Minna no Nihongo tips and tricks

We get a lot of questions in the forum about this textbook, so I thought it would be useful to have a thread with some advice and resources for using Minna no Nihongo!

Disclaimer: My experiences with the textbook are not universal, and there might be objectively better strategies for working through it, but I have successfully completed Minna no Nihongo Shokyu I and II, and I thought I might as well share what I learned. Feel free to chime in with additional tips!

What is Minna no Nihongo?

Minna no Nihongo, or みんなの日本語, is one of the most popular beginning Japanese textbooks, especially in Japan. Here is Tofugu’s review of it. It is frequently used in Japanese classes and many Japanese tutors are familiar with it, so there are a lot of existing resources out there for it. If English is not your native language, the grammar/translation text is also available in other languages, which makes it more accessible than many other textbooks.

Having the main textbook be entirely in Japanese sounds difficult/frustrating

The way MNN is set up is not for everyone, but I personally really liked the structure because it encouraged me to try to use the book exclusively in Japanese as much as possible, and I got used to reading in Japanese without having English translations to fall back on for everything. For the most part, I would read the English explanations and then set the book aside and work exclusively with the Japanese text.

I found that I actually prefer having two separate books compared to how Tobira (for example) does it, because it’s a lot easier to reference the grammar information if it’s contained in a (much slimmer) separate volume that you can have open at the same time without having to do so much flipping back and forth within a single book.

Minna no Nihongo is designed for classroom use, so it isn’t any good for self-study, right?

You can use it for self-study just fine! I did not have any problems with it. It’s better designed for self-study than Tobira is, for example.

Don’t you need to use Minna no Nihongo with a teacher/tutor?

I have never taken a Japanese class or had a Japanese tutor, and I used the textbook entirely on my own and did not have any difficulties navigating the text or understanding the material.

How does it combine with WaniKani?

It combines pretty well, actually! MNN has kanji workbooks, which I did not buy and have not really looked at, so I can’t speak to how WK combines with those, but it’s pretty easy to do WK and the standard MNN textbook in tandem, since the textbook alone does not teach any kanji.

The main issue is that the order that WK teaches kanji does not really match the order that they show up in MNN at all. So if you do WK and MNN in tandem, you will have to learn words which contain kanji that you don’t yet know. The entire textbook has furigana, so it’s not a problem if you can’t recognize all of the kanji, but it means a bit of repeated work, since you will learn some words in the textbook and then learn those same words again in WK down the line.

While I was working through the beginner’s series of MNN, I kept an ongoing spreadsheet of all of the kanji which appeared in the words taught in the vocab lists for each lesson, matching them up with their WK level (the list does not include kanji that were not included in the vocab lists, such as kanji in character names). Feel free to consult that document as a reference, though keep in mind that it might not reflect current WK content, since the WK team is constantly moving items around and occasionally adds and removes items, and I am not planning on updating the spreadsheet.

What WaniKani level should I reach before starting Minna no Nihongo?

Tofugu advises waiting until level 10 to start studying grammar, but I personally disagree with this advice, and recommend starting earlier. I started MNN at level 7, and probably could have started even earlier.

If you look at the spreadsheet linked above, you can see the percentage of the kanji introduced in MNN that you will be able to read at specific WK levels. This number represents unique kanji, not the total percentage of all kanji in the textbook. It may be tempting to wait until a higher level to start (at level 37, you will know 90% of the unique kanji in the book), but you will get more out of both WK and MNN if you do them in tandem, since the textbook will help reinforce a lot of what you’re learning on WK.

Which Minna no Nihongo workbooks should I buy?

I only purchased two of them myself, so these are the only two workbooks I can speak to:

書いて覚える 文型練習帳

This workbook focuses on sentence patterns, and it’s my favorite of the two workbooks that I own! Each lesson gets several pages of exercises, and they aren’t too difficult if you’ve read the lesson and completed 練習 A-C in the main textbook already. I like this workbook because it really makes you practice things like different counters, numbers, conjugations, that sort of thing. The main textbook doesn’t spend a lot of time drilling these.

