Book review: Asahi Keywords 2019

At the beginning of every year, Asahi publishes「Asahi Keywords 朝日キーワード」, a book that introduces key notions that help to understand the news in all usual domains, from politics to social matters, economics or culture.

Published in January 2018, this year’s edition is entitled 「朝日キーワード2019」and summarizes the year 2017 (this is a little confusing…).

This book aims at Japanese, not Japanese learners, and is designed for people who don’t necessarily read the news on a daily basis but need to show a certain knowledge of what happened in Japan and in the world these last months. Typically, people who prepare for an entrance exam or a job interview. There is even a special edition called 「朝日キーワード就職2019 最新時事用語&一般常識」, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t tell the difference between the two.

Inside the book

「朝日キーワード」 covers all the main topical issues of last year in the following fields: 政治、国際、経済、社会、医療・福祉、環境・国士、科学・技術・情報・通信、労働、教育、文化・マスコミ、くらし、スポーツ.

The section “politics”, “international” and “economics” all begin with an introductory double page that introduces the essential points one has to grasp to have a good global understanding of the political and economic situation of last year.

Every topic occupies either a double page or a single page. It starts with an introductory paragraph and ends with one or two related words (see below). A photograph or a graph illustrates the article.

At the end of the book, you will find 40 pages of “basic words” that give a short and concise definition of important words for each field.

Follow an overview of 2017 with the important events month by month (from 2016 dec. to 2017 nov.).

To give you an idea of the layout:

Monthly overview, related vocabulary and introductory paragraph
the introductory chapter (politics, international, economics only) and basic words.

Why I am using this book

As you know if you follow my blog, reading the news in Japanese is one of my long-term goals. Reading the news is certainly one of the most difficult things we can do in our target language. Even if I am globally very motivated to achieve this goal, I also experience phases of discouragement and, more than once, I have stared blankly at a group of kanji without wanting to switch on my brain.

What makes reading the news difficult is the specialised vocabulary and, in case of Japanese, the many kanji. In fact, getting used to a certain field’s jargon makes it much easier to read any written work on this subject. This is why I use 「朝日キーワード」, to get familiar with important words relative to a certain field. Of course, I could work my way through specialised vocabulary by simply reading news articles on a certain subject, but I find that news articles present other difficulties, like the grammar and the long sentences. I also lose a lot of time looking for articles that bring enough new vocabulary without being too difficult to read. For all these reasons, I appreciate having an extra keywords book.

Another thing that I really like is that「朝日キーワード」 aims at people who need to catch up with news and do not necessarily know everything about the given subjects. I find that there are often things that are only hinted at by news articles because the reader is supposed to know about them, which makes something already difficult to read even more difficult.

Moreover, this book sections are short (max. one double page) which make it easy to study without feeling overwhelmed, and the writing style is closer to a textbook that explains than a news article that informs.

This is how the book presents itself: “朝日新聞の一線記者がわかりやすく解説”.

A book to study

This being said, this book may be an easy read for Japanese, but it is certainly not for non-native readers.

With my N2 level, I can’t just pick up the book, read fluently any double-page and have a good understanding of the contents. I need to sit at my desk, take a pen in one hand and my head in the other. What I do is this:

  • First I read the article with a marker pen and highlight every word I don’t know.
  • Then, I go through these words and decide 1- whether to look them up in the dictionary or not and 2- whether to add them to my Anki deck. I underline the words that I look up and add a star to the ones I want to learn.
  • I read the article a second time.

book review - asahi keywords 2019-3

Why read about last year?

As my goal is to read news articles, reading about last year’s events is useful for two reasons at least:

  • First, a lot of vocabulary is atemporal and many words that were in articles from last year will probably come up again this year.
  • To understand today’s issues, it is important to know what happened before, and I am still very ignorant of Japan internal matters 🙄

I don’t have the intention to study all the articles of this book though, so I will just skip the ones that seem useless for my purpose.

To whom?

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read the news in Japanese but feels that some preparatory work is necessary. With an N2 level, I need to concentrate, use a pen and have my dictionary within reach to read this book so I would say that an N2 or N1 level is necessary to take advantage it.

My English Notebook

(just some personal notes about things I learnt when writing this article)

I finally found a way to translate “les sujets qui ont fait l’actualité” = Topical issues or topical events.

Grammarly tells me that we say “political situation” (and not politic) but “economic situation” (and not economical) … strange…  🤨 (made a research: economical means “not spending more than necessary”, I see…)