[Tatsuroh Yamazaki & Stella M. Yamazaki. Tokyo: Kinseido Publishing, 2008. pp. 84. \2,200 (incl. Student DVD). ISBN: 978-4-7647-3853-9.]
What’s on Japan 3is an intermediate level listening and speaking textbook which is updated every year. It uses NHK BS English news stories as teaching material and has 14 units which cover a variety of topics about Japan. Some of the topics covered include the Metabolic Syndrome, the Baby Post and Citizen Judges. They are not arranged in any particular order of difficulty, so teachers are free to start with any unit. Each unit’s main focus is a four-minute DVD program which students watch and answer questions in nine different exercises.
Every unit begins with Words & Phrases. Vocabulary that the students will encounter in the DVD is previewed. The words are listed with the translated meanings, which saves students from having to look up the meanings in a dictionary and also aids acquisition of the words. Research shows that learning is quicker if students have the translated meaning (Nation, 2001). I used the words as a pairwork activity in which students would quiz each other. One student would read the English word and the other would give the Japanese meaning, or vice versa. I felt it was a good way to open the lesson and the students also found it useful. After Words & Phrases, students are given a top-down activity to focus on the topic. The Metabolic Syndrome unit gives ten common ailments. The students have to read the Japanese meaning and write in the English equivalent. The first letter of the ailment is given to assist comprehension. Afterwards there are three questions given to activate students’ schema processing.
Beginning on the third page of every unit, there are three exercises requiring the textbook’s DVD. The first activity uses true or false questions, so the students only have to listen for the general meaning. The second listening exercise has three multiple-choice questions. The third listening activity varies from unit to unit and requires students to listen for more specific details. In the Metabolic Syndrome unit, students have to fill in six different figures. In another unit they have to choose two correct sentences out of six. My first-year students could complete the activities after two or three viewings. The fourth and fifth pages of each unit have seven dictation sentences which are taken from the DVD. The Japanese translation of the dictation sentences is provided in the margin, but I had my students cover them up and complete it just from listening. The sixth page of each unit has four gapped scrambled sentences which I assigned for homework each week. The final activity has discussion questions covering the topic, which my students did in pairs and in groups. I found this a good way to wrap up each unit.
The book’s physical aspects are a bit of a contrast. The cover itself is attractive but this differs from the inside of the book which lacks color. It is all black and white. The print style does not vary from the directions to the exercises, which may cause some confusion. Furthermore, teachers who prefer an English-only textbook may not like the Japanese used in the book. I felt that it was a teaching tool rather than an impediment to students’ learning, so I believe it helps rather than hurts.
The textbook has a teacher’s manual which provides all the answers to the exercises. There are also sample answers to the discussion questions. A full transcript of the DVD is given in both English and Japanese. I found it useful to copy and give the Japanese translation to students after completing each unit. The weak point of the teacher’s manual is that it does not provide any supplemental activities.
My students enjoyed the textbook overall. They found it easier to watch and listen to a DVD rather than just listening to a CD or a cassette. They also liked the variety of the questions and the vocabulary section. Some students did voice opinions on the difficulty of the speaking speed of the DVD. Although the narrators are Japanese English speakers, their speaking speed varies.
What’s on Japan 3is very easy to use. Unlike many English language textbooks which use material culturally different from the learners’ background, What’s on Japan 3 is composed of stories about Japan, so students are better able to understand the material. Research shows that the learner’s cultural knowledge is an important factor in comprehending a text (Nunan, 1998). Since What’s on Japan 3 comes out with a new edition each year, the topics are also relevant. I believe this book works well as a listening textbook or as supplementary material for a speaking course.
Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nunan, D. (1998). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.