This workbook also has a fair amount of production exercises where it asks you questions, or asks you to write your own questions, and your responses can be fairly freeform. Usually it gives an example answer in the back that you can use as sort of a guide to make sure that you understood what the book was asking you to write. These exercises might be less useful without someone to check your work, but I appreciate having the opportunity to start attempting to formulate sentences in Japanese in a very low stakes environment.

Usually, I would do this workbook after completing the 練習 exercises in the textbook. After I finished it, I picked up the other workbook.

標準問題集

I believe this is the “standard workbook”? It’s a pretty short book. The pages are perforated, so they can be removed. Each lesson gets a tight two pages, and that’s it. Additionally, there are a few review sections that cover multiple chapters, and I think one final review at the end.

This is, in my opinion, the hardest of the three books. I saved it until nearly last. The only thing I did after it is the 問題 section in the main textbook, since I was better at the listening exercises the more practice I had.

I’m not sure exactly how to pin down why this book is harder than the core textbook or the sentence pattern workbook. I think maybe it’s because the exercises really ask you to synthesize everything you’ve been learning, so you really have to think when answering the questions (most of the exercises in the other books ask you to do just one thing at a time).

I sort of treated it like a practice test at the end of the lesson, with the 問題 section in the textbook serving as the final review to determine if I truly knew the material before moving on.

What does the actual process of working through the textbook look like?

This was my personal strategy for completing each lesson:

  • Pre-learn the vocab first. I found a premade deck on Anki and downloaded that, though I needed to check all of the cards before adding them into circulation because some of them had errors, and I needed to add audio to the deck manually (the Forvo pronunciation downloader Anki addon is very helpful for this).
  • Then I would spend several days just running through the flash cards until I felt comfortable with it. When I started out, I would also learn to write all of the unfamiliar kanji, but I eventually ran out of time to do this.
  • After learning the vocab, I would read the grammar info for the chapter, then put down the translation book and attempt to work entirely from the Japanese-only main text as much as I can. I would read the lesson, then do all of the exercises, except for the last set.
  • At this point, I would do the exercises for that lesson in my two workbooks. I started with 書いて覚える 文型練習帳, then did the excercises in 標準問題集 after. If there were any additional review sections in the workbooks after the lesson, I did those, too.
  • When I finished the workbooks, I went back and did the last section in the textbook, as well as any further review sections.
  • Before moving on to the next lesson, I would add all of the grammar information from the lesson to my (physical) notes. This step is optional, but I felt like keeping a physical notebook helped me synthesize everything I was learning.

How do you motivate yourself to work on the textbook without having the structure and external pressure of a class?

I strongly recommend forming regular, consistent habits if possible. Treat it like a marathon, not a sprint. Think about it in terms of what you can get done each day without too much strain and let that inform your pace.

I tried to complete at least one new MNN lesson each WK level. I could go a little faster if I pushed myself (by starting to learn the vocab for the next chapter before finishing the previous one), but that increased the SRS strain, so I tended to avoid doing that. My pace was about two weeks per WK level, so I completed one MNN lesson about every two weeks. That might seem a little slow, but I aimed for making consistent progress while still leaving room in my life to do other things, and I think it was a good call.

I tried to make at least some progress on MNN every day. Some days this meant more work than others! No matter what else I had going on, though, I always made sure I at least cleared my Anki reviews.

I also found it helpful having a public study log on this forum to hold me accountable. I updated my study log every time I leveled up on WK, so I constantly pushed myself with MNN so that I could report having finished another lesson in my study log updates because I didn’t want to admit that I had failed. Using my WK level-ups as a deadline was very effective when combined with the public pressure.

What about intermediate study? After finishing Minna no Nihongo Shokyu I and 2, should I pick up Minna no Nihongo Chukyu, or choose a different intermediate textbook?

I struggled with this for a while, but ultimately ended up choosing Tobira instead of continuing with the Minna no Nihongo series past the beginner level. I heard mixed reviews on the Chukyu books, and opted to try my luck with Tobira instead because I knew a lot of people who had used it successfully. I can say that I haven’t had any trouble transitioning from MNN to Tobira, though I was already reading quite a bit of native Japanese media, and Tobira was a lot easier in comparison to that :sweat_smile:.

Don’t let that stop you from trying MNN Chukyu if you really want to, though! I would be interested to hear more from people who successfully used it for self-study, since I couldn’t find enough information on that to feel comfortable attempting it.

