Selecting a Japanese Textbook
- One of the first questions a potential Japanese student asks is, "What is the best Japanese textbook to get?" After much trial and error and also watching the experiences of others, the answer to this all important question is: "all of them." Unfortunately, an average search will usually not reveal many of these good books, so the purpose of this guide is as much to bring some of these titles out into the light as it is act as a reference.
- Each textbook meets different goals in differing orders, but the final result for nearly all is a student that can speak Japanese well. It is important to not waste time looking for a better textbook once you've already started. Persevere and study daily and you will be learn Japanese well.
- Just as each textbook prioritizes differently the aspects of the learning Japanese, the overall design of the course can differ enough to make the learning experience vary from dry and technical to fun and interesting. Anyone considering buying one of these textbooks should attempt to examine them beforehand to verify the course will be enjoyable.
- Ok. Now that all that has been said, I need to identify the different traits that each type of textbook will focus on so I can point them out later.
Types of Textbooks
- The conversational textbooks focus on speech patterns without much technical explanation. These textbooks are front-loaded so they are the best for students going to Japan in the near future. Conversational texts enable the student speak a wider variety of sentences sooner than the technical books at a cost of a lack understanding of the inner workings of the language, at least initially. This can make it more difficult to understand the more complex sentences that don't fit the trained patterns.
- Technical books explain how the grammar works. These books are rear-loaded and have the student speaking better Japanese in the long run at the cost of weaker Japanese skills initially. Also, the technical explanations can sometimes make learning more confusing not less. In general, all college textbooks fall into the technical category.
- Aka, romaji, rômaji, rōmaji and misspelled romanji, is what the latin alphabet is called when used to write Japanese. Just as the above spellings of imply, there are multiple romanization methods that can lead to confusion. In general, it is always worth spending a week or so learning the kana system and avoiding roumaji all together.
- Kana refers to both the hiragana and katakana syllabaries collectively.
- The chinese symbols adopted by Japan. Generally considered to be rather intimidating to learn, the better systems introduce kanji early to make them less intimidating. Those wishing to become literate quickly will prefer books with more kanji. Everyone benefits from learning kanji from an early stage because it helps to identify word roots and associations. Most of the educational textbooks use furigana aka ruby over new kanji, or kanji that the student is not expected to learn for that lesson. Furigana are essentially small kana about 4pt right above the kanji to show the reading used.
- Where possible the actual number of different kanji used are listed. If this information is not available a JPLT # will be given to giva an estimation of the number and difficulty of the kanji used. Japanese school grade levels will be used in the same way. So instead of a Number or JPLT # there will be a Grade #. Thus, 6 Grade means all, or most, of the Educational Kanji are represented in the text.
- Either roumaji is used written alongside the Japanese or it is on a separate page. Integrated will be noted as parallel or seperate. Some texts are progressive, meaning that they may use parallel roumaji or furigana but it is slowly phased out.
- Business or Pleasure
- The vocabulary and speech patters of the different textbooks are often heavily geared towards a certian audience. For example, Japanese for Busy People is geared almost entirely towards a student of business Japanese which makes it a poor choice for the student that is learning to better understand anime.
- If an age is given it is always the youngest. Books that are appropriate for Adults and teenagers will be noted as Teen. Books that seem more appropriate for a particular age group will be noted by school level: Elementary.
There are of course other levels of emphasis, grammar, vocabulary, pattern sentences, but overall they are less important once the above are determined.
Other Terms used
- The entire course page count is given even if they include more than 1 textbook. Thus Elementary Japanese is split into volume 1 (385 pages) and volume 2 (450 pages). Although the entire page page count is used for the textbook(s), any workbook page counts are not included.
- The oldest copyright date is given if a re-issue was not seriously revised. Re-issues usually have few changes beyond spelling corrections if those, and most students don't want to come out of class sounding like an old man. If a language course was origionally published in 1940, rest assured that the 2005 version usually exactly the same.
- Books refers to subsequent textbooks it does not include the workbooks, teachers editions, or any other variant. Thus the 3 Books for "Japanese for Busy People" means there are 3 textbooks only. Usually the number of workbooks and textbooks are the same. If this is not the case, the discrepancy is not noted.
- Books are ranked Unknown, Weak, Poor, Average, Good, and Great. The ranking is a combination of community response and, when possible, direct comparison with the other books. Poor reviews are not applied to the ranking if they do not account for the books stated, or implied, limitations. Bad reviews from people who were not the target audience are discounted, and raving reviews are mitigated by appropriate context.
