Japanese From Zero was reviewed here almost 5 years ago by our guest author Daniel. I was happy that Daniel could point people to this excellent resource. Since I had my own unique experience with it, like I did with Tofugu, I decided to personally write about Japanese From Zero, because the site meant a lot to me early on in my studying.
Japanese From Zero, in its current form and at its core, is a physical Japanese textbook series. It started as one of the first Japanese learner websites (formerly known as YesJapan!), created by George Trombley. It offered Japanese lessons, games, videos, and a forum. The site still continues till this day, and more recently he has a growing YouTube Channel and has expanded his teachings toward Korean.
I haven’t seen much of his recent content (he has a lot now), so I am nowhere near familiar with the bulk of what he does today. But I want to talk about how inspiring his site was when I first started Japanese.
When I moved to Japan in mid-2005 I thought my Japanese ability was going to be released to Japan in some kind of glorious fiery explosion of awesomeness. When this didn’t happen, I was discouraged and saddened quickly. I was working as an English teacher at the time. In addition to my own bad Japanese, my other foreign co-workers didn’t speak much Japanese and my Japanese co-workers loved to insist that this was normal. Normal for what?! I want some kick-ass Japanese ability now!
I sought refuge in the only online forum that was active at the time. However, I soon found out that for me, forums were not the place my time was best spent. It was easy to vent frustration and see others do the same, but it wasn’t actually pushing me to study harder. I wanted to see a foreigner that attained great Japanese. And since YouTube was just in its infancy, what I stumbled across was Japanese from Zero.
I was already deep in a mountain of unused textbooks, so what really drew me in was the video series that George had created. His Japanese was phenomenal, and no foreigner I had met in Japan even came close to it. Most importantly, he was a really nice guy who was fun to watch, and whose passion for Japanese was contagious.
The Japanese Video Series
While his video topics were a bit all over the place (in a good way), they always gave me a boost of Japanese studying energy. They also taught Japanese you couldn’t find elsewhere. I remember learning “だよね！” for the first time and using it at the perfect moment with a Japanese co-worker. The response was priceless:
“You’re not supposed to know that!”
Well I do. Did I mention I didn’t like that co-worker…
I once showed one of his videos to a friend and he tried to tell me that his Japanese wasn’t refined enough for formal situations. That made me like his videos even more. I was tired of every foreigner speaking too politely, all the time.
One video stood out among all others called:
George in Japan – A Day In The Life of an Interpreter and Other Insights into Japanese
It was a short documentary where he took you through his life as an interpreter and how he studied Japanese to get there. The struggles, the rewards, the personal life, and things you would never think about (like how painful it is to interpret during a meal). He used Japanese to get a job that he loved, make good money, and start a family. Anyone who watched that video at the time couldn’t possibly leave without feeling full of hope. I’m not sure if the video still exists somewhere, but I hope it does.
George wasn’t some ideal model of how everything has to work out perfectly to get what you want. His story was filled with failures and setbacks, and approaching Japanese on his own terms. He was one of the first people I ever saw that didn’t care too much about reading kanji (not sure if this has changed?) yet still reached fluency. While this isn’t a common (or recommended) route, it shows there is no one way to learn the language.
Your Experience with Japanese from Zero?
I enjoyed growing up my early Japanese watching his videos. I think it’s great that he is still going full force after all this time.
Have any of you gone through his textbook, or seen any of his videos (recent or old)? Has his work played any part of your Japanese studying life?