On Japanese Part Two: Resources

The other day I started off my Japanese study series with a little glossary of basic Japanese study terms. And now I’m back with my personal guide to Japanese study resources.

Kanji flashcards! In Instagram form because it saved me the trouble of taking a new picture.

Textbooks:

なかま: Japanese Communication, Culture, Context (Houghton Mifflin, 1998):
My first two years of Japanese used Nakama 1 and then Nakama 2 and they aren’t terrible. They also aren’t great. They do introduce hiragana in chapter 1 and katakana in chapter 3, which is good, and they have some useful appendices, but the grammar explanations aren’t very clear and there’s a lot of clutter in the form of semi-relevant bits of Japanese culture. It also relies pretty heavily on having a class, so if you’re going it alone look elsewhere.

My Rating: 5/10

みんなの日本語/Minna no Nihongo (3a Corporation, 2008):
I used Minna no Nihongo during my study abroad and I vastly prefer it to Nakama. The exercises are great, it skips the cultural stuff, and you learn a lot of vocabulary in every chapter. Each level has two books, one in Japanese and one in English to supplement it, and you need both. It’s not good for an absolute beginner, but if you’ve got the kana down check it out.

My rating: 8/10

An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese (Japan Times, 1994):
This is actually the third book in the Genki series, but I’ve never used Genki 1 and 2. There’s some cultural information, as well as multiple example conversations in each chapter, which is all great. The grammar explanations are pretty good and I also can’t complain about the vocab lists. The reading sections don’t come with translations, which I actually like, but I will admit that they’re kind of boring. Basically, it’s a solid book, but you might struggle if your reading comprehension is weak.

My Rating: 7/10

Kanji:

Remembering the Kanji (James Heisig, 2001):
The dreaded Heisig. I’m torn where this series is concerned. On the one hand, there is definite value in using mnemonics, narrowing your focus to learning meanings first, and getting away from rote memorization, but I do think there are problems. The pace the book sets is somewhat unreasonable, the stories he comes up with are annoying, and it doesn’t produce literacy, so it’s definitely just a starting point. In short: I think RTK is worth looking into, but flawed.

My Rating: 6/10

Kanji Cards (Tuttle Flashcards):
These are the flashcards in the picture. They include all the relevant info and they’re perfectly functional, but the readings are printed in romaji, not kana, which I actually think is more of a problem if you’re a beginner. It’s not ideal, but I can work with it. You can also find them cheap online, which is a bonus; I got volume 2 secondhand for $5 shipped.

My Rating: 8/10

Essential Kanji (P.G. O’Neill, 1987):
This is basically a reference guide to the jouyou set, in the official MEXT-sanctioned order. It’s outdated now, since the changes implemented in 2010, but it’s still a good book to have on your shelf for the 1,940 characters that stayed the same. Keep in mind that it isn’t a textbook, but it is a good secondary resource.

My Rating: 8/10

Grammar and Vocabulary:

A Dictionary of Basic/Intermediate Japanese Grammar (Japan Times, 1989):
These dictionaries (there’s also an advanced that I don’t have) are awesome and exactly what it says on the tin. They aren’t textbooks, so I don’t recommend trying to use them that way, but they are clear, comprehensive, and amazingly useful supplements to learning Japanese. If you’re already studying by other means, definitely try to pick these up. They’re expensive, but I love them.

My Rating: 10/10

The Complete Japanese Verb Guide (Tuttle, 2001):
This book is mediocre. There are over 600 verbs with conjugations and other relevant info, like whether a verb is transitive or intransitive. However, it’s all in romaji (except the headings, which are in kanji). I can deal with the romaji in the flashcards, because it’s only the readings, but in this book even the example sentences are romaji. There are other verb guides on the market, so check those out first.

My Rating: 4/10

How to Tell the Difference Between Japanese Particles (Kodansha, 2005):
Buy this book. Particles (at, in, on, etc.) are one of the hardest things to learn. Japanese has a lot of them and they’re very easy to mix up. This book is short, concise, and easy to understand and use. An excellent resource to have on hand.

My Rating: 10/10

Essential Japanese Grammar/Vocabulary (Tuttle, 2012/2011):
These books are pretty good. They aren’t the best, but I don’t regret buying them, either. They’re basically dictionaries with extra information (Grammar explains what Japanese clauses are, for example). I don’t know how much good they’ll do you if you’re an absolute beginner, but if you’ve studied a bit they’re a decent investment.

My Rating: 7/10

Other:

Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary (Random House, 1997):
My preferred student dictionary. It’s pretty extensive, has kanji, kana, and romaji, and if you’re looking for a paperback dictionary to go with your studies this is a good choice. There are more comprehensive dictionaries out there, obviously, but this one is easy to use and does its job.

My Rating: 9/10

JapanesePod101.com:
To get a lot out of this site, you probably need to pay for a subscription because the free content is limited, but I just have Basic ($4/month) and that’s enough. Basically, it’s Japanese learning podcasts, with lesson pdfs and study resources. The podcasts are pretty extensive, ranging from absolute beginner to advanced, and, while some of the banter between the hosts is kind of forced, the lessons themselves are good.

My Rating: 8/10

jisho.org (Denshi Jisho):
An excellent online Japanese-English English-Japanese dictionary. I use it all the time. Also: free!

My Rating: 10/10

I actually have more than this, but some of it is pretty specialized or advanced, so I’m not going there. Instead, I hope these more basic/general resources are helpful and, if you have something you think should really be included (or blacklisted), let me know!

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One thought on “On Japanese Part Two: Resources

  1. Pingback: On Japanese Part Three: Strategies « Haecceity

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