Book Reviews (1)

What to buy and what to stay away from.


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Japanese for Busy People

Romaji version

This is a very popular textbook but I can't help feeling that its success is down to the catchy title rather than any particular superiority over its rivals. Who among us is not busy? If you can look through it, by all means do so, but you should not be spending much time with a book like this. Read it and move on, and when the rest of your gaijin classmates are plodding through this at a chapter a week, you should be focusing on kanji acquisition or expanding your vocabulary.


Japanese for Busy People

Kana version

Same as the above but with kana rather than romaji which at least is something. The above still applies however.


Minna no Nihongo

Another commonly used textbook which translates as Japanese for Everyone. It's a decent enough book but you'll want to get through it as fast as possible. One chapter a week is too slow. Most of the volunteer run classes I attended gave out free photocopies of this textbook so you'll probably end up using this at some point anyway if you live in Japan.


Genki I

This is a decent textbook for beginners. It quickly moves from romaji to kana and covers some basic kanji. It is designed for use in a classroom setting under a teacher. There are other books more suited to self study. In addition, the CD containing the listening exercises comes separately with the teacher set. It doesn't offer any special method for learning kanji other than writing them out again and again but then, neither do the other commonly used texts.


Genki I Workbook

Practice your writing with this workbook designed to accompany Genki I. I personally think studying kanji via flashcards will probably be more beneficial than working through this book but if you like Genki you might like this.


Genki II

The follow up to Genki I, this book covers more grammar and kanji up to about JLPT 3 level. Again, it's more for classroom use.


Genki II workbook

Practice writing the kanji and grammar you learned in Genki II.



Kana flashcards

It is not strictly necessary to buy or even use flashcards to learn kana especially if you live in Japan, however, these will definitely help anyone who is struggling to master the kana and probably make the learning process more enjoyable. For those on a budget, make your own cards with a piece of paper and use your imagination to link the kana to recognizable shapes (e.g. the character Ki looks a key). Make sure you always follow the correct stroke order and doodle the kana with your fingers whenever you get a spare moment.


Kanji Dictionaries

The Learner's Kanji Dictionary: Find Any Compound Using Any of Its Component Characters (Dictionary)

This is a great reference book. It lives up to the description on the back: “The ultimate desk reference for the student of Japanese”. It has all the kanji and compound words you will ever need. If you need a kanji reference book, buy this one, it's the best.


Kanji and Kana: A Handbook and Dictionary of the Japanese Writing System (Tuttle Language Library)

By the same authors but nowhere near as comprehensive as The Learner's Kanji Dictionary.

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