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Basic Technical Japanese/KanjiFlash

Reviewed by Gary E. Harper

Basic Technical Japanese (IBSN 0-86008-467-1 or 4-13-087051-3 C3081 P7725E) is a textbook which was used in a one-year course at the University of Wisconsin, and KanjiFlash is a supplementary electronic flashcard program for the book. The book and the program can be used separately. The technical Japanese taught is mostly at the level of senior high school or lower division college courses--in other words, it is language that would be comprehensible to any educated Japanese.

Unfortunately, meeting this technical language cold, with no prior instruction, might well baffle a foreigner who otherwise speaks Japanese quite well. If you wish to comprehend Japanese reasonably well, you need a modicum of technical terms, just as you need a modicum of religious terms, musical terms, sports terms, etc. In going through the book, you will find that technical Japanese is quite different (and actually easier) than standard Japanese. Kanji usage for these language items also varies considerably from standard usage.

The book could hardly be better--it starts off assuming no knowledge of anything related to Japanese, but by the fifth chapter, kanji is being systematically introduced, with n (jukugo, compound words) for many technical terms. The peculiarities of TechSpeak are included and explained in detail, the science is good but not especially demanding for the student, and a broad spectrum (physics, chemistry and biology) of subjects is covered in the book.

By the way, the same authors have an earlier book, covering essentially the same ground with considerably more reading material, but without the more detailed explanations found in Basic Technical Japanese. This book is called Comprehending Technical Japanese, and, if still in print, should be available from the same sources.

The program (KanjiFlash) works on both DOS and every version of Windows I've tried (I don't think it works for the Mac, however). No hiccups or hangups that I've encountered. The program feeds you kanji (and kana, if you need it), lesson by lesson (from the book), with a review of 100 kanji every fifth lesson. It shows you the kanji and you select the meaning from a list. Not as easy as it might sound, as precise meanings are required and similar meanings are often listed. Also, you will often see the same character several times during a lesson--once for each pronounciation/separate meaning, once for each on-yomi and once for each kun-yomi.

The program remembers your mistakes and asks if you want it to remember the errors to disk so you can review them. Also, each book lesson includes a separate program lesson on n. There are a total of 375 kanji in the book, with 135 supplementary kanji, for a total of 510 kanji on disk and on paper. I have found learning with this program to be very rapid.

If you don't know that _ means oxygen or acid, or that means chlorine, you probably need this book and software. I am unaware of anything else even remotely like it in English.

NOTE: KanjiFlash, Basic Technical Japanese, Comprehending Technical Japanese, and other technical Japanese materials are available at http://yosemitefoothills.com/kanjiflash.