Grammar Books for Self-Learners

こんにちは!So after asking around everyone said I should start grammar straight away but I’m not sure what’s a good textbook for self-learners. I’m a pretty self-motivated learner and is able to sit down every day and study Japanese, so does anyone have any good recommendations for self-learners?

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The two classics are Genki (from the Japan Times) and Minna no Nihongo. I’ve heard that Genki is better for self-studying, and the few pages I’ve looked at from each textbook series make me inclined to agree. However, I didn’t use them myself, so I can’t be sure.

My personal recommendation would be Japanese with Ease from Assimil, a French publisher. The problem is that the English edition is out of print. You’ll probably be able to get it second-hand on Amazon or something similar, but it might be hard to find and quite expensive. There are two volumes of lessons and exercises, and one volume (quite frankly optional) that you can use if you want to learn to write kanji. (I personally think that learning to write kanji is great, but it’s not strictly necessary if you’re not interested in writing in Japanese. Depends on your goals.) Their French edition is updated and comes in two volumes: one volume of lessons and exercises, and one volume for kanji writing, sold separately. The issue: to use it, you have to speak French. I do, and so I got the chance to use the course in French, and so… well, let’s just say that it made the beginning of Tobira, a popular intermediate textbook, pretty easy. The entire course was designed for self-study: you can buy recordings for the texts, which will increase the price, but… hey, it’s good for learning proper pronunciation and intonation (more accurately ‘pitch accent’).

In summary, my ranking based on first impressions and experience:

  1. Japanese with Ease, Assimil
  2. Genki
  3. Minna no Nihongo

I think Genki will probably be the best compromise between price and availability, especially if you’re not a French speaker. (Assimil is actually about the same price as Genki if you buy the recordings, and it covers more, so it’s kinda unfortunate that they haven’t released the English translation of the latest edition yet.) However, well… I suggest you check each of them out and see what looks good for you.

PS: Assimil does have some courses in English that are still in print, but they’re really ‘beginner’ level – they only allow you to reach A2 on the CEFR for languages, which is roughly… N5-N4? Given that their full course gets you to something around N3 or low N2, even though both courses are suitable for absolute beginners, I feel it’s not really worthwhile to spend money on their beginner/‘lite’ courses.

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To start things out, Tofugu has an article with a ton of info called Choosing the Best Beginner Japanese Textbook For You. Definitely give it a read.

I’m going through Genki 1 (3rd Edition) at the moment, and it’s been good so far! About to start Chapter 3, which gets into verb conjugations. Not looking forward to those. :sweat_smile: It does a good job explaining the grammar points, and gives a nice chunk of vocab and plenty of practice every chapter.

You can use Kitsun or Anki to practice the vocab in an SRS system with premade decks and Bunpro will put your grammar points in an SRS system. (By the way, I like puns, and I think the meaning behind Bunpro is a knee-slapper. Simple, but clever. :slight_smile: ) Genki also has made apps that allow you to practice vocab but the 3rd edition versions are not out yet. They will be coming soon. Also, if you do go with Genki, make sure you buy the workbook! They also have a free app that provides audio to go along with the book. It will pronounce all the vocab/dialogue, etc and is even used to test your listening comprehension with exercises in the textbook and workbook.

I haven’t used Minna no Nihongo, but like Jonapedia said, that is another popular one. I’ve also heard that A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar is a very good supplement for any of the textbooks you choose. Most textbooks will give basic explanations, but this book really dives in and gives plenty of examples. My copy is coming in tomorrow and I can’t wait to crack it open! Tofugu also has a review so you can get a gist of it before you decide to buy.

All in all, whatever you choose to go with, I wish you the best of luck on your journey! :slight_smile:

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I’m using bunpro and really happy with it! What I like is that when I feel like just studying some grammar, I can choose to do a few lessons (+ I can choose which order I use (bunpro order, Genki, Tobira, etc.). But also when I’m reading an article/book/anime and come across something I don’t know, I look it up on bunpro and add it to my reviews.

I found this one secondhand last year and I couldn’t recommend this more!

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I went through both Genki I and II in 23 weeks. In retrospect, I could’ve spent that time more efficiently.
After I finished the textbook I skimmed through Shin Kanzen Master 文法 N4 and then dived into N3, and after almost finishing it I have enough tools to quickly look grammar up.

I’ve been reading a novel lately, just having dojg open is enough to figure out every sentence without skipping anything. I wish I started this sooner, I think Genki I -> Shin Kanzen N4 is more efficient. Or maybe even dive straight into shin kanzen, after reading a grammar introduction or two, though that sounds pretty daunting.

edit: To clarify, Shin Kanzen Master 文法 grammar explanations are both comprehensive and dense, that’s what makes it great, in my opinion. It’s a JLPT prep book, yes, but it doesn’t really matter and you don’t have to care about the exam. To quote the introduction:

This book has two purposes. It will help you to […] gain a better overall understanding of Japanese grammar, without just focusing on exams.

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I’ve enjoyed using a combination of Genki and Japanese for Busy People, which each have strengths and weaknesses for me as a self learner. Japanese for Busy People is structured in a better fashion for self-learners, but Genki has some nice entry-level grammar intros (which you could pair with free videos on YouTube). The main complaint about JfBP is that it only has kana (no kanji), but I find its units structured in manageable and achievable lessons for self-learners, and the practice exercises have helped me grasp the sentence structure.

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Minna no Nihongo was the textbook I used at evening classes at SOAS.