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I’m not reading all that, but I’m happy for you or sorry that happened.

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That’s fine; you’re not the target audience for this thread :sweat_smile:

I just wanted something I could link to instead of repeatedly typing out the same information when people come to the forum with these questions.

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Thanks so much for writing all this out. I’ve seen a lot more people talking about Genki so it’s good to finally get some advice on MNN because it is pretty darn daunting to jump into.

I recently hit the jackpot at the markets and found a bunch of second-hand MNN books (which are waaaay more legible than my shonky MNN printouts I’ve sourced from the net, plus they feel really nice to flick through!) So far I’m only going through the English translation book and looking at the grammar explanations without doing any exercises as a first step, and then to retain what I learn I check out the corresponding lesson summarised very nicely by this youtuber. I might watch the same lesson’s video again a week later because I’ll probably forget stuff. Learn Japanese | Minna No Nihongo Lesson 7 Grammar - YouTube
I think once I’ve finished that book I’ll start it again and use the Japanese one at the same time.

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I recommend trying out reading the Japanese textbook as you go! As long as you go into it having pre-learned the vocab and having read the grammar explanation for that lesson, I think you’ll find the text shockingly understandable (especially if you’re watching that video series alongside it)!

If you have any trouble figuring out what the exercises are asking you to do, feel free to ask here! They’re pretty straightforward, but if you don’t have a feel for the style of the textbook yet, it can be a tad confusing at first.

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Aw gosh, maybe I will give it a go then. Thanks for the push! You might hear from me in this thread later on :blush:

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If they don’t have the CD, you can also find the audio online.

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My CD is scratched as hell but miraculously seems to work, but that’s good to know thanks!

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Thank you for writing this and especially the spreadsheet. I’m waiting delivery for both the 初級 and 中級 series and will be sure to study some of the higher level kanji I don’t yet know beforehand.

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I have all the workbooks and extra audios. in my opinion, it adds a lot to the system. theres a kanji workbook and textbook, a reading workbook, a listening workbook, and even a compisition workbook. some come with extra vocab, the listening comes with cds, and i have the other cds that cover everything in the main book, including the exercises. there are also scripts.
I do it a little differently, i write everything down, and then ill have a list of things to do with the material. everything from reading it silently to writing it out. i find it helps me really keep the info in.
theres also a novel set for the series too, though i havent done much with it other than flip through it yet.

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Welp, this is an epic post I will bookmark and come back to for sure. I did try using Anki a long time ago and I didn’t understand / like it so much. Is there something so special about it that gives people a boost? I am, personally, taking this at a very slow pace, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be fearful of starting MNN as early as possible. Keeping up with the WK on a daily basis is most important, whether I fail the same one 20 times or not, because I feel the WK SRS is set up for people like me who need mnemonics and failures to solidify the material. I feel if I do my lessons and quiz materials daily it won’t amount to too much. Failure is a part of this process and helps split it up into chunks too which is neat. This WK journey to 60 could take me 10+ years, who knows!

Anyway the “yellow MNN book,” about the same size, describing itself as the second volume may help me at this time because it is written in English, I do not know!

We shall see - 行ってらっしゃい!

  • しょぞう
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Personally, I like Anki because: 1) it’s free, 2) it’s heavily customizable, and 3) lots of other tools pair well with it, including Yomichan. You don’t have to use Anki to pre-learn the MNN vocab if you’d prefer a different SRS (I’m sure you could find MNN decks out there on many programs!), but it’s the one I can personally speak to, since I used it and am still using it now that I’ve moved on to intermediate study.

I’m probably going to one day move entirely to Anki (once I no longer have WK cards in circulation), because Anki works great for my intermediate/advanced vocab mining setup, so I chose it for MNN because I wanted to have as much of my flash cards in the same place as possible.

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I’ve never self studied out of Chukyu, but we’re using it at the Japanese class I go to at my local community center. It has a big focus on keigo and formal business situations. This works well for my class, since we’re all people who have lived in Japan for years and are conversationally fluent (and tbh are a higher level than chukyu’s target demographic). However, if you don’t already have a good understanding of intermediate level Japanese, I don’t think it makes sense to jump into this much keigo this early. irl, unless you work in the service sector, no one in Japan expects you to be using business keigo if you’re only at an intermediate level. For that reason, I wouldn’t really recommend Chukyu for most people.

