Improving Japanese at home
April 24, 2020 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I studied Japanese for a couple of years in college using the Genki textbooks. I'd like to study more now that I have free time. Can you recommend resources with a similar feel that I could study at home with?

I took Japanese for a bit in college. We worked through Genki I and I got through part of Genki II before I stopped taking classes (they started going too fast for me, especially with the kanji, and I couldn't devote the time I needed to on top of my other schoolwork). I really liked the teaching approach, though.

I've started watching some anime on Neflix since I'm stuck at home and I got really excited that I can sometimes follow what the characters are saying without looking at the subtitles. I definitely miss a ton, but I'd like to improve.

My goal here is honestly just to avoid using English subtitles as much. Can you recommend some textbooks/study material?

I've forgotten most of the kanji I learned at this point, but I can read hiragana/katakana and have retained some understanding of spoken Japanese when I know the vocab.

Straight-up grammar books and dictionaries will put me to sleep, and I don't want links to Anki vocab lists! Thank you.
posted by marfa, texas to Education (4 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
One approach that I've found useful is so-called extensive reading (多読, tadoku). The idea is to find material that's just a little bit above the difficulty level you're comfortable with, and read through it without stopping to look up words or grammar points you don't know. Instead, just try to put together as much as you can from context clues, and skip over anything that doesn't make sense. When you're done, you can use a dictionary to go back over the parts you weren't sure about and check your understanding. In my experience, this has been really helpful for internalizing things, as opposed to just using the dictionary as a crutch.

Here are a couple of sites that have free collections of reading material organized by difficulty level, ranging from beginner to intermediate: (requires registration to browse)

If your goal is to understand anime and other media, I would also recommend the book Japanese the Manga Way. It doesn't go into too much depth, but it's a surprisingly broad and comprehensive overview of the language at a beginner-intermediate level, and might be good as a refresher course. See here for a review and some excerpts.

As far as free "textbook" equivalents go: Tae Kim's guide and IMABI are both pretty popular.

posted by teraflop at 3:10 PM on April 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese is often considered the "next step" to anki. I liked it.

I like the app "Satori Reader" a lot. You can configure how much kanji you see. The audio is high quality and you can export vocab you save etc (though you don't use anki).

The best app though is :) Not even for a teacher really...just for conversation partners. It's great!
posted by wooh at 8:35 PM on April 24, 2020

OMG teraflop! I've been recommending Japanes the Manga Way since forever. It covers almost everything in that big yellow A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (at a shallower level). Anything put out by the Mangajin folks is pretty good.

SPECTRUM NEXUS · Features · Mangajin · Learn Japanese Through Manga! (Previously)

Another sorta forgotten bit of stuff: Pera Pera Penguin - Yookoso!. It's sorta Dear Abby like, "why did my co-workers laugh at me when I said this?", "somebody said this and it makes no sense, halp!". 100 PDFs of a newspaper column.

For kanji I dug going the Heisig route with a bit of "you must start with a brush-pen" when learning strokes and order and telling kanji apart. The brush constrains the movement that makes the kanji. It'll be a lot easier to recognize weird-ass cursive-like signage and people's actual handwriting if you've learned it by using a brush-like thing. Watch some of this person's videos.

Japanese Calligrapher Takumi.

I'm in about the same place as you are. I self-studied and spent a few years a decade ago helping to run/moderate a Japanese learning site and could chat back and forth and all that. Shit on vocabulary, linguist-like strong on grammar and kanji. Mostly forgotten now but hopefully buried down at a subconscious level. I learned from books mostly because the resources at the time were few and far between. Hope others can give you something more recent.

From that stint at that Japanese learning site I have a bunch of opinions about all things related from watching various people learning various ways. Can't be helped.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:43 PM on April 24, 2020

I use Wanikani for kanji- for me the beginning was SUCH A SLOG its basically an SRS desk you pay for with some extras (and right now in COVID times I am not using it) but it improved my Japanese accessibility to native materials SO MUCH. But the first couple levels are free, try it out, see if its something you might want to do. It really, really changed my relationship with Kanji.

Right now I have a subscription to Satori reader which is nice- It's my only active learning tool at the moment, but that's just because I have zero focus right now.

I sort of do Japanese by following the JLPT route, I live in the city where the test is taken so I spend the 65 bucks and take a level every year to test my progress. I'm not planning on actively going to Japan or anything, but it helps structure my studies and I get a grade every year (and hopefully a certificate).

Italki has been great. I loved it, there's lots of different people to chose from and not too expensive to get one on one help. I went through Genki I with a teacher. I can't decide if I want to do Genki II or just move on to Tobira or do something else entirely at this point.

I first did the Lingodeer App (but I think you have to pay now?) and then moved on to more complicated resources when I tried to get back into Japanese. My Japanese has improved a lot, and its been worth the journey!

Good Luck!!
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:41 AM on April 25, 2020

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