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Japanese Tales for Language Learners


As a language learner and teacher, one of the vital frequent items of recommendation I give to others is: learn in your goal language! Doing so exposes your mind to your goal language and permits you to see vocabulary you’ve got realized beforehand in context. Your thoughts then creates connections, and phrases and grammar factors start to turn into acquainted to you.

Throughout my years of intermediate Japanese studying, I attempted my hardest to search out studying assets for my stage to assist expose myself to actual Japanese. I stumbled upon standard books like Breaking into Japanese Literature and Quick Tales in Japanese: The New Penguin Parallel Textual content. Whereas they have been good, I personally discovered them boring, missing interplay, and even containing errors in English translation. Then I discovered the Japanese Tales for Language Learners e-book. Not one of the different Japanese readers I’ve tried actually had the fascinating tales or the entire helpful options — digestible English translations, vocabulary lists, translator notes, and studying comprehension questions — like this one did. The tales on this e-book stand out to me in that they start with quick and simplified variations of conventional folktale retellings and transition to the unique texts of recent literary staples.

So should you’re genuinely concerned about enhancing your Japanese literacy at an intermediate-advanced stage whereas having fun with genuine tales from Japan, carry on readin’! On this article, I’ll break down the Japanese Tales for Language Learners e-book and illustrate the way it can enhance your studying comprehension abilities by means of enjoyable tales and interesting options designed for learners.

What’s «Japanese Tales for Language Learners»?

In contrast to different Japanese readers I’ve used earlier than, the tales on this e-book make the most of fashionable kanji together with comparatively frequent vocabulary.

Japanese Tales for Language Learners was created by a teacher-student group at a college program for Japanese and translation research. As its identify implies, this e-book is solely a group of Japanese tales with options geared toward Japanese language learners. In accordance with its introduction, the e-book appears to be primarily supposed for intermediate and superior learners of Japanese.

There are 5 tales in whole, every of which is listed later on this article. All of the tales are based mostly on the content material from Aozora Bunko, which is a web-based library of Japanese copyright-free content material accessible at no cost to the general public. The primary two tales are conventional Japanese folktales and use simplified variations of their supply texts. They’re simpler than the remainder of the e-book so intermediate and superior learners can use them as a warm-up, and upper-beginners would in all probability be capable of take pleasure in them as properly. The remainder of the tales are comparatively newer, with the newest revealed in 1934. They’re quick tales that characterize Japanese fashionable literature from the 1910s to Nineteen Thirties. These later tales are given within the unique textual content, so readers who begin with the simpler folktales can transition to tougher supplies as they work by means of the e-book. In contrast to different Japanese readers I’ve used earlier than, resembling Breaking into Japanese Literature, the tales on this e-book make the most of fashionable kanji together with comparatively frequent vocabulary. General, these picks are formatted properly, filled with genuine Japanese writings, and open up many alternatives to study new vocabulary and grammar constructions.

After the story concludes, you will discover a variety of options within the following order: translation notes, a vocabulary and expression listing, grammar workouts, and dialogue questions.

And whereas we’re discussing the tales themselves, I’d additionally like to say how every one is organized together with their options. Every story opens up with a brief blurb both concerning the story’s writer or historic context. Then, the story is offered in each English and Japanese in a parallel vogue. The English translation seems on the left whereas its Japanese counterpart seems on the suitable. Because the authors are from a Japanese and translation research program, the translations are glorious and fantastically achieved. After the story concludes, you will discover a variety of options within the following order: translation notes, a vocabulary and expression listing, grammar workouts, and dialogue questions. Additionally, you will be delighted by easy illustrations dotted all through the e-book that function visible cues for every story. Nice additions as they’re, they don’t distract the reader from truly specializing in studying the content material.

Page of Japanese Stories for Language Learners

The Tales

And for these of you questioning concerning the tales themselves, permit me to offer a brief description of every together with its web page size in Japanese and variety of sections. Hopefully you will get a good suggestion of what lies inside the pages of this e-book and choose whether or not or not it will likely be helpful as literature or studying observe.

TitleWeb page SizeDescription
Urashima Taro3 pagesA folktale a few younger man who saves a child turtle. This story finally illustrates the previous adage «time flies while you’re having enjoyable.» It is a very well-known folktale in Japan and it is price realizing the storyline.
Snow Girl (Yuki Onna)3 pagesA Japanese ghost story about an unlucky assembly with a chilling girl. The rendition right here was written by Koizumi Yakumo (initially, Lafcadio Hearn), a Western compiler and translator of Japanese folklore and tales.
The Spider’s Thread5 pages in 4 elementsA narrative a few felony named Kandata who makes an attempt to flee Buddhist hell utilizing a spider’s thread. The writer is legendary Japanese author Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, whom the Akutagawa Prize, one of the vital famend Japanese literature awards right this moment, is known as after.
The Siblings Who Nearly Drowned11 pages in 8 elementsA story about three youngsters going into the ocean which is crammed with giant, harmful waves. One among them nearly drowns. It was written by Arishima Takeo, a novelist who’s identified for A Sure Girl.
Gauche the Cellist21 pages in 10 elementsA nasty cellist is visited by a number of animals who ask favors from him every evening. This story was written by Miyazawa Kenji, who’s extensively often known as a poet and writer of youngsters’s literature.