As a result, I think it’s a good book for people who live in Japan, can communicate, but lack formal grammar knowledge and need to improve their Japanese for work. I would not recommend it for people who don’t live in Japan or are learning for reasons other than immediate work needs

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Okay I will definitely start playing around with Anki as I am progressing. I am not afraid to try out MNN when I get to around level 9, but as you said even level 7 might work for some people!

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I’ve been learning Japanese using Minna no Nihongo with a teacher. I’m up to lesson 14 but I keep forgetting the vocabulary. This is especially with verbs using the “masu” form which Minna no Nihongo teaches first. Wanikani and Japanese Pod101 which I previously used teach the dictionary or plain form.
My teacher recommended the app LanGoal. This has a Minna No Nihongo option. It has quizzes where it teaches you the word then quizzes you in a number of ways. I haven’t gotten up to the verbs yet but it is making me focus on the words and the spelling of the Katakana words. It is not an SRS. It reminds me more of DuoLingo but with more flexibility. It is free with limitations and you can subscribe for more features.

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I feel like I’ve tried about every book out there to study/learn more conversational Japanese. I tried using Genko once in a local community college-like class and man, I just hated it. I didn’t care for the teacher either so maybe that was a factor. I dropped it after a month.

I tried iTalki, found a great teacher (Riko-san) and we first went through the Marugoto book; can’t recall which one. In some ways better than Genki but not enough exercises to work on internalizing the lessons. At my request we actually went through it twice. But after, she recommended MNN.

I’m a screaming fangirl of MNN. I love it that it has the textbook and what I call the study guide. They have great exercises which are fun to do for me. I appreciate fallynleaf’s recommendations for study too, and will soon be navigating toward Anki for their vocabulary flash cards. I’ve made my own on 3x5’s and use them while walking around Seattle. Still, it’s hard to make everything stick. Riko-san advises not to worry and as I’m now just about to Lesson 8 in MNN I see how the chapters build on each other.

I’m going to Hokkaido (solo) at the end of September for 2+ weeks. A bit nervous but I think it’s going to be an incredible experience. At least I can read hiragana and katakana fluently, have some vocabulary and grammar, and lots of interest!

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I also started with Minna no Nihongo with my first Japanese tutor and stuck with it. Never tried other textbooks but it just worked for me. I like how it’s structured with a full Japanese textbook, grammatical notes and translations in English, and then the workbooks.

I do exactly this for every unit I’ve finished! It really helps with my recall and it’s nice to look back on my notes afterwards, especially after I’ve taken a long break from studying Japanese.

I used to go through each unit with my first Japanese tutor but right now I’m going through MNN using Bunpro. I’ve never actually used Bunpro for vocab review but I really wish it had the the list of vocabulary for MNN for every unit that you can add to your review sessions in one go. I’m resisting anki at the moment because I just have too many apps already.

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I have both the MNN kanji book and kanji exercise book for the first MNN. I personally am not overly impressed with them.

My main complaint is that it seems the authors of both books never consulted with each other… E.g. the first five lessons in the kanji book teach different kanji than the first five lessons in the kanji exercise book. (I don’t actually know if they teach different, but overlapping, sets of kanji, or the same set but in a completely different order, as I haven’t finished either.)

I mainly bought them hoping that they would offer interesting exercises. I find spaced repetition does work, but I don’t find it overly enjoyable. So I was hoping that these books would supplement my kanji studies with interesting and varied exercises. Unfortunately, I found that they mainly offer lists of kanji and very few, very boring exercises.

I also cannot see any obvious connection between the main text book and the Kanji books, so I’d say there’s no advantage or disadvantage studying these books in combination with the rest of the series.

Conclusion: Even if you want a physical book that offers lists of Kanji with a few exercises, I’d rather look somewhere else. E.g. I prefer the Ark Academy Kanji Master N5 and N4 books. Or you go straight for some JLPT practice books, which offer the regular “test exercises”, but I found those are still more fun than these two…

After all this negativity, I should probably clarify that I DO like the actual MNN 1 textbook with its companion book (the one that comes in various languages). In my opinion they are well suited for self study and actually pretty comparable to Genki 1.

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