Sunday, 12 August 2012

Great Resources for Learning Japanese

Let's be honest, learning Japanese is hard and sometimes a bit tedious so I've found some great books, websites and videos that can help make it a little bit easier and a tiny bit more fun.

Tried & Tested by Itsumo Japan! 
Entries that bear this stamp are books that I own or websites and videos that I use. Enjoy!

Books etc

Japanese Phrasebook & Dictionary (Lonely Planet)
A really great phrasebook that not only includes useful phrases for the usual holiday situations but also a section for social situations, a quick guide to the Japanese language, a guide to reader culinary terms and a short dictionary. Invaluable.
A great book filled with colourful illustrations, games and puzzles and suitable for absolute beginners. There are also cut-out flashcards and useful menu guide as well as stickers that you can stick around your home or office to help you learn the new vocabulary. The new edition also includes a CD-ROM.

Japanese For Busy People (AJALT)
Textbooks and accompanying workbooks at 3 levels all with good, clear layouts and lots of illustrations. An audio CD is included with each textbook and romaji and kana versions are available at level 1. Videos and a kana workbook are also included in the series. However, as the books are aimed at business travellers to Japan some people may find some of the vocabulary irrelevant.
みんなの日本語 (3A Network)
The Minna no Nihongo textbooks and accompanying translation and grammer notes available at 3 levels are the most popular series for Japanese study. The textbooks are printed purely in Japanese which can be a little intimidating at first. However they do offer a more immersive form of study and are used on some university degree programmes. Supplementary resources for listening and writing practice are also available.

Genki (The Japan Times)
Another well-respected series of textbooks this time with only 2 editions and starting at an elementary level. A textbook, workbook and CD-ROM are available at each level.

Kanji Learner's Dictionary (Kodansha)
A nicely laid out kanji dictionary with clear instructions of how to use it, step by step stroke diagrams and many readings for each entry. Recommended by the University of Sheffield's Japanese degree programme.

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (The Japan Times)
A very useful and clearly laid out reference book for Japanese grammar. The appendixes are especially useful for checking conjugations, compounds, counters etc. Also recommended by the University of Sheffield's Japanese degree programme.

Teach Yourself Beginner's Japanese Script
My first kanji book! A really good accessible introduction to learning kanji with descriptions of how kanji were formed and suggestions of how to remember them. It also includes some reading practice exercises and examples of kanji used in real life.

Basic Kanji Book (Bonjinsha)
These textbooks, published over 2 volumes and covering 500 kanji, are by far the best selling and are used by some universites. The page layout is very simple but the lessons have good structure and include review tests and examples of kanji used in real life Japan. A firm grasp of kana is required before starting this book.

250 Essential Kanji for Everyday Life (Tuttle)
Published in 2 volumes each book teaches 250 kanji that are regularly seen in everyday situations in Japan such as restaurants, train stations, hospitals, banks etc. Because of the way that the kanji are grouped some fairly complex ones occur early in the lessons but will no doubt be useful anyone visiting or living in Japan.

Japan in Your Pocket: Japanese Characters (JTB)
A cute, pocket-sized guide to a selection of everyday kanji complete with their origin, uses and lots of illustrations. Kanji associated with Japanese culture are also included. A fun book to support your kanji studies. Part of a series of illustrated books about Japan.
A Japanese Reader (Tuttle)
A collection of readings of varying difficulty in Japanese including extracts from works by Japanese authors like Mishima and Kawabata. Each extract is accompanied by notes on its vocabulary and translation. A good book for anyone that wants to practice their reading ability on real Japanese.

Read Real Japanese (Kodansha)
Two books containing collections of either essays or fiction by modern Japanese writers like Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto presented in Japanese alongside translation notes and grammar explanations. The book also includes a dictionary of every word in the book and a CD of audio readings. Another good book for practicing your reading skills on real-life Japanese.
Kana Flashcards (White Rabbit Press)
Very clear and easy to use flashcards for learning both hiragana and katakana. Each card has the character, a few simple words that include it and different writing styles on one side with English translations and a visual mnemonic to help you remember the character on the other. These cards were invaluable to me when I was learning kana.
Kanji Cards (Tuttle)
Available in 4 volumes, each set includes around 450 cards each with the definition, stroke count, radicals and reference numbers of the kanji as well as useful compounds.

Nintendo DS: My Japanese Coach
This fun game helps you to learn Japanese vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation with games, puzzles and exercises. You can also use your stylus to practice kanji and kana. Good for beginners and those that have already learnt some Japanese.

Nintendo DS: 漢字そのまま楽引辞典
This English-Japanese dictionary is a little tricky to get used to at first as all the controls are in Japanese but with a little perseverance it can be very useful. The best feature is the ability to look up words by writing them, either in english, kanji or kana, with the stylus. I bought this in Japan but it is possible to buy it online too.


Denshi Jisho
This is probably the most useful website that I have found. It allows you to search words, either in English or Japanese, in general, scientific, computer term or names and places dictionaries, search kanji by reading, meaning, stroke order, radical or from a long list of indexes. Example sentences are also available for many words. Truly invaluable.
Japan Foundation: Language Centre
The Japan Foundation's website includes many downloadable language learning resources, language learning website recommendations and details of institutions all over the UK that offer Japanese courses.

White Rose East Asia Centre
Bringing together academics from the universities of Sheffield and Leeds this website contains audio recordings for listening practice and internet resources.

This online language learning site has lots of courses including Japanese from beginner to advanced. the courses work in a similar way to Linguaphone or Rossetta Stone software with lots of visuals and repetition.
An extensive database of Japanese grammar including study materials for JLPT (old version).

NHK World: Japanese Lessons
As well as producing excellent programmes about Japan NHK World has also produced a series of 50 Japanese lessons which you can listen to online or download. The lessons start at a beginner level and progress to approximately intermediate and are accompanied by PDF printouts, a list of vocabulary, tips for living in Japan and resources to help you learn kana.
JapanesePod 101
A really good, comprehensive website to use for learning Japanese online with audio lessons and reference materials form beginner to advanced. You can also choose lessons created for business, tourists, students or people living in Japan. There also lesson to help you prepare for the JLPT tests and videos. The best part - most of it's free!
Really useful software for your computer or phone that allows you learn by reviewing flashcards. Especially useful for kanji, you can either create your own cards or download sets based on well known kanji textbooks or lists.


Japan Foundation: Erin's Challenge
25 video lessons that follow Erin, an exchange student, as she experiences life in Japan. Each lesson can be watched with subtitles in English, romajikana or kanji and is supported by resources and quizes.
JapanesePod 101 on YouTube
As well as the audio lessons and resources on JapanesePod 101's website there are also many video lessons which can also be viewed via their YouTube channel. There are lots of fun and interesting videos to help you learn Japanese.

Japanese Word of the Day (BBC 2009)

These short clips were shown between programmes as part of BBC 4's 'Hidden Japan' season. Each one explains the meaning of a Japanese word or phrase. The words and phrases chosen are often funny or quirky as in, my favourite, bakku shan a phrase used to describe a woman who looks beautiful from the back but not from the front.

Think there's something missing?
This page is a work in progress and I am always on the lookout for new things to add. If you've got a favourite book, website or video that you think should be on the list then tell me all about it by going to the Itsumo Japan Facebook page.


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