Comprehensiveness rating: 3 read less
This textbook has a clear formal structure of the chapters. It is up-to-date with the current times (the 1st quarter of the 21st. century). It adopts a truly integrated skills approach by having a good balance between oral and reading/writing exercises. It encourages students to become autonomous learners through using learning tools and resources available on the Internet. The language in the book is authentic and engaging. I admire Dr. Konomi's work in compiling her teaching materials and sharing them with the community of students and educators in the environment where big publishers have churned out Japanese textbooks and test preparation materials for decades. The organization of the textbook reminds me of a course packet for 3rd or 4th-year Japanese language course, depending on the program. The book consists of four chapters accompanied by mp3 audio files, which are accessible through the Publisher link, Portland State University Library.
I rated this textbook not too high on its comprehensiveness mainly because of its uninformative Table of Contents; unclear target proficiency level with reference to the ACTFL benchmarks or the JLPT levels; the lack of target grammar lists and grammar explanations; the lack of visual differentiation between audio and video files; and a big difference in expected proficiency of students between the first chapter and the rest of the textbook. This is a really good resource for teaching Japanese, but one really has to look through the text itself and audio thoroughly to understand what the linguistic targets are here and what level of classroom (and what program) it is appropriate for. These impressions of mine are detailed below.
The book appears to be still in the process of being revised. The description states that the textbook contains three chapters, however, the table of contents and the text has four chapters. It is shorter than a typical textbook would be, perhaps, because it is intended to be used in the quarter system (three 10-week semesters in an academic year), spending roughly 2-2.5 weeks per chapter.
The chapters are organized by topic, and the choice of topics is really up to the author / language instructor for a classroom at the intermediate-high / advanced-low level of language proficiency. However, the Table of Contents does not provide much useful information about the subject/topic content of the book: The Chapters are just listed by the number (1-4); the audio files are referenced in conjunction with the formal organization of the textbook sections (e.g., Drill A, Kanji Drill, Listening Comprehension Check, etc.). When I looked through the text itself, it turned out that the chapters are named as follows:
Ch.1. Self-introduction ??????(???????)
Ch.2. Globalization ????????
Ch.3. Bond ???(???)
Ch.4. "I am a cat" ?????????(??????????)
The main texts in these chapters have the following content:
Ch.1. A rather sophisticated self-introduction.
Ch.2. The meaning and impact of globalization.
Ch.3. The 2011 earthquake in Eastern Japan.
Ch.4. Natsume Soseki's classic novel "I am a cat" (1905-1906)
Suggested topics for discussion and engagement at the end of each chapter are:
Ch. 1. Horoscope, blood types.
Ch. 2. Difference between less formal / sophisticated / advanced and more formal / sophisticated / advanced writing style.
Ch. 3. Nuclear energy among other types of energy.
Ch. 4. Cross-cultural differences in humor.
What Dr. Konomi has envisioned as target vocabulary and grammar for the topics covered could be seen in different sections of each Chapter such as Notes on Expressions ???????, Drills ?????, Kanji Drills ???????, Listening Exercises ?????????, and Practice ????. There is no summary of target grammar or grammar explanations in the textbook itself.
The preface of the textbook would benefit from a clarification of the level of students for which it is intended, with reference to the ACTFL benchmarks or the JLPT levels. The title, "Preadvanced Japanese," suggests that the target audience has an intermediate-high level of proficiency in Japanese. However, the textbook is described as suitable for students at Level 2 on the Inter-agency Language Roundtable (ILR) proficiency scale who work on reaching level 3. Levels 2 and 2+ on the ILR roughly correspond to advanced low, mid, or high levels on the ACTFL scale (Brown, 2007). They also roughly correspond to level B on the CEFR scale (Brown, 2007). I have not had much experience with the CEFR scale as I taught Japanese mainly in the U.S., the University of Oregon. I did have an ACTFL OPI training, and it seems to me that this textbook does not have enough content to help students reach the Superior-level language functions at the ACTFL scale (corresponding to the IRL level 3). It would be helpful for instructors if the description included the recommended number of prior Japanese instruction hours, the suitable level in terms of the more wide-spread ACTFL scale than the ILR scale, and some comparisons to the N1-N5 levels of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Many students at advanced level plan to take the JLPT in order to study or work in Japan. Some comparison of the textbook level with the JLPT levels would help to orient students who prefer to use this textbook for self-study.
