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.
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”).
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
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.
These videos are one of the greatest resources for learning Japanese online.
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?
I love reading books in Japanese and plan to start translating them into English in 2015.