Do I need a textbook to study Japanese?

Do I need a textbook to study JP(3)

This is a question that comes up quite a lot. Most people are told that in order to study Japanese they should make their way through Genki textbooks 1 and 2, and then focus on immersion and vocabulary building. There is of course nothing wrong with this method (it is tried and tested after all).

Unfortunately, Genki books are not cheap at around £40 for the textbook (not to mention the costs of the workbooks) and so are not an option for people studying on their own with little money to spare. On the other hand, the internet is a rich source of Japanese learning resources, so I thought I would introduce some websites to help those looking to study Japanese without the use of a textbook. When I think back to the Japanese language classes I have attended, textbooks were never used so I definitely think it is possible to self-study without using a textbook.

Having said that, I believe textbooks are useful because they provide a methodical framework in which to work your way through learning the basics of a language. Online resources do not always provide this same framework to follow (fortunately most of the ones I mention do), in which case I recommend looking at grammar lists for JLPT N5 to give yourself an idea of which aspects of the language to focus on learning first, even if your intention is not to take the JLPT. If you are new to Japanese your focus should be on essential words and phrases, sentence structure and how particles work.

Here is a list of various resources that I think could either be worked through like a regular textbook, or could be used as supplementary material to a textbook or class that you may already be making use of:

 

Websites

Tae Kim – Probably the most well known on the list, Tae Kim’s website offers a comprehensive which tries to take a different approach to a lot of textbooks. It is being updated all the time

Imabi – This is a great place to start if Tae Kim isn’t for you. This online grammar guide starts from the beginning of learning Japanese right up to advanced level and each level is split into a number of lessons, enabling you to work your way through the website just like a textbook. Best of all this is entirely free – needless to say, this is a must visit resource!

Erin’s Challenge – if you’re a visual learner you may find supplementing your study with this website useful. Erin’s challenge is a website put together by the Japan Foundation with a series of videos featuring Erin, who becomes a school exchange student in Japan. Each short video covers a different topic as she gets used to her new life in Japan, which also comes with explanations of key grammar points and phrases used which you can then test yourself on.

Marugoto – The Japan Foundation website has a number of free online courses aimed at those self-studying Japanese called Marugoto. If you aim is to build practical communication skills in Japanese then I recommend the ‘Katsudoo’ course, but if you want to study Japanese in more depth then choose the ‘Katsudoo & Rikai’ course.

 

Apps

Human Japanese – Whilst not free in its entirety, the ‘lite’ version of this app is free and gives a pretty good indication of the app’s approach to learning Japanese. I’ve written a separate post on this app as I think it is worth the cost of entry for complete beginners to Japanese.

Lingodeer – this (free!) app is more like Duolingo than Human Japanese in that you follow a series of lessons covering different aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Having said that, it covers topics in a way that makes it very accessible for Japanese learners – you can then follow up the lessons with some of the sites below to reinforce your understanding of the content. It also does a pretty good job of testing you on the content of the lessons in different ways, which is really important when self-studying.

 

Grammar Reference sites

It’s always good to have somewhere else to check out grammar explanations if they are not making sense straight away. Here’s a list of places you might find useful:

Jgram – I think of Jgram as a database of Japanese grammar points which the community contributes to. You can search for grammar points by the (old) JLPT levels or use the search function to look up something specific. Each entry has notes and example sentences which is helpful for getting a new perspective on a grammar point.

Maggie Sensei – Everything on the website is presented in a really fun and easy to digest way. As well as explanations of grammar points, you will also find posts on aspects of Japanese culture. I also like that vocabulary is listed by theme rather than difficulty.

Wasabi – Wasabi’s online grammar reference is similar to Tae Kim in layout and style. I think Wasabi’s guide is particularly good for learning to distinguish between grammar points which have similar English meanings.

Japanistry – The Japanistry grammar guide works quite similarly to the Tae Kim guide but is a great reference site for the foundations of Japanese grammar.

日本語の森 (Nihongo no Mori) – This YouTube channel has lots of videos on grammar points aimed at all levels of Japanese learners. The playlist that I’ve linked to called ‘Ekubo Basic Japanese Lessons’ starts from the very beginning, but there are a number of playlists focused on different levels of the JLPT.

