Or, a history of the textbooks/websites I’ve used and my thoughts on them. Yup, fascinating stuff! Well, at least I hope to be able to provide some good advice to other learners.
The textbooks we used freshman and sophomore year of college were terrible. Absolutely terrible. Japanese: The Spoken Language and Japanese: The Written Language. I do not recommend them. My school has now switched to the Genki series, and admittedly I’m a little bitter that my first two years had to be spent with inferior textbooks, but oh well. They were bad for two reasons: one, they were geared at business people so there were a lot of terms that were not very useful to students, and two, the romanization system (日本式 nipponshiki or 訓令式 kunreishiki) was the worst. THE worst. I’m picky about romanization, and since I was already familiar with Japanese before starting it in college, I could recognize how bad this was. For example, I’d previously seen じゃ romanized as ja or jya (I preferred ja, and still do). What did this textbook have? Zya. Um… what?? There is no Z sound in the word! You read that and you have to know that it’s pronounced totally differently. This was okay for me with my prior familiarity, but not okay for the total beginners in my class. One would always, ALWAYS say “zya” with the Z sound, and my professor wouldn’t correct him! It sounded terrible! The books also romanized ち and つ as ti and tu (instead of chi and tsu), leading to more clueless mispronunciations. I cringed to see our Japanese TA’s name Chi_ become Ti_. I completely understand the logic behind this romanization system, and I know it’s the one preferred/taught to Japanese people, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I vastly prefer Hepburn. Japanese is already hard for most people–don’t make it harder by adding in all sorts of things you have to remember, that aren’t easily comprehensible.
Then I studied abroad, and we used Nobuko Mizutani’s textbooks. My level used Introduction to Intermediate Japanese: An Integrated Course. These were good resources, but there was so much amusing Engrish and strange things even in Japanese in them that it was hard for us to take them seriously. I wish I’d kept it now, but I sold my copy after graduating college, probably because I remembered not liking it very much (even though it really was a useful resource that taught me many things).
I came back to my college for an “advanced” Japanese class senior year, and we used Genki 2–which is supposed to be an elementary level textbook! That still shocks me at how behind the Japanese classes at my college were. I wish, wish, wish they’d been more rigorous, but even what we did was hard for some people to keep up with! In any case, the Genki series is quite possibly perfect in every way. I have no complaints. In one semester we did not get through the whole textbook, so recently I finished reading through it on my own. It’s a very, very good resource. I didn’t really learn anything new since it’s below my level, but it was a good review, and good reading practice with all the readings in the back, which I don’t remember ever getting to in class (though all of them were very easy for me).
That advanced class also recommended that we purchase and consult for self-study Japanese The Manga Way. I also recently finished reading this one on my own–I didn’t read it very much at all that semester, since we weren’t using it in class and I didn’t have to. It was fairly interesting, moderately useful to me (nothing was really new, but it was nice to see examples and practice my reading a little), and an okay resource. Probably better for beginners though.
I have other textbooks generously given to me by a friend and former Japanese classmate, but haven’t fully delved into them yet–though I will starting very soon now that I’m done with Genki 2 and Japanese The Manga Way–so I can’t review them yet. They’re almost all JLPT-geared… I’m excited!
My number-one study resource now is my absolute favorite… Read The Kanji!!! Everyone who knows me knows I don’t shut up about this site and the things I learn there. I can’t recommend it enough, and they recently updated it so you learn so much faster and better, BUT there’s a catch. Anything other than N5/hiragana/katakana costs money. Like $5 a month. I signed up for it really early in its history (thanks to a killer recommendation from my sister while we were both studying for 2級), so I am a lifetime member and don’t have to pay (very very fortunately–I almost can’t believe how fortunately and I still get worried they’re going to suddenly start charging me–though whenever I do have money to spare I plan to donate to it), but I can assure you it is absolutely 100% worth it. All of the Japanese progress I’ve made since graduation, which is a significant amount, can be attributed to RTK. I use it daily and can spend hours there. My goal is to be on it as much as possible. Actually, my goal is to make it through my decks and learn all the words for good, reading and meaning. Right now I use the N3 and N2 decks simultaneously (I first went through all of 4級, 3級, and 2級 while studying for 2級 in 2009, but 2級 is so huge that I only went through it once and need a review, and N3 has a lot of the old 2級 in it), and it has improved my literacy considerably. It. Is. Wonderful.
I could list the Japanese dictionary websites and other resources I use for translating, but this is about studying, so I’ll dedicate another post to those later.
And then there’s just the natural practice I get in translating lyrics, writing messages to Japanese friends, occasionally chatting in person with Japanese community members, reading manga (and some novels/magazines), listening to j-music…
Well, off to study.