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Beginner Books Intermediate

Actually Learning with Japanese Comics

I am very pleased with my recent acquisition of “Living Japanese Through Comics: Culture in Japan“! Make no mistake, this book is not your typical “learn Japanese by reading manga” kind of book.

The book is broken up into 5 parts. Each part corresponds to one of the four seasons with the last part left for miscellaneous items. Each part has roughly 9 short comics (usually about 4 panels). Each comic will appear on the left side of the book with a full grammatical and cultural explanation on the right side.

The beauty of this book is that each short comic has been carefully chosen by the author to teach the read about a specific part of Japanese culture. At the same time, relevant vocabulary words and grammatical constructions are taught in their proper context. Using comics that show characters leading a normal life and taking part in typical Japanese customs is the crucial element to this book which makes it different from other books teaching Japanese through manga.

For example, do you know why and when Japanese hang their futons in the sun? Do you know what the Tanabata festival is? What does it mean if someone calls you a “nichiyoudaiku”? All of this and much more is revealed in “Living Japanese Through Comics: Culture in Japan“.

Example of grammar explanations found in I feel like this book is good for both beginners and intermediate readers. Beginners will find natural Japanese conversations with a full and easy to understand explanation of the grammar while intermediate readers will learn many cultural aspects about Japan they may have missed. Also, if you feel like you need to work on your reading and pronunciation skills, a “romaji” or alphabetical transcription of each comic is provided below the relevant panel. A list of vocabulary words with pronunciation and meaning is also provided in the footer of each page.

No matter what your level, this book is a great one to add to any Japanese learner’s library.

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Books Intermediate

Best Intermediate Level Japanese Textbook

Finding resources for intermediate level Japanese can be very difficult! On most language learning shelves, it’s easy to find beginner textbooks but at some point they just won’t cut it anymore. You need to find a textbook that will push you to the next level in Japanese all the while building on top of what you have already learned. But don’t worry! I have just the textbook for you!

I would like to introduce you to “An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese” (ISBN: 978-47890-1307-9 ) by Akira Miura and Naomi Hanaoka McGloin. This book has 15 chapters and each chapter is packed with dialogues (about 3 to 4 会話, “kaiwa”), a slightly more difficult reading exercise (what they call 読み物, “yomimono”), a slightly easier reading exercise (called 速読, “sokudoku”), vocabulary lists, grammar explanations with example sentences, study exercises that you can do alone or with a partner, and cultural notes. The book also includes 2 CDs with a recording of all the dialogues so you can practice your listening skills as well.

First, let’s talk about the dialogues. In this book, they move away from the beginner’s rigid “textbook” Japanese and quickly throw you into natural Japanese phrases. Students will use politer words when speaking to their teachers while friends will use colloquial expressions with each other. The very first dialogue lets you know right away that we are no longer dealing with beginner expressions like “私はJamesです” and introduces you instead to the much politer construction “Jamesと申します”. Many of the dialogues are interactions between foreign students and native Japanese speakers. This is very interesting for the intermediate level student because you get to see how Japanese people explain certain ideas and concepts in their native language. Also, from chapter to chapter, I really get a sense that the reading difficulty gradually increases at just the right pace.

The more difficult reading materials (or 読み物, “yomimono”) in each chapter take on different styles. Some read like journal entries while other read like reports or brief articles on a specific topic. These will give the intermediate student more practice with reading written Japanese at a higher level than what they may have studied before. However, the less difficult light reading materials (or 速読, “sokudoku”) are designed to reinforce what was learned and only sparingly throw in some new vocabulary.

At this point, I should mention that the dialogues and reading materials are all in Japanese and do not have English translations in this textbook. Depending on how you like to learn, this could be good or bad for you. However, as an intermediate student, a lot of these words in these texts are words and constructions that you already know. This textbook simply builds on that and there are plenty of vocabulary lists and furigana (hiragana written above the kanji for pronunciation) to help you push through and read on your own without relying on an English translation of the whole text. The grammar explanations are in English though, don’t worry! The grammar explanations are where this intermediate level Japanese textbook really shines. In the dialogues and reading materials, new grammatical constructions are underlined and given a number. You can look that number up in the grammar section of the chapter and get a full explanation on the grammar point along with example sentences and things to watch out for (such as similar looking constructions that may have a different meaning). After looking through the grammar section of the chapter, you can confidently go back to the tricky parts of the dialogue with a new understanding of the Japanese sentences being used.

If you have finished that beginner Japanese textbook that has been sitting in the corner of your desk for way too long or are itching to figure out where to go next in your Japanese studies, I highly recommend this intermediate Japanese level textbook.

What textbooks have you used to break into intermediate level Japanese? Let your fellow Japanese learners know by dropping your favorite textbook titles in the comments.

Categories
Books Intermediate

Looking for Real Japanese Reading Material?

