The Japanese language is vibrant and colorful. A lot of people are interested in learning it by heart because of anime, manga, or because of their desire to learn and dig deeper into the beautiful culture of the Land of the Morning Sun.
Well, there are reference materials that can help facilitate mastery of the Japanese language. In fact, there are two equally good series of Japanese textbook that one person may use to study the intricacies of the Japanese. Well-written and famous among language students, the Genki textbook and the Minna No Nihongo textbook series are two of the most widely recommended reference books.
In this article, we will compare the two-book series to help Japanese language students decide which book fits their personality and their learning styles.
The Genki Series
Genki is a two-volume Japanese textbook first published by The Japan Times in 1999 and was later revised and updated in 2011.
It uses a sensible approach to four language skills, namely speaking, listening, writing, and reading, to help learners fully understand Japanese. These textbooks are widely used in Japanese university classes in North America.
There are two books in the series containing 23 lessons that cover a wide range of elementary grammar points; around 300 kanji and 1,100 vocabulary terms.
Other than the textbooks, the Genki series also has audio CDs and workbooks, and a teacher’s manual, picture cards, and PDF files illustrating various essential vocabulary words.
Culture Notes were added when the Genki books released a second edition giving students with a broader understanding and appreciation of the Japanese culture.
The old 6-CD set has also been converted into MP3 files stored on a single CD.
The Minna No Nihongo
The Minna no Nihongo series was first published in 1998 has been one of the bestselling Japanese textbook series.
Intended to be used by a general adult learner, the books will help learners to deal with the people around them through conversations that involve some negotiation and problem-solving. A learner who was able to complete the first book is estimated to be at the N5 level of the JLPT while those who completed the second book are already at the N4 level.
The series also comes with teaching aids, which also aims to facilitate active learning and supplementary books containing a selection of exercises and tests that confirm, consolidate, and reinforces students’ learning. These additional materials may also be used as reviewers.
Aiming to develop the conversational ability of the learners through easy to difficult sentences patterns and simple to complicated and abstract situations, the Minna no Nihongo has adopted the Shin Nihongo no Kiso method of teaching the Japanese language—short-term but intensive study, easy to understand language presentations, and practical conversational settings. This is to enable the student to learn conversational Japanese with ease, in the shortest time possible.
While the Shin Nihongo no Kiso is meant for technical trainees and engineers, the Minna no Nihongo is intended for beginners and general learners who need to learn how to navigate through typical situations, when in Japan.
The Minna No Nihongo series also comes with two sets of CDs where the student will find recorded vocabulary, sentence patterns, example sentences, drill, and dialogues.
There are two books in the series—the first book, the Minna no Nihongo Shokyu, is for the lower beginner while the second book, the Minna no Nihongo Chukyu, is for the upper beginners.
Each book contains 25 chapters composed of sentence patterns arranged according to the level of comprehension difficulty. It is done so with the aim of students consistently and gradually building up their knowledge and ability. Furthermore, the conversational settings in the book have been carefully selected to consider the situations where foreigners usually find themselves in or encounter.
Each chapter of the first book has 14 pages with five pages containing grammar exercises; four pages for talking and listening; three pages for reading and writing; and two pages for the questions.
There are also sample sentences, dialogues, and review questions in each chapter, while the illustrated sheets and videos help students advance their studies.
The second book contains various types of reading materials, such as newspaper articles, essays, novels, letters, and understand the intention, writing style, and distinctive use of the language of the author.
Conversations are taken into the next level. Students are taught how to praise and console; as well as show empathy and express his or her opinions in different situations.
Grammar lessons and exercises cover every point needed to be fluent at the intermediate level, in addition to items and sample sentences, enabling the student to proceed to an advanced level.
Students who are able to complete the series are recommended to move on to Minna no Nihongo Chukyu Honsatsu I to further advance to the lower intermediate level of Japanese language mastery.
Meanwhile, the lessons in the Genki series is arranged using the order of the following structure—Dialogue, Vocabulary, Grammar Explanations, and Practice with Expression Notes, Culture Notes, and Useful Expressions inserted in the central parts.
