A Graphical Comparison of Japanese Textbooks

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This post shows some helpful information graphics (infographics) to help us understand the coverage of each introductory Japanese learning program.

Genki I covers 145 kanji that you’re supposed to know the stroke orders of by the time you finish. The coverage for vocabulary and grammar points is roughly half the above. Genki has a strange number of grammar points per lesson; some lessons teach 9 or 4 while others teach 21 new points of grammar. The balance is not really there, but as a seminal textbook it is perhaps the finest best rounded textbook on the market the past 20 years.


Japanese for Everyone contains a stronger focus on nouns and the coverage for kanji, although greater, doesn’t require you to know the stroke order (unlike Genki, which does have stroke diagrams).



Minna no Nihongo covers about 518 kanji and the coverage is more than Genki I and II combined, but the number of grammar points is significantly fewer at 150, about the same number as Genki I by itself.



Japanese for Busy People really illustrates an amazing point with its coverage: easier materials favor teaching labels (nouns = persons, places, things) instead of grammar and verbs. The structure of Japanese is so nuanced and subtle, it’s hard to teach effectively. And to use the new subtleties effectively, eventually you’ll need nouns, but most “easy beginner books” tend to stress nouns, really robbing the learner of a good grammatical foundation in the process. You’ll feel like you know so many nouns you won’t need to learn basic grammar, and that will hold you back for a long time. Basic grammar is the lifeblood of Japanese.
As we see for Elementary Japanese I and II we have about 1800 vocabulary items. Only 300 kanji are covered, and they cover about 200 grammar points. It’s debatable if this is a good intro ratio, but we think that the exaggeration on nouns and labels again is unhelpful to really ingraining an understanding of the subtleties of Japanese grammar. A beginner ninja needs amazing technique, just like a pro. There is no novice technique.
Tobira to the Advanced Levels of Japanese is a really good resource for students beyond years one and two. It can look a little intimidating to a novice, but it’s full of Japanese which is what you want. Get your exposure cranked up. Glue your eyeballs to Japanese videos and glyphs. Get your ears wet with Japanese audio. The immersion approach is proven and works, so don’t be intimidated when your actual Japanese textbook has Japanese. Phew.
Tobira can take you to the next level, but again the stress on new vocabulary is much stronger than the new grammar you’ll learn, so keep that in mind.


About 200 grammar points is not a lot, but 1000 kanji is quite a ton of Kanji. You can have great coverage with just 777 kanji (Check out the Triple Seven Kanji List) so 1000 is a nice round number for the astute and ambitious student. However, the lack of grammar points is frustrating because to really level up you need solid solid solid grammar intuition and understanding.



Japanese Complete starts with an unconventional approach that teaches particles first. Grammar is stressed more than anything and there is a nice balance of teaching Kanji as meanings first, later as verbs and eventually sewing together your understanding of all the bits and bobs with a significant number of native vocabulary.
Coming out in December, we’re excited.

Next: Read “To Learn Japanese, You need a Rocketship.”

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