access to all of the above elements is $15 a month. I believe it is a good deal assuming you have the time and motivation to take advantage of it. I recommend signing up to the site for free and going through the first course at a steady pace. Then, if you see the value in both the lessons and the videos—some of which you can watch on YouTube—become a paying subscriber as soon as you know you have a lot of free time.

Any Yes Japaners out there?

Has anyone used Yes Japan and found it to be a great study tool? Or did you try it and not find it to be that helpful?



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Daniel

Daniel

I love reading books in Japanese and plan to start translating them into English in 2015.

Comments

Full Review Of Yes Japan (Japanese From Zero) — 11 Comments

  1. I was actually a member of this site towards the end of 2005 solely for the videos (they were huge motivation). Even then, there were a nice selection of videos (nothing compared to now), and you used to have to buy them on a credit system (pay per video). Now I see it is all included in the monthly subscription, a much better system.

    The biggest thing I liked about the videos of the site was that George Trombley is an amazing Japanese speaker, absolutely loves Japan and everything Japanese, and is fun to watch. Regardless of the quality (especially on the older ones), his enthusiasm shows through, and his videos are great for any level (I watched them when I was still a beginner.)

    I know he does a series of videos now for Japanese speakers learning English, which are entirely Japanese. This is great for intermediate to advanced level users who want videos entirely in Japanese.

    Check the Eigo Egg series out here: http://youtu.be/ZAKLiJXXwBQ

    • Eigo Egg is definitely interesting!

      Also for those looking to teach English in Japan, it can help you get a grasp on common mistakes made by Japanese speakers and how to explain them in Japanese.

      • If this was Facebook, I’d “like” this comment. As it’s not, I’ll just add that I agree with your last point. Those videos really are good on so many different levels.

  2. I definitely agree about how much Trombley loves (and shares his knowledge about) Japan.

    That aspect of the videos is actually a great corrective, now that I think about it, to studying one sentence after another in Anki and learning a lot of Japanese but not so much about the culture.

    Anyway, I’m probably preaching to the choir since you’ve already seen them. For anyone else, take this as yet another reason to check out the videos!

  3. Thanks for the unbiased review Daniel.
    We are constantly striving to improve the website and the book series. Despite book 1 being on it’s 3rd major revision there are still some typos that have slipped by mine and other’s eyes. I am beginning to wonder if it’s even possible to have a typo free book!

    You are correct that the videos were completely a side project. I have often referred to them as the “dessert” that you eat when you are done with your full meal. Recently with the “Japanese in 5” series I tried to address what I thought was a huge problem with that videos. That was that I tend to ramble. Many of the older videos first 5 minutes were completely unneeded and could have been cut. Then some of the shows harped on inside jokes that only the hard core fans would even remember. Limiting the videos to 5 minutes made it easier for me increase the teaching portions of the videos.

    I have a question about the games you mentioned. It is true that we still have the original games on the website created in flash. However we have 10 new games in a separate area all written in jQuery that are much more modern feeling. http://yesjapan.com/YJ6/games

    If you were referring to the newer games, I would love to hear your opinions on how we can improve them.

    Sincerely,

    George

  4. Wow! As I hope was obvious, it was my pleasure to write that review and hopefully introduce new people to your site.

    As far as the games go, I think the newer ones are much better than the older ones. Frankly, I wouldn’t know how to improve them as games, although packaging the audio from the games and especially the textbook lessons into an Anki deck would be one serious improvement from a learner’s perspective (and one that people would probably pay for, as “the game” then becomes much more of an efficient way to study long term).

    As far as typos go, Thomas Sowell once said that “if there is anything that could survive a nuclear attack, it is probably typographical errors.” Sadly, he has a point.

    And as far as your new videos go, I’m loving them too! The short time span and the more focused nature of the videos make them very easy to watch and learn from.

  5. Hey, thank you very much for this awesome review! But I still have one question: Is it better if I order the first course of the book series or can I also start with the first free course of the internet site? Do I have the same results on the yesjapan.com page?

  6. I’ve used YesJapan/JFZ on and off for years now, and I really like it. I’ll probably always think of George as my sensei since it was through his early encouragement via the site, the videos, and even personally on a few select occasions that kept me going past the early stages. I definitely recommend the site to anyone looking for a textbook that’s not so “textbooky”, since the site’s first course is free. If they find that to their liking but prefer physical books, the JFZ books are great as well, offering reasonably comparable material to what’s on the site (which I think is well worth the price if you stick with it and use it regularly).

    The site does have a slightly wonky feel since there’s much older material (videos especially) mixed in with much newer, but everything there is entertaining and worthwhile, and those older shows are actually really fun despite not looking as shiny by today’s standards. And actually, the forum is still somewhat active with a number of regulars (it’s just spread way too thin through too many categories, so has the appearance of being deader than it is), and the site chat is actually still very lively!

  7. Nice review! I bought the first book, because I can’t learn on my computer (too much deflection). I really love to self-study japanese, because I can learn on my own speed. I can absolutly recommend it since you have the vocabulary divided in lessons and you can check them whenever you want. The first necessary grammar rules are teached and you get “cultural clips” which include some nice tips and facts. Sometimes I take it with me, if I got time. After I complete the book I’ll aim to buy the second one. Great job George Trembley!

  8. As a former (and failed) student of Japanese (and mandarin), I finally took the plunge and purchased all four of the books … and the experience has not been disappointing! I study for about an hour daily and am astonished at how swiftly things move along. I cannot recommend these texts enough. My primary interest is in reading Japanese literature (old and new) but the speaking seems to simply come naturally in the studying due to the structure of the instruction. I will probably invest in the videos as well but not until I am comfortable with my progress. The experience has also inspired me to re initiate my interest in Mandarin. Thanks, George, for this great gift.

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