Difficulty: ☠ – ☠ ☠ ☠ ☠ ☠
Rating: ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫
I have been with Japanesepod101.com for about 2-3 years now and have had basic and premium membership both. I am going to state my one qualm with the site up front so we can get it over with…. you are going to get a TON of e-mails from these guys and they will seem very spammy… but if you can get passed that it’s worth it!
Japanesepod101 has been going for quite a few years now and as such it has a TON of videos and podcasts for various levels of Japanese proficiency. I mean a TON! I have been here 3 years and I’m still not done! (though I have relistened to a ton as well… If you are unsure about joining, I suggest checking out their channel on youtube which they have been getting a lot better at keeping updated as of late. My favourite lessons are still the original ones with Peter and his team as I really found the three of them had the most natural chemistry, but their new host Risa is also equally enjoyable to listen to.
They have a variety of lessons, from grammar, to writing, to Japanese culture, and my favourite part is that they tend to have fun with it. There are times when acting seems forced or such, but there is rarely a time when you can’t tell the actors are enjoyably bouncing off of each other!
Their top level membership will let you have access to a teacher who will give you weekly assignments, and while that in itself is a fairly nice concept, I would appreciate it if it was more a tutor relationship where you felt more open to discuss issues and questions vs simply “Do the assignment. Okay here’s what was wrong” Because of this I can’t QUITE suggest the premium plus membership unless you have the time or desire to do more assignments, but anything below that is more than worth the annual fee!
Tuttle Concise Japanese Dictionary
Difficulty: ☠ ☠
Rating: ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫
It is very easy to find yourself asking “In this day of internet and smart phone apps… Would I really need a dictionary around?” Let me answer that one for you… You need a dictionary around! 9 times out of 10 you may get away with using the apps, but that 10th time you find yourself scrambling for a word, you find yourself being very thankful for having this one on your shelf.
Reasons I like the Tuttle one? It’s concise…. (it’s in the name!) It’s organized by the English alphabet in both cases, and it has almost always had the word I was looking for! Good enough for me! Good enough for you! Enjoy!
Spark Charts Japanese Vocabulary
Rating: ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫
This is a chart I always keep close by! The Sparkcharts chart is a binder sized insert which contains a number of cheat notes useful to the beginning Japanese learner. From pronunciation, to numbers, to dates and times, weather, greetings, colours, directions, body parts, relationships, clothing, health, adjectives, adverbs, and more, this chart is chock full of useful vocab that is incredibly easy to forget. My personal favourite is the “Verb” section which I do wish was about twice the size that it is. I cannot tell you how many times I have paused a conversation with someone to quickly and subtly flip through this insert. It has saved my butt countless times, and I hope it will for you as well!
Japanese the Manga Way (Wayne P Lammers)
Difficulty: ☠ ☠
Rating: ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫
This is one of my most recent textbooks I have gotten my hands on and it… is… brilliant! Let’s admit it, a good 80-90% of people who will be reading a post like this probably have SOME ties at least to manga and anime. IT IS TIME TO CHANNEL YOUR INNER NERDOM…. TO HELP YOUR BIGGER INNER NERDOM!!!
As for what I like about this book. The concept is actually incredibly simple… It simply will explain one example, then show a scene from some famous manga using said example. It will write out the scene in kanji, kana, romaji, direct translation, and complete translation, then it will explain what was said and why. It then takes the things you’ve learned from that lesson and build on that for the next lesson.
Ultimately it is simple. Each chapter has multiple examples which are each about half a page long, yet because it is so broken up and instantly tied to an example, it is by far one of the easiest textbooks to follow.
The book starts you from zero and works it’s way up, however I would suggest at least getting the basics of Japanese sentences down before taking this book on. A) it will make the textbook more enjoyable to you and B) this book focuses a lot more on casual sentences than polite sentences. It does explain this fact and does a very good job tracking with what politeness level is being used in what sentences, but I do still feel you would get a lot more out of it once you have some basics of Japanese culture and sentence structure down. Plus it will be more fun!
