Good Books to get me started learning Japanese?
  • I currently have very little to no understanding of the Japanese Language, I have never studied any languages or attempted to learn any other languages either. But here I am suddenly attempting to learn Japanese, so far my experience has been using this site to look up random words that make me giggle but I have not really taken anything from the experience. Are there any books/guides/series recommended to help me get started with my studies. Another challenge I face is that I am unable to take any formal Japanese Courses, so my two main resources are my local book stores as well as the internet. As well any pointers that could be offered here would be nice, I am completely lost and don't even know where to begin. I have read some of the other discussions here about learning Japanese but still I feel overwhelmed.
  • Learning Japanese on your own is a daunting task, but very possible. There's TONS of resources online and several different techniques.

    Here's some quick advice:
    * If you're going to get textbooks, I recommend Minna no Nihongo, but those are expensive since you need several books. They are very good though.
    * thejapanesepage.com has some stuff, how to learn hiragana and katakana and also basic grammar etc. Good site to start with if you just want to try some real Japanese sentences.
    * guidetojapanese.com Great site about japanese grammar, but it's a bit more advanced than thejapanesepage.com, not really usable unless you know hiragana.

    You can also try the most popular technique at the moment, usually called AJATT. The idea is that you should learn japanese like kids do, getting a huge passive skill in Japanese and then get the active skill automatically. AJATT start with you buying/getting the book Remembering the Kanji by an author called Heisig. This book in conjunction with the site kanji.koohii.com will
    allow you to learn to recognize and write all the 2064 official kanji (chinese characters used in Japanese) in just 2-3 months. This doesn't actually teach you any real japanese, but it's the stepping stone you need to start with the biggest part of the AJATT method: Learning japanese sentences. What you do here is input real native japanese sentences you find in various sources into an SRS program (which is basically an advanced flashcard program, ANKI is a popular one) and then you learn those sentences. Since you allready recognize all the kanji, learning new words become very easy, and you learn grammar as you see it used in several sentences. According to the man known for "inventing" AJATT, you will basically understand any form of japanese after about 10 000 sentences.

    Read more about this technique at alljapaneseallthetime.com.

    While I don't know how well AJATT works for learning fluent japanese like he says, I can garantee it's an AWESOME complement to "proper" japanese studies, there's no better way to learn new vocabulary.
  • I had a look at that AJATT site just now, and it definitely has some interesting parts, but found the constant requests for cash a bit annoying. As far as the method goes, it sounds pretty good, and cheap, I suppose, if you don't have access to Japanese books to work on reading in context.

    2000 characters in 2-3 months? Does this mean that you're basically learning kanji from morning to night? The time seems a bit short to get a thorough knowledge of meaning, readings, and being able to write by hand. Although, and I've probably said this before, in the computer age, spending time learning how to write advanced kanji by hand seems like time that could be better spent elsewhere. But just with the meanings and readings, and if you have no previous knowledge of kanji at all, I'd say 6 months is still going pretty fast. From personal experience, I came to Japan, having got up to about intermediate level in Chinese (a good base for learning kanji), with almost no Japanese. I worked full-time teaching English, and studied in a lot of my spare time, and passed JLPT1 (for which you have to read 2000 kanji) just over a year after I arrived (and I thought that was pretty quick).

    But I'm probably just splitting hairs. I definitely recommend Minna no Nihongo, and I may look into this ANKI method some more.
  • Posted By: Richard
    [p]I had a look at that AJATT site just now, and it definitely has some interesting parts, but found the constant requests for cash a bit annoying. As far as the method goes, it sounds pretty good, and cheap, I suppose, if you don't have access to Japanese books to work on reading in context.[/p][p]2000 characters in 2-3 months? Does this mean that you're basically learning kanji from morning to night? The time seems a bit short to get a thorough knowledge of meaning, readings, and being able to write by hand. Although, and I've probably said this before, in the computer age, spending time learning how to write advanced kanji by hand seems like time that could be better spent elsewhere. But just with the meanings and readings, and if you have no previous knowledge of kanji at all, I'd say 6 months is still going pretty fast. From personal experience, I came to Japan, having got up to about intermediate level in Chinese (a good base for learning kanji), with almost no Japanese. I worked full-time teaching English, and studied in a lot of my spare time, and passed JLPT1 (for which you have to read 2000 kanji) just over a year after I arrived (and I thought that was pretty quick).[/p][p]But I'm probably just splitting hairs. I definitely recommend Minna no Nihongo, and I may look into this ANKI method some more.[/p]


    Remembering the Kanji is only for learning to recognize and write kanji, you do not learn readings nor compounds. The reason is that if you want to learn all there is to know about kanji at the same time, there's no effective memorization technique which works well. You could use the kanjichain technique which teaches you one on'yomi as well, but it really isn't worth it. The memory technique used in Remembering the Kanji coupled with an SRS program however is remarkable. If one is motivated enough, there's no limit to how fast you can learn the kanji, there's several people who add over 50 new kanji each day and still have over 80% retention after several days without reviewing. The point with remembering the kanji is that not only will you be able to handwrite the kanji from memory without any problem (a feat very few native japanese can replicate), you will also remember it when you see it. Learning jukugo in context becomes a breeze. Learning readings comes naturally when you learn new words using these kanji you allready know. And it takes almost no time. I spend like... 1 hour every day using this technique and I've learned 400 kanji in 2 weeks, and i'm using a pretty slow tempo (15-20 new kanji each day).

    So regardless of the AJATT method, I recommend anyone who thinks it's hard to remember how to write kanji or which kanji are used in any given compound, to use Remembering the Kanji, because it does work, without a doubt.
  • Posted By: Tobberoth
    [p]* If you're going to get textbooks, I recommend Minna no Nihongo, but those are expensive since you need several books. They are very good though.
    [/p]

    I second this. The books are incredibly thorough but at the same time you don't feel too overwhelmed with information. If you're in the UK, the cheapest place to get these is from the Japan Centre, London (you can order from their website).
  • I have been looking at Minna no Nihongo, but all the different book confuse me, I don't know which ones I need or which ones i should wait until later to get. Is there anyway i can buy them in like a set or something?
  • Posted By: Zenquen
    [p]I have been looking at Minna no Nihongo, but all the different book confuse me, I don't know which ones I need or which ones i should wait until later to get. Is there anyway i can buy them in like a set or something?[/p]


    At our school, we only used the actual textbook and the workbook. There are grammar books (with english) and kanji books, but we did not use those, the teacher tought us that stuff. I recommend only buying the essentials, learn the kanji with Remembering the Kanji (and the awesome site kanji.koohii.com) and learn grammar by using a real grammar dictionary (There are many different ones, All About Particles seems very popular).
  • Posted By: Zenquen
    [p]I have been looking at Minna no Nihongo, but all the different book confuse me, I don't know which ones I need or which ones i should wait until later to get. Is there anyway i can buy them in like a set or something?[/p]


    I had the textbook, the workbook and the grammar book (English) and I personally found that very user-friendly. As far as I remember, in the grammar book you also have all the vocabulary you need, plus translations of the dialogues. However, probably one of the reasons I bought the Minna no Nihongo grammar book is that Japanese books are rather cheap in Japan, so if you're not in Japan it may not seem such a good idea.
  • Posted By: Tobberoth
    [p]Remembering the Kanji is only for learning to recognize and write kanji, you do not learn readings nor compounds. The reason is that if you want to learn all there is to know about kanji at the same time, there's no effective memorization technique which works well. You could use the kanjichain technique which teaches you one on'yomi as well, but it really isn't worth it. The memory technique used in Remembering the Kanji coupled with an SRS program however is remarkable. If one is motivated enough, there's no limit to how fast you can learn the kanji, there's several people who add over 50 new kanji each day and still have over 80% retention after several days without reviewing. The point with remembering the kanji is that not only will you be able to handwrite the kanji from memory without any problem (a feat very few native japanese can replicate), you will also remember it when you see it. Learning jukugo in context becomes a breeze. Learning readings comes naturally when you learn new words using these kanji you allready know. And it takes almost no time. I spend like... 1 hour every day using this technique and I've learned 400 kanji in 2 weeks, and i'm using a pretty slow tempo (15-20 new kanji each day).[/p][p]So regardless of the AJATT method, I recommend anyone who thinks it's hard to remember how to write kanji or which kanji are used in any given compound, to use Remembering the Kanji, because it does work, without a doubt.[/p]


    I never used Remembering the Kanji. I do remember opening it and seeing a baseball reference which was slightly off-putting for a Brit, but the main reason I didn't use it was that I had previously learned Chinese up to a point, so I knew the meanings of a lot of kanji but I wanted to learn the readings, so a book with no readings was not very useful. My first book for learning Chinese characters taught me the method of making up a story based on the components of a character (and I think the stories you invent yourself are more memorable than ones from a book) so when I started learning new kanji in Japanese I could do that myself. I'm sure I used books from a couple of different series for learning kanji (after I'd learnt the readings on the ones I already knew), and one of the series was definitely Kanzen Master. I like that series for preparing for the JLPT, but it is all in Japanese.

    I've been trying out Anki, and I think it's definitely a good tool. I didn't have my own computer when I was slogging through the kanji the first time, but I'm sure it helps to make review more structured. However, I'm still not convinced that it's possible for everyone to make continual rapid progress as more and more of the first 2000 kanji enter the mix, becoming increasingly complex in shape and abstract in meaning. I believe it's pretty well documented in language learning that it's possible to make very quick progress at the start, but the vocabulary load (or kanji load) leads to a flattening of the curve as more and more review is necessary. No doubt some gifted learners can handle the increase, but I don't believe everyone can.
  • Posted By: Richard
    I've been trying out Anki, and I think it's definitely a good tool. I didn't have my own computer when I was slogging through the kanji the first time, but I'm sure it helps to make review more structured. However, I'm still not convinced that it's possible for everyone to make continual rapid progress as more and more of the first 2000 kanji enter the mix, becoming increasingly complex in shape and abstract in meaning. I believe it's pretty well documented in language learning that it's possible to make very quick progress at the start, but the vocabulary load (or kanji load) leads to a flattening of the curve as more and more review is necessary. No doubt some gifted learners can handle the increase, but I don't believe everyone can.

    That's the whole point of SRS, there is no continual increase per se. The whole point is that once a kanji is entered into the SRS you already know it, you're just reviewing it to keep it remembered, you're not learning it over and over. Yes, you do fail kanji sometimes because you don't remember them, and this is where the "gifted" part comes in, I personally ALWAYS have over 90% retainment, even though I've added kanji every day for a month now. But even people who aren't gifted aren't in any form of trouble. When you fail a kanji, you change/reinforce the story, and put it back in. If you have really really abnormally bad memory, let's say you fail 50% of the reviews. That just means you have to add 50% less kanji every day and you will have basically the same amount of reviews every day.

    The site I'm pointing to is a testament that this works. Listening to my story of success is one thing, seeing that a whole site filled with people are having equal success with the technique is what makes it so special.

    I also want to point out that there actually is no increase in complexity over the book, Heisig has done a very good job with this. The order of the primitives and kanji makes sure that whenever a "complex" kanji enters the mix, you already know all the primitives by heart. Abstract kanji might be a problem, but that's where this site helps so much since you can see other peoples stories and they are rated. For example, one of the most abstract primitives is "state of mind" from such kanji as 忙, 怖 and 悼. If one can't make that "state of mind" thing vivid, they won't be able to memorize all the kanji which use it (and that's a lot). The solution for those people can be found on the site: Simply make that primitive mean something else, a very popular one at the site is to think of Data from Star Trek. Suddenly, all the stories become extremely memorable and lost a lot of the abstractness.

    I can guarantee everyone that adding 10 kanji a day to this program is guaranteed to work, as long as you know what it's good for. For Richard, it wasn't needed since he allready knew of the technique and only wanted to learn the readings. For me who want to be able to recognize and especially write kanji, it was a godsend. I'm already at 660 kanji and I consider myself to know over 90% of them by heart. Atm I'm adding 20 kanji every day without issues.
  • Posted By: Richard
    [quote]
    Posted By: Zenquen
    [p]I have been looking at Minna no Nihongo, but all the different book confuse me, I don't know which ones I need or which ones i should wait until later to get. Is there anyway i can buy them in like a set or something?[/p]
    [p]I had the textbook, the workbook and the grammar book (English) and I personally found that very user-friendly. As far as I remember, in the grammar book you also have all the vocabulary you need, plus translations of the dialogues. However, probably one of the reasons I bought the Minna no Nihongo grammar book is that Japanese books are rather cheap in Japan, so if you're not in Japan it may not seem such a good idea.[/p][/quote]

    So would it make more sense to have a friend in Japan buy the books and then send them to me? Would they have an easier time finding them and getting ahold of them?
  • A friend in Japan can certainly find them on Amazon, and the books are pretty readily available in the shops. I can see why you might find it confusing to decide what to get as there are lots of formats, so I've put links below to the ones I recommend.

    Minna no Nihongo I (textbook) - There is a romaji version, but hiragana does not take that long to learn, and avoiding the romaji version will give you plenty of practice.
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/みんなの日本語―初級1本冊-スリーエーネットワーク/dp/4883191028/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225179014&sr=8-7

    Minna no Nihongo I (English translation)
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/みんなの日本語―初級1翻訳・文法解説-英語版-スリーエーネットワーク/dp/4883191079/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225179014&sr=8-10

    Minna no Nihongo I (Workbook)
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/みんなの日本語初級〈1〉標準問題集-スリーエーネットワーク/dp/4883191354/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225179014&sr=8-14

    They are a bit more expensive than I remembered, but still good value in my opinion. Those three will cost about 6000 yen altogether.

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