Study Material?

So I’m currently trudging along with Wanikani, and am a little lost with further reading. So my big goal is to take the JLPT tests (because I’m a nutcase) and I don’t know what is good/recommended for study books/reading guide/structured learning. Does anyone have recommendations or suggestions on how to go about this? Many thanks!

P.S Currently on level 3 on WaniKani so still early days!

3 Likes

I’m quite traditional when it comes to how I study languages, so I’d recommend building your learning around a textbook, at least at the lower levels. For example:

Common Beginners’ Textbooks

There are two major ones:

  • Genki: contains quite a lot of explanations in English, and seems quite user-friendly. The most recent edition may also contain pitch accent guides. (If it doesn’t and you’re using this textbook, then you can try checking out these links:

)
That aside, it seems that many people on these forums have had a fairly good experience with this textbook.

  • Minna no Nihongo: covers more grammar and vocabulary than Genki, apparently, but is written in a very academic style. For each level, you have one book entirely in Japanese for readings and dialogues, and one book containing translations and information on grammar. It’s also more expensive than Genki, even if it’s a high-quality textbook.

Between the two, I think Genki will require a little less motivation to study on your own. (Of course, any sort of self-study will require substantial motivation and discipline, but I think Minna no Nihongo makes that more complicated because its style is much more classroom-appropriate.)

Common Intermediate Textbooks

Honestly, you can check out this list for all the major resources out there:

But I’m just going to quickly say that the two I’ve heard of are Tobira and An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese (AIAtIJ). Tobira is better in terms of the vocabulary and grammar it covers – it goes further – but almost the entire book is in Japanese and most of the explanations for grammar are quite brief, even if I think they’re sufficient. AIAtIJ might feel more accessible: the first passages are at a slightly lower level than the ones you find in Tobira, and there are also many more detailed explanations in English, including with regard to Japanese culture and social customs. AIAtIJ also includes pitch accent guides, which Tobira doesn’t have. That aside, they different in terms of their focus and target audience: Tobira focuses heavily on Japanese culture and society, which is very enriching, but it can sometimes get to the point that – in my case anyway – the reader wonders what the point is, since you’ll probably never talk about stuff like a nō theatre play unless you live in Japan. AIAtIJ is much more like a university Japanese textbook that might prepare you for a homestay: it certainly does discuss Japanese culture and society, but possibly with less depth as far as traditional culture goes and more depth with regard to Japanese society. It’s probably best to choose one based on your preference for the style of the textbook, and also on the content that it’s likely to cover: pick one that interests you.

Advanced Textbooks

Afterwards, if you’re still looking for textbooks (which can be useful for accelerating your learning if they’re well structured), then you can look at these two from the University of Tokyo:

I have the second one, and from what I’ve seen of the first lesson, it’s great (when you’re about to start the advanced levels, that is).

Caveat: My own textbook use is extremely atypical because

  1. My first textbook was from a French publisher called Assimil, and it was entirely in French. The English edition (Japanese with Ease) is out of print at the moment and can only be bought secondhand. Grammar-wise, it took me from absolute beginner to about low-mid N3. No textbook for the English-speaking market does that. Sure, it didn’t explain grammatical concepts ‘in full’, perhaps, but it was generally enough for me.
  2. I’m a Chinese speaker, so I didn’t have to learn kanji from scratch, and I have a lot of passive vocabulary in Japanese because I can often just port words over from Mandarin.
  3. I learnt a ton from anime after finishing my first textbook, to the point that Tobira (an objectively good textbook that I recommended above) was effectively useless as far as grammar went. Tobira helped me get off the ground as far as reading advanced texts was concerned, but before long, anime and whatever else I could read online superseded whatever the textbook covered, and I soon found myself knowing grammar points before I could see them in the textbook.