The JLPT N5-N1 Study Guides
Difficulty: ☠ ☠ – ☠ ☠ ☠ ☠ ☠
Rating: ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫
This one is sort of cheating as it’s not really a textbook as much as a study guide for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) But honestly… if you are taking studying Japanese seriously, I HIGHLY recommend looking at these sooner or later. You won’t really be taught anything by them, but it’s useful to keep them nearby as a metric for how far you are progressing in your studies! Currently my end goal is N3-N2…. though I’m probably closer to N5.
PS: Just make sure to remember N5 is the EASIEST test and N1 is the HARDEST test… REMEMBER THIS! Lest you face the trauma of feeling your 2 years studying was completely wasted as you don’t even understand the questions on the easiest test let alone the answers! (somewhat experienced)
Remembering the Kanji
Difficulty: ☠ ☠
Rating: ✫ ✫ ✫
Okay, you see this one on every post regarding learning Japanese, so of course I had to include it here too!
Remembering the Kanji is a book about (wait for it) Remembering the Kanji! Funny that eh? Well there are over 10 000 kanji out there and over 2000 you need to know for basic reading so if your memory is only good for remembering every embarrassing thing you said in grade school like mine is, you can use all the help you can get!
I’ll start off with what I like about this book. It claims to help you remember the kanji and it does a pretty good job at it. The concept is fairly simple. It shows you how Kanji isn’t just a bunch of random characters (at least most times) but actually has a lot of repeating patterns called radicals. By understanding the radicals you can start to follow the logic that came in making kanji to begin with. The easiest example. 口 (kuchi) means mouth or opening. Therefore when you see it in other kanji later on it is often tied to being an opening. My personal favourite of course is that if 日 means sun and 月 (Tsuki) means moon, then 明日 (ashita) will mean “Tomorrow” because if the sun comes up, then the moon, then the sun again it’s tomorrow!
As you can see, when it lines up like that, it’s pretty helpful. Though occasionally it can seem more like a reaaaaal stretch.
As for why this book has such a low rating? Well I guess it all boils down to what you want to get out of your Japanese studies. If you just want to know how to react to certain signs, stay out of trouble, and that kind of stuff, this book will work great for you, as you’ll instantly know the English word that corresponds with the Japanese kanji. But that strength also has the weakness that you will ONLY know the English word that corresponds with the Japanese kanji.
For those who are just starting, let’s give a basic explanation here. Japanese has three writing systems. Hiragana used mostly for particles, conjugations, and some Japanese words, Katakana used for foreign words or emphasis, and kanji used for most base words. While Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic based (you know what sound they make by looking at them) kanji has multiple readings. Therefore if you just know the definition of the kanji you won’t know how to say it.
AKA You won’t know how to write it on a computer or say the word to someone else which makes it pretty unhelpful for your vocab. But! If you are okay with that, this book does a good job at what it does!
A Guide to Japanese Grammar (Tae Kim)
Difficulty ☠ ☠ ☠
Rating ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫
Every now and then I get a nice, cheap text book on my kindle that makes me feel “This should have cost me a lot more than it did. And this book is DEFINITELY one of them!
I will warn you up front lest the skulls and crossbones above not perform their job… this book will NOT hold your hand going through it… in fact the author makes certain to point out that this book won’t, because he considers holding your hand to be problematic to your learning.
What does this mean exactly? Well for starters you’ll be learning the kanji from page 1… yep! We dive in full force here! He does take the time to explain the Japanese writing system and such so it is not too extreme a dive, but it is still a bit daunting compared to other books I have read. But I won’t lie… it works.. I am a slow learner, but there are definitely some kanji I recognize now right away such as 食べる (taberu/to eat) which in my opinion is the most important verb you can know! 😉
Why does this work? I think a large reason for this, is that the author takes the extra effort to write out every word that will be used in the chapter at the beginning of the chapter. This means that when you do get stuck on a word (in my case at least once a sentence) you can easily flip back and check to see what it was. This does make me wish I bought the physical copy instead of the kindle version but…. if I did that there was no way I could afford all the books in this review 😛
Other than that, it is basically a book describing why Japanese grammar works the way it does. If you have worked in languages before it is very interesting learning the history and logic behind Japanese grammar and I found it very useful, however I would only suggest this book once you have a good grasp of the very basics of Japanese. Otherwise it is very easy to get cold feet and run