Best Japanese Textbooks

Hello, everyone!  I apologize for the lack of posts.  The past 5 months have been really busy, and April and May won’t be any better XD.  But I am on break right now and have decided to get back into the blogging business!  I’ve gone through a lot of my old posts and decided that some desperately need revisions.  I’ve decided to start with which textbooks I’ve found are the best for beginners! You can read the original post here.

Looking back, I don’t think ranking textbooks by 1st, 2nd, 3rd place, and so-on is a very good idea.  First of all, it can be discouraging to see one’s favorite textbook with a low placement.  Secondly, textbooks cannot really be defined as “best”.  Although some are clearly better than others, most textbooks are all good for certain purposes which cannot be ranked side-by-side with other features.  So, instead, I will list my personal preferences in order with the first one being the one I find most helpful/important to have around.  Also, I feel as though a rating system on different aspects will help learners find the textbook best suited for them.

Best Japanese Textbooks for Beginners

(ordered by my personal preference first)

Genki

INTRO Genki is the textbook of choice for many universities and self-learners.  Genki 1 is part of a 2 book series that covers the first 2 semesters of a first year college-level Japanese course.  The first 2 chapters feature Kana along with Romaji to help out total beginners that are still learning their syllabries.  The books are divided into units, and the first book has 12.  The units have a dialog, a vocabulary page, a grammar section, and then practice exercises on the material.  Each lesson basically takes up a weeks time in regards to a college schedule, but I’m sure most learners will find themselves having to take it much slower if they really want to know the material.

LIKE Pretty much everything is satisfactory.  The grammar is well explained, and conjugation tables make it easy to refer back to.  The exercises help one practice the material.  The pace of the book is good.

DISLIKE Some complains of mine are that the vocab seems very random, and some words such as disco are taught before essential verbs.  Also, the majority of vocab words are featured with all the Kanji that goes with the word.  Now, some people might like this because you are seeing the word as you actually would in a Japanese text, but some of the Kanji in the most basic words are very complex.  Also, Kanji lessons are taught separately in the back of the book.  Please keep in mind, this review is based on the last edition as there is a newer, revised edition of Genki 1 available now.

  • Grammar explanations and content 4/5 – Covers a perfect amount of grammar points, but is not very in-depth
  • Vocabulary list usefulness/effectiveness 3/5
  • Practice exercises 4/5
  • Speed 4/5 – The book moves a little fast for my taste, but is manageable

* Cultural notes n/a

* Form factor and quality 4/5 – Paper is high quality, and the book is a perfect size

OVERALL RATING 9/10

Buy Genki

Elementary Japanese

INTRO I’ve pretty much finished Genki 1, so I decided to dust off this book and work through it before moving on to Genki 2.  Elementary Japanese was developed by the UC Berkeley Japanese Program, and was piloted at Berkeley before hitting the market.  Each lesson is equivalent to a week’s lesson based on a college schedule.

LIKE I’ve been incredibly pleased with every aspect of this book.  This book is similar to Genki, but does things differently.  In Genki, you’ll find the affirmative and negative conjugations taught in one lesson, while this book breaks it down in to several separate lessons.  The Kanji is also mixed in with each chapter, and they do not replace Hiragana with the appropriate Kanji unless they’ve been introduced through the Kanji lessons.  The grammar explanations are far more in-depth than Genki.

NEUTRAL The book utilizes more of the polite form than Genki does.

DISLIKE I really don’t like how they tag certain grammar points such as “Pre-ますフォーム” and what not.  It gets very confusing, and I prefer how Genki labels the conjugations.  The book doesn’t seem as nicely formatted as Genki, and I feel as though Genki is a little more thorough and widely accepted as a standard.

  • Grammar explanations and content 5/5 – Very in-depth
  • Vocabulary list usefulness/effectiveness 3/5 – I don’t like how they do vocab.  All it is is a table in the back of the chapter, but it the words taught are more useful than Genki
  • Practice exercises 3/5 – I’ll admit I haven’t done many of their exercises because I’m mostly just going through and reading the grammar points.  They exercises are not as effective as Genki’s are
  • Speed 4/5

* Cultural notes n/a

* Form factor and quality 4/5 – LOVE having a hardback textbook

OVERALL RATING 8/10

Buy Elementary Japanese

Beginning Japanese

INTRO Beginning Japanese is a high school textbook that is part of a soon to be finished 3 part series.  By the third book, students should have enough knowledge to pass the AP Japanese exam.  My friend bought this and recommended it to me, so I decided to try it out.

