In a world of apps, gadgets, gizmos, and software, the old, faithful, paper Japanese textbook doesn’t always get the love it deserves. Maybe you’ve even come across people who have nothing good to say about textbooks:
“You can’t learn real Japanese from a book!”
“Japanese people don’t actually speak like that.” “You’re learning Japanese, huh?
“Oh you’re using THAT textbook.”
“That textbook sucks eggs.”
While I honestly haven’t heard the term “suck eggs” since my Ren and Stimpy, “Happy Happy Joy Joy” days, I do hear people bash Japanese textbooks from time to time.
If you’ve heard any of these, or believe any of these, please pardon the language, but…
That is complete and utter bull hooey!
In short…textbooks work! I am a living, breathing example of that. I won’t even presume to know everything about Japanese; I learn something new every single day, and I’m six years in! But let me tell you…I’ve learned so much Japanese just by cracking open a book and going for it.
I started using textbooks out of necessity. I simply could not find a class in my area (those were my Tsukuba days)! Scheduling was a problem, too, because I was usually working from about noon until nine-thirty at night (my AEON days). While I was having fun working in Japan, living here longterm without learning anything about the language didn’t make sense to me.
Here was the rub…
People didn’t have the time to sit down and teach me, and I didn’t want to pester them, so I just started teaching myself. A textbook won’t have a long day at work, a textbook won’t say “Can we meet up another day?” All you need is right there, ready to go.
While there are some wonderful Japanese applications online, I don’t know many college courses or Japanese classes that are completely structured around an app (not yet anyway). People were still learning Japanese effectively prior to computers and they did so through these wonderful stacks of paper called books!
The great thing about living in this era and having companies like Amazon is that you can locate the best textbooks on the planet and have them on your doorstep tomorrow if you like.
I’ll admit it, I’m old-fashioned. I like studying with a book, a pencil, and a highlighter. I like to write in my margins. I like to mark points where I have questions.
While things like Evernote are amazing, I like the freedom of my pencil or pen in my textbook. For example, when I’m studying bunpou (文法-Japanese grammar) I sometimes like to scribble my own silly sentences underneath the grammar examples:
Yuubinkyoku ni ikankuchaikenai
I have to go to the post office.
Doragu wo kawanakuchaikenai.
I have to buy drugs.
Have you ever had a good study going and then all of a sudden you decide to take the dreaded email break?
You open one email and stumble across a link you find interesting (maybe it’s that pair of solid platinum nunchakus you’ve always wanted). You’re browsing and all of a sudden you decide to go on YouTube to find out a little more. Uh oh!
You watch a great product video, but off to the right, that suggested video of Bruce Lee catches your eye. You end up watching Bruce Lee movies clips and movies for a few hours and then you find yourself on Facebook to talking about Bruce Lee for the rest of the night…
Well, there goes that evening. Bye, bye study time.
This is probably the biggest reason I like textbooks. They allow me to get away from the “internet noise.” Just me and my textbook. I get to focus purely on the Japanese. You’d be surprised at how much more you can actually absorb and retain when you aren’t being pounded in the head by instant messages, ads, links, emails, photos, and news feeds.
Unless I absolutely need my Japanese dictionary app, I even turn off my smartphone…GASP!
I took all of about ten free Japanese classes at my local community center before they changed the schedule on me. They changed the class to a time that didn’t work for me. That was years ago, and honestly, that is the extent of my “formal,” Japanese classroom education..
What happens when you’re placed in a town or work a job, where you can’t make it to Japanese classes? Or what if your job pays you in beans and you don’t want to dish out the money?
If Japanese classes don’t fit your schedule or you just can’t be bothered with them, self-study with a solid Japanese book can be a cost-effective alternative. A few months of dedicated study and some targeted TV watching/listening can help you get a better handle on what people are saying.
You can crack that book open anywhere, anytime, no outlet required.
*I don’t discredit the value of classes. They can be really useful, too, especially when trying to verbally hammer out those grammar principles floating around in your head.
Learning kanji is one of the biggest challenges to learning Japanese. Again, there are some powerful kanji-learning apps out there, too. These apps help me to see the kanji over and over again at the touch of a button. This is really useful for memorization.
But being able to scratch out kanji stroke order a few times really helps glue the symbol to my brain through a physical action.
Does everyone learn a language the same way? God, I hope not. That would make studying/learning so dull.
Some people don’t like reading at all. Admittedly there are times when I don’t feel like reading. Other people can listen to a conversation and BANG, they get it. Others need the classroom atmosphere and teacher support. And there’s nothing wrong with any of this as long as you’re learning.
I don’t think textbooks are the only thing you should use to study, especially with so many great tools around. But to recap, contrary to what some may claim, textbooks are not useless. They’re proven resources that give you the freedom to take notes and practice those intimidating kanji all in an environment and a time you can control.
Mixing and matching your study materials will help you find the best resources for you. But while you’re mixing and matching, don’t count out the old-fashioned, paper textbook, it may be exactly what you need to build a solid foundation.
Should you use a textbook to study Japanese? I answer with a resounding “Yes!”
If you’re just starting out, here’s a textbook you’ll find helpful. It worked wonders for me early on in my stay.
What books are you guys using to improve your Japanese skills? Any books you absolutely swear by? Please share in the comments section below 😀
Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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