 

Worksheets and Quizzes

MLC Japanese – full of handy printable worksheets and quizzes. There is a lot of content for JLPT N5 & N4 in particular, but you can find study plans and JLPT material for the upper levels (old levels level 2 and level 1).

Memrise – has a number of electronic flashcard decks, including decks on the main textbooks including Genki, Tae Kim’s guide and at the JLPT

 

These are all the sites I am currently aware of, but I will add to this list as and when I come across other new resources!

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Podcast Recommendation: Bilingual NY Learn Japanese

The Bilingual NY Learn Japanese podcast (not to be confused with the Bilingual News Podcast!) is a regular podcast covering the latest news articles in Japanese. Inspired by the Bilingual News Podcast, the articles covered are given in Japanese, followed up with an explanation in English.

I believe the format has changed somewhat recently, but I am basing this review on the most recent format as described below which I think works well.

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The articles covered are usually from NHK News Web Easy, so if you make use of this website already, then this podcast is a nice companion resource. Each episode focuses on one article in depth. The article is first read out in full in Japanese, then English definitions are given before a line by line English translation by Ben, the presenter.

This is then followed up by a more difficult version of the same story, normally an article taken from one of the main newspapers. I think this is a great idea for showing the difference in style between the kinds of articles you find on NHK Easy as opposed to actual Japanese newspapers, as there is often a difference in formality which affects the vocabulary and grammar you come across.

At about 10-15 minutes each, the episode length is not as long as the other Bilingual News Podcast. However, given the structure of each podcast episode, I think this works quite well to study from in short bursts.

At the end of the podcast, there is a segment on English to Japanese translation practice. I didn’t really like this part as the sentences and vocabulary unrelated to the article itself. It was also pronounced by the presenter who is a non-native speaker, which some people may not like. This is a minor negative as it is only a couple of minutes long and of course, easily skippable.

Overall I do like this podcast for when I have less time to listen to the Bilingual News Podcast. There is a certain level of assumed knowledge in terms of vocabulary and grammar, so I would recommend this for upper beginner to intermediate learners. If the Bilingual News Podcast is a bit beyond your current level, I recommend giving this podcast a try instead.

You can find the episodes on Soundcloud, iTunes or on a podcasting app of your choice.

Looking for another Japanese podcast in simpler Japanese? I have also covered the wonderful News in Easy Japanese podcast which you may also be interested in 🙂

Have you tried out this podcast? Do you like it? Let me know in the comments!

Manga Recommendation: しばたベーカリー Shibata Bakery

Author: Rin Ukai

Genre: Slice of Life

No. of volumes: 5

Recommended for: JLPT N3

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This manga is about a father and son who have recently started up their own bakery shop. There’s one small difference, both father and son are Shiba Inu dogs!

32-year-old Taro Shibata quit the salaryman life to pursue his childhood dream of running his own bakery. His son Kotaro is just 4 years old but helps out a lot at the bakery. As with all new businesses, getting the word out about the business is not easy and the manga focuses on the pair doing their best to make the bakery a success. Taro soon finds himself taking on a bigger role in his local area as he has an uncanny resemblance to a 神 ‘kami’ calledしめなわ五郎 who is meant to bring prosperity.

This is a slice of life manga with a lot of the humour coming from the characters who visit the bakery, as well as the fact that the shop is run by a dog. It also has its heartwarming moments, particularly between Taro and Kotaro. Taro’s wife does also appear in the manga, but the circumstances in which she left are not immediately clear.

In terms of language, I would recommend this to JLPT N3 learners (people close to N3 might find it difficult although not impossible to read). I think that whilst most of the vocabulary is everyday language, the manga is more suited to those who have a solid foundation in grammar and are familiar with a bit of casual language.

There is also furigana provided for some words (eg. 偉い・えらい) but not for others (eg. 謙虚・けんきょ) which adds a bit of extra difficulty. I suggest trying the manga out through the link below to see how easy you find it.

Each chapter is pretty short which makes it a fun, light manga to read – this is highly recommended. The only downside is wanting to eat copious amounts of bread while reading this!

You can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website – at the time of writing, the whole of Volume 1 is available to read for free!

 

Image source: http://kc.kodansha.co.jp/product?isbn=9784063872507

Japanese Author Spotlight: Niimi Nankichi

As evidenced by how much I tend to write about reading resources on this blog, I love to read. Whilst I am getting better at reading in Japanese thanks to Tadoku, reading native materials can sometimes be a long and arduous process. So when I get frustrated with trickier books, I like to switch to easier stories. This is where Niimi Nankichi comes in.

Niimi Nankichi was one of the most prolific children’s writers during the 20th century and is often compared to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote his most famous work ごん狐 (ごんぎつね) when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at just age 29, but during his time as a primary school teacher, he penned a great many stories for his young students.

Fortunately, these stories are not only accessible for Japanese learners but are also available for free on Aozora Bunko. As with a lot of children’s literature, whilst the vocabulary used may be a bit dated or less common (such as names of plants and animals), the grammar used is straightforward. For this reason, I recommend reading these armed with a dictionary or a lookup tool like Rikaichan to make the whole process a bit quicker!

There are rather a lot of Nankichi’s stories at Aozora Bunko so I thought I would highlight a few stories here:

ごん狐/ ごんぎつね

Nankichi’s most popular story had to be on this list. This story is all about a mischevious little fox called Gon. Whilst it may not have the ending you would expect from a children’s story, it does have a very important message (much like the rest of Nankichi’s works). It is not the quickest read for Japanese beginners but is split into chapters which allow for a natural break between reading sessions.

There are also a number of videos on Youtube for the reading of this story, but the one below is my favourite (not too fast or slow and no distracting background music!)

狐のつかい /きつねのつかい

This is a much shorter story than ごん狐 which also happens to have a wolf as the main character. A wolf is entrusted with an important errand, but things do not quite go to plan. I’d say this is a fairly straightforward story – I would recommend it to JLPT N4 learners, but N5 learners may be able to give this a go if you’ve covered nearly all of the grammar.

ひとつの火/ ひとつのひ

In this story, the narrator discusses the impact of a simple favour he carries out for a cattle farmer. Like きつねのつかい, the language used in terms of grammar and vocab isn’t too difficult aside from a couple of phrases (eg. ~てゆく= ていく, ~てくれ = instead of ~てくれる).

二ひきの蛙/ にひきのかえる

This story is about 2 frogs who start off on the wrong foot – can they learn to settle their differences? This story is short and has a cute ending. In terms of grammar, I’d say this is more difficult than the above two stories. This is due to the dialogue between the two frogs being more casual in nature (eg. sentence ending ~だぞ; わすれるな as a more manly way of saying ‘don’t forget’ instead of わすれないで(ください)). Fortunately, the vocabulary used is straightforward – so overall, it is still accessible for N4 learners.

Have you read Nankichi’s stories before? Which stories would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

3 More Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

They say you can learn anything from YouTube, and Japanese is no different. I have done a post on this previously, but since then I’ve found three more channels you might find useful on your language level journey.

Good for beginners: Bond Japanese

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Bond Japanese is a very good resource for newbies to Japanese, I certainly wish it had been around when I was a beginner. The channel has lots of helpful bite size videos on learning hiragana as well as basic grammar, common phrases and greetings. The language videos are presented by Marina who speaks clearly and does a great job of covering basic grammar points.

I find that at times, the spoken conversations can be quite a step-up in difficulty from the grammar or vocabulary covered but all dialogues have the Japanese on screen together with the English translations. At the very least this means you get used to natural conversation sooner rather than later.

My favourite videos to watch are the ‘Stroll Around’ series which focuses on different places in the Tokyo area. Through this series, I’ve certainly discovered a few places I’d like to visit next time I am in Japan.

For intermediate learners: Chop

Chop is a bit of a strange one and is a fairly new channel, but I am oddly fascinated by it!

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This channel focuses on super short videos which introduce Japanese, perfect for those looking to build their vocabulary. Each video has a short skit which can be summed up in one Japanese sentence containing the new word at the very end, along with furigana and an English translation. These skits are funny and often a bit strange, but I think this is what helps the vocabulary to stick in your head.