I don’t think Minna teaches you how to use the two books together every well (you need Minna no Nihongo and the Translation and Grammar notes book.) Without the classroom, I think I would have struggled to follow everything.

I started this before WK, and I regret it. I think it would have been more efficient to get to level 10 or so in WK, as everything on the page makes so much more sense when I can understand the kanji.

Overall, I’m happy with Minna no Nihongo.

N.B. I bought the Romanji version. Which I think makes things much harder… don’t do that

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When I first started WK back in’t day, I used Genki I for my grammar and honestly didn’t like it much. I found it easy enough to work through, but nothing seemed to ‘stick’ and I think it would have worked better in a classroom environment rather than as self-study. I’ll probably go through it again at some point since I’ve got it, but it’s not high on my list of priorities.

This time around (a year and a half and two resets later…) I went with Japanese from Zero. I’m half way through the first volume and so far it’s working well for me! The youtube videos that go along with it are an absolute GODSEND, I’m actually remembering things, it’s great! I do wish I’d started on it BEFORE picking up WK again however, as it teaches you kana in stages chapter by chapter, and getting my head around switching between romaji and hiragana mid-word took some mental gymnastics for a couple of chapters. It’s fine now, but VERY odd to start off with. My OH, however, found it much easier to get to grips with so maybe that’s just me!

Also, you write in the book itself, it doesn’t have a separate workbook which means less £$¥

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I started with Minna No Nihongo in evening classes and struggled with it because it’s all in japanese, and, as @WhenInDoubtUseNi said, I didn’t understand how to use all the different books. After a year I switched to a tutor and we decided to use Japanese for Busy People to pretty much cover the same ground I’d previously done in classes. That was good for getting my confidence up but I felt like I’d outgrown it by the end of the book. We then went back to where I’d left off in Minna No Nihongo (Chapter 12) and have continued with the series (I’ve almost finished the second book). I now really like it but I think I would struggle to use it without a tutor as I’d miss nuances and get into bad habits.

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Hello!
I personally recommend the Genki series. I’m a complete self-learner of several languages and I think Genki is really well balanced, clear and delivers what it promises. It gives you solid grammar bases, at least until you reach N4.
I also recommend that you associate Genki with Bunpro; you will find yourself fixing the contents much better! =)

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Aaah… a fellow kimetsu no yaiba fan… greetings😁

I also agree about genki. I have never used them but i heard a lot good things about both books genki 1 and 2

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Wow that’s nice…unfortunately I don’t speak French :sob: but I’ll definitely check out Genki and Minnan no Nihongo, but thanks for your input!

Does Bunpro have a teach you grammar points or is it just a revision tool? I’m thinking of getting the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar a bit latter…cause I don’t have a lot of money :sob: :sob: but definitely something I’m planning on getting soon.

Ohh nice I’ve heard about Japanese from Zero

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Just wondering how did you use Bunpro with Genki?

So you can pick the grammar points you want learn on Bunpro?

you can! :slight_smile: you can select a grammar point and then click “add to reviews” and it will show up in your grammar reviews. if you go to the paths section you can also study by chapter of for example genki or tobira

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I’m using Human Japanese and I’m a huge fan of it (https://www.humanjapanese.com/products). The first 8 chapters of each of their textbooks are free, so you can get an idea of how they work. Essentially, they don’t assume you’re familiar with any grammar/linguistic concepts and thus explain everything from the ground up in a fashion that both appeals to people who have studied several languages (me) and people who have never learnt any (the friend I’ve undertaken studying Japanese with). They endeavor to use the same tone which a fun, passionate teacher would employ while teaching their class a lesson, rather than the more sterile approach of traditional textbooks.

For me, it hits the perfect spot between too much (a traditional grammar) and not enough detail. I’ve gone through the beginner book and we’re currently slowly working our way through the Intermediate one, which also revisits older concepts in a more in-depth manner, as our familiarity with the language increases. Something I very much appreciate is the way they ease you into the language; the first chapters have slower audio for example, and they approach written text the way a kid would be introduced to it in Japan (spaces between complements), which I find quite helpful as a beginner.

Does it have flaws? Sure. You will probably want somewhere to practice your speaking and writing skills, but I’m of the school of thought that doesn’t believe output to be critical in the first stages of learning a new language. :slight_smile:

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wow that sounds really nice

Genki was my textbook of choice. And I would reccomend it to pretty much anyone. It’s nicely structured, clear and quite concise. - But sometimes a little too concise. There were a couple of things that I felt it glossed over a little fast and I struggled to grasp with the explanations that Genki gave. So I think it’s really important to supplement with other resources.

I’m surprised no-one has mentioned Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar. I would’t really use it as a stand-alone resource but I used it alongside Genki and it really helped to solidify a lot of the concepts and fill in some of the gaps that genki left in my understanding.
Imabi is another good, very extensive resource for supplementing whatever text book you go with. Again, I don’t think it would be effective on it’s own but it has really detailed explanations and a metric ton of example sentences.
I also purchases the Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar, and found them to be very helpful references for solidifying my understanding. But if you don’t want to spend the money, I think the free online resources I mentioned are more than enough.

Bunpro is pretty good for reviewing but I wouldn’t say that you can learn grammar from it alone. Also, be warned that the sentences in it weren’t actually written by natives and some of them are a bit unnatural. There’s been several instances were my answer was constantly marked incorrect when I was 100% sure I was right. Then when I checked the answer, it just felt wrong so I showed friends who are native speakers and they confirmed that the “correct” sentence was wrong and my answer was actually correct.