As I wrote my post on why you should learn Japanese, I mentioned how much of a fan I am of Genki. I even refereed to it my review of that atrocity of a book Al-Kitaab. Genki is a triumph of a book and it is hard for me to pinpoint what is great about it. I had to use it in in my Japanese classes and when I first opened I really didn’t think anything of it. It was just a standard language textbook to me. Honestly it took me a long time to see how great this book really is especially when compared to other Japanese textbooks. I actually hadn’t realized just how far Genki takes you until I bought other Japanese textbooks. I can this is absolutely one of my favorite textbooks I have EVER used. First of all I want to say this book is FUN. It is filled with cute little pictures, cultural notes, and fun little dialogues. If you are thinking about learning Japanese I highly recommend this book along with the workbook. It is a MUST HAVE.
The Genki Cast of Characters!
Firstly the organization of this book is really nice. It starts off with an introduction about the language and the sound system which then introduces you to Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Now, I highly recommend buying the Workbook along with the text. The workbook gives you tons of Hiragana, Katakana practice (these are located in the back of the workbook starting on page 117). These teach you stroke order plus have reading and writing exercises after each set Kana. For example it will teach you a kana set and then give you おか and you will have to write the word in romaji. It also does the opposite and give you something like kami and then you have to spell it in Hiragana. I remember in my Japaneses 101 class we only had about a week to learn Hiragana so we were assigned hours on these countless drills for homework. As frustrating as it was at the time, it worked because I could read kana after that. So after the intro, we get into the lessons and each lesson starts with a dialogue. The story follows a girl named Mary who is studying abroad in Japan. (There are also videos of the dialogues in the Genki website, I will put a link at the end.) What is great about the dialogues is that they are actually things you world most likely use in Japan. In the first dialogue Mary asks for the time and then is asked if she is a foreign exchange student. She is also asked what her major is. In chapter Mary goes to a flee market and asks how much certain items are. In chapter 3 she tells her host mother that she is going out that day to the movies. In chapter four she describes things she did to her host father (she went to a temple, took pictures). Other dialogues revolve around having a barbecue, going to Kabuki performance, going to Korea on winter break, being sick, sleeping in class and things like this. They teach you things to actually say when talking to Japanese people but also not being to touristy. So it is really conversational material. Also if you are a college student you will be able to relate to a lot of the conversations which is great. They are really cute and I had a good time learning them. After the dialogues we get the vocabulary.
The Genki Workbook
I really loved the vocabulary sections because these are really extensive vocabulary lists. For example the first chapter alone has over 50 new words. So you will have a lot of new vocab to practice. I mean it’s a lot of vocabulary and pretty high frequency ones. I have heard a lot of these on Japanese TV and movies, so they did a good job at choosing the vocab. A lot of the vocabulary is also quite fun, a lot is related to pop culture or going out with your friends. So things you can definitely relate too. So after the vocabulary we come to the grammar sections. Now I am not going to lie the grammar sections are quite dense. But I want to say, despite that it is dense, Genki by far probably goes the furthest in grammar of any beginner textbook. I have used some other Japanese textbooks and it was covering at the end of the book that Genki covers in like the fifth chapter. Some people don’t like that and may need a slower pace, which is fine. In my Japanese classes I remember thinking how awful these grammar sections were. I’d be in the library frantically studying them for the exam, my brain about to explode! It was SO MUCH. But the thing is it worked and it paid off.
Now, if you aren’t in a class you really don’t have to worry about this that much because you can really go at your own pace through the grammar. In my Japanese class we spent a week in each chapter, so if you can really take two weeks for each or more. It doesn’t matter. But the grammar lessons are just excellent, yes they are dense but it pays off in the end. For example I used one textbook that was supposed to be at an intermediate level and it was just starting to teach the NA adjectives verses the ii adjectives and Genki teaches this in lesson FIVE in part one! After the grammar parts the book has a lot of exercises and has a good mix between writing and listening exercises. In the actual textbook there are about twenty exercises per chapter. The workbook varies, but I’d say it might be around 15- 20 exercises per unit. All the exercises are different, very rarely will they ask you to do the same thing. I have had exercises were I had to draw pictures, ones where you have to listen to see where the person went or what chores they did that day, ones where they ask you questions about yourself. The thing that is great about these exercises is that they really require you to write full sentences in Japanese which essentially gets you thinking in Japanese. Now in Al-Kitaab you rarely write anything or see anything written in Arabic, which is awful. So the exercises in Genki are awesome, some can be frustrating times but they never go above the level you should be at. I’ve a lot of them twice or even three times. It is AMAZING practice. The chapters useully end with cultural notes.
Here is a page from the workbook telling you to write in Japanese about your favorite vacation.
The second thing I love about this textbook is the amount of audio that comes with it. All the dialogues, all of the vocabulary and a lot of exercises. Even the workbook comes with AUDIO! It is so good to be able to practice the native Japanese sounds with and it super immerses you in the language. During my Japanese classes I put the audio on my Ipod and would listen to it while I walked my dog, cleaned my house, and walked to class. It was great practice! The voices used are also light on the ears and pleasing to hear.
A grammar section explain -Te form.
This book only uses Romaji (Japanese transliteration) until chapter 2. After that, you have to read Hiragana and Katakana. In my Japanese class a lot of students complained about this, however in Japan you will not use romaji and you will not see romaji. It also starts to use furigana which hiragana on top of Kanji. This is good because if you want to be able to read Japanese you need to know Kanji. This book gives a decent amount of Kanji. They have all the Kanji listed in the back of the book with its readings. The workbook gives you handwritten Kanji practice with stroke order. So that is one awesome thing about this book!
The one downside however is that the book and the workbook is expensive. If you live in the United States the textbook alone comes in at about fifty dollars. If you buy the workbook then it equals to about 70 dollars all together. So it is expensive, however I would like to point out it is much cheaper then Rosetta Stone and it is also cheaper then taking a 3 credit course in Japanese. It is probably cheaper than most non-credit Japanese classes too. Plus when you are just starting out you won’t need a thousand other Japanese book, you will be able to really do a lot with the Genki book. When I first started Japanese I only had the Genki textbook and workbook and a tiny cheap book for Hiragana and Katakana. I think I did really well with this.And like I said going to other textbooks, Genki had already covered it. It is a great book for the price, I have had much worse language books that were much more expensive.
So if you really want to learn Japanese, you need to get this book. It is the BEST on the market for Japanese in my opinion. I know people have different learning styles so it doesn’t work for everyone. However if you put the time and the study in I believe you really will get results with this book! So if you buy the book I really hope you enjoy it!
Here is the website where you can watch the Genki movies to the dialogues and tons of other goodies: