I came back because I figured I ought to list some of the resources I’ve seen or used instead of just commenting on how quickly kanji can actually be learnt. Here we go:
Textbooks: Genki, Minna no Nihongo, Japanese from Zero
I personally think Genki is one of the better textbooks. Minna no Nihongo looked kinda boring when I flipped through it in a bookshop, though I was already at the intermediate level at that point. Also, Genki is probably easier to self-study than Minna no Nihongo, even if it’s still designed for classroom use. It’s more interesting. If you want some thoughts on the challenges involved in self-study using Genki, check out the Tofugu review. Some people think Genki is no good for self-learners, but well… I guess how good a textbook is depends on how well it suits you.
Use whatever you want, but make sure you learn the correct stroke order if you intend to write them, otherwise, especially when you go fast, they’ll become illegible for native speakers. Writing practice will help you remember them anyway. My main resources were kana tables, especially the ones on the Wikipedia ‘Hiragana’ and ‘Katakana’ pages. I suggest that you learn them in five sound blocks, following this order for the vowels: A, I, U, E, O. Why? Because that’s the order used for classification in Japan. The other order used for classification is the Iroha system, but that’s more traditional and probably not as useful for Japanese learners. I also used this (but that’s because I’m a Chinese speaker):
Still, it might be useful because most of the source kanji have similar sounds to the kana they produced.
Grammar: maybe Tae Kim’s Guide. I personally think it should be dropped as soon as possible because it contains errors, but outside of textbooks, I don’t think there are many other grammar resources that are constructed with beginners in mind. The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar is probably a better choice, but it’s obviously something you’ll have to pay for, and I’ve never used it. The extracts that have been quoted on the WK forums seem good though.
Textbooks: An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese (from Genki’s publisher, the Japan Times), Minna no Nihongo, Tobira
I haven’t looked at MnN’s intermediate textbook, but given what I’ve seen of the beginner textbook, I’m not expecting much. I don’t know if Japanese from Zero has intermediate textbooks. The best two textbooks for the intermediate level, in my opinion, are Tobira and AIAtIJ (full title above). I feel like Tobira’s lexicon is probably slightly more advanced in the initial chapters, or at least, it starts teaching you place names and little things about Japanese geography straightaway. AIAtIJ’s first lesson feels like an revision lesson with some keigo thrown in. However… I guess that means AIAtIJ’s lessons are generally more practical. The topics covered and the words used seem like things you’d be able to use in everyday life, even as someone studying Japanese outside Japan with limited contact with Japanese people and culture. (For example, what you learn might be useful while reading the news.) It even covers certain aspects of social interaction. Tobira, on the other hand, has a heavy cultural focus, which can be exciting if you really love Japan and Japanese culture, but may get boring at times if you’re not interested in a particular facet of Japanese culture covered by the book. AIAtJ seems to have extensive explanations and very detailed notes in English, including some about, for instance, social interaction and culture. Tobira mainly covers grammar and vocabulary lists in English, and does everything else in Japanese, with a focus on more tangible cultural elements that can be seen in sports, pop culture and the like. I own Tobira, whereas I’ve only seen snippets of AIAtJ (I didn’t know it existed when I went textbook shopping), but now I kinda wished I had AIAtJ instead. It seems much more helpful for self-learners, especially since it teaches students elements of how to behave in Japanese society, which is something I want to learn, but haven’t been able to from Tobira. In conclusion, I’d recommend AIAtJ over Tobira based on what I’ve seen in the sample pages, unless you’re really motivated to learn on your own and you want an immersive, Japanese-only experience allowing you to learn about Japanese festivals and other tangible cultural elements. In that case, get Tobira.
EDIT: Apparently Tobira covers more vocabulary and grammar overall, so there’s that to consider as well. If you’re an adult learner, you may also find AIAtIJ more boring, because it’s meant for university students, whereas Tobira covers non-university topics even though it’s a university textbook. However, I can say from experience that Tobira isn’t designed for self-study. AIAtIJ feels more doable for someone studying alone. The only reason Tobira helped me is that I’m a dictionary miner – I read dictionary definitions both for immersion and to learn nuances. Most of what I learnt, I learnt from the dictionary and the internet, not from the textbook. That’s all I can say.
Grammar: Imabi is a great free website that covers Japanese grammar for all levels, but I think it’s probably more useful starting from the intermediate level. Alternatively, you can get the Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar, which has been recommended by others on WK.
Textbooks: 中・上級日本語教科書 日本への招待 テキスト
I believe these two textbooks are at almost the same level, with the second one (上級日本語 etc) being slightly more difficult, probably with a bit of technical vocabulary in it since it has a chapter on ‘Clones and Life’. I don’t think there are many other well-known advanced textbooks, since they’re almost all written in Japanese only. These contain translations in Chinese, English and Korean for vocabulary words. Again, these are designed for classroom use, but from what I’ve seen, you should do just fine with a dictionary. I own the first one (中・上級日本語 etc) because a friend recommended it to me, but since it’s currently 10000km+ away from me, I haven’t opened it yet. I’ve seen sample pages though, and they look good.
(By the way, some people feel that you shouldn’t/don’t really need to bother with a textbook for advanced Japanese and that you should just dive into native material. My opinion, based on my experience with French, is that having a textbook streamlines the process for you because the material is usually more organised. Yes, you can probably get away with powering through newspaper articles and anime with a dictionary – that’s what I’m doing now whenever I feel motivated, because I don’t have my textbook –, but unless you’re very good at finding materials only in the domains that interest you, the vocabulary and grammar you’ll learn will be all over the place, and you might not remember it very well because there’s no structure.)
Grammar: The Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar. How good is it? No idea, but someone on WK said it helped with their translation exam, so why not? Sounds good to me.
Miscellaneous Resources (Various Levels)
- Cure Dolly – I don’t like how she pushes controversial ideas, but her explanations are pretty intuitive, which is good.
- Japanese Ammo with Misa – Some people say she’s brilliant. I’ve literally only watched one of her videos (on pitch accent), and only for a few minutes… not bad, but since she sometimes shares personal anecdotes… well, you could see that as making things interesting and memorable, or as slowing down the lesson. Depends on your preferences. Her explanations seem good either way.
- Japanese from Zero
- Attain Online Japanese Course – Here’s their YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/TalkInJapan Everything except I think the N1 and N2 courses are subtitled in English. Only sample videos are available on YouTube, but you can use them for immersion and revision. If you want the full course, it’s $14/month for unlimited viewing on their website.
- Nihongo con Teppei – this, and the next one…
- Nihongo no Mori – … are apparently very good Japanese learning podcasts
- Maggie Sensei – some people find her website’s colour scheme jarring and don’t like the fact that she uses romaji for transcriptions, but I wholeheartedly recommend her site for its excellent examples and explanations. She also has a Twitter account on which she posts various things like vocabulary lists and examples of kanji usage.
- Tae Kim’s Guide (which, again, I do not recommend)
- Practically any JLPT prep site, since they cover lots of grammar points
毎日のんびり日本語教師 – for advanced learners, because everything’s in Japanese except for a few explanations in Chinese. (This teacher teaches in China.) Grammar points are covered for all JLPT levels, but since everything is in Japanese, most beginners won’t be able to use the site unless they’re Chinese speakers. There’s also an entire section called the ‘N0’ section, which covers words and structures whose JLPT levels are not known, or which are more difficult than the N1 level.
Jisho.org – the dictionary that everyone on WK knows and uses
https://ejje.weblio.jp – this is Weblio’s Japanese-English-Japanese dictionary. I cannot fathom why I’m basically the only person on these forums recommending it, because I genuinely believe it is better than Jisho in all but three things: 1. Jisho has links to WK, and so contains WK audio and WK levels 2. Jisho has stroke order animations 3. Jisho has a nicer, cleaner interface
That aside though, Weblio’s EJJE has data from at least three different dictionaries, including the one that Jisho runs on, and tons more example sentences than Jisho. You can search entire phrases in the searchbox, and example sentences containing them will come up, meaning you can learn how these words are actually used in Japanese. The only reason I can think of for not recommending this site… is that the entire interface is in Japanese, which scares people off. In order to use it, you just have to identify the search box and type whatever you want in it. From that moment forward, it’ll work like any other dictionary site.
- Weblio.jp – this is the monolingual dictionary from Weblio. At the moment though, it carries almost exactly the same content as Goo’s dictionary, so it’s no longer as useful as it used to be. It used to carry 大辞林 as well, but the online version of that dictionary has been taken down while its publisher comes up with a new product.
- Goo辞書 – very detailed monolingual dictionary, thesaurus and corpus. However, it only carries one dictionary, the デジタル大辞泉.
- Kotobank – デジタル大辞泉 + other monolingual dictionaries. Contains more definitions than the other two at this point in time, but fewer example sentences than Goo辞書.
That’s about all I can think of for now.