Now that you’ve progressed a little bit in your study of Japanese, you are probably wondering where you can get your hands on some authentic Japanese reading material. I have asked myself the same question and hit a wall of kanji and grammar questions when delving straight into Japanese books by Japanese authors. So what to do? The answer: “Read Real Japanese Fiction” (ISBN: 978-4-7700-3058-0) edited by Michael Emmerich. You might be familiar with another title from very same series called “Read Real Japanese Essays” (ISBN: 978-1-5683-6414-8) which was edited by Janet Ashby.

Japanese Reading Material SampleOut of the two books, my feeling is that “Read Real Japanese Fiction” is the easiest one to get started with. The sentences in this book seem very straightforward once you read the provided grammar explanations. Also, the fact that this is a compilation of fictions stories means that they are a little strange and interesting. This means the stories are more likely to grab your attention and keep you reading. The more you read, the more Japanese you’ll learn, so I see that as a win-win!

The structure of the book is simple. There are 6 works of fiction in this book, each from a different contemporary Japanese author. Each piece is introduced with a short description in English about the author and some other works by them you might wish to check out later. Then comes the story itself. On the right-hand side you have the actual Japanese text with kanji and furigana (Japanese characters written above the kanji to help with pronunciation) and on the left-hand side you have the English version of each sentence. Now, if that wasn’t helpful enough, they have actually rearranged the Japanese sentences on the left-hand side so that you can more easily grasp how the structure of the Japanese relates to the English translation! The English translation is interspersed within this arrangement so that you can break down the translation piece by piece. I think this is a remarkable method and really helped me see the logic in the composition of the original reading material.

interspersed japanese english sample reading material
Example of interspersed Japanese and English translation that is found on the left-hand side of each story.

When the translation on the left-hand side of the page is not enough, there are grammar explanations in English for the trickier sentences in the back of the book. Each sentence is numbered for easy lookup. The explanations are very clear and remove all doubt about the meaning of the sentence. They also explain a bit how the structure of the sentence affects the story as a whole. One example of this is when one of the explanations draws your attention to a certain animal character who insists on speaking in very polite speech (remember, these are fiction stories!). A word of advice to the reader though: Use two bookmarks!!! This is real Japanese, so you will find yourself flipping to the explanation in the back quite often. I keep one bookmark for the story I am reading, and another bookmark in the grammar section corresponding to that story. There is also a small dictionary in the back where you can find a translation for just about every word you would want to look up in the stories. Luckily, the edges of the dictionary pages are marked with a gray square (one for each starting kana character) so you can quickly flip to the part of the dictionary you need without using another bookmark. Very handy! The book also comes with a CD so you can listen to a reading of all the stories and work on your oral comprehension skills as well.

Have you had luck finding any digestible Japanese reading material that you could study and learn from? Tell your fellow Japanese learners by leaving some titles in the comments.

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Books Dictionary

A Japanese Dictionary that Explains All Particles

We all have a Japanese dictionary either in paper or on some smartphone app. But do you have a Japanese particle dictionary? That’s right! There is a dictionary that is just for all the Japanese particles! It’s called “A Kodansha Dictionary: A Dictionary of Japanese Particles” (ISBN: 4-7700-2352-9) by Sue A. Kawashima, a Japanese language lecturer at Hunter College in New York City.

I am sure you have tangled with the seemingly endless mess that is Japanese particles. Particles (or 助詞 pronounced じょし in Japanese) are a key part of Japanese grammar. They are the small words like と, だけ, は, まで, に, へ, が, etc… that are used to distinguish the parts of speech of words in Japanese sentences. They tell us who does an action, on what object they do that action, motion towards a place, a limit of time, and in some cases even convey emotion. This Japanese particle dictionary explains over 100 particles! Each particle meaning is followed by numerous example sentences and their translations.

Who knew something like this existed? I’m glad it does though! This dictionary can really get you out of a jam when you are trying to translate a sentence where you understand the words but an obscure particle usage is getting in the way of your full comprehension.

I really like how this book is designed for all levels of Japanese learners. The example sentences are easy enough that you can focus on understanding the meaning of the particle being discussed without having to worry about the surrounding words. However, the more advanced learners will enjoy the fact that this book is very inclusive, covering just about every particle you might encounter in modern Japanese, and explains different shades of meaning that a particle may have in various different situations.

The publisher, Kodansha, is also the publisher of the “Power Japanese” series such as the interesting “Communicating with Ki” by Jeff Garrison and Kayoko Kimiya which explores over 200 Japanese idioms which all utilize the word “ki” (気 meaning “spirit”). Combine your mastery of Japanese particles and Japanese “ki” idioms, and there’s no stopping you!

If you have any gems such as this book about oddly specific Japanese grammar points, please let me know in the comments.