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Looking for a Japanese Uncovered review?
Does this “story learning” method for learning Japanese, created by Olly Richards, really work?
I tried it out for myself and I’m excited to share what I found.
First, so you know where I’m coming from, here’s a bit about me and my experience as a Japanese learner (and Star Wars fan!).
Note: Want to get straight to my opinion of Japanese Uncovered? Scroll on down.
If you’ve read one of the Japanese articles that I’ve written for Fluent in 3 Months, then you’ll know I’m very passionate about the Japanese language. I took the *Fluent in 3 Months Challenge!
So, while Olly’s course is aimed at beginner Japanese learners, I was intrigued by his approach. I’ve been working my way through his Spanish Uncovered course (which you can read Elizabeth’s review of here, by the way).
I love learning Spanish through story but I was still pretty skeptical that it could work for Japanese. After all, Japanese has a completely different writing system! Three writing systems, in fact.
But I also know that Olly is a fantastic teacher, so I was excited to try out his Japanese story course. No, I didn’t start this course from the perspective of a beginner. But I can still give a good account of how it would feel to learn from scratch — and what I loved and learned from it myself!
Also as a note: I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and can’t be out-Star-Wars’d by Elizabeth’s Spanish Uncovered review. So, I hope you’re up for this wild ride because I’m going to give you the review faster than Han’s Kessel Run!
If Elizabeth is the “Han Solo of Language Learning,” then I’m the Leia
“There are things that you cannot solve by jumping in an X-wing and blowing something up.” – General Leia Organa, The Last Jedi
While Elizabeth says she’s the “Han Solo of language learning” because she doesn’t like taking orders or preparing for lessons… I’m the opposite. I like being extra prepared and strategic. So I guess that makes me a bit more like Leia — I take charge, I follow through with a well-executed plan, and I always have hope.
Japanese is a tough language, and you have to be a bit of a Rebel to take it on. And even after several failures to learn Japanese well, I stuck with it, came up with a better battle plan, and defeated my Death Star. That is… I reached my goal of speaking conversational Japanese.
So, when it comes to language learning resources, I like them to be quick, efficient, to the point, and well-organized.
So is the Force strong with Japanese Uncovered?
Japanese Uncovered Review: Olly’s Method of Teaching Through Story
Japanese Uncovered teaches you Japanese by having you read through a story.
But it’s much more than that — it’s 20 chapters of in-depth lessons in which you learn through reading immersion.
Each lesson, broken up by chapters, has many well-thought-out components:
- An introduction of what you’ll learn in that chapter
- An audio recording in normal and slow speed Japanese
- PDFs of each chapter written in romaji (English letters for Japanese words), full Japanese, and the English translations
- Vocabulary video lesson and worksheet
- Grammar video lesson and worksheet
- A keigo (honorific speech) lesson
- A Japanese pronunciation lesson with Ai-sensei, Olly’s Japanese co-author of the course
- Japanese writing lesson with Ai-sensei
- A culture video lesson
- Speaking activities worksheet
- A review quiz
- Progress report
First Olly has you listen to the story. Next, you read along as you listen again. Then you read the English translation. After that, he breaks down the important points in the story and builds on what you’re learning.
With each chapter of the story, Olly walks you through a crucial learning step of the language. It never feels overwhelming.
Olly has a deep grasp of what it takes to learn Japanese and leaves nothing out. He not only spends time teaching you vocab and grammar, but goes into the culture, pronunciation, and Japanese writing systems. By the end, you can even read some complex kanji!
I’ve always said you can’t learn Japanese without understanding Japanese culture. I was thrilled to see Olly put such an emphasis on culture in the course. Those with more understanding and experience with Japanese culture will always have a deeper grasp of the language.
“In my book, experience outranks everything.”
“Then I definitely outrank you.” – Captain Rex and Ahsoka Tano
Japanese Uncovered is a go-at-your-own-pace type of course. And although it’s long, it’s engaging and interesting. Besides his Spanish Uncovered story learning course, Olly also teaches French, Italian, and German through story.
Japanese Uncovered: The Light Side of the Force (AKA, the Pros)
So can you really level up from a Padawan learner to a Jedi Knight by learning Japanese through story?
I’d give this one a solid, big YES.
I was pleasantly surprised and excited by Olly’s method of teaching Japanese*.
I’m someone who thinks that Japanese kana is best learned fast in only a week or so. But Olly spreads out the Japanese writing system over several chapters. He introduces the characters at a steady pace. And as he teaches you new ones, he starts adding them in place of romaji. This way, you get plenty of practice reading them.
What I liked about this method is that it reduces overwhelm for beginners. Learning all the Japanese characters can be intimidating to some. But Olly breaks it down in a way that makes sense through immersive practice. This is a pro and con to me, which I’ll get to more in a minute. But it works well for jumping into the story, and for absolute beginners.
The highlight of the course for me is how Olly teaches grammar. He integrates new grammar into the reading, building upon it each chapter. You jump from basic grammar to quite complex conjugations fast. Things that took me a whole semester and textbook in college to learn is taught in the first few chapters with ease.
