Are you planning on visiting Japan shortly and thinking of what to do to prepare for the trip? Well, the best thing to do at this moment is to learn how to speak the Japanese language.
Becoming familiar with and understanding the Japanese language has never been easier, nowadays, thanks to the wide selection of manga, anime, and other cool Japanese stuff. However, to learn Japanese, you will need the help of the good, old textbook. Now, if you imagine a thick, dull, and boring book, you are wrong. There are plenty of books that will help you learn about the Japanese language in an exciting and fun way.
Also, textbooks will also help you learn to speak proper Japanese, with appropriate grammar, vocabulary, and other forms of speech, and not just some slang expressions you will get from pop culture.
Choosing the best book
Faced with many choices, one might have a hard time deciding what book he or she should get.
To help you make the right choice, here are some of the factors you will consider to pick the right book.
Your skill level
If you can understand and speak Japanese, then beginners’ book will not work for you. You might probably need something that’s a notch higher than the basic. If you have visited Japan or even stayed in the country for quite some time, and you only need a little brush-up, then you might choose one that caters to advanced learners. However, if you are just taken an interest in the language, then you might start with the primary level books.
Your immediate need to learn
Let’s say that you are a chosen to participate in an exchange student program or you are already a professional assigned to work in Japan and is leaving for the country in a matter of months; then, you have the urgent need to learn how to speak Japanese. If that is the case, you will need a book that will help you learn fast.
How deep and thorough you should study the language will also depend on how you are planning to use it in the future. If you are planning to stay in Japan for quite a long time, well, you will need a book that will not only teach you about the common expressions but will also teach you about writing and reading Japanese. If you are planning to establish a business in Japan or work with Japanese people in business, then pick a book that will teach you about business Japanese.
Your learning style
Do you learn faster by listening or by hearing? Pick an audiobook or a book that has an accompanying audio material. Do you understand better through illustration? Then, you will have to grab something that has more pictures than text. Find out first your learning preferences, so you will be able to pick the one that best suits your needs and style as a learner.
Well, you need to pay for books, and some of them come at a high cost. One of the crucial things to consider is how much you are willing to shell out for reference and study materials. Some books come in a series. Some also come in a set or package that is complete with audio materials and other stuff. They will be more thorough in teaching you about the Japanese language, but you will need to invest more in these kinds of books. There are also some stand-alone books that are more affordable than the ones previously mentioned, but they may be more straightforward and not as thorough as the others.
The best books to learn the Japanese language
The list of suggested books will fall into four categories—textbooks, grammar books, vocabulary books, and dictionaries. From this list, pick out the one that best suits you based on the factors that were previously mentioned.
If you are attending a Japanese language course, most of them will require the use of textbooks. These types of books are great learning resources as they are most likely to be complete with dialogues, vocabulary lists, grammar discussions, exercises, and Kanji practice.
They also consider the level of learning that each user will require. Each book is identified whether it caters to beginners, intermediate, or advanced learners.
Probably, one of the most popular series of Japanese textbooks, Genki books are sure to encourage fun learning of the language as they contain illustrations and stories throughout the books. The books cover many situations so students can easily relate and apply each lesson in real life. As they are designed to be used inside the classrooms, there are group discussions integrated into the lessons. It might not help if you are just an independent learner, by the way.
2. Japanese from Zero
Another popular series of books, though relatively new, is the Japanese from Zero. As the books just recently entered the market, expect to see fresh and up-to-date contents. These books are great for beginners, as discussion are a bit slower as compared to the other textbooks. Also, if you are already familiar with some primary Japanese characters, you might want to consider using other textbooks. The first parts of the books use a mix of hiragana characters with some romaji, or English letters. Katakana and Kanji are also used but in the latter parts of the series.
3. Mina No Nihongo
If you are serious about learning the Japanese language, then you might want to consider Mina no Nihongo series. Though the book is written in Japanese, you can also get a companion book that comes in 14 different languages, including English, complete with notes and translation. Though it might sound complicated at first, having to try to read the lesson in Japanese will let you learn faster. If you are for a bit of a challenge, then go and choose this book. Have a little extra money? You might also want to get that companion book just in case you will need a translation or for validation if you're going to check whether you understand the text correctly.
4. Japanese for Busy People
Suitable for self-study, Japanese for Busy People is aimed at professionals since the majority of its vocabulary is related to office and business situations. It also comes with an audio material—a CD—that you can also use if you are more of an auditory learner. There is also an answer key at the back of the book, so you can see for yourself how well you did with the quizzes.
5. Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese
Getting this book, Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese is like having two-books-in-one. Though it is a textbook, it also contains grammar explanations just like what you can expect to see in a grammar book. There are plenty of example sentences in this book, and though the explanations may be brief and short, it breaks down the rules, so you get to learn more.
6. Japanese for Everyone
If you find Genki a little pricey, here is a more affordable alternative. The book, ‘Japanese for Everyone’ covers as much as the first two books of Genki combined, though the grammar explanations are quite minimal. However, discussions are centered around real-life situations and natural Japanese expressions. The book also contains grammar points and levels of details which are not found in other books or reference materials. It is also important to remember that this book does not use much kanji but more of kana mixed with a little kanji.
7. Japanese: The Spoken Language
If you are into in-depth grammar explanations, this book is for you. This series of books is actually, pronunciation-based to help the students gain a better foundation when it comes to speaking Japanese. The book also comes with a companion audio material which contents are supposed to be memorized before diving into what the book gets to say about it. On the other hand, some students may find the detailed grammar explanations too complicated.
8. Adventures in Japanese
If you are in an immediate need to learn the basics of the Japanese language, this book will help you achieve that. Intended for young learners from the junior high and high school, the book contains a lesson review at the end of each chapter and grammar exercises to test how well you understood the lesson. It also has a checklist of things that you need to study before you can proceed to the next lessons. This is a good way to check someone’s progress, and it is, perhaps, the best selling point of this book series.
If you want to gain a deeper understanding of the Japanese language, you may want to get a grammar book instead. A Japanese grammar book has two types—one that can be used as a reference book, and the other one teaches grammar through exercises.
9. Practice Makes Perfect
This grammar book is more practice-based. This approach helps students, especially those at the beginner’s stage, learn the practical application of each lesson. Easy to understand, the exercises provided in this book covers phonetics and other areas of language learning.
10. A Guide to Japanese Grammar
Containing examples and new vocabularies frequently used by the Japanese themselves, the book, A Guide to Japanese Grammar, is a useful reference that is recommended for students who learn quickly through a systematic and thorough approach. The book covers detailed and comprehensive lessons on grammar, writing, phonetics, and a lot more.
11. Japanese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar
At 160 pages, the book, ‘Japanese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar, is short. However, the size of this book does not matter as it contains a lesson on all major grammatical concepts—perfect as a reference book. It also has a bonus material that is available online.
A vocabulary book is different from a dictionary as the former is designed to help the student understand how to write, speak, and spell Japanese vocabulary. The following Japanese vocabulary books will help a student become more fluent with the language.
12. The Handbook of Japanese Verbs
Focusing on the verbs and their usage, the Handbook of Japanese Verbs contains lessons and exercises on the proper use of verbs—how they work and how they conjugate. It is perfect for beginners and even for those students in the intermediate level who wants to focus on lessons on verbs.
13. Modern Japanese Vocabulary: A Guide for 21st Century Students
This particular book on the Japanese language is perfect for students who want to build and enrich their vocabularies. Terms used in the book are organized into topics covering a variety of subjects such as law, culture, history, and others. Intended for beginners and intermediate-level students, the book also features Kanji and Kana with fonts which are easy to read.
From time to time, you may need to arm yourself with a handy and reliable dictionary so as not to ‘get lost’ at words. Here are some excellent choices of Japanese dictionaries, which will help you when you find yourself grasping for a Japanese word.
14. Random House Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary
With two sections for Japanese to English words and English to Japanese words, this dictionary contains more than a thousand entries that are very useful for beginners and intermediate students. You get your money’s worth as the number of entries it provides makes it ideal for long-term use.
15. Kodansha’s Furigana Dictionary
Just like the previous dictionary, Kodansha’s Furigana Dictionary also has two sections—Japanese-English and English-Japanese. However, the Japanese-English section is written in Japanese Kana. Compact and portable, this dictionary also includes furigana to help its reader pronounce the words correctly.
With plenty of choices, learning the Japanese language is easy, especially when combined with passion and determination. Always remember that your willingness to learn is the key in learning, not just the Japanese language, but everything you set your heart into. Without that, no matter how good your books are, you will never achieve what you desire.
Checkout out our selection of Japanese textbooks here: