Kakehashi Japan

Kakehashi Japan

Difficulty:  ☠

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

This one is a tricky one to give on accurate rating on as it’s not so much a learning site as much as a resource tutors can use to teach other people.

The concept is simple: Tutors in Japan set what times they have available to teach students Japanese, and people wanting to learn Japanese book those time slots for themselves. Then when the allotted time comes, you both do a lesson over skype video chat, and your payment for the lesson gets transferred over the site.

I will confess I have only done the one free lesson that comes with the account, but it was a VERY pleasant experience that I wish was more in my budget zone! Lessons are about $26 per lesson, so the price adds up quickly!

The site itself lets you see the tutors’ profiles, schedule, focuses, as well as reviews from past students. This lets you get a good idea if you both would be a good match or not, and I can say (at least in my case) I had a very friendly tutor!

Japanesepod101

Japanesepod101

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

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

Spark Charts Japanese Vocabulary

Difficulty:

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!

BBC Japanese Phrase Book and Dictionary

BBC Japanese Phrase Book and Dictionary

Difficulty:

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

This is just a useful book to carry around with you. It’s a collection of common questions and answers, phrases, etc organized neatly in a pocket sized book. There are many times I find myself turning to it to remember how a verb is conjugated in a certain sentence or which partical you use, and I must say it was worth the price!

The JLPT N5-N1 Study Guides

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

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!