The Dialogue section starts with three or more dialogues in Japanese, followed by its translated version in English.
After the Dialogue part comes the Vocabulary section, which is divided into nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and other expressions.
The next is the Grammar section, which is deemed as Genki’s strongest point. The chapter includes an English commentary that students are supposed to read before each lesson.
The Practice section, on the other hand, checks what on have been learned and understood from the previous parts, which may include the following activities; filling in the missing information; dialogue-reading with a partner; answering questions; role-playing; singing songs; combining elements of a speech and grammar points; and translating and conjugating the word or sentence, among others.
There are illustrations integrated into the practice exercises for visual learners. Some lessons have corresponding audio files on the companion CD for the auditory learners. With Genki, students are not only able to hear how words are uttered; they are also given a chance to listen and repeat.
Self-learners may also check whether their answers to the practice exercises are correct by using the Answer Book, which is sold separately.
There are three breakout boxes which are not mentioned in the Table of Contents. These are the Expression Notes which are inserted in the lesson to provide clarification or for additional information to support the teaching; the Culture Notes that includes related information about the Japanese culture; and the Useful Expressions which include lists of vocabulary and set phrases used in daily life.
Every Conversation and Grammar portion has a corresponding Reading and Writing section. The first two lessons are kana—hiragana and katakana, while the rest of the lessons are all kanji.
The Supplemental Materials
The Genki series has a workbook containing several other practice exercises to reinforce and strengthen have been learned from the textbook, with practice exercises entirely different from that of the book.
A companion CD is now comes bundled with the purchase of the textbook. The Genki audio files are definitely of good quality and perfectly complement those lessons in the books.
On the other hand, the Minna No Nihonggo comes with companion materials such as the teaching aids and supplementary books.
Teaching Aids were developed to help teacher effectively teach the Japanese language using the Minna no Nihongo Shokyu. It shows how to handle sentence patterns, review sections, and conversations, and also provides detailed grammar explanations. Moreover, it helps the teacher prepare their lessons, confirm the meanings of grammatical items, and recommends various devices for classroom teaching.
The Supplementary books, on the other hand, contain collections of exercises and tests that aim to confirm, consolidate, and reinforce what the student has learned in each chapter of the primary texts. Aside from checking comprehension, the workbooks may also be used as review texts.
With more than 400 kanji from the books, the workbook aims to assist the student in understanding the structure of kanji.
Furthermore, students are encouraged to select and recognize sentence patterns, grammatical structures, and words through various types of questions and short writing exercises.
Structured to develop a learner’s reading skills gradually, the reading comprehension workbooks are ideal to be used by students who want to work on their Japanese language reading ability, beginning with a simple, one-sentence reading exercise in the Warm-up section and moving on to more difficult passages and tasks in the Main Text section.
The basic writing workbook comes with a word list in English, Chinese, and Korean. This workbook is designed to help students write coherently in basic Japanese. Divided into two parts, it has a section called the Basic Practice, with vocabulary and sentence patterns found in the two primary texts while the second part is called the Practical Application which involves, well, practical application of the lessons from the books.
Lastly, the sentence practice workbooks contain sets of detachable illustrated cards that may be used to introduce and practice the sentence patterns found in the two primary texts.
Meticulously and thoughtfully presented, the hype about the Genki textbooks is among the best ones in the market perfect for those who are just in the primary stage of learning the Japanese language. A little bit pricey but definitely worthy. The learnings from these books will be there with you for your entire lifetime. Remember that having the right materials for learning Japanese is crucial. The right ones will motivate you to learn while the wrong ones will not teach you the right way, and you will only end up disappointed with yourself.
On the other hand, the Minna no Nihongo books require that the students should have at least a basic working knowledge of hiragana and katakana. It might be a bit of a challenge for some, but it is what sets this series apart from the other books which are primarily written in romaji, or English letters. The Minna no Nihongo is written entirely in Japanese, and one must refer to the translation text for the pronunciation. It is recommended to have a hiragana and katakana syllabaries handy, for reference. Nevertheless, the Minna No Nihonggo series is still among the best choice for a textbook for those who are serious into learning the intricacies of the Japanese language.