I realize that any “best Japanese learning tools” type of post will be subjective at best. It all depends on your learning style and your circumstances.
So while these tools may not end up being your favorites, they should give you a good sampling of what works well for learning the Japanese language. Please keep in mind that I’ve been learning the language almost completely devoid of native speakers or immersion possibilities. So these tools are compiled with the home learner in mind.
So let’s get at it!
Top Japanese Learning Books
While I’m a huge fan of digital tools, there’s something to be said for good old fashioned book learning. Here’s my basic list of books that should be in your Japanese learning library.
Genki – An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese
The Genki series of texts books have long been the go-to book for Japanese learning. Used throughout Japanese classrooms, Genki provides a simple yet complete introduction to the Japanese language.
The book is broken up into progressive chapters that start you off slowly and then gradually build on your knowledge at a nice pace. The lessons and illustrations are fun and what you’re learning is practical. It’s much more that a phrase book for the occasional traveller. These books are designed to give you a strong foundation in learning Japanese.
Genki was one of the first Japanese learning tools that I purchased, and I’ve never regretted it.
Japanese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide
My first look at Japanese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide was when I borrowed it from the library. After a couple days with the book, I knew I had to own it.
This self-study guide does a wonderful job of teaching you Japanese sentence construction. It’s a great book for getting deeper into some of the things you’ve been learning in Genki.
The book also includes mini tests and longer reviews, which makes self-study much more enjoyable and useful. I don’t know about you, but I always have the best intentions to set up some type of testing system, but I rarely follow through with it. So it’s nice to see a book that includes progress quizzing in it.
Check out our complete review of Japanese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide.
Remembering the Kanji: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters
There’s plenty of controversy surrounding the Heisig method of learning the English equivalent and the stroke order of kanji before you learn how to pronounce it in Japanese. But after spending a year with the book, I think it works well.
This book will teach you all the required kanji by breaking it down into radicals and teaching you memory aids for recalling them easily by assigning each of the different parts into a distinct meaning with its own distinct image.
I’ve memorized about 650 kanji so far and I can already appreciate how much easier it’s going to be when I move on to learning the actual words and pronunciations. Love it or hate it, Heisig’s method is worth trying out.
The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary
If you’re learning Japanese, eventually you’re going to to be banging your head against the wall that is Kanji. That means you’ll probably want to get yourself a Kanji Dictionary.
While there are a ton of them out there, I found the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary to be one of the best. Once you learn the simple system of how the dictionary indexes the kanji, you’ll be looking up kanji in no time flat.
You’ll find all the commonly used kanji and kanji compounds included in this one compact volume.
Oxford Beginner’s Japanese Dictionary
While it is possible to use the Internet as a giant Japanese dictionary, I like to have this Oxford Beginner’s Japanese Dictionary available by the bedside table. The dictionary comes with a Japanese and English section so you can easily look up words and definitions both ways.
While it doesn’t give you an exhaustive list of all Japanese words, it does give you all the basic words that you’ll probably be learning as a beginner or intermediate Japanese student. In fact, the reduced amount of word choice makes for a better dictionary in my opinion. There’s plenty of extra room to give more details and sample sentences about the words this way.
In Part 2 of our Best Japanese Learning Tools, we’re going to look at online tools. Hopefully you’ll join us. And if you have any Japanese learning books that you love, we want to hear about them in your comments!
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