I always like reading content that really tries to break down how the Japanese language works for learners. Having previously read and reviewed Making Sense of Japanese by Jay Rubin on this blog, I picked up Unlocking Japanese: Making Japanese as simple as it really is (2016) by Cure Dolly in eBook format. Unlocking Japanese is clearly influenced by Rubin’s book, but Cure Dolly’s approach is slightly different. It was inevitable that I made comparisons between the two books, but I have tried to evaluate Unlocking Japanese on its own merits.
Cure Dolly is the pen name for the author of the Japanese study website Kawaii Japanese, or KawaJapa for short. On both the website and in this book, Cure Dolly takes the view that thinking about Japanese grammar first requires a change in mindset. They focus on the importance of getting used to the nature of Japanese grammar by understanding it but not necessarily relating it to English grammar structures.
The book applies this thought to a few common aspects of Japanese which confuse learners. The book has sections on topics such as particles (particularly は, が and を), adjectives, the passive form and the uses of そう.
What I liked about the book
Firstly, I like the flow of the chapters – I think each of the later chapters builds nicely upon the ones before it. In addition, I also appreciate the emphasis that Cure Dolly puts on the fact that every sentence has a subject, even if this is omitted from the sentence itself (the same is true for Rubin’s book).
I think it is a useful book to read for helping to understand fundamental Japanese grammar, though like Making Sense of Japanese it assumes you are generally familiar with how to conjugate verbs and adjectives. As a result, whilst the book would be most useful to beginners, I can’t recommend it to people who have just started learning the language.
What I disliked
Unlocking Japanese’s strengths and weaknesses are rather similar to Making Sense of Japanese in my opinion. I found it harder to read the parts where there are anecdotal stories and less relevant rambles (eg. How other textbooks do not cover certain aspects of the Japanese language), which is quite frequent throughout.
I also found some chapters a little repetitive in the points being made, which is quite noticeable as the book is pretty short. Furthermore, the book wants its readers not to rely on romaji, but all example sentences in this book have romaji transcriptions!
Honestly, I find Cure Dolly’s approach to Japanese quite refreshing. Some Japanese learning material tends to be fairly similar in style – a bit stiff and old fashioned. I do think there are some useful insights covered in Unlocking Japanese. However, I don’t think the style in which it is written will appeal to everyone.
Cure Dolly has a YouTube channel with videos covering some of the main themes of the book as well as learning Japanese in general. I think watching these would be a better way to learn about the useful stuff in this book (if you can put up with the very odd voices). I recommend reading the sample to see if the style and content is something you like before purchasing.
Have you read this book, or used any of Cure Dolly’s videos to help you study? Please let me know what you think in the comments!