As you possibly can see, the e-book begins out with comparatively shorter tales and finally builds you as much as a twenty-one web page choice. Though the e-book appears to be supposed primarily for intermediate and superior learners, I can see how the primary two folktales (which, in actual fact, are «graded readers») might be nice materials for rookies. Though the opposite three tales are extra superior as they’re the unique textual content, and a few intermediate and superior learners would possibly discover them a bit difficult, you possibly can benefit from the options like parallel translations, which is able to help your studying and studying expertise.


Accompanying every story are a variety of options that basically make this e-book stand out from the remaining. Right here I’ll listing, describe, and supply some concrete examples from the textual content so you understand precisely what to anticipate and whether or not or not this type of research model is best for you.

Genuine Japanese Tales

Though the primary two tales are simplified variations, the opposite three tales use the real literary textual content.

Arguably the very best a part of this whole textual content is the truth that it introduces readers to genuine Japanese tales. These are standard tales and fashionable literature classics which might be extensively identified in Japan. Though the primary two tales, «Urashima Taro» and «Snow Girl,» are simplified variations (comprehensible as the bottom content material makes use of archaic phrases and expressions), the opposite three tales, regardless of being tougher, use the real literary textual content.

One other necessary level to say right here is the literary model employed. Some Japanese novels are written in a extra formal writing model that newbie college students of Japanese might not be used to. です turns into である or simply だ, for instance. The picks on this e-book, nevertheless, principally use the です / ます kind, which is usually used within the spoken Japanese that many newbie college students are accustomed to. After all, there are additionally situations the place the extra formal writing model is utilized. And if you’re ever confused by a sure phrase or grammar construction, simply take a look at the Vocabulary and Expressions part on the finish of every story for definitions and explanations.

Because the latter three tales use the unique textual content, you may even see some quirks, particularly in kanji utilization. Some phrases are written in another way than they might usually be written right this moment. Take, as an illustration, the phrase beneath:

kono kumo no ito wa ore no mono da zo.

On the English web page, that is translated as «This spider’s thread is mine!» However the phrase ore 己 (that means «I, me») is generally written utilizing the kanji nowadays. Little issues like that could be complicated for learners, however you need to embrace it as part of an genuine studying expertise! These sorts of curve balls are inevitable, particularly in older studying supplies. For unusual kanji usages like this, the Vocabulary and Expressions notes on the finish of every story will inform you which kanji is extra generally used.

Full English Translations

Once more, since this was created by a group from a college translation program, the English translations are very properly achieved. Whereas they respect the that means of the unique textual content, the tales learn very naturally. That is a lot appreciated since I’ve seen awkward translations in books of this type earlier than.

Whereas it’s simple to match the unique textual content and its English translation, it’s also very simple to look on the translations earlier than making a lot effort to grasp the unique by yourself.

As for the format, the Japanese tales offered on the suitable web page, whereas the left web page of every unfold comprises an English translation. I’ve seen some on-line critiques complaining concerning the parallel translation not at all times being completely aligned (one sentence in Japanese might have its English translation on the earlier unfold and vice versa), however for me personally, this isn’t a lot of a giant deal.

Whereas this design makes it simple to match the unique textual content and its English translation, it’s also very simple to look on the translations earlier than making a lot effort to grasp the unique by yourself. So, if you’re utilizing this e-book to observe comprehending Japanese textual content, take heed to the way you learn. The parallel translation is ideal to verify your understanding of what you simply learn, and it lets you observe the sentence construction and establish unfamiliar phrases or expressions by evaluating. Positively benefit from it, however achieve this correctly!

However there may be a couple of solution to learn this e-book. Though the authors suggest Japanese learners learn the unique textual content first, once I learn by means of the e-book I truly learn the complete story in English beforehand so I may get an thought of what I used to be going to learn in Japanese. Then, I’d go on to learn the Japanese alone. If I encountered a phrase or sentence I simply couldn’t perceive, I’d search for the English on the left facet.

The editors write that they created this e-book hoping even non-Japanese learners may take pleasure in studying the tales in translation. So relying in your choice or studying targets, the e-book has that sort of flexibility by way of how you should use it. No matter you’re in search of, it is necessary to be conscious of your goal and the way you utilize this e-book to get probably the most out of it.

Translator’s Notes

One function that I actually appreciated was the inclusion of notes from the translators. These did a wonderful job of explaining why sure translations have been written the best way they have been. Cultural references are usually arduous to translate, and making an attempt to give you an equal would possibly end in a lack of accuracy or cultural element. One of many notes for the story «Urashima Taro,» as an illustration, explains the particular phrase tamatebako 玉手箱, which is left untranslated and described within the notes as «a magical merchandise that takes the form of a treasure field.» It additionally offers us additional info, stating {that a} proverb was created from this phrase: あけてびっくり玉手箱, a phrase used to precise nice shock.

