Start learning Japanese grammar

Hello! I don’t know if new knowledge will be ‘more deeply rooted’ if you learn using French, but I know studies have shown that sometimes, we don’t feel emotions as deeply when we’re not using our mother tongues. Has that been true for me? Uh… maybe initially. As you become more fluent, I think you start reacting emotionally like a native speaker (e.g. to insults, praise, slang etc).

Summary: Assimil has a few flaws, which I mentioned in my previous comment. It also contains a few minor kanji errors (about five). You may find Assimil challenging because it uses kanji right from the beginning, but there are many pronunciation aids including romaji and furigana, and you will be given literal translations so you won’t be clueless about what everything actually means in the Japanese. You generally won’t be given set phrases as translations. If you are prepared to face this challenge, and to deal with Assimil’s flaws, then I strongly recommend Assimil because it likely covers more than Genki I + II or even Minna no Nihongo’s elementary-level books, and does so much faster. (Everything will take about 98 days in theory, and even with my busy schedule in my first year of classe préparatoire scientifique in France, I finished it, including French-to-Japanese translation practice, in 7-8 months.) The texts are also more authentic and don’t feel like they were made for a textbook. I have attached a photo of two pages of lesson 45 of 98 so you can asses whether or not you like this sort of approach. If you want the full details, you can expand my comments below. Regardless of your choice, I will you all the best!

Preamble – problems with Assimil

Like I said above, there are only two main problems with Assimil’s textbook:

  1. Not enough grammatical explanation (for some)
  2. Not enough breakdown of different registers (for me)

One more minor one: there are about… 3-5 kanji errors in total? They probably used handwriting input or scanning, because the incorrect characters look like the correct ones.

On that note, Assimil’s textbook contains a lot of kanji, but you will also have a lot of romaji, furigana and a phonetic transcription (prononciation à la française) to help you at the start, so the only thing you will have to do is to look up individual kanji if you want to know individual meanings (or wait for them to appear on WaniKani).

Oh yes, like most textbooks, Assimil doesn’t tell you about pitch accents. But hey, they expect you to imitate the recordings anyway.

Why I Recommend Assimil

Reason 1: Authentic Japanese (or at least, something close) and Kanji Right Away

Now let me get to the point and answer your question directly: yes, I would recommend Assimil because it’s quite immersive and you learn fairly authentic Japanese straightaway. The very first lesson of the entire textbook runs something like
And yes, those kanji are there from the beginning. Assimil will give you kana stroke order exercises and dictation exercises, and they do have a kanji book that’s sold separately (which you probably don’t need because of WaniKani), but basically, it doesn’t spoil (or bore) you with sentences like 「私は〇〇です。これはペンです。それはカップです。あれは何ですか。」You dive into real Japanese right away, just that the pace of speech in the recordings is a bit slower initially. By the end of the book, you’re not really at ‘real life’ speed, but you’re close enough to start understanding regular speech. And throughout the book (except maybe near the very end), you are given literal translations so you can learn to think in Japanese and see what ideas Japanese people use.

Reason 2: Speed and Quantity of Material Covered

The other reason I recommend Assimil is simply that you will cover at least enough to reach the lower N3 level, all for just a bit more than the price of one Genki volume, and that’s even though Genki I + Genki II will only get you to N4. (Not N5. My mistake.) If you know all the kanji in Assimil, I’d say you’re probably at a pretty solid N3. In terms of grammar, I had almost nothing to learn for the first third of Tobira, which is known for being one of the harder intermediate textbooks. That means Assimil takes you pretty far really fast. It’s only supposed to take 98 days (if you do one lesson a day as recommended).

Final Thoughts on Lesson Content

I started with that long preamble because I feel that some people might find Assimil quite challenging because of its choice not to shy away from kanji or to make the initial sentences artificially easy. The lessons will be very short and simple at first, but not because of repetition: they just choose short sentences and simple words, but they’re far more useful than stereotypical textbook sentences. The lessons start getting much longer and more challenging around lesson 25 or so. However, if you’re willing to take up the challenge, then I think Assimil is for you.

A Picture of the Textbook

I leave you with this picture of my textbook, taken at lesson 45 of 98, about halfway through the book, so that you can decide whether this is the sort of approach you like. Note the presence of usage notes in the bottom right hand corner – every lesson has some of these. The topic: opening a bank account in Japan while on holiday. Whatever you choose, all the best!