Thanks to the amazing people who backed the Kickstarter project I launched earlier this year, I have been able to create a bilingual book that uses both English and Japanese with the intention of helping people learn and understand the Japanese language better.
Today I am going to do a review of A Space Novella in Japanese and provide some unique insights into it since I am the one who organized it with the learner in mind.
Below I’ve got a lot of information from the story itself, to the modifications that I added in, and also to the ways that I think people can get the most out of it.
With all that being said, let’s begin!
This book is based around a story called The Memory of Mars which is a public domain book that was written by Raymond F. Jones.
It is a science fiction thriller that follows a man named Mel as he learns of his wife death and then discovers that the person whom he married and thought was normal isn’t even human!
He then goes on a journey to discover who this “impostor” is and discover what happened to him when he went on a vacation to the planet Mars – of which he has no recollection!
This book is considered a “novella” since it is about 35,000 words long. It’s not quite a full-length novel, but it’s also not a short story either.
That’s actually why I went with 中編小説 (chuuhen shousetsu) for the subtitle of A Space Novella in Japanese. This word literally means “medium-length story” which describes it nicely.
Of course that only covers the English half of the story.
As for the Japanese side of things, the original story was translated by 林清俊 (Kiyotoshi Hayashi) and released into the public domain as well.
If you want to get a hold of just these stories, then you can find them both on Project Gutenberg for free.
But here’s the thing I noticed when I first checked out this story: it’s in full-blown Japanese!
What I mean is that it uses a lot of intermediate-advanced words throughout the story with no assistance such as furigana.
That’s why I added the furigana and a bunch of other stuff in the bilingual book, which I will talk about next.
The Added Furigana
One of the hardest things about learning kanji is trying to figure out new ones. You have to learn both the meaning and also the reading that fits in with the specific context.
One method to combat this is to read things digitally and then look up new words, but that can become tiresome when you encounter a lot of unknown words.
So to help solve this problem and create a self-contained book that doesn’t require outside assistance I added furigana to new kanji so that people can immediately see how to pronounce the words.
It also helps with looking them up later in a dictionary if you want to, especially if you have the print edition of the book.
Of course, it actually starts to become clunky and tiresome when there is furigana over every single kanji, and the purpose of it is just to help you learn the correct reading anyway, so I went with a specific system for when to apply them.
The rule I went with was that anytime a new kanji would appear, I would include the furigana over it.
That means that the second time you see the same word, there would be no additional help so that it prompts you to try to recall the correct reading.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are occasionally times when there is a new word in the book, but it uses kanji that appeared earlier.
In these cases, no furigana is added because the reader should be able to figure it out based on past information.
My goal was to use it similarly to how training wheels work on a bicycle: You use them at first, but take them off as soon as you can.
The Chapter Indexes
If you read the digital book on any type of reader then you can highlight any unknown word and the dictionary should pull it up so that you can see the new information.
Of course this isn’t possible with the print edition, and sometimes those electronic ones mess up as well, so I added an index for each chapter that shows the English translation of the Japanese word.
This covers both new words and also new phrases that are used in each chapter, along with the reading in hiragana.
Something to note is that words rarely have only a single meaning. Generally speaking, they have 3-4 and it really all depends on the context that they appear in.
That being said, I wanted to give the most useful information possible, so each entry in the index has only a single English word attached to it, and it is the one that is most appropriate for the story.
Of course this means that the indexes for the first few chapters are much longer than the ones at the end since all of the words are new at that point, but you only need to use them when necessary.
Since the book is aimed at helping people who are at an intermediate-advanced level increase their Japanese vocabulary and reading ability, there is a good chance that a lot of the words will already be known.
The Grammar Patterns
Grammar is an interesting topic. I say this because it’s like the glue that holds sentences together.
You have to have it for things to be intelligible, but if you study grammar all by itself it becomes incredibly abstract and hard to understand.
So rather than teach grammar on it’s own, I decided to include a “grammar patterns” section that would explain some things that appeared in each chapter.
Sometimes it’s super simple, like how a specific suffix is added on to words and how that affects it.
Other times it’s more complicated things such as how collocations work, or how an indirect phrase is used in Japanese that is easy for an English native to misunderstand.
The super common things like particles, the copula, or how things conjugate have been left out because I felt that including them would bring very little value to the reader, and because I didn’t want to overwhelm them by including every single thing.
So instead there are just some notes and explanations on the things that stood out to me as being important and that would be useful for people to learn about.
I once read that people remember things better when they test on it immediately after learning it.
That being said, I personally don’t enjoy doing most types of exercises so I decided to keep it simple in case the readers don’t like them as well.
Basically what it is, is a couple of sentences taken directly from the chapter and then there is a section that is left blank and two options are provided.
All you have to do is select the one that feels right and then check to see if it is correct in the answer key right afterwards.
This is kind of how people understand grammar in their native language: they just go with their gut.
If you’ve gotten a lot of exposure to a language, then this is a natural process.
But even if you get one wrong it is not a big deal.
Rather, you can take that as an opportunity to either look up the rules surrounding that grammar pattern, go back over it in the story to get more exposure, or just move on.
Again, I wanted to include them because they can be helpful to reinforce the Japanese that was in the previous chapter, but I don’t want this to turn into some kind of classroom textbook for learning Japanese.
How To Use The Book
The truth is that you really can’t go wrong with how you use this book to learn Japanese.
I’ve got a couple ideas of how I would go about it and utilize the resources provided, but there’s no need to stick to just my outline.
If you come up with one that works better for you, then you should definitely go with it.
How I would approach it is to read the chapter in English first if you are at the intermediate level in Japanese (if you are at an advanced level, I would recommend reading the Japanese chapter first).
Then after you’ve read the English chapter and you understand the overall context of what’s going on, I would then move on to reading the Japanese story (advance learners can reference back to the English story for any clarifications needed).
Then I would check the index of the chapter to look up the meanings of any new words. The important thing is to understand them in context, so after seeing what the word means, I would go back to that sentence in the story and reread it.
I would try to understand the overall meaning of the sentence and how each piece works together.
The same goes for the grammar patterns section. I would look up the things that were new and see how they work, and then go back to the Japanese story to read it in context and help lock it in.
Then I would also go the exercises briefly to see how well I’m doing.
An optional next step would be to listen to the chapter in the audiobook so that I can practice listening and potentially pick up on more meanings from the way certain things sound.
Finally, once I have completed the book I would put it away for a while (a few months) and then come back to it and reread it to see how much easier it is the second time around.
Where To Find Them
As of this writing, the digital version of the book is available on Amazon and the print version is available on eBay:
If you have any questions or comments about anything, please let me know and I will do my best to answer them.