Review: Minna no Nihongo

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Last updated on January 26th, 2018

The first textbook I picked up was minna no nihongo. Back then I had no idea what I was doing and just picked up the most common suggestion I could find. Ordered it conveniently at amazon and when it arrived the next day in my mailbox it was a big surprise: The whole darn thing was written in Japanese. And mind you I barely managed Hiragana back then not to