Accuracy rating: 5
I was not able to go thoroughly through each text and exercise in the textbook (which would be possible if one adopts this book for a quarter or a semester), but the accuracy level in the material I looked at is excellent.
Relevance/Longevity rating: 5
As I described in my comment on book's comprehensiveness, the choice of topics and content is well-suited for the intermediate-high / advanced-low level of language proficiency but it is not easily discerned from the Table of Contents. A short summary of the content topics listed below shows that these topics will be relevant to many generations of students to come. The text and exercises could be easily updated if necessary, because of the very clear formal structure of the book. For example, to bridge the gap in the expected proficiency level between the first and the last chapter of the book, one could discuss personal information (self-introduction) in a wider social context (e.g., the question of needs, demands, and changing social expectations in choosing majors in college; self-identity, believes, and facts, etc.).
Ch. 1. Self-introduction --> Horoscope, blood types.
Ch. 2. Globalization --> difference in writing styles on socially important topics.
Ch. 3. The 2011 earthquake in Eastern Japan --> nuclear energy
Ch.4. Natsume Soseki's classic novel "I am a cat" --> cross-cultural differences in humor.
Clarity rating: 4
This may be a personal preference as an instructor who has not used this book in her class yet, but in my view, this textbook would benefit from more clearly stated linguistic (language use) goals for each chapter and from some grammar explanations, perhaps, through contrasting examples in Japanese, if Dr. Konomi wishes to maintain the focus on the development of autonomous learners. The objectives are clearly missing here, or in other words, they are implicit and difficult to discern.
Consistency rating: 5
The formal structure and the layout of the book is consistent and easy to follow. Each chapter's organization is a follows:
- the main (rather short) text (audio recording is available),
- notes on expressions in the text,
- reading comprehension questions (audio recorded as well and intended to be answered orally),
- 4-6 drills on expressions and grammar (audio recorded as well),
- a listening comprehension exercise in the true/false format (audio recording is available);
- a kanji drill (audio recording is available)
- opinions (several one-paragraph texts representing opinions of different people on the discussed topic; audio recording is available)
- notes on expressions in the opinion texts
- a kanji exercise (fill-in-the-blank format for isolated sentences, plus translation, short-paragraph writing and short-essay type writing),
- conclusions with additional discussion question (for oral or written responses)
- a topic for further exploration (e.g., horoscope, humor)
Modularity rating: 5
The chapters are already divided into very manageable, easily recognized exercises and activities.
Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 4
Each chapter is organized coherently, in a typical textbook fashion. However, how and why particular expressions and grammar points were chosen for drills and exercises is not entirely clear. No doubt these choices were driven by Dr. Konomi's extensive experience in language teaching, but in the absence of clearly stated objectives they seem to be somewhat arbitrary. It would be helpful if these choices were motivated, again with reference to the ACTFL benchmarks, or to JLPT levels, or even to the ILR levels. This would provided a clearer, linguistic goal or benchmark driven organization.
Interface rating: 5
The use of fonts varies, if you compare, for example, Chapter 1 and Chapter 4. A word on p. 6 is highlighted in yellow, which is probably a small editing oversight. These are minor issues, however, and overall the book is easy to follow.
Grammatical Errors rating: 5
It is hard to notice these details in a language textbook, unless one gives it a try during a quarter / semester. It appears to be well written.
Cultural Relevance rating: 5
Given the choice of the chapter topics, the book is rather neutral on the issue of inclusiveness. It is driven by mainstream Japanese cultural attitudes, as far as I can judge, which is not necessarily a negative characteristics for the textbook of this type.
If my institution still had a Japanese language program (which was axed several years ago due to the budget deficit), I would use this textbook in my classroom. This book may be easier to use by instructors who have had years of Japanese teaching experience and who are familiar with the JLPT goals, ACTFL benchmarks, and typical gaps in vocabulary and grammar knowledge in students who strive for the advanced level in their Japanese. I would supplement this book with setting concrete objectives and additional activities to meet those objectives, and with more technical instructions on grammar for learners who need them.