Japanese the spoken language - is it worth it?

Scrolling through the new years recommendations I came across this series.
It is a 'lil expenisive, so, is it worth it?

Can’t help, but I clicked on this thinking it was going to be a speaking vs reading thread.


Actually no, I am just wondering if I should buy it or not.

I’m curious…what is the book about? Is it about how to speak Japanese, or the evolution of the spoken Japanese language? Either way that’s really expensive for a paperback…Think about how many Prince of Tennis CDs I could buy with that money…


Check if they have it at your local library. I just looked and they have Part 1 at mine (…I was planning on taking a look for you to see if it looked any good, but my library only has a physical edition and I’m out of town :pensive:). If it turns out no one here on the forums has read it, I’d see if you can find it at a library, since like you said it’s expensive. And if it turns out you really like it you can always buy it later.


I think it depends rather on what you want to get out of it. It’s a textbook, and it’s kind of unique in that as the title suggests it focuses entirely on Japanese as a spoken language, not a written one. So it’s 100% romaji, and its romanisation incorporates pitch accent marking, because it wants you to concentrate on how the language sounds and is spoken, not on the Japanese writing system. My guess is that using it as a self-study book would be rather missing the point, and you’d want to work through it with a class or tutor who could help you with your pronunciation and accent as you went along. The idea is that you first get a really strong grounding in speaking and listening, and then it’s comparatively easy to study the writing system second.

I haven’t ever used it myself; I used to know somebody on another forum who’d used the books in university classes and strongly rated them (but again, as part of in-person instruction, not self-study). I think if you don’t 100% buy into the teaching method and ideas, you probably aren’t going to like them, and if you do use them you want to really lean into the approach and get as much speaking, listening, and pronunciation help as you can.


Tofugu wrote this about it:

So if it is worth it would depend on what you are after? What are your expectations of the books?
If you can’t preview the books in any way, I would suggest getting only the first book so you won’t waste money on part 2 and 3 if you didn’t like part 1.


Its own version of romaji, mind, which doesn’t quite match any of the typical forms you usually find around the place.

Plus, eGoooott has forever tainted any thoughts I have for this book.


I think I might pick this up :thinking:

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Yes. This.

My understanding is that the book is a linguistics-minded book that relies on romaji+audio (cassette? CD?) to be a reliable source of the linguistic cues. I’ve got a little bit of a linguistics background, but… By the time I started considering the book, I was already in the midst of acquiring hiragana and katakana and basic grammar… and figured I should focus on the other resources.

If you’ve got a linguistics approach and don’t mind romaji, it’s at least supposed to be a thorough resource (besides not teaching hiragana, katakana, or kanji, obviously).


Thanks for all the replies, now I made a decision and buy all of them ( once I can use my credit card again, lol).

It checks all requirements I currently have:

  • koutei accent
  • spoken language
  • written in English for non- Japanese

Once it arrives I will write a lil about it.
If I don’t 爆買 again.


I’d just buy the exact equivalent of Prince of Tennis CDs with another money on top of that :money_mouth_face:

These were the textbooks I had to use when I first learned Japanese in 1996. I even still have part 1, sitting on my shelf.

My short answer to your question: no, I don’t feel like these books are worth the cost with all the other Japanese language materials that are readily available.

The author uses English linguistics terminology throughout, which can make her explanations somewhat dry. She also likes to use her own terminology that no other textbooks seem to use (verbals, nominals, adjectival, distal….).

This might be useful for some subset of self learners out there, but I personally get agitated when trying to read her word salad (the same was true 26 years ago :persevere:). Learning Japanese is hard enough, I don’t have the time or patience to decipher her “English”.

The pitch accent markings are definitely the best part of these books. But the romaji is so terrible to read, it’s hardly a good trade.

I have more negative things to say about it, but I have to go to work.


行ってらっしゃい 〜


My two cents:

This thread is the first time I’ve heard of these books. I managed to get my hands on one so that I could form an opinion about them. Here’s my review from what I’ve seen through the first few chapters of the first book.