Page from Japanese Stories for Language Learners

Vocabulary and Expressions Lists

After the translator notes, you will note an extended listing of just about each main phrase and phrase used within the story. Phrases are offered with kanji and furigana, a bolded romaji transcription, and the English that means or clarification. For sure grammar constructions, the e-book will even often present an instance utilization. The Vocabulary and Expressions part for «Gauche the Cellist,» as an illustration, offers an instance utilization of the 〜出す building, which it interprets as «to begin to do … abruptly.» The instance is given as follows:

imōto wa naki dashimashita.

The authors translate this as «My little sister burst into tears.»

Bolded romaji readings can draw the attention, doubtlessly inflicting the reader to make use of them as a crutch.

One criticism I’ve seen concerning the Vocabulary and Expressions part is that romaji readings are included in any respect. What’s extra, the truth that they’re bolded attracts the reader’s eye to them, doubtlessly inflicting the reader to make use of the romaji as a crutch. And I’ve to agree with this. For a e-book geared toward intermediate to superior readers, it does not make a lot sense to me to incorporate romaji. With a view to correctly learn the Japanese textual content on this e-book, you need to already be capable of learn hiragana, katakana, and a few kanji. The authors truly clarify that they embrace romaji within the hope that non-learners can «immediately expertise the language utilized in a literary context.» Though I perceive their intention to make these tales accessible to anybody no matter Japanese capacity, the shortage of focus appears to have resulted in a drawback for his or her predominant viewers: intermediate and superior learners.

Workout routines

After the Vocabulary and Expressions part, the e-book presents some easy questions in Japanese that check the reader’s data of vocabulary utilization and grammar constructions. Though content material from the story is used as a base for every query, the questions usually are not concerning the story itself. For these looking for to go standardized checks just like the JLPT, these questions are a should. Beneath is an train that checks the reader’s grammar data and comes from «The Siblings Who Nearly Drowned.»


The query beneath, from «Gauche the Cellist,» checks your vocabulary data. Which mimetic phrase is correct?


We’ll depart the solutions as much as you. When you have the e-book, all solutions are offered within the very again.

Dialogue Questions

Whereas train questions are nice, they don’t actually relate to the corresponding story content material. That is the place the dialogue questions are available in! These questions, in English, urge the reader to consider what they’ve learn and likewise present alternatives to increase the studying expertise past merely understanding the storyline. Listed below are a pair questions from «Snow Girl»:

Why do you assume the Snow Girl left her youngsters behind?

Have you ever ever heard of or learn every other scary tales associated to snow?

These questions can simply be utilized by a self-learner and even in a classroom or bookclub surroundings to deepen understanding of the work as a bit of literature. Japanese tutors can even make the most of them to assist course of the data simply learn. As an teacher, I feel these questions seem to be an ideal solution to lengthen the studying past the pages of the e-book and to foster communication between college students as properly.

Free audio to go with Japanese Stories for Language Learners

Free Audio

Each choice is made freely accessible in audio format on each a CD and on the e-book writer’s web site. They’re nice for listening and shadowing observe, or checking pitch accents and intonations for phrases and sentences.

Personally, I discover the audio high quality simply wonderful. Each line is spoken clearly and slowly sufficient for intermediate learners to catch. The truth is, the audio would make an important listening observe useful resource for learners seeking to up their listening comprehension abilities.

Some have criticized the audio for being of low high quality. Whereas I admit that the individuals who recorded the audio appear to not be utilizing knowledgeable microphone, the audio continues to be clear sufficient to grasp and comply with together with the corresponding textual content. In my e-book, the audio is a professional and never an general con.

How Nicely Does It Stack Up?

This textual content comprises genuine tales from Japan and has a plethora of helpful options that I imagine would profit your Japanese research. This textual content might be simply used as a textbook in a Japanese literature course and even at dwelling for self-study.

If the authors hadn’t thought of non-Japanese learners, they may have minimize out pointless romaji and furigana over probably the most fundamental kanji.

One factor that I wanted might be completely different about this e-book as a Japanese studying useful resource is its lack of focus. The title clearly means that it’s for «language learners,» and the introduction mentions that it might be used for intermediate and superior learners. Whereas it is true that such learners may use it, the educational expertise may’ve been improved if it was better-focused on intermediate and superior ranges. If the authors hadn’t thought of non-Japanese learners, for instance, they may have minimize out pointless romaji and furigana over probably the most fundamental kanji. Intermediate and superior learners could also be disenchanted if they arrive to this e-book anticipating one thing tailor-made to their stage.

Criticisms apart, nevertheless, that is general a wonderful Japanese studying useful resource that I can confidently suggest to anybody of the next:

  • These concerned about genuine Japanese tales, together with Japanese folklore and fashionable literature classics
  • Learners hoping to enhance their Japanese literacy by means of studying
  • Individuals seeking to sentence-mine for brand spanking new phrases and grammar factors
  • People seeking to break into genuine Japanese literature

? If you cannot determine, the preview is out there on its web page, so take a peek. Completely satisfied studying!

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David’s Evaluate