Which Japanese languege textbook should I use?

When you google “the best Japanese textbook”,
you will probably notice that many people recommend books based on their own preference
and there are so many different kinds of books that are recommended
such as Minna-no-Nihongo, Genki, Japanese for busy people etc…

…then you get confused which one you should use to start learning Japanese.
In the end you will just choose the most “popular” textbook, Minna-no-Nihongo.

Wait a minute!

As a Japanese language teacher
I have heard a lot of complaints from the learners like…

I’ve been trying so hard to cover the contents and repeated the drill practice again and again with Minna-no-Nihongo, but how come my conversation skills won’t improve?!

Actually there are plenty of textbooks that use old-fashioned grammar oriented approach. (And they are still super popular among the learners!)

As a Japanese language teacher who studied SLA(Second Language Aquisision )and also as a foreign language learner, I noticed that there are not many textbooks that are actually based on the SLA research.

So, let’s make it simple.
Today I will introduce three Japanese textbooks that I recommend for beginners of Japanese language. Yes, just three.

If you are not sure which textbook to use,
you can choose one out of the three recommended textbooks
based on your purpose of learning Japanese.

So here’s what I think is the BEST 3 Japanese language textbooks!

No.1 Marugoto

This series of textbooks is developed based on SLA research.

The structure of the textbook is based on the learning process
where learners first will first be exposed to a lot of “comprehensive input” with audio recorded by Japanese natives,
notice the form or grammatical function,
and then practice conversation in the end.

It is a topic-based syllabus,
and in each topic, several can-do statements are shown.
So the learners can self-check if they can accomplish the target can-do in the end of the lesson.

Textbook level covers from CEFR A1 to B1 levels.
Each level has “Katsudoo” and “Rikai”.
“Katsudoo” focus more on the conversation,

and “Rikai” focus more on the vocabulary and expression (kanji also).

Ideally you would like to use them both, but depending on your purpose of study, you can choose only one.
Kindle is available from amazon japan.
So if you don’t want to buy the paper based textbook, this is a good choice.

Another big reason why I recommend this textbook is
that it has a lot of free online materials
with which learners can practice listening and speaking online.

The learning platform is called Minato.
In Minato, you can not only check your understanding, but also save your study record as portfolio. You can connect with Japanese language learners all over the world too!

This is a platform developed by a Japanese governmental organization called the Japan Foundation, so all the self-study courses are free! You cannot miss this opportunity!

Points for recommendation (Marugoto)
  • Based on SLA research
  • Each topic has can-do statements so the learning goal is clear
  • Audio Free download (Lots of comprehensive input)
  • Free Online learning platform “Marugoto Japanese Online Course”
  • Kindle book version available.

No.2 Irodori

picture from irodori website

Or, if you don’t want to pay for the textbook to start learning Japanese,
just download “Irodori” PDF textbook for free!

This one focus more on Japanese for living and working.
But just like Marugoto this textbook is can-do based that focus on practical Japanese listening and speaking skills.
All the textbooks and audios can be downloaded from the website.

Unfortunately the textbook for starter level hasn’t published yet,
but there was an announcement that it will soon be published.

Starting from 2020,
a new Japanese language competency test, JFT-Basic has started.
This is a test for people who want to work in Japan
and the target level for this test is CEFR A2.

Irodori was actually developed for learners who want to take this test,
so if you are planning to take JFT-Basic,
this is definitely the choice for you.

However, since the target learners of this textbook is A2(Basic) level,
it doesn’t cover intermediate or advanced level like Marugoto.
That’s why this book ranked second.
But as an introductory book to learn Japanese for free, this is definitely the best option.

To download the textbook&audio from the official website,
please click the button below.

Points for recommendation (Irodori)
  • Downloading textbook is free(without registration!)
  • Each topic has can-do statements so the learning goal is clear(mainly focused on living and working in Japan)
  • Audio Free download (Lots of comprehensive input)
  • Good to prepare for taking JFT-Basic

No. 3 NEJ (A New Approach to Elementary Japanese)

NEJ applies the theme-oriented instruction.
In the preface of the textbook, the author Nishiguchi-sensei states like this;

Knowledge of language may be seen in two different perspectives, i.e. firstly, language as a system of codes, and secondly, language as prototypes of language activities. Traditional elementary Japanese language textbooks adopt the former perspective. Learning Japanese in this way may not enable you to do anything with the language at the end of each lesson. NEJ adopts the latter perspective on language. By learning Japanese with NEJ you will be able to learn Japanese with a distinct sense of being able to do something.

quote from NEJ textvook page xii

With this textbook,
learners will gradually increase vocabulary by reading personal narratives of the characters in the textbook.

By imitating the personal narrative in the textbook or create your own version of narratives with the same topic,
you’ll be able to speak Japanese even when you do not have a partner to practice your Japanese with.

With the same concept,
ippo language learning has a series of blogs called
“tsubuyaki Japanese by Natsuko-sensei”
so please have a look at the posts!

なつこ先生のつぶやきJapanese!Vol.1 -風邪-

Unfortunately, digital version of this textbook is not available.
but you can buy the paper textbook from Amazon Japan.

NEJ Vol. 1↓

NEJ Vol. 2↓

Points for recommendation (NEJ)
  • Learning Japanese with theme-oriented instruction
  • Characters in the textbook share their Japanese narratives (You’ll be able to speak Japanese with the same theme by imitating)
  • Audio Free download
  • Recommended for learners who do not have speaking partners

In ippo language learning online lessons for beginners,
Natsuko-sensei recommend that you use either of three that have been listed,
bu if you prefer using the textbook that you already have,
you are welcomed to use it.

We can discuss how we can make best use of the textbook
with ippo language learning method.

For example if you are already using Minnano nihongo at school and you want to experience different styles of teaching or you want extra practice for speaking, then I can help you.

We can decide which textbook to use in our 30 mins trial counseling session.
So please do let me know if you have specific request on the textbook or any materials that you want to use.

For more information about online lesson,
please click the button below.