I have no idea how to review a language learning game before I’ve learned the language. Stay tuned for my full review of My Japanese Coach sometime in the next seven years. For now, though, I can address some of the valid and not so valid complaints people have had about the game.
The most flagrant problem is Ubisoft published a Japanese game that teaches you the wrong stroke order for some kana and kanji. Writing characters and syllables in the correct stroke order is (I am told) crucial in Japanese and it’s embarrassing that this game doesn’t get them all right. There are under 100 syllable symbols in Japanese and My Japanese Coach teaches at least five incorrectly. I can understand teaching kanji incorrectly, there are thousands of them and they’re complex, but after a few weeks of using an actual textbook, I could write all of the kana correctly. Apparently that puts me ahead of the experts who made this game.
Another issue I have with the game is it leaves the player to make the connections between words a good teacher would point out. Singular and plural you are the same word with two syllables attached at the end of the plural. It turns out “I” and “we” works the same way. It would have been nice for the game to mention this explicitly. Similarly, it teaches some colors as adjectives and some as nouns. But wait, I thought, isn’t kuro black in Japanese (Pioneer plasma TVs taught me that), what’s this kuroi word? After asking a friend who knows more than I, I learned that any of these colors could become adjectives with an “i” at the end. The game should have brought this to my attention.
This ties into the unfair criticisms of My Japanese Coach. If you want to learn a language, you need to be willing to do a lot of work. Because I’m not half assing this (yet), I did the leg work to put these two examples – the pluralized words with “tachi” and changing a color noun into an adjective with an “i” – together myself without the direct instruction of the game. It should have helped me out, but ultimately I can’t expect any learning tool, or professor, to spoon feed me every last detail.
I’ve read criticisms of My Japanese Coach that make it clear the critics simply didn’t want to put in the effort to learn a new language. They treat it like a game and this leads them to complain that the game allows progression even if you haven’t really learned the words it thinks you have. The game isn’t sentient and can only drill you so many times before allowing you to proceed to later lessons. Complaining that the game allows you to go forward even if you don’t know everything it’s taught thus far is similar to complaining that a text book allows you to turn the page even if you haven’t learned what is on the current one.
I don’t speak Japanese yet so I cannot offer a thorough analysis of My Japanese Coach, but so far I have been impressed. If you learn your kana before buying the game and are willing to do some extra curricular studying, it seems like a very useful tool. Maybe it ultimately won’t teach me much but for now I find it much more engaging than Japanese for Busy People. Some people will say learning is supposed to be hard and painful. They are probably right, but for now I am ranked “Pre-Schooler” and hope to be a “Kindergartner” by April.