- The reputation ranking does not only reflect the technical quality of the Japanese textbook, it also includes the more subjective fun factor. A Good or Great reputation is only possible for books that are deemed both fun and accurate.
- Books that are too new, rare, or otherwise difficult to obtain will often have an unknown reputation.
List of In-Print Textbooks
This is a list of all the in-print textbooks I know of:
- I'm using this section as a stop-gap for now. Eventually when I've referenced each volume then this section will be deleted and any new titles will be added directly.
- Adventures in Japanese (AIJ)
- Colloquial Japanese (ColJ)
- Contemporary Japanese (CJ)
- Elementary Japanese (EJ)
- Idiot's Guide to Japanes (IGtJ)
- Interactive Japanese - Summerell, Riley, & Yang (IJ S,R&Y)
- Interactive Japanese - Tomoda & May (IJ T&M)
- Introduction to Modern Japanese - Bowring & Laurie (ItMJ B&L)
- Introduction to Modern Japanese - Mizutani & Mizutani (ItMJ M&M)
- Japanese for Busy People (JfBP)
- Japanese for Dummies (JfD)
- Japanese for Everyone (JfE)
- Japanese for Young People (JfYP)
- Japanese in Modules (JiM)
- Japanese Step by Step (JSbS)
- Learn Japanese: New College Text (LJ)
- Minna no Nihongo (MnN)
- 90 Days of Japanese Language
- Shin Nihongo no Kiso (SNnK)
- Speak Japanese (SJ)
- Teach Yourself Japanese
- Ultimate Japanese (UJ)
- Aozora: Intermediate-Advanced Japanese Communication
- An Integrated Guide to Intermediate Japanese
- Intermediate Technical Japanese
- Intermediate Modern Japanese
- Japanese for JETs - Intermediate Text
- Living in Japan: Intermediate conversational Japanese
- Readers Guide to Intermediate Japanese: A Quick Reference to Written Expressions
- Shimbun De Manabu Nihongo
- Sura-Sura: A Text for Intermediate Japanese
- Advanced Japanese
- Advanced Japanese Conversation
- Advanced Spoken Japanese
- Authentic Japanese: Progressing from Intermediate to Advanced
Textbook Feature list
- Beginner, Beginner-Intermediate
Title Books © Chapters Pages Kanji Audience Emphasis Writing Emphasis Spoken Emphasis Audio Workbook Reputation ISBN AIJ 4 1998 Unk Unk Unk High School Parallel Technical Yes Yes Unknown 088727420X ColJ 1 2003 15 312 200+ Self-study Integrated Conversational Yes No Average 0415194784 CJ 2 2005 26 496 100+ College Kanji+rubi Technical Yes No Average 080483377X EJ 2 2005 27 835 200+ College Kanji+rubi Technical Yes No Good 0804835047 Genki 2 1999 33 697 303+ College Kanji Technical Yes Yes Great 4789009637 IGtCJ 1 2002 25 432 0 Self-study Hepburn Unk Yes No Poor 0028641795 Ima 2 2004 Unk Unk Unk Unk Unk Unk Yes Yes Unknown 1876209151 ItMJ B&L 1 2002 52 481 1100+ College Kanji Conversational No Yes Great 052154887X ItMJ M&M 1 1977 30 425 Unk Classroom Seperate Conversational Yes No Average 4789000583 JfBP 3 1996 UNK 796 200+ Self Kana or Hepburn Business Yes Yes Average Roumaji ED 4770018827
Kana ED 4770019874
JfD 1 2002 20 408 None Self-Study Hepburn Conversational Yes No Poor 0764554298 JfE 1 Unk Unk 384 Unk Self-Study Parallel Conversational No No Great 0870408534
JfYP 3 1998 45 602 160 Junior-high Kanji+Rubi Conversational Yes Yes Average 477002178X
- Intermediate, Intermediate-Advanced
Title Books © Chapters Pages Kanji Audience Emphasis Writing Emphasis Spoken Emphasis Audio Workbook Reputation
Title Books © Chapters Pages Kanji Audience Emphasis Writing Emphasis Spoken Emphasis Audio Workbook Reputation AJ 1 1998 10 211 Many College Kanji Technical Yes Yes Good JLT 1 1987 12 161 JLPT 3 Self-study Kanji+rubi Conversational None No Good