NEJ vs mainstream textbooks

Hi all, I was wondering if anybody here has used the NEJ series in the past (or has got experience with it) alongside books like Genki and MNN.

If you are not familiar with this book and want to look it up on the internet, the full name is “New approach to Elementary Japanese”.

I am going through the NEJ vol.1 and to be honest I like it, it never bores me to the point where I want to do something else instead of studying it and it’s challenging enough to force me into taking a break from it (otherwise I would be overwhelmed).

This is because Kanji are used often from early on and every lesson introduces new ones, therefore the second part of the book becomes quite dense as you are supposed to remember them all (furigana are progressively omitted for characters the authors give for granted you are comfortable with).

If I had to describe the main goal of the book, I would say that it is focused on getting you more familiar with conversational Japanese; all dialogues should be analyzed with the aid of the audio registrations that come with the book.

There are plenty of them and the quality is very good. Grammar is briefly introduced at the beginning of the chapter and clearly there is not a strong focus on it. There is a workbook but it’s quite small.

The point of my topic is that I was considering getting a book for a better understanding of the grammar (and to get access to more exercises). I know the main differences between Genki and MNN (one being that MNN is entirely presented in Japanese), but I would really love to get some more comments from anybody that has been using both the NEJ and either Genki or MNN.

I’d like to understand if buying one of those books is a good investment for improving the outcomes of the self-study sessions considering that the next step for me would be getting NEJ vol.2 instead. I can still switch to Genki or MNN and keep going with one of those series.

If switching to a different book is the recommended course of actions, my preference at the moment would be to go for MNN as it looks a bit more mature then Genki (less colours, pictures and that sort of things…) and maybe more focused on the grammar? I could be wrong here.


I used NEJ as my first Japanese book. I wanted to learn Japanese and I didn’t know any better, so I just picked it off the shelf along with an Oxford English-Japanese Dictionary (which was possibly my most useless purchase ever) and just started doing it.

Looking back on it, I can’t recommend it, as it does a terrible job of explaining basic grammar, which of course I only realized after I came across better resources; at first I thought I was just stupid. I finished it anyway, but I had to look up stuff online all the time. After NEJ 1 I used Tae Kim and assorted resources for N4. When I found out about Genki, I had already learned almost everything in it, so I just did some parts of Genki 2 and went on to Tobira.

As for being boring, I don’t know about Minna no Nihongo, but Genki is just as boring as NEJ. I don’t think any book that basic can avoid being boring, though. There’s only so much the author can do when the only Japanese you know is これはペンです。

How far along the book are you now? Switching to yet another boring beginner’s book might not be worth the trouble.

If you would like to deepen your understanding of the grammar you come across, you can supplement it with Tae Kim’s guide, or, if you have some money to spare, the Basic Dictionary of Japanese Grammar (personal opinion: it’s worth the money). Both of these will have more detailed explanations and examples of the grammar NEJ is introducing.

Thank you, I do really, really appreciate your answer.

Funnily enough, my story is similar to yours: one day I went to a bookshop while I was in Kyoto and bought the one book that “felt” good enough for starting out. After completing the first 3-4 chapters I thought I was actually missing something, because I couldn’t reconcile why many things were written in a way instead of the other and vice-versa. Later on, I understood that the grammar was the weak point of the book…

So yeah, I am now more convinced then ever that I should just continue with one of the other books. I am at unit 9 out of 12. You found a smart strategy and probably I should do something similar: to just wrap up all the grammar points in this book (which I should have known by know), to study them from other sources, checking what is missing from Genki1/MNN1 (if anything) and when I am done with NEJ1 I’ll buy either G2 or MNN2.

In terms of vocabulary, were you near or less on par when you switched from NEJ1 to G2? Not that I am overly worried about it, it’s just a curiosity.

Regarding the DoBJG, I read awesome reviews on it and was thinking about getting one…

Thank you again!

I’d say, if you’re gonna keep going with WaniKani, do not worry about kanji and vocab. Within a couple of months you will be far ahead of what any introductory textbook will require of you.

I did NEJ by itself and the kanji was painful. By the time I opened Genki 2 I was already doing WaniKani and it was a non-issue. I don’t even know if Genki 2 vocab is harder, it just wasn’t a problem.

If you’re almost done with NEJ, just finish it, then read up Tae Kim, which is free, to reinforce and practice. Adding example sentences to Anki is always useful too.

Then just follow on to Genki 2 or similar, and if you miss something or other in between, Tae Kim can rescue you again.

Alright Sir, I guess I got a plan now :wink: .

Thanks for all the inputs.

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When I studied Japanese (mind you this was at the elementary level) in Japan, the head teacher for the program I had I think contributed towards writing NEJ (though it’s been a couple years so I could’ve remembered wrong). I found the textbook pretty similar to Genki, but they do take two different approaches to teaching Japanese in my opinion.

  • NEJ tries to use long passages and teaches grammatical points in the context of those passages. This is great if you’re able to pick up that context as you get an idea of how to use certain words or grammatical structures overall, but if you’re struggling to understand it and you’re not in a classroom setting, it can be kinda of difficult if you’re just using the textbook and do not have a teacher to help clarify. Also when we used NEJ, we did a lot of shadowing of the passages which helped build up speed and a better accent. I think NEJ is also better than Genki when it comes to reading, as it slowly pulls away the hiragana and forces you to get comfortable reading kanji.

*Genki straight up tells you how to use each grammatical point in a clear an concise manner and how to modify them. This means it’s better textbook to use if you’re self studying Japanese. Also the exercises in Genki always contain review questions of previous chapters material which I find helpful. It does lack the lengthy reading narratives that NEJ has which I found much more conducive to practicing reading and wheras Genki only has dialogue, NEJ has both narratives and dialogue. Also Genki never really challenges you to learn kanji as it always has the hiragana underneath, even in vol 2, which I’ve found annoying.

Honestly, if you complete both volumes of either textbook, you’ll have a solid foundation from which to learn more. I think most people prefer Genki, due to its popularity and effectiveness, but I personally had a great time using NEJ.

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That’s a good point. When I say I don’t recommend NEJ, I meant for self-study, since it doesn’t have good grammar explanations. If you’re using it in class, that wouldn’t matter.

Yes, it makes a lot of sense to me to be using this book in a supervised environment in order to get the most out of it.

The reading (and listening) part is probably the best this book has to offer, its quite tough and stimulating for beginners because it forces you into putting in some extra work on the vocabulary / kanji side and it feels rewarding considering that you are exposed quite early to somewhat lengthy sections as you pointed out already. I am very happy with that.

To be honest I don’t think I could manage to study and complete the two series at the same time, for how much I’d love to do it. But even assuming the switch to the Genki series, I will definitely try and see if I can somehow retrieve the readings from NEJ v.2 :slight_smile: I am sure they would be a valuable addition to the study routine.

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