I prefer the Japanese title: 決まり文句の辞典- ("A Dictionary of Set Expressions" - my translation), but the English title is the only thing I don't like about this book. At 140 pages it is a wonderful collection of set phrases for all manner of situations. Set phrases? Shouldn't I just say things in my own words? Well, a lot of the time, no. The blurb on the back explains:
"Words don't exist in isolation, to be placed willy-nilly in grammatical slots by a speaker exercising absolute freedom of choice. Rather, words come in neatly bound packages - in phrases or entire sentences - ready to communicate an idea that cannot be expressed economically in any other way"
Sage advice. Once you realise that there is no need to reinvent the wheel and create sentences anew in a vast number of situations your learning becomes much simplified:
1. Find out what situations have set phrases.
2. Learn the appropriate phrase for each situation.
3. In all other situations wing it.
Don't waste time trying to cobble together your own sentences when those expressions already exist - you will sound more natural by following protocol and the person you are talking to will understand immediately because they are expecting a set expression. Some examples from the book:
Welcoming into your home someone who has just arrived at the front door:
Douzo oagari kudasai.
Please come in.
Replying when someone asks where you are going:
Ee, chotto soko made.
Yes, I'm just stepping out for a minute.
No one knows quite what to say at a funeral - even in English - but in Japanese this one phrase will suffice:
Kono tabi wa goshuushousama de gozaimasu.
Please accept my condolences on this sad occasion.
Common Japanese Phrases covers Congratulation, Condolences, Making a Speech, Gift-giving, Addressing Someone, Visiting, Leaving, Making Requests, Consenting to a Request, Refusing a Request, Persuading, Stating an Objection, Making Excuses, Criticizing, Praising, Reacting to Praise, Expressing thanks and Apologizing.
The explanations are both entertaining and easy to follow and contain cultural notes to further enable proficient use of the phrases contained within. If you live in Japan this book is gold. It even has romaji (each example is set out as above) so even absolute beginners can wow people with formal expressions.
Compiled by Sanseido, translated by John Brennan and part of the Kodansha's Power Japanese series - look for the diminutive, angry sumo dude on the cover.