Other Resources

So, some people don’t like textbooks much, or feel that they waste a lot of time. You might be one of them. What you might want to consider in that case is sites that summarise things for you or grammar guides. Do I know of any good ones? Hm… well, there’s the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar series which is broken down into three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. You can try looking for those. That aside… well, I’m sure some people will recommend Bunpro at some point. In short, if you like SRSes for learning, and think that something like WK for grammar would help you, then you might want to take a look.

What I personally prefer are Japanese teaching sites like MaggieSensei.com and Wasabi-Jpn.com, as well as JLPT prep sites. Those are very helpful for looking up grammar points. Other common recommendations include Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese (which contains a few errors and strange terms that few other people use, but it’s pretty good otherwise) and various YouTube channels like Cure Dolly (I personally don’t recommend her because I don’t like her controversial ideas about grammar and grammatical terminology, but her explanations are sometimes fairly intuitive and can be helpful), Japanese Ammo with Misa (she’s great, but her lessons can be a little long) and Real Japanese with Miku.

Suggestions for Independent Study

Basically, sometimes, you need to learn from something that isn’t a textbook. You could call this immersion. Maybe you’ll do it with an anime or with a news article. Whatever it is, you’ll need resources and tools: resources – or more accurately sources – that will provide you with material that you can easily work on, and tools that will let you break them down. Well then, here goes:

Resources

If you want immersion material, you can of course take baby steps and start out with things like NHK’s free Japanese courses. A quick Google search (something like ‘nhk learn japanese’) should bring them up. That aside though, you could also try NHK News Web Easy (which you can use until you’re ready for full-length news articles) and NHK for School (which is targeted at Japanese schoolchildren, but the lowest-level programmes should be accessible after a bit of basic grammatical study).

If you’re looking for anime, well, I think everyone knows Crunchyroll. If you’re in Europe, you might also want to try your luck seeing if other services are available to you, like Wakanim or Anime Digital Network. If you’re in the US, you can use Funimation too, but it has soooo much ad time that I think you’ll feel like you’re wasting your life on it. It does carry a few series that you can’t (legally) find anywhere else though.

Tools

Dictionaries:
English-Japanese

  • Jisho.org – almost everyone on WK uses this or has used it at some point
  • https://ejje.weblio.jp – this is my recommendation for English-Japanese definitions. It has everything Jisho has, and then some. It has many more example sentences than Jisho, possibly a 100x more. (I’m not even exaggerating here…) If you want to learn how to use Japanese words for real in sentences by studying translated examples, and you can’t pay for a dictionary, then this is your best bet. It’s free.

Japanese

Kotobank and Weblio are the ones that bring multiple dictionaries together. Goo’s site has the advantage of containing a database of example sentences, even though it only has one dictionary (and one thesaurus and one EN-JP dictionary, but I digress). Point is, the first one might allow what you’d call an in-depth search with one dictionary, whereas the other two might not provide as much data per dictionary, but you certainly have more definitions to look at.

My recommendation: it’s early days yet, but move on to a Japanese monolingual dictionary ASAP. You don’t have to use it for 100% of your searches, but the more you use it, the more reading practice you get, and the better you’ll understand fine nuances of various words. I’m still (probably because I’m currently lazing around like an idiot and too much of a wimp to take the fastest way) baulking at the thought of using a monolingual dictionary 100% of the time because I know I won’t understand 100% of the definitions I look up, but I know from experience with another language (French) that once you’re able to use only Japanese to understand new Japanese, you’ll progress tons faster. If nothing else, just by reading an entire dictionary entry, you’ll probably learn… what, at least 5 new expressions? Anyone using an EN-JP dictionary is probably only gonna learn 1 translation. It’s pretty clear who wins in the end.

Anime analysis tools:

  • Anicobin – google ‘[anime name in Japanese] [episode number in Arabic numerals] 話 anicobin’ for just about any anime that aired after 2013. You’ll get screenshots and a transcription that can cover anything from 60% to 95% of the dialogue in each episode. There’ll also be reaction Tweets from Japanese viewers that you can use for reading practice and understanding (from their reactions) what’s going on.
  • Pixiv and Nico Nico dictionaries: when you’re able to read intermediate Japanese with the help of a dictionary, then you might want to start using these for looking up slang words that don’t appear in the usual dictionaries.

If all else fails though, looking something up using ‘[word] とは’ or ‘[word] 意味’ rarely fails to bring up an explanation of some sort.

Well, I guess I just provided a bunch of options and not many ideas about organisation. Sorry about that: I don’t really have a structured plan for my Japanese studies at the moment. I’m mostly just massively consuming anime and checking the words I don’t know so I can learn whatever I don’t know. I also look up articles on Japanese grammar and structures online – in Japanese, if possible – so I can learn how to use them properly. I’ll be doing this sort of immersion learning until I get my hands on my advanced textbook. Until then though, my style will be ad hoc.

Anyhow, I hope some of this was helpful. All the best!

19 Likes

First of all, what is your Japanese level?

If you are absolutely beginner. I would say just stick with Wanikani until level 10. Beside Wanikani you should build your Japanese foundation in writing system Hiragana and Katakana, and memorize basic Japanese vocabulary.

After you reach level 10 (or more), you should have enough basic knowledge. The grammar textbook is not a complete alien langauge to you so you can completely focus on grammar structure.

Minna no Nihongo and Akiko to Tomodachi are great choice that can teach you to JLPT N4 level.

However there is one thing you need to be careful about Minna no Nihongo (and perhaps many Japanese text books). The book does not teach you the foundation of grammar like how to change verbs from dictionary form to polite form, -te form, casual form, etc. You will find it much more difficult to learn them backward.

Other learning apps I recommend are Bunpro, Todai, Renchuu, and Duolingo. I don’t recommend Duolingo as a way to learn Japanese (Trust me I wasted my time on it a lot in the beginning) but Duolingo is great as a tool for testing your basic Japanese knowledge.

1 Like

@Jonapedia do you have any recommendations for a hardcopy monolingual dictionary?

Unfortunately, no, because I’ve never used a hardcopy dictionary for Japanese. I think what you could try is to look for the publishers of major (formerly or currently) online dictionaries like 大辞林 or 大辞泉 and see what other dictionaries they carry. You can find other dictionary names by looking things up on Weblio or Kotobank. Once you’re on publisher sites, you can start looking through features and seeing what sort of content each dictionary offers. That way, you can see what suits your needs best.

The Japanese equivalent of Oxford seems to be the Koujien (広辞苑) dictionary, but it’s probably quite expensive and large, so I don’t know if you’ll really want it (or need it). I guess the obvious choices for a hardcopy monolingual dictionary would be the hardcopies of your favourite online monolingual dictionaries, but I wouldn’t recommend that since they’re available for free online, and I’m sure there are hardcopy dictionaries that are slightly more detailed or precise than those online dictionaries.

As a Japanese learner, I think one other thing you might want to consider when picking a monolingual dictionary is whether or not it contains pitch accent information. I believe that Sanseidō (大辞林’s publisher) includes that in its dictionaries, but it might not be the only publisher that does so. That aside, you should choose monolingual dictionaries based on your needs and preferences. I hope you find one that suits you. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Another option is Quartet, which was released in 2020 by the Japan times (who also do genki). Probably a good option if you do/or did genki and liked it. I’ve only recently started Quartet but am really impressed so far, particularly with the reading, writing and grammar sections - and Tokini Andy is covering it in a YouTube series right now which is a nice bonus to get additional discussion and explanation of the grammar points covered.

