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There’s an odd paradox in learning a foreign language, in that often the phrases most satisfying to use in real life are the least exciting to study. For example, take the phrase, “Nama wo ippai kudasai.”

It means “One draft beer, please.” Utter the sentence at a restaurant in Tokyo on a hot afternoon, where it actually produces a cold glass of beer, and for that one moment, you feel like you’re the linguistic king of the world. In a classroom or self-study setting, though there’s nothing particularly colorful or fun about it, making it less likely to leave an impression in your mind and pretty easy to forget.

Trying to combat this is a Japanese text-book, which we found on a recent trip to China, that spices things up by teaching phrases taken not from everyday life, but from Japan’s biggest cultural ambassador, anime.

We came across the book, titled Moe Japanese, at a newsstand in Shanghai, where it was selling for the low price of just 20 yuan (US$3.25). With our curiosity piqued and our wallet willing, we picked up a copy to see what it had to offer.

Inside the wrapper we found three items: a booklet, DVD, and poster.

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The clever pronunciation poster features 50 different anime characters, one for each of the basic 50 sounds in Japanese. Written next to each is the corresponding hiragana phonetic character, each with a cute girl whose name corresponds to that sound. For example, next to ha you’ll find Haruhi Suzumiya, while Sailor Moon herself, Usagi Tsukino, is stationed next to u.

▼ The poster is missing the syllable wo, but since it’s said the same as o in most parts of the country, it’s in the clear, as far as pronunciation goes.

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The DVD has cultural notes about Japan, such as a description about how people in Japan decorate their homes with cucumbers and eggplants for the summer Obon festival.

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There’s even a segment dedicated to what the DVD describes as “the fun winter event in Japan, Comiket,” referring to Japan’s twice-a-year celebration of fan-produced comics.

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The main attraction here, though, is the booklet which takes lines from popular anime such as the Monogatari series, Psycho-Pass, and Baka and Test.

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▼ There’s a pretty wide range of titles, as shown by this page for kids’ favorite Pokémon

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▼ …and this one for adult video game White Album 2.

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Each page is split into two columns, with a section of anime dialogue, in Japanese, on the left and its Chinese translation on the right.

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To give you an idea of the sort of phrases the book contains, here’s a line it showcases from Neko Monogatari.

“That’s all you have to do to push my jealousy over the threshold, giving birth to an angry tiger.”

We’re going to be honest here. Even if you lived your whole life in Japan, odds are you’d never, ever find yourself in a situation where it would be appropriate to express your feelings like that. Still, it’s grammatically correct, and definitely memorable. It’s also accompanied by clear and concise explanations, like the ones on other pages that detail how to use passive verb forms and particles such as ka, the Japanese language’s question-marker, and to, the equivalent of “and.”

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So while it’s easy to snicker at its over-the-top inspirations, the linguistics are pretty solid. It’s also worth noting that even the authors themselves realize how outlandish anime dialogue can be. The phrases are accompanied by a chart showing, among other things, how likely you are to use them in daily conversation, and several are clearly marked as being not particularly practical.

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But not only do the authors not mind how weird some of these phrases are, it turns out that’s actually the whole point. In contrast to Moe Japanese’s surface silliness, there’s an admirably earnest motivation behind the whole thing, as set forth in a passage in the textbook.

“Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and studying never ends,” it begins. “But sometimes, it can start to feel tedious. But if you choose to study of your own free will, we think it makes it easier to stay interested and focused.”

It’s hard to fault their logic, and in the end, we really can’t knock what they’re doing. A few chuckles about becoming “angry tigers” seems like a small price to pay if, for some people, the end result is becoming capable speakers of Japanese.

Photos: RocketNews24
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