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DS  header logo

My Japanese Coach

For: DS

Issho ni Nihongo wo benkyoushimashou! DS de benkyoushimashou!

Product: My Japanese Coach | Developer: Sensory Sweep Studios | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: DS | Genre: Brain training | Players: 1 | Version: US
 
My Japanese Coach DS, thumbnail 1

Learning a language is difficult. For the past couple of years now, I've been trying to teach myself Japanese and I've still only reached the most basic level of comprehension. Mostly, it's difficult just to find the time, let alone get to grips with grammar and syntax and learning words. So a DS game that promises to help students learn the language in just minutes a day sounds too good to be true.

That's because it is.

There's nothing mysterious about how to learn a language: memorise some sample conversations; learn lists of vocabulary; study some grammar points and reinforce them by using them to form sentences – and it's this latter point that's probably the most important part. Anybody can learn words, but learning to use them is the real art of learning a language.

With Japanese, there's an additional step – learning how to read and write – because although the Japanese language can be transcribed in our Roman alphabet, the Japanese themselves use three different writing systems. That means that Roman letters, or romaji, as the Japanese call them, aren't very useful for learners of the language, so it's a bit disappointing that My Japanese Coach doesn't give you the option to switch romaji off for quite a while. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

The game is broken down into 100 bite-sized lessons further broken up by a series of language-learning mini-games. Each lesson contains a series of grammar points accompanied by a short list of words to learn, and you unlock each new lesson by scoring points in the mini-games.

So far so good, because between grammar points you're therefore reinforcing whatever you've just been taught, as well as constantly striving to unlock the next new lesson. But the grammar explanations are confusing, the order in which they're unlocked isn't very logical, and you're never tested on them. Instead, almost all of the mini-games that follow are designed to test your knowledge of vocabulary, or how to draw Japanese characters (kana and kanji).

Learning how to draw Japanese characters is definitely a good thing, and the game's inclusion of these mini-games is one of its biggest strengths. But there are too many mini-games dedicated to learning words, and there are too many of those that do so by testing your spelling. It's difficult to explain how utterly pointless it is to learn how to spell Japanese words in English, but by way of illustration, there are umpteen other ways of writing Japanese words in the Roman alphabet. So you'd be much better off learning new words using Japanese characters instead.

You'd also be much better off if the game spent more time testing your understanding of grammar, but there's only one mini-game that's designed to do that: Bridge Builder requires you to take a jumbled up assortment of words and arrange them into a sentence. But even when you reach lesson 30 and the game finally lets you switch off romaji, Bridge Builder stubbornly refuses to display kana or kanji, and the words it uses frequently outstrips the pace at which the lessons introduce them.

Not only does the game get the balance of mini-games wrong, but there are also far too many bugs and glitches. Before you get the option to turn off romaji, several flash cards test nothing more than your ability to read English letters. One card, for example, might display 'to', and then challenge you to pick it out from four cards reading, say, 'to', 'ne', 'ho' and 'hi'. If you struggle with that, you'd probably be better off with My English Coach - presumably this particular mini-game would make more sense if the cards displayed the same syllables but used Japanese characters instead.

Then, in a lesson explaining the particle 'ni', which means 'towards', its English translation 'to' is displayed in hiragana. The Word Search game occasionally refuses to recognise your input. And Bridge Builder occasionally gets confused and refuses to allow you to arrange a word. But the most fundamental failure of My Japanese Coach is that, even after reaching lesson 100, you'll still be equipped with barely enough grammar to comprehend the most cursory level of Japanese conversation. Which all goes to show that designing a game to help you learn a language is apparently even more difficult than learning a language.

With its touchscreen and easy portability, the DS is a perfect system for a really good language-learning game. All it needs is some clearly-explained grammar lessons, arranged in a logical order, punctuated by a good mix of mini-games; a spaced repetition flashcard game for learning vocab; more and better grammar games tied to the new points in each lesson; and a more systematised approach to learning kanji (perhaps even tied in to a decent kanji textbook, such as Remembering the Kanji, or Basic Kanji). That would make a really good language learning game. Unfortunately, My Japanese Coach doesn't.

 
My Japanese Coach
Reviewer photo
Dave McCarthy | 28 October 2008
A bit more entertaining than reading a textbook, only not as effective. Stick to Minna no Nihongo and Japanesepod101
 
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Anonymous | 17:03 - 16 March 2009
From what I have been able to figure out, the game is most suitable for those that have taken Japanese for some time, forgot all about it, and still wish to know Japanese. Before starting the game, a really good advice is to learn the kana table thoroughly - which I did back in high school, instead of paying attention to the history class.
 
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