Taking the world less travelled

Japanese With Ease with Assimil

Posted by on Mar 4, 2009 in Language | 6 comments

assimil Rate this book: 1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 4.67 out of 5)

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Assimil is different from other texts in that the bulk of it is dialogues which you listen along to with the provided CDs. While it does have explanations, called “まとめ - Revision and Notes”, a grammar enthusiast will be wanting more. The idea is to learn through assimilation. While it doesn’t really provide a totally authentic immersion environment, I am impressed at how much is covered in this beginner’s text.

Assimil has a pretty lengthy introduction which is quite good at introducing Japanese to someone who has only just come to the Japanese language. From pronunciation, how verbs and adjectives work, the writing systems… Then it says:

Ugh! Don’t panic. You don’t have to worry about about all of this right away.

Assimil works in two stages, passive and active. I only have the first book, so can only really comment on the passive stage. This is where you don’t really worry about trying to learn kana, kanji, What you do is just go through the lessons, reading along to the tapes. The idea is learning through assimilation. With enough exposure it will all sink in.


Every lesson is a dialogue. On the left page is the Japanese, the right in English. The Japanese has kanji with furigana, a phonetic guide and romaji. The first thing I did was get a black texta and got rid of all that romaji and pronunciation.

It is important, I guess, to note that I came to this book as something to reinforce what I had already learnt. So I already knew how to read hiragana/katakana. When you are just starting out romaji is good for a guide. But after a couple of lessons I still think you should black out all that information. It gets confusing, and you shouldn’t rely on it. Hell, this book makes it easy, you don’t even have to learn how to write if you follow this method to a t, but rather only recognise them. Any fool can do that!!

The English page is also great. It has an English translation and also a word by word translation so you can work out how sentences are put together. Down the bottom are little notes that help you understand the dialogue better. And every seventh lesson isn’t a dialogue but rather a “revision” lesson which explains all the major things that are happening in the dialogues you just studied.


The audio is good but not great. It provides almost 2 hours worth of audio in Japanese. Each dialogues are fairly short, most are around 2 -3 mins worth. The bad thing is that for the first few dialogues the pace is painfully slow. Perhaps this is good for absolute beginners, but I was not an absolute beginner when I started this. Also, the dialogues never reach a native pace. To a certain extent, this is good for a beginner if you realise it isn’t full speed. It is a good intermediate step. Even myself, sometimes, I find the pace just right when I am trying to read aloud and my tongue gets twisted. I imagine as my reading speeds up, I could modify the audio to also speed it up slightly.

At the end of the dialogues are some exercises which are essentially useless. It consists of reading along with short phrases, and fill in the blanks that are entirely in romaji. I looked over these but largely ignored them. One feature I liked is that it has the page numbers written out in Japanese. Would have preferred them to be in kana, as they are in romaji, but it is still a neat feature for those learning their numbers.

I am quite impressed how far this book actually goes. For just over 300 pages, it covers a lot. I was impressed that the last dialogue starts off with a poem which was a bit tricky to get my head around at first. I haven’t encountered that in any other beginners text and so it was a nice surprise.

I am not sure if I personally would be satisfied to learn from this book, as you may know I like to learn by having things broken apart for me, and then some how I put the pieces back together. In this book you have to work out things for yourself, or perhaps not even work things out, you just go along with the flow and have faith that things will come together in the end.

However, as a revision tool I am quite impressed. In the second book you start the active phase, and I am keen to pick it up and see if it lives up to the first.


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  1. pachipachi

    I’ve used that method as complete beginner.

    Most of the bad points you noticed are actualy things that are needed for beginners. It gets more and more difficult.. the pronounciation you hate is removed before the end of book 1, and the romaji disappears at the end of book 2 for instance. As for exercises, they may be easy, but a good step to the active phase. Again, you may be too advanced to see the point of those for total beginners.

    But I agree it misses some grammar explanations sometimes. I was lucky to have a Japanese friend around to answer some questions ;)

    I don’t like the 3rd book at all (the kanji one, it studies them in the order they appeared in the lessons, I dislike that idea).

    Still I think the first 2 books are a good introduction to the Japanese language.

    • GoddessCarlie

      I haven’t seen the second book or the active phase yet, so I am only commenting on the exercises from the perspective of only book one, but they would have been better if they were in kana, even if the romaji was still present.

      I really do think, even for a beginner, that the romaji and pronunciation will slow you down in the long run. I’m glad to know that it disappears in book two, and I wasn’t sure about the pronunciation as I had blacked out my book long ago.

      Even grammar points that are “clearly” explained can be confusing for beginners, which is another reason I’m glad I had someone to help me too.

      Assimil actually has a lot of meat in it, and I don’t think I could have done it without any other outside help if I was just a beginner. Thanks so much for your perspective and the info on book 2. :)

      • pachipachi

        About the active phase… it’s reviewing the first book from English to Japanese. When you study a book 2 lesson, you have to go back to book 1, hide the Japanese page and translate the English page to Japanese. So after lesson 50, you’ll translate the lesson 1. After lesson 51, the lesson 2, and so on.

        And also you’ll learn how to draw the hiragana and katakana, which you probably already know too ;)

  2. Joe Ellis

    Maybe I’m just old school, but I still don’t think anything beats みんなの日本語 for a beginner’s textbook. The grammar and vocab is solid, and the CDs are also very helpful. It’s a bit dry, but still a wonderful introduction to Japanese imo.

  3. tryllid

    Thanks for the review. I have the first two books and would agree with your comments. I didn’t realize how slow the dialogues were until I started watching Japanese tv.

    But thanks for the reminder of their usefulness for review. I will be going back to review thanks to your comments. :geek:

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