Would I still benefit enough from Genki to justify buying it?

TL;DR: I started learning Japanese from zero five months ago. I now know the kanji and vocab up to WK level 20, and I’ve read or skimmed most of Japanese the Manga Way, as well as browsing various online resources from time to time. I’m about to start reading ARIA and Yotsubato as soon as they arrive. Would I still benefit enough from Genki to justify buying it, or is there too much overlap with what I’m already doing?

Long version:

In 2009 I visited a friend in the US. At the time I was an avid go player and had been toying with the idea of learning Japanese just to access the wealth of go material. One of my friend’s friends happened to know Japanese, and before I left she surprised me with a gift: a copy of Japanese the Manga Way. I loved the book at first sight, but I wasn’t ready to commit to the seemingly gargantuan project of learning the language. I’ve always hated memorization with a passion, and it was hard to imagine a project requiring more memorization than learning Japanese. Still, the book was in many ways one of the most wonderful gifts I’ve ever received, and over the years I occasionally felt a little guilty that it was collecting dust on my shelf.

Then in 2022 I fell madly in love with a woman who has a Master’s degree in Japanese, and I started thinking about learning the language again. In late August I tried Tofugu’s kana tutorials and found that learning hiragana was much easier than I expected (I hated memorization so much that I hadn’t really tried it after leaving high school some 20 years ago). Then I decided to try this Wanikani thing, one thing led to another, and now here I am, 147 days and 40491 reviews later, deep down the rabbit hole with a lifetime membership. Help!

Now I’ve read most of Japanese the Manga Way and skimmed the rest, and I’ve also browsed a variety of online resources (Tae Kim, imabi, WK forums, various blogs, etc.). Rather than mastering one grammar point before moving to the next, my strategy so far has been to get an overview of basic grammar as quickly as possible so that I could start reading native material ASAP, even if it’s very slow at first. Then I can gradually master the grammar I’ve skimmed by looking things up as I need them to understand what I’m reading (and I know what to look up because I can recognize grammar points that I’ve skimmed).

So far it seems like this is working, and I’ve learned way more in five months than I expected. When I started I only knew a few phrases and a bunch of go terminology, and now I can read NHK easy news, even if it’s slow!

Would it still be a good idea to go through Genki (or some other beginner textbook), or will I end up learning most of that if I continue on my current trajectory? My impression from googling is that JtMW covers more grammar than Genki, so I shouldn’t be missing out there, but many people seem to find Genki useful for the vocabulary and phrases. Originally my goal was just to learn how to read Japanese, and that’s still my main goal at the moment, but now it seems like I might visit Japan with my girlfriend in the not too distant future. I’m guessing that Genki covers stuff that’s useful for a tourist that you might not run into while reading news or manga. (My girlfriend is near native so I don’t actually need to know any Japanese, but I think I’ll get more out of the trip if I can use the language myself.)

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“Get an overview of basic grammar and start immersing” is a valid and somewhat popular way of study, and it sounds like it’s working for you. Seems to me like you might have some fear of missing out because you’ve seen Genki get lots of praise. There is nothing in there you won’t find anywhere else.
No need to change a running system. Just keep going c:

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You could watch / skim this playlist, don’t really need to actually buy the book then, it can be a stand alone and you can focus on the sections with things you don’t know

And then you can also do the exercices here without buying the book:

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There are plenty of people who have never read Genki, don’t feel pressured to read it if you have access to other textbooks (online grammar guides or physical ones). Genki’s just recommended often because it’s part of the required reading for students attending formal Japanese lessons at some schools.

Personally, I’ve never read Genki because I’m self-taught/was gifted other textbooks by family members. I think after reading 2-3 textbook/grammar guides, most people can survive through just using Google to answer their Japanese questions since they’ve got the basics down at that point.

You said you’re only 5 months in for learning, so if you change your mind, you can always get Genki or some other textbook if you feel you need more structure than Google. There’s probably a free preview of the book available on Amazon or a used copy on Ebay. Or maybe just see what your local library has to offer for Japanese textbooks.

(Genki is a series of textbooks, so it does seem like a big “commitment” to buy all of them and attempt to finish the “homework” it provides, especially if you are a motivated and curious person who wants to dive into native content without the “training wheels” instead. If it really bothers you, you could technically consider getting only one of the later volumes instead of starting with the first volume or worrying about getting/finishing all of the volumes.)