What this means is you can express yourself well… and fast. This course is a fast track to actually speaking Japanese, and using it in the real world.
By the end of the course, you’d be a solid upper beginner/intermediate level speaker. While there would be a few gaps, like in the level of kanji, you’ll understand plenty to get by in the average conversation. And, it really prepares you for a trip to Japan — no fluff.
This course helps you become comfortable with engaging in natural Japanese and native resources. Textbooks often put too much of a focus on the classroom setting, and not even on real-life Japanese. But since you’re learning through story, it feels less intimidating to pick up Japanese media and relax into it. The foreign text doesn’t seem so scary anymore. So, you get comfortable reading Japanese.
Japanese Uncovered Uses Real Japanese Speech
I can’t stress this one enough. Except for the first three chapters, where Olly uses the subjects of sentences more than is natural (for learning purposes), the Japanese dialogue is refreshingly… normal.
What I mean by that is so many textbooks, podcasts, and more teach you stiff Japanese. They teach a lot of fluff you won’t use. And they leave out a lot of common phrases that aren’t translatable but used every single day in Japan.
Olly gets right down to business. You’ll be speaking real Japanese from day one. So you don’t have to worry about an awkward faux pas you may otherwise pick up in a classroom setting.
For example, his use of integrating culture and keigo into his teaching right from the start. Both are integral parts of the Japanese language but are often left out in beginner teachings. That makes it more confusing to learn keigo (honorific speech) later, and you need it immediately anyway to be polite.
Ai-sensei, who accompanies Olly in teaching the course, is a wonderful teacher as well. She’s so cute and well-spoken. Her pronunciation tips were brilliant, and I even learned several things I didn’t know. Her bonus video on chopstick etiquette, for instance, taught me quite a bit!
Japanese Uncovered Makes Learning Japanese Enjoyable!
I love listening to Olly talk. He’s brilliant as a speaker and teacher and offers so many insights and tips to help you learn. He speaks Japanese well and helps the language stick with you. I found his own Japanese tips to be helpful in overcoming some basic grammar problems I always run into.
You’re also introduced to so many new words in Japanese. While I could read most of the lessons with ease, there were quite a few words I didn’t know or had forgotten. Seeing them several times helped me remember them, and most of the time I was able to learn from context. I also felt like my reading speed increased significantly.
Oh, that’s another pro: PDFs in romaji, as well as kana, kana + kanji, and English translations. So if you already learned the kana, you can still learn and improve by downloading the PDF at your level.
The speaking activities and worksheets offer a lot of active practice to use what you learn. I was worried I’d find these boring, but they’re not at all. They help you remember the vocab, and he offers different exercises to work your memory muscles in several different ways. The speaking activities sheet includes a handout for a tutor or language exchange partner. This is such a nice feature because then your tutor or partner can help you review the material and practice using it.
Japanese Uncovered: The Dark Side of the Force (AKA, the Cons)
For my tastes, I would rather see the kana introduced more in the beginning rather than rely on so much romaji throughout the course. That’s because if you were to pair the course with other resources or textbooks — say, Genki I, Remembering the Kanji, or even Drops — you’d need to know the kana already.
Plus, you can dive into native resources faster if you learn the kana fast. While the story is written in kana in a bonus PDF, I think it would be more effective to knock out the kana early. Switch to it completely rather than over the first 10 chapters and still have the romaji PDF as the primary one in the lessons. (The kana and kanji PDF options are under “Additional Resources” at the end of each chapter section.)
That’s honestly my only con! Because this was one of the most effective, best Japanese resources I’ve ever used. I wish I would’ve had this when I got started — I would’ve learned Japanese SO much faster.
I do recommend you find yourself a language exchange partner, though, to grasp what you’re learning. While the course is complete on its own, it’s best used in tandem with language exchange. italki is a great resource for this.
You could also pair Japanese Uncovered with more daily immersion into the language. I enjoyed watching Japanese dramas while going through the course. It gave me a chance to see what new things I could pick out while watching! It helped reinforce the material even more.
So is Japanese Uncovered “The Chosen One”?
I’d have to dub Japanese Uncovered the hope the galaxy has been looking for when it comes to Japanese. And I would LOVE to see Olly release an intermediate Japanese story course like he has for his other languages. Because it was brilliant.
I loved learning through story and felt like it was the best method I’ve used to learn Japanese to date. I’m remembering Japanese vocabulary and grammar as well as C3P0 remembers all six million languages he’s fluent in. I may be no Jedi, but this course is definitely the way.
Even though the course was marked for beginners, I found it insightful and helpful with some of my weak spots in my Japanese foundation. And I think it would be the perfect tool for anyone looking to start speaking Japanese. Especially if you plan to travel to Japan and use it in everyday life.
So if you’re thinking about taking Japanese Uncovered, don’t miss your shot (like a Stormtrooper). Go ahead… Do it.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.