There’s a lot that could be said for this book series, both positive and negative. The net result in my opinion is that it should be treated as a supplementary resource for people who want more advanced treatment of grammar points. And that, only after reaching a high-beginner to low-intermediate level. (e.g., having gone through the first book of a less technical series, such as Genki or similar books.)

Full Review


Honestly, I don’t really care for the approach to language learning the book is designed on. It’s a form of parroting that comes across to me like a giant phrase book, and reminds me very much of how Genki feels. (And, I’ve shared my disdain for Genki a few times on this forum. :sweat_smile:) Essentially, it feels like it relies heavily on pure memorization of particular role playing scenarios, and that never sits well with me.

Still, there are actually many features found in this book that I’d been trying to find in some, (any?) book for years.


Pitch Accent

It covers pitch accent, and in a way that very few resources do. I.e., not only does it give pitch for individual words, but it also provides instructions for how various structures may affect pitch accent within a phrase. I’ve only seen one other resource do this, and it is not as structured as this one. (I’m alluding to Dogen here, in case anyone wants to know).

Transliteration System

The system of romaji used happens to be one similar to what I’ve actually personally switched to when typing in Japanese. Their justification for it happens to match mine for making the switch, interestingly. Namely, it can be argued that this particular system more clearly gives the structure of the language. That said, it is more difficult to read for those who are used to the English phonemes usually represent by the letters in the system.*†

Grammar Explanation

The grammar points are covered in depth. But, as some people pointed out, they do use rather technical terms. That said, these terms are almost, if not entirely, “proper” linguistic terms. (E.g., “distal” is actually a lingustic term, and it could be argued that “adjectival” and “nominal” are as well.) For some people, this can be an outright disadvantage, while for others it would act as a significant advantage. Which it is will mostly depend on ones tolerance for dry/technical explanations as opposed to their desire to break away from linguistic analogies that might not actually hold across languages.**


Personally, I wouldn’t suggest this book series as the main resource for most people, and would argue that, in general, it should be treated as a supplementary resource that can be introduced starting at the high-beginner to low-intermediate levels. (E.g., people who have finished the first book of the Genki series or Beginner Tobira series, or some other such series with less technical language.)

Of course, that said, different things resonate differently for different people. So, it may very well work for someone as their main resource. Nevertheless, I would suggest that other possibilities be explored as well, before committing to one that is absolutely at the college level and which might requires some linguistic knowledge to fully comprehend.

*E.g., the letter “z” is used for the sound given by IPA [Hepburn writes this with “j”]. Or, the sequence “sy” (or just “s” when before “i”) used for ɕ [Hepburn writes this with “sh”].

†P.s., For me, the suggestion that a person switch to kana ASAP is mainly to help people avoid a “trap” of mispronunciation. The transliteration choice made by this book forces an awareness that other systems do not, so I’m ambivalent in that regard with this book.

**Personally, I tend to have a strong tolerance, perhaps even preference, for technical jargon, so long as I can find definitions. And definitely side toward desiring something which intentionally breaks cross-linguistic analogies where appropriate.


Thank you very much for your review.
Personally I always had the opinion that one should start learning Japanese with Kanji and Kana and material based on Romaji is inferior a priori.

I’d say this is fundamentally wrong.
It takes up a significant amount of headspace to process another writing system for a long time and during that time any information on grammar etc is mostly lost on the student.
It gives a certain satisfaction to be able to read a very alien writing system for a long while but once that effect wears off one realizes that people like Dogen, who had decided to go down another path, namely to concentrate on the spoken language firtst and doing Kanji only to a degree that allows them to do so will be better off in the long run.

What I would be interested in is, how the promise of the title to focus on ‘spoken’ Japanese rather than on written Japanese, which seems to be the main part of e.g. the JLPT and the popular textbooks (at least as far as I know) is one that the book can actually meet.

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That’s a good question. I don’t have personal experience studying with it, but… a) in order to acquire Japanese, you’re going to have to get over the hurdle of the written language at some point anyways, and b) the term ‘spoken language’ has more than one subset, and c) every other textbook series and exposure to Japanese you find (TV, anime, film, youtube) is going to have Japanese text as its visual aid.

