FSI Japanese Headstart Course

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What is Japanese Headstart?

The Headstart language courses were originally created by the US Defence Language Institute for military personnel who were stationed abroad and needed to learn the basics of the local language for everyday communication. This means the courses focus on the kind of skills you need for common interactions like shopping or asking for directions. The emphasis is on learning the expressions you need to function in such situations rather than trying to understand the grammatical rules behind what you are saying.

This Japanese Headstart course was first published in 1980 and consists of 10 modules. There is a cultural module, written in English, that includes an in-depth introduction to Japan. This is followed by eight language modules, each based on a different situation you might encounter in the country. The final module introduces the Japanese writing system, which is optional since the focus of the course is primarily spoken Japanese.

Within each of the language modules, the objectives of the lesson are set out, and then the new vocabulary is presented in the form of a list. This is accompanied by a recording to help you master the pronunciation. After this, you will find drills and dialogs that allow you to practice the new language and self-evaluation quizzes to test whether you have fully assimilated everything.

The course also includes a word list with all the vocabulary from the course as well as a set of flashcards with Japanese writing that will help you survive in a range of situations in Japan.

How can you use Japanese Headstart?

This course was specifically designed to be useful to autonomous learners, making it ideal for individual study. The first seven units can be covered in any order, so you can choose whichever one you think seems most interesting or useful to you. Units 8 and 9 are supposed to be studied after completing the first seven, and Unit 10 can be tackled if you are interested in learning about the written language.

Since the course was designed for autonomous study, you can simply work through each module as you find it. Start by reading the objectives and then go through the vocabulary section with the recording. When you have practiced pronouncing the new words you will need for the unit, you can stop the recording to read the notes.

After reading the notes, simply continue listening to the recording as it takes you through the drills and dialogs. When you have finished this, you can go on to the testing section to evaluate your performance.

Don’t try to do too much in each study session, and take as much time as you need to complete each unit. Your goal should be to assimilate the language thoroughly rather than finishing the whole course as quickly as possible.

Since this course was designed for serving military personnel, you will find that there is quite a lot of military vocabulary. However, you don’t need to try to remember all of this – instead, simply concentrate on the language and vocab you think will be most useful to you.

Japanese Headstart teaches you how to function effectively and to communicate your needs in specific situations, and after mastering the language in each unit, you should be able to manage this confidently.

Taking it further

However good the course materials, you can’t learn a language through books alone. For this reason, as soon as possible, you should take your Japanese skills out into the real world and try them out. Look for native Japanese speakers to practice with so you can make using Japanese a part of your daily life – and if you travel to Japan, don’t be afraid to open your mouth and speak. Then, when you do this, you will realize how much progress in Japanese you have already made.