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I need a Japanese textbook, help!
Are you trying to find which textbooks for learning Japanese are useful? If so read on to find out which is the most popular beginner textbook for studying Japanese, plus alternatives if this does not sound right for you.
Genki an Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese 1 and 2
Ok, here’s the short answer to which is the best textbook – Genki an Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese 1 and 2.
Genki 1 and 2 are the most highly regarded textbooks for Japanese language students of school, or university age beginners. Each book has chapters containing a short dialogue, vocabulary list, grammar explanations and exercises. Usefully for beginners, hiragana and katakana tables are shown in the front and back inside pages. This is handy for quickly checking the pronunciation or writing of each hiragana or katakana quickly.
The Genki books have English explanations along with Japanese, and each chapter introduces an aspect of Japanese culture useful for beginners to learn about. The textbook comes with a CD with exercises and the audio recordings of the dialogues.
The textbook is aimed primarily at students as the dialogues cover topics such as studying in Japan or having a home-stay with a Japanese family. The grammar and vocabulary covered are well chosen, and the most high-frequency parts of Japanese language are included. The Genki books are ubiquitous, and if you meet other people who have studied Japanese, it is likely that they have studied using the Genki textbooks.
From the Genki textbook website:
Sentence patterns: All the major sentence patterns that should be learned in an elementary Japanese course (desu/-masu, honorific, causative, passive, and causative-passive patterns)
Kanji: 317 characters
Vocabulary: Approximately 1,700 basic words used in everyday life
Here are the topics and grammar patterns you will learn in the Genki 1 textbook:
The Japanese Writing System Introduction
1: New Friends
3: Making a Date
4: The First Date
5: A Trip to Okinawa
6: A Day in Robert’s Life
7: Family Picture
10: Winter Vacation Plans
11: After the Vacation
12: Feeling Ill
Will I be able to communicate and live in Japan comfortably after finishing the Genki textbooks?
I remember one of my teachers answering this in class. What he said was this, if you can answer everything in Genki correctly then “yes you can probably hold a job down and live in Japan”. But from my experience, if you can answer everything in the Genki textbooks but did not know any other Japanese that still wouldn’t mean you could do things such as read a national newspaper or a novel for adults in Japanese. You may be able to get the gist of some newspaper headlines but not all. Furthermore, you probably wouldn’t be able to understand the actual newspaper article and novels would look like an impenetrable wall of text.
As for talking and making conversation, again you could get your message across in a basic way but expressing yourself as you would in your mother tongue would be impossible just from studying the Genki textbooks. I would say you the same for writing and listening skills.
There is too much language (grammar, vocabulary, kanji) that isn’t in the Genki textbooks even if you learn everything in them.
But having said that they are a very decent starting point, and I would recommend them for student age levels or those that don’t mind content that is aimed at the 18-25 age group.Buy from Amazon
Are there alternatives?
Yes, here are a few that I have used.
Minna no Nihongo – みんなの日本語
Minna no Nihongo is a very organised book that beginners with some experience of studying Japanese before can use. I would say it is aimed more for adult learners as it is not got dialogues about home-stays or study abroad trips. However, a drawback (or plus depending on your point of view) of this textbook is that there are no English explanations or translations in the book itself. For translations (available in 27 languages), you have to buy a separate book that accompanies the main textbook. If you do not mind checking another book for explanations, then having the English in another book and not on the page you are reading, can help you feel immersed in Japanese.Buy from Amazon
Japanese for Busy People
Japanese for Busy People is a book I used in a Japanese once a week evening class. There are romaji and kana versions. I would always go with the kana versions of any textbook as romaji are not used very much in everyday life in Japan. This is a good book that has the basics of Japanese covered. However, it was made for the busy learner, so that means the writers have limited the amount of grammar and vocabulary covered. Compared to other beginner books only a third of what is covered in other books is included. That means this book is a survival Japanese kind of book. So good for travelers or people just wanting to learn a little bit of basic Japanese quickly but not for people who want to gain a thorough grounding in Japanese basics.Buy from Amazon
Japanese from Zero! 1
This book was written by George Trombley and Yukari Takenaka. George is an American guy who lived in Japan from 12 years old and has an amazing Japanese learning YouTube channel with hundreds of videos and over 70,000 subscribers.
This book has got a lot of good reviews for the relaxed style that George and Yukari use to introduce Japanese language and culture. As well as speaking Japanese like a native George is able to teach Japanese from a westerner’s point of view so that means he can highlight parts of Japanese culture (tv shows, music, customs, slang) that are interesting for foreigners.
I agree with the reviewers who say the beginner’s book in the Japanese from Zero series does take quite a slow approach to introducing new grammar and language elements. Also, I agree with the many reviewers who say that while it is not explicitly aimed at kids, the focus on games and the tone of the book does mean it would work well with school-age students in particular. Another advantage of this textbook is the support given from the YouTube videos that accompany the series. These are fun and interesting to watch and a world away from boring classrooms as George and his co-hosts are usually joking around or making Japanese accessible and easy to understand for students.
For people who want a good understanding of Japanese culture as well as the language and to use a textbook that is written in a fun way, then this could be the right book. You can check out George’s YouTube channel here.Buy from Amazon
So in this article, I introduced 4 of the most popular beginner textbooks for learning Japanese. While there are some differences between them, they all cover the basics of Japanese well. Genki and Minna No Nihongo are probably the most comprehensive while Japanese from Zero! is the most fun and the YouTube videos that accompany it are a super cool feature. Japanese for Busy People has been written for people without much time. All have Cd’s, and also all have additional workbooks that can be bought for more exercises.
Romaji are Romanised Japanese words, in other words, Japanese words spelt using the English alphabet. Kana are Japanese spelt words using the Japanese syllabary. If a textbook says kana it will include words written in Hiragana, Katakana and (usually) Kanji. ↑