This video gives a pretty good overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the intermediate textbooks: I spent $162 on Intermediate Japanese Textbooks so YOU don't have to - Quartet Review (and more) - YouTube

3 Likes

@Jonapedia Thanks for answering, sadly I (as yet) don’t have a favourite online one, as I haven’t gone down that route yet. I’ve been using Jisho a lot, but it’s not monolingual. I much prefer hardcopy, but I think it’s time I bit the bullet on something like Weblio, and just get over “but it’s not a book!” :joy:

1 Like

Hahaha. I mean, Jisho isn’t a book either! But yeah, I know that some people prefer books, and there’s something nice about getting to feel the pages yourself, even if I prefer that for books I’m likely to read from cover to cover (e.g. a novel or a textbook) rather than for books that I’m likely to use for quick reference (like dictionaries). After all, even the longest definition in a typical dictionary will only span 2-3 pages at the most.

I’ve heard of it, and I heard it might have been created to replace AIAtIJ, which was also from the Japan Times, but is much older. I haven’t really looked at samples though, which is why I didn’t want to comment on it.

Just a quick question: does it include pitch accent markings like AIAtIJ?

Wow! As a new person myself, thanks for all the resources. I was actually looking for a decent dictionary site to use, especially when I had to actually look up a kanji.

Eventually I’ll get around to trying the Anicobin site… Taking it slow right now. My personal goal is to be able to sit down and be able to work through a manga by this time next year.

1 Like

does tobira cover n3 to n1 correct?

for n4 which one is recommended, minna no nihongo or tae kim guide?

I’m using tobira and I feel like it’s mostly N3 level grammar. It might touch a bit on N2 and N1 but probably not even 10% of the book reach that level of content.

For N4 I think it depends on what do you want. If you just want pure information about grammar Tae Kim is good for you, but you need to read and practice a lot more than the book has to offer.

1 Like

I had used genki 2 previosuly, many years ago.

But I would not touch it now because of so many hiragana in it, for me this is a tool to forget all the kanji I already know.

Would you recommend a book then for N4? I dont know if I just start bunpro right away, but I fear I will end up doing the same I do with shirimono, I memorized most of the sentences and I dont even think about the grammar rules to answer them.

I’ve just had a quick flick through the vocab booklet and it doesn’t seem to! It’s not something that bothers me but weird if the previous one had it.

1 Like

Yeah, well, the edition containing pitch accent data was the revised one, and I believe Quartet’s authors are completely different, so that might explain things. It would have been nice to continue to include such markings though.

Keep reading then? You wouldn’t find any study material that have N4 level grammar with many Kanji.

If I were you I will skip everything and advance to Tobira. N5-4 grammar are not that difficult anyway, you could just learn them by yourself.

1 Like

Someone recommended this quartet japanese book, I dont know if it is like a n4, barely a n3, if not I will go straight to tobira then.

Quartet covers the same material as tobira pretty much (well it’s split into two books - quartet 1 covers mainly N3, quartet 2 N2). Quartet is just a lot newer (released last year rather than 2009 for tobira) and from what I understand has a more even focus across the four skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening whereas tobira is mainly reading focused I think(but I haven’t used it so I don’t really know).
So it would be a case of reading reviews (or I linked a video above that compares them in some detail) and deciding which textbook would work best for you. I went for quartet because it seemed like the best option for me and I’m loving it so far but certainly a lot of people recommend tobira and as it’s older you’re more likely to find iTalki teachers etc that are familiar with it (though mine has been happy to review stuff from quartet)

1 Like

:laughing: You make such valid points, but still…one cannot smell the scent of pages on a computer screen :sob:

Here’s another question for ya - a lot of verbs take different particles, such as (topic ~に)興味がある, or (に)気が付く。When I was going through the Genki books, the vocab list had these particles listed alongside their verbs. Any resources that you know of that would have this information?

1 Like

The Wisdom EN-JP Dictionary often has this information, at least implicitly. (Some structures are explicitly mentioned, and for others, there are often recurrent patterns in the example sentences.) This dictionary is available for free with the iPhone, iPad or Mac. You’ll have to pay for it otherwise. Among free dictionaries… I don’t think such things are common, though you can figure them out from example sentences in such dictionaries.