A textbook for learning languages is a big investment and it takes some amount of thought. Once you've acquired some kanji knowledge, it's time for you to pick up a textbook and start learning the framework in which you can use all the Japanese you've learned.
A good textbook will help you understand and grow confident in applying new learning. A bad textbook can leave you so unmotivated or confused that you risk giving up language learning altogether.
Choosing the most suitable textbook for learning Japanese may be a bit of a challenge, especially because there is no dearth of quality and certainly not of quantity!
Moreover, beyond textbooks, there is a world of reference books, dictionaries, and other learning resources that expand on your textbook's lessons. And you'll need those to reach intermediate levels and beyond.
Superprof has compiled a list of the best Japanese textbooks to help you resolve the dilemma. Start your Japanese learning journey here. The list is compiled assuming that all textbooks include:
- Dialogues with target vocabulary and/or grammar
- Vocabulary lists
- Grammar explanations
- Kanji practice
The 'Japanese Manual': Your First Japanese Course
The Japanese manual is like a private Japanese tutor whom you can constantly refer to for answering all your language queries. This manual is composed of:
- The first volume of about 500 pages
- The second volume
- The handbook of Japanese exercises, that goes hand in hand with the two volumes
This manual is the Bible when it comes to learning Japanese. Whether you are a total beginner in learning Japanese or much more experienced, this manual is an inexhaustible source of learning.
The author, Kunio Kuwae, adds a great practice handbook full of Japanese exercises, which, unlike the manual, is focused on exchanging with an interlocutor. This allows you to practice the spoken language in order to improve your conversational Japanese.
Benefits of the Manual
- You will be able to practice your grammar and your vocabulary thanks to an English and English-Japanese glossary, lessons, and corrected exercises. You can test your translation skills thanks to the proposed lexicon (have a look at the best English-Japanese translation tools here). The second volume is a good complement to the first. It is mostly focused on reading and writing in the language.
- The idea is to give a student the keys to starting their Japanese language learning voyage.
- There are also some corrected exercises to have a look at.
- The sections on kanji will facilitate your learning and rapid progression in the language. The accompanying CD has 7:30 of Japanese recordings that will help you progress with your pronunciation (interactive Japanese courses).
- In terms of pricing, each of the two volumes is expensive individually.
- For the whole package, expect to spend a little less than INR 10,000/-
Many people who have learned Japanese using these manuals point out that despite the fairly high price, the book is of exceptional quality and will allow you to make great strides in learning the Japanese language. This is important for all beginners because Japanese writing is very complex for English speakers.
Minna No Nihongo
This one may be a challenge for beginners. Minna no Nihongo is entirely in Japanese. You need a separate "translation book" in English to study properly.
Studying with the main, all-Japanese textbook lets you apply yourselves that much more. You can always check the translation book for grammar explanations when you get stuck.
- Covers more ground than other textbooks
- All Japanese text means lots of reading practice
- Intense, in-depth grammar explanations
- Requires a second "translation book" to use the main textbook
- Fairly expensive
Minna no Nihongo covers a lot of material and uses complex terms to teach grammar points, even taking pains to explain pitch accents with new grammar you learn. This is a big advantage for those using this textbook in Japanese because the pitch accent should be learned early but few textbooks cover it.
For the more academic aspirants who want to learn as much as possible, this is a great option for you because you can take your time and soak in the knowledge. If you hit a roadblock, a private Japanese tutor or language partner would work well with this textbook.
Read and Write Japanese Hiragana and Katakana with Workbooks and Practice Sheets
Learning the Japanese alphabet is the first step to learning the language. There are two phonetic alphabets in the Japanese language: Hiragana and Katakana.
With these highly-evaluated workbooks and practice sheets, add a valuable tool to studying each Kanji character, learning how to pronounce Hiragana and Katakana like a native speaker, and the proper method and order to write words in Japanese.
Use the practice sheets and spaces in the texts provided to build your writing skills.
The worksheets and study book are ideal for self-study and for beginners in the study of languages. The book also comes with audio files for more nuanced learning of the language.
Learning the Basics: Japanese for Busy People
For those struggling to include Japanese learning courses or Japanese classes into their hectic schedules, Japanese for Busy People is a series of beginner-friendly books that cover grammar and sentence structure, vocabulary, and practical conversation practice in a balanced, friendly manner.
The books are available in two versions: romaji (the Romanized Japanese alphabet) and kana (Hiragana and Katakana, two phonetic alphabets), so readers can choose the one they are most comfortable with.
The texts are structured into different units based on practical themes and professional settings. The textbooks are designed for professionals. However, high school or college students can also benefit greatly from studying it.
The book is a complete self-study package including an audio CD as well as an answer key to the practice questions, making this the ideal book for self-study. Students can not only study to know the various aspects of Japanese grammar and vocabulary but also practice how to speak in Japanese every day.
Dedicate Yourself to Learning Japanese with GENKI
If you are looking for an easy beginner's guide to supplement your Japanese learning classes, then GENKI: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese I is made just for you.
The book is a comprehensive guide that uses simple methods to make learning a friendly experience. The book contains entertaining stories and illustrations throughout while providing materials on grammar, vocabulary, and conversation suitable even for those studying alone.
GENKI is a well-known and highly-regarded series of textbooks among students and teachers, but also suitable for solo learners with dedication.
It covers around level N5 for those planning on taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Make sure you can read and understand Hiragana and Katakana before starting.
Once you finish with the first book, there are workbooks and two other GENKI beginner and intermediate level textbooks for you to continue your learning. The answer key for the practice problem scenarios is sold separately.
Prerequisites for Learning Japanese
Above all, it will be necessary to define your priorities and your learning objectives when it comes to learning Japanese. If the idea is to go sightseeing, spend a few yen in Kyoto or in the capital, your learning method is going to be different when compared to someone looking to work or study in Japan.
You can figure out what method would be best via questions such as:
- What basic level do I have in Japanese (beginner, intermediate, advanced)?
- How much time can I devote to learning?
- How often am I willing to invest in Japanese lessons?
- What is my ultimate learning goal?
These questions can help you find which book to guide you to:
- For a beginner or intermediate, and for someone who is not necessarily in a hurry, your best bet is going to be the two Japanese Manuals as well as the Japanese Exercise Handbook, to complete the oral part of the learning.
- For someone wanting to learn expressions in order to communicate before going on a trip to the country of Mount Fuji, we recommend complementing your textbook grammar with learning Japanese through smartphone apps.
- Finally, for someone who wants to be fluent in the language, follow a two-pronged learning approach. Lay a basic foundation with Japanese textbooks. Practice how to read and speak Japanese by watching Japanese movies or video tutorials on languages.
Whatever be your motivations for learning Japanese - as a complete beginner to learning Japanese or you aspire to settle down in Japan and so, want to take the JLPT this year, it’s finding the right textbook for you is absolutely crucial