Somewhere near the end of 2005 I heard a rumour that ALC Press was discontinuing The Nihongo Journal, a monthly magazine aimed at students of Japanese. Crawling around on the web yesterday I was delighted to discover that the rumour was wrong, and NJ is alive and well.
So what exactly is this Journal?
I don't have a current copy of NJ but I pulled the November 2004 copy off my bookshelf and took a gander. There are regular sections, interspersed with feature and seasonal articles. The regular columns:
- NJ News
- Kanji Breakthrough
- Passing the JETRO Business Japanese Test
- Composition Clinic - improve your written Japanese
- Passing the JLPT
- Reading Time
- Using Manga to Improve Conversation
(I just found the online guide - you can browse parts of the Sept 2006 edition as a pdf)
Most of the articles are either bilingual or have English language explanations sprinkled here and there, but the layout means that the Japanese is always most prominent and the English relegated to a referential role only. The content is topical - stories taken from the news, pop culture etc. Every issue comes with a CD of matching audio - 90 minutes plus of aural joy including listening practice for the JLPT. Total cost per issue - 1680yen - a bargain.
I remember listening to the NJ tapes (yes - back in 1997 cassette tapes were still the rage) in my car and being able to listen over and over because the balance of short episodes, practical exercises and longer narrations meant that my ears never got fatigued (The skits were always worth a chortle or two.) These days you can rip the CD contents to your iPod and pick and choose what you listen to - what luxury! Having the text accompanying the CD is gold - learning new vocab becomes multi-sensory.
Is there a down side? 1680yen is almost the price of a small book and may scare off a few people, but there is a wealth of content in each issue (approx 112 pages) and you'll find yourself revisiting the text often. My only gripe is that the format for the listening quizzes is often slightly different to the JLPT format so people practising for the exam should use NJ earlier on in the study process and switch to past papers (where the format is exactly the same) when the test gets closer. This is a small point, but time is of the essence in the world of the JLPT so familiarity with the exact style of questions is paramount.
I love the NJ and reckon that repeated listening to the NJ tapes was a big part of me getting a good ear for the language, and I recommend the journal to anyone from beginner to advanced. You should find it in big bookshops like Maruzen and Kinokuniya or you can order in online from ALC.