Whilst the type of humour will not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you do find them funny then this could be an entertaining way of getting in a couple of minutes’ study when short on time. Each week there is a ‘Weekly Chop’ which is a compilation of the skits from that week (there tend to be 3-4 videos uploaded per week).

The accompanying website has a full vocabulary list for all of the words that appear in each skit.

For intermediate/advanced learners: Talk in Japan

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Talk in Japan has a large number of videos aimed at Japanese learners from JLPT N5 right through to N1. I would be hesitant to recommend the grammar/ vocabulary videos to those just starting out as all videos are entirely in Japanese with English subtitles which could feel a bit overwhelming.

Having said that, if you are working towards the JLPT (especially for N3 and above) then I can recommend their videos on each aspect of the test which is targeted towards each level. I like the grammar point videos as they are normally less than 5 minutes long, do a pretty good job of explaining usage and are accompanied by example sentences and a short dialogue at the very end. There are also some videos on business Japanese etiquette in addition to Japanese culture and cooking videos which you may find useful as well.

All of these channels are up and coming rather than established channels but I hope you find them useful and can support them as they continue to grow!

Manga Recommendation : Crayon Shin-chan クレヨンしんちゃん

This week’s recommendation is Crayon Shin-chan by Yoshito Usui (臼井 義人). I think this was the first manga I ever tried to read in Japanese some time ago, but even now I like to go back and read it.

This highly popular manga is about the adventures of a 5-year-old boy called Shinnosuke Nohara (nicknamed Shin-chan) who generally causes a lot of mischief around him, especially his mother.

The manga is split into several shorter stories that are generally only a few pages long. This makes it an ideal manga for Japanese language learners to dip in and out of as and when you have time to study it.

Crayon Shin chan manages to strike a great balance between laugh out loud moments and relatable moments (if you’ve ever had to look after a small child). Some of the humour can be a bit crude – you can find a few of the anime episodes on YouTube so I would recommend checking these out to get an idea of the type of humour you will find in the manga. Besides the anime series there are also several films, so plenty of material to get into if you do find yourself enjoying the manga.

In terms of language level, you can certainly give this a go if you have covered basic grammar and know the usual slang contractions – JLPT N4 and above should suffice. Like most of the manga I recommend this has everyday language and because of Shin chan’s age the vocabulary used is not too difficult. There are quite a few gags which rely on knowledge of puns in Japanese and aspects of Japanese culture, but I have always found this manga on the whole to be accessible as a language learner.

There is apparently a Japanese-English bilingual version of a couple of volumes (called クレヨンしんちゃんの楽しいゾ英会話) which would be a useful way of trying the manga out if you can get yourself a copy.

Manga Recommendation: Orange

Today’s recommendation is Orange by Ichigo Takano. I have been meaning to read this for a while and I am so glad that I finally got round to reading it!

The story centres around a girl called Naho who receives a letter from herself 10 years in the future, warning her to make changes to her actions at high school to prevent a tragedy linked to her friendship group from happening in the future. The letter comes with a diary giving certain key dates and events that all help to change the future for the better. By heeding these warnings, Naho not only impacts the future of those around her but also learns a great deal about herself in the process. The manga switches back and forth between the present day Naho and the future version of herself, which is particularly engaging as you get increasingly curious about what has happened in the intervening years.

Orange grabbed me immediately and I couldn’t stop myself from reading it until I got to the end. I think the idea of wanting to go back in time and change things is something that everyone can relate to, especially when looking back to your school days. In addition, the relationships amongst Naho’s friendship group is particularly pleasant to read and this only makes the dramatic aspects of this manga more powerful. Part high school drama, part sci-fi, the blend between the two genres make the manga accessible but a little bit different from other slice of life manga you may have come across previously.

I recommend this manga to Japanese learners because the language used is everyday – no specialist vocabulary required. If you’re familiar with common slang, particularly within the high school setting, then following the characters’ dialogues is pretty straightforward. In terms of language level, I would recommend this for N4-N3 learners.