LIKE Much slower pace than the two previous books.  The curriculum is for high school students, and has a very unique formatting to it.  I love the dialogs and the half-English/half-Japanese paragraphs.  Overall, the book seems very modern in comparison to other textbooks and does a lot of things right.  It’s available in hardback, and the book is in color! Major plus :)

DISLIKE I purchased the book because of a very positive recommendation, but I already know all of the material.  For me, the slow pace isn’t an advantage, and the second book, Intermediate Japanese, will not be released until September.  Another thing I dislike is that they don’t actually define the vocab words.  Pictures are used instead, and the images are often vague.

  • Grammar explanations and content 4/5 – Goes slower, easier to comprehend
  • Vocabulary list usefulness/effectiveness 2/5 – As I mentioned earlier, they use pictures instead of words to define the vocabulary.  Also, the list isn’t very extensive.
  • Practice exercises 2/5 – Lots of partner exercises.  Not as effective as Genki or Elem. Jap.
  • Speed 3/5 – Some may like the slower pace

* Cultural notes 5/5! There’s a lot of culture to learn form this book, unlike most textbooks.

* Form factor and quality 5/5 – Again, I love having a hardback option.  Having it in color is another huge pro.

OVERALL RATING 8/10 – This book isn’t really for my level, but if I was just starting out, it’d be a perfect resource!

Buy Beginning Japanese

So you may have noticed that I completely got rid of Japanese from Zero!, Japanese For Busy People, and Japanese For Everyone.  After further evaluation, I do not think these books are good enough to recommend.  If you find them useful, however, please continue using them!  Whatever works for you is truly the best textbook.

Let me know what you think about these books, and if you know of any good learning resources, please comment below! Thanks for reading, -Travis

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  • Savannah♥

    Hi there :)  I just stumbled upon your blog today, I’m very interested in learning Japanese ^_^/  I like your reviews!  I’ve been learning how to speak Japanese with videos on youtube for a while now, but I really need to find some material to help me with the writing process.  I can speak beginner Japanese, but I can only write in Romaji XD (which I don’t even think counts!)
    I’m going to look into the books you’ve recommended here.  ~Thanks!

  • Danielle

    I also just stumbled onto your blog and thought I should mention the Minna No Nihongo series. I studied in Tokyo last summer, and these were the books they used at my Japanese language school. They are geared toward Japanese language learners in Japan, and are given to students from all over the world. They are different because there are no English translations. The idea is that you start reading and writing and (eventually) thinking in Japanese right from the start. They can be found on Amazon in kana and romaji formats, though it is highly recommended that you take the time to learn kana and go right for the kana editions. (With a basic kana textbook and some homemade flashcards, I think you could master hiragana and katakana in a month’s time if you take about 20 minutes a day.) You must also purchase the English guide with the kana edition so that you get the vocab lists as well as English explanations of the sentence structures. 
    Goodluck!

    • http://v10japan.com/ V10 Japan

      Hello, Danielle! I’m glad you stopped by :) I’m in Tokyo right now, and while shopping at a book store, I noticed an entire shelf devoted to Minna No Nihongo. So, I decided to get the intermediate book so I’ll have study material when I return to the states (currently progressing through Genki 2). You are right, it looks like a very good textbook. I will probably do a upper beginners Japanese textbook guide, or at least, revise this one and mention Minna No Nihongo if their intermediate book is up to par! I need to give the textbook a fair go before advising it in order to give a recommendation. Thank you very much for your advice :)

  • Matt

    I am surprised that you did not mention the Nakama series, which is used at many universities.

  • sof

    Hey, to anyone reading this – I have to say that I would outrank genki with minna no nihongo by far. I have only done the first 13 chapters of minna no nihongo and also have the genki japanese textbook (have done over half and looked through the rest).
    For a serious learner of the language – I think minna no nihongo is by far the better choice.
    They introduce the verbs in masu form instead of dictionary form which means that it is easier to know what verbs are regular and irregular – particularially when you go into different conjucations.
    If you only have a short amount of time, use genki. If you don’t and want to seriously learn the language – use minna no nihongo.
    I also feel that after 13 lessons (out of 25 for the first textbook), Genki is just too easy. The vocab seems completely random (unlike mnn’s) and mnn just seems to expliain the grammar a lot better by form of examples. This means that you can pick up the ‘feel’ of the language rather than having to form the sentence from scratch each time in your head, paying attention to each grammar form.

    I have also used Japanese for Busy people and really disliked it… Although it is off the list now so doesn’t matter!

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