That being said, I do think if you pursue learning with this atypical text, then I do recommend getting whatever audio references (cassette/CD/mp3) accompany it. I think it’s designed to have that as a reference.

The Speak! series ( Is "Speak Japanese!" beneficial?/Recommendations for casual Japanese )
and the Shadowing series both engage in more listening and conversation. And you’ll probably find a fair amount of high level listening in JLPT books, in addition to whatever immersion you can find on YouTube or Japanese TV or podcasts.


At one point, I had held this opinion strictly. That was mainly because I had learned the kana first myself, and afterward had a lot of trouble reading anything written in any romaji system, including Hepburn. However, after I started conlanging, I relaxed my views on this.

I would still suggest the first transliteration learned show the structure of the language, if possible. Though, I understand that might not always be simple.

In any case, I’d argue even learning a transliteration system is learning a different writing system, since languages often don’t share the same phonemes. (E.g., in some varieties of Portuguese, the character sequence ‘rr’ can repesent a sound non-existent in some varieties of English.)

I’d say this mainly comes from the approach. The series definitely requires the audio accompaniments. And, they expect that all learning from the series is done with a teacher. Basically, I would comapre it to an advanced form of Pimsleur that provides far more situations and convesrations.†*

It is this Pimsleur-like approach that I call a form of parroting. They insist that the student repeat sample sentences and conversations in their exact wording and form multiple times. I wouldn’t normally take issue with this, except that it looked like these samples take up more than half the book. And, this gave very little room for possible experimentation in the exercises. Even then, there isn’t much allowed there either, from what I could tell.

Now, this approach does allow one to start speaking quickly and with confidence in the given context. But, I’ve met many people who take this approach, and find that most tend to fearful of speaking at all once the context changes even slightly. (Not everyone taking this approach has that lack of confidence, just most of the people I’ve met.)

Given Japanese is a very context-sensitive language, there is some justification for for this. However, in my experience with fellow students in a variety of language classes, including Japanese, those who learn quickest are willing to ask questions and experiment, even if there’s a possibility of what they say being faulty.**

Because of this history, I find that any approach to language learning that actively or passively discourages experimentation often leaves me a little bitter.

†Personally, I don’t believe a teacher is strictly necessary, if you just want to recongize the language. But, I would strongly recommend one if you want to learn to speak the language.

*My original reason for comparing to Genki is the fact that Genki teaches some structures one giant phrases with a meaning all on its own, where the structures would actually make sense if parsed further. The series here doesn’t do that, at least as far as I’ve seen, but that aspect of Genki is why I see it as a phrase book.

**E.g., As Ms. Frizzle said: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”


An afterthought:

I disagree with this. While it is true that the major textbooks require learning kana, the number of kanji they teach is dismal when considered as “the written language”.

  • The two books of Beginner’s Tobira together only get to 329 kanji. (owned)
  • The two books of Genki together only get to 317 kanji. (owned)
  • Apparently, the Minna no Nihongo series only gets to 220 (searched; don’t own)

And, all of these books use furigana outside their reading sections. Thus, at worst, they teach no more than 11% of the usual 2,000 used as a suggested metric. And, at best, no more than 17% of that

In addition to this, in Genki and Beginner’s Tobira, nearly half the exercises ask the student to speak, preferably in pairs. Beginner’s Tobira even makes close to 1/4 of these exercises open-ended, right from the start. (E.g., describe a town you visited recently on holiday.) And, honestly, I’d be surprised if Minna no Nihongo didn’t have similar metrics, given it’s approach.

So, to say their main part is on the written language as opposed to the spoken language? That seems off to me. Heck, Genki even separates the written part into the back of its books entirely!

(Though, from what I’ve seen regarding the JLPT, I totally agree on that one.)

Now, I’m not saying don’t use the Japanese: The Spoken Language series, as I do think it’s actually a good one. I just want to make sure you have full information regarding the different possibilities. :smile:


The regular Tobira covers another 800 kanji, though, bringing you to a total of 1129 for the full set. Beginner-level textbooks tend to focus on getting a good grammar foundation rather than pile on the kanji from the start.