Thursday, November 11 2004

Whom the gods would destroy, they first ask for directions

When I got up this morning, I realized that I was only two lessons away from the end of my first pass through Rosetta Stone’s Japanese Level I course. At a conservative estimate, that’s 120 hours that I’ve spent learning to recognize, comprehend, and read realistic Japanese phrases spoken by natives. I have a great deal left to learn, but I’ve made substantial progress, to the point that this morning’s lesson was merely daunting rather than discouraging.

It looked something like this: ガソリンスタンドにはどうやってきますか。ガソリンスタンドへの閉鎖されています。って右折します。ブロックって右折して、ブロックって右折します。ブロックって左折するとそこがガソリンスタンドです。

Forty variations on asking directions to a place and being told how many blocks to go and which way to turn. New vocabulary. New kanji. Long, detailed instructions, fortunately accompanied by clear pictures. And I understood most of them right away. I figure I’ve got another 80 hours of drilling as I go back through Level I’s different modes, and then it will be time for Level II, which really piles on the grammar and vocabulary.

Self-study software can’t replace a good face-to-face language course, but the best software is definitely better than a bad course, and there’s a lot to be said for having infinitely patient native speakers available anytime, anywhere. I’ve been quite impressed with Rosetta Stone, both their learning model (which feels oversimplified at first, but is in fact quite sophisticated) and their quality control (I have spotted exactly two errors in the transcription of several thousand phrases, and both were trivial).

Update: turns out this specific lesson is included in Rosetta Stone’s free online demo, which uses pretty much the exact same Flash code that the purchased product does. It’s Japanese Level I, Unit 8, Lesson 10, titled ~にはどうやって行きますか.