badzphoto Aug 18, 2016
Welcome to the second installment of Japanese Resources for learning. In the first part, I went over a couple of my favorite mobile and Internet sites. This time, I’m concentrating on mostly books with a few additional sources you can check out (that I’ve not tried).
If you want to read Japanese, I suggest checking out Japanese graded readers. You can find some on US Amazon and on Amazon Japan. The best source I’ve found is White Rabbit Japan. They offer lots of different studying material from Japan, and you can even buy some Japanese snacks while you are there. It’s an English site but they ship from Japan.
One popular series is called the Japanese Graded Readers and offer different levels and volumes based on your ability. They offer lots of visuals and help you to learn vocabulary. They also come with CDs for extra listening practice. Here is an example of the most introductory level graded reader by the series. There aren’t that many available on US Amazon, so I’d recommend White Rabbit Japan as a starting source for checking out popular graded readers.
You can always try manga. The blog Japanese Tease has a few manga recommendations for beginners. Yotsuba&! (Amazon Japan link) is usually recommended to beginners. You can also try NHK Web Easy and Matcha for news written in Japanese (with furigana). There is a Subreddit with English translations of NHK articles to check your reading.
The go-to textbook
Genki: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese
There are two books (each with their own workbook, sold separately) and are perfect for self-learners. These books are popular enough that they are often suggested to new learners. I’ve used the first book off and on, but here is a more in-depth review by Tofugu.
Understanding Basic Japanese Grammar
This is not a good book if you are just getting started with grammar, however it’s great for review or as a supplement to other Japanese language books. It’s linear and straightforward with its explanations. It doesn’t teach you anything, but gives lots of examples of grammar concepts. I got this book after reading a review of it by Japanese Tease. Other grammar books I have liked and used include All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words and The Handbook of Japanese Verbs.
Shadowing: Let’s Speak Japanese Beginner to Intermediate
My listening and speaking skills are far below my reading and writing (somewhat intentionally). However, I wanted to improve listening and speaking, so I got this book to help. You’ll be able to practice your pronunciation and learn new phrases and vocabulary along the way. As you get further into the book, the sentences become more complicated. This is a good book for forcing you to get over any hesitation with speaking. There is a bit of a learning curve if you aren’t used to speaking, but you’ll get the hang of it. I’d recommend this for people who don’t always have someone they can practice their Japanese with or for those who just want extra speaking and pronunciation practice.
Learn Kana first
There are a lot of resources, free and otherwise, that will help you learn hiragana and katakana. One of my favorite sources that I used when first learning kana is RealKana. It’s a very basic, yet effective tool that lets your study or quiz yourself on kana. It’s also free, which is great. RealKana is also available, for free, as a mobile app on the iPhone and iPad. If you prefer to practice writing kana, then I’d choose a book like Japanese Hiragana and Katakana for Beginners: First Steps to Mastering the Japanese Writing System. It’s got five stars and 318 reviews on Amazon.
A special word on Kanji. There are a gazillion study methods and books on how to learn Kanji. I do not use any particular book and instead focus on Kanji learning in context (with vocabulary, sentences, and lots of reading). I’m in the Tae Kim camp when it comes to Kanji. As a result I don’t have any recommendations for books or sources. Tofugu lists seven common methods of learning Kanji with their pros and cons to give you an idea of where to start. Below, I have included Kanji resources that are popular with Japanese language learners.
Other resources to check out:
Tofugu A great blog to read with TONS of resources.
WaniKani An online study method for learning Kanji and radicals.
Japanese Tease Doesn’t update frequently, but has lots of older blog posts that are great to read.
Remember the Kanji Many people praise James Heisig’s method of learning Kanji.
Anki A free source available online and on mobile. It’s a digital flashcard system that uses a spaced repitition system to help you to memorize. It’s very popular with kanji learners.
Japanese Level Up The blog author who created his own system for learning Japanese. I’ve never tried it but I do recommend reading his blog.
Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese A free way to start learning grammar.
The Japanese Page An online community and resource website for Japanese learners.
Hiragana Times A print and digital magazine with topics covering Japanese culture. The articles are written in both English and Japanese.
Skritter Another method of learning to write Japanese.
Japanese from Zero Another popular textbook series for learning Japanese.
A Dictionary of Basic Japanese grammar (Tofugu has an indepth review of this series which comes in more than one level).
Nihongogogo One of several Japanese tumblr pages devoted to Japanese studying. You’ll find vocabulary, study tips, resources, and inspiring photos. If you search tumblr with “japaneseblr” you’ll find additional tumblr pages dedicated to the art and science of learning Japanese.
That’s not a finite list of resources, but hopefully will give you a starting point if you need some recommendations. There are many people trying to learn Japanese independently, so we hope you will share your own experiences in the comments. Let us know if you’ve found any of these helpful, or if you have another particular book you’ve had great success with.