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If you’ve gone through so many resources it’s probably not worth getting Genki 1+2 anymore. Instead, it might make sense to go briefly through Tae Kim’s full guide to grammar to make sure you really have a good grasp of the core grammar structures. After that you can move on to Tobira to work on your reading comprehension or continue reading the NHK Web Easy articles + taking notes.

Be sure to have an Anki deck rolling as well :smiley: .

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Thanks for your input everyone! Sounds like I might be fine without Genki (or some other beginner textbook - I was mostly asking about Genki specifically because it’s often recommended and I figured many people might be familiar with it).

You could say I’m mainly worried about what I don’t know that I don’t know: I can tell whether I’m getting better at understanding the content I’m consuming, but I don’t know if there’s something basic that I’ve never seen because it hasn’t come up in that content. For example I can imagine that there might be common words and phrases that are useful to a tourist that you might not see in manga or news. If that’s the case then a ‘traditional’ textbook like Genki might fill in some gaps.

I learned English by picking up the basics from TV and games as a kid and then immersing in native content, so I know it works, but I also remember how it took me two years of reading novels to encounter the word ‘escalator’. :sweat_smile: Eventually I learned everything that I would have learned from a textbook, but flipping through a textbook at some point might have sped up the process. Consuming sufficiently diverse native content would have accomplished the same of course. I guess textbooks can be used like artificial vitamin supplements that you can take to cover for deficiencies in your diet? :stuck_out_tongue:

I was actually just thinking of going through Tae Kim’s guide! It’s convenient to read on the go (unlike the JtMW book which is quite big) and I figured it could cement some of what I learned from my whirlwind tour of JtMW.

Regarding Anki decks, do you mean going through some existing Anki deck with vocabulary (like the core 6k/10k decks I’ve heard mentioned), or just making my own as I encounter words in the wild? I’ve heard that there’s a lot of vocabulary that WK doesn’t cover (for instance words that are written with kana only). So far my plan has been to reach WK level 20-30 quickly to learn the most common kanji and then slow down and spend more time on reading and maybe other resources like Anki decks, but I haven’t really looked into those other resources yet.

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It’s up to you. Going through an existing deck would of course be much easier.

Well, WaniKani definitely can’t be a learner’s one-stop shop for vocabulary, that’s for sure :smiley: . It’s not only about kana-only vocabulary. It’s about the choice and amount of vocabulary.

That probably makes sense, yes :slight_smile: . I think the optimum is around level 40. After that the kanji WaniKani teaches are less common or you’ve seen them anyway while reading books.

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Even Genki II is pretty elementary. It sounds like you are ready for a step beyond it.

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I tried using Genki but honestly found it rather terrible. I liked Irodori (free digital textbook, similar overall structure) much better, but after ~half of the first one I went to use a combination of other resources. The only textbook-style equivalent I worked through completely is Human Japanese I and II, really liked that one - I found that a FAR better investment than Genki.

For further grammar, I mostly use Bunpro, Tae Kim, Cure Dolly’s Organic Japanese youtube course (big fan, though some people dont like the presentation style. The author does not do further updates now, she died).
Other resources I use and like are wanikani (some ppl prefer renshuu or a simple anki deck) and Shinosensei’s N5/N4 stories (~100 free youtube videos of jp folktales with scripts in the description).

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It’s up to you. Going through an existing deck would of course be much easier.

Do you have any recommendations regarding existing decks?

That probably makes sense, yes :slight_smile: . I think the optimum is around level 40. After that the kanji WaniKani teaches are less common or you’ve seen them anyway while reading books.

Right, so far I’ve felt that every level has plenty of basic words that I would expect to find in any source. (Of course there are also words like 洗脳 that you probably won’t find in 5K frequency dictionary. :smile: )

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I tried using Genki but honestly found it rather terrible. I liked Irodori (free digital textbook, similar overall structure) much better, but after ~half of the first one I went to use a combination of other resources.

Just out of curiosity, what did you dislike about Genki?

The only textbook-style equivalent I worked through completely is Human Japanese I and II, really liked that one - I found that a FAR better investment than Genki.

That’s “Human Japanese” and “Human Japanese Intermediate” here?

I’ve watched some of Cure Dolly’s videos too and found many of them helpful, even if I do understand why some people don’t like them. :slight_smile:

Yes, indeed.

Several things. First of all, the selection of vocabulary is only helpful if one is learning Japanese in a class room environment. Because I did not, I committed a lot of time on very specialized vocabulary (“Anthropology” yeah great I learnt that in week one) that was simply not useful. In general, I found the design and the content not very compelling, opening the book felt like a chore every time. What broke its neck for me is the grammar model, which is misleading at best and at times plain wrong. While my opinion on that is not as extreme as cure dolly’s, I do agree to a lot of her criticism and found the grammar models of organic japanese as well as Human Japanese vastly superior. Whenever Genki had grammar explained correctly, which happens more often in the newer editions, it still was unnecessarily complicated because they don’t really explain how Japanese works, we just get random facts thrown at us and are expected to rote-memorize them until we magically start to see some patterns.
Essentially, working with Genki was a lot less efficient than the other resources I mentioned, so I dropped it.

With Human Japanese I actually had fun and learnt a lot faster, and learnt the actual structure of Japanese, including many interesting nuances. To put that in numbers, I had a hard time committing more than half an hour of focused studying while working with Genki, with Human Japanese I easily managed to stay on task 1.5 to 2.5 hours without feeling drained.

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Thanks, that’s very helpful! I had heard other people’s criticisms of Genki’s grammar exposition, but I wasn’t so worried about that because I already have other resources for grammar. But it sounds like I might be better off with other resources for vocabulary too, especially considering that some of those are free.

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Sounds like your system is working just fine, you don’t need a beginner textbook on top of it.

(TBF Genki seems nice. I didn’t use it to learn Japanese but I recently did a review class that went through all of Genki I (shoutout to Japan Society NYC ). I can see why a lot of beginners like it, it’s a pretty textbook. But like I said, it’s not going to add much for you.)

There are some good Anki decks out there for vocab. Some of them are even, shall we say, “compatible” with specific textbooks, if that’s what you want.

Or get one of those basic tourist phrasebooks and have fun dissecting the grammar and fixing their translations. :smiley:

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Based on where you are at on your learning journey I am thinking the Tae Kim guide might be a better fit. It sounds like you are kicking ass but are running into a common learning trap of wanting to hunt for resources and lapping back on easy stuff rather than get heads down and plow ahead further.

I can say that because I am sure as hell guilty for resource hunting rather than studying grammar/listening practice lol.

All in all it sounds like you are doing great, so just grab a grammar reference book or app and keep trucking.

Genki is considered good by many because it’s an integrated package that develops all skills - reading, listening, writing and speaking - across a somewhat wide range of contexts (although writing and especially speaking are probably better developed in a classroom, so those parts are harder to use for self-study). It’s not necessarily world-class at any aspect in particular.

If you want good grammar explanations, there’s better resources: I would advise against Tae Kim, some of the things he writes are downright wrong or misleading - Cure Dolly is better from what I’ve seen, I just dislike the attitude of “all other resources are wrong and I’m the only person who knows the deep mystery of Japanese grammar”. In terms of detailed and precise explanations, but still suitable for learners, “A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar” seems to come highly recommended - although it’s still in the mail, so I haven’t had a chance to look at it properly yet.

The Genki vocab is indeed useful (there’s a slight focus on student vocabulary, as others have written but it’s not too bad - and you do learn many other important words and phrases of everyday life), but there’s also plenty of other resources for vocab. I would advise to find ways to actually use the vocab that you learn, though - memorising vocabulary that you never see or use in context is a bit pointless IMHO.

So yeah, all in all, I think Genki is a good textbook, but it’s not essential and everything it teaches can be replaced by something else, so you’re probably good. Just take an honest assessment of yourself and your goals - if you want to e.g. be able to speak, then just reading manga or NHK Easy will only help you up to a certain point. You will actually have to practice conversation (that’s something Genki teaches you, but other textbooks do it too, or even better - for example, Irodori, which is free).

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Your probably further ahead than me, but why not browse BunPro.Jp - they list out all the grammar points in most popular textbooks. You could have a quick look at what is in each to see how much overlap there is.

Over the years I’ve started over, and over, and among what I’ve tried are Genki 1, Tae Kim and Minna No Nihongo. They are all fairly similar in what they cover, from where I got up to in each (I haven’t made it all the way them through , disclaimer!). I think most intro textbooks cover up to around JLPT N5 level, so that might be somethign to consider when researching.

I also agree with other commenters - don’t fix what isn’t broken . You’re doing a great job

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Concerning to hear your comments on Tae Kim’s guide - that’s what I’ve been going through now, and I’ve found it to be better to keep goign with, than otther resources.

Can you elaborate at all on where I should be scetpical? I plan to pair it with BunPro to do grammar SRS, so maybe it will roun ditself out?

I legit came across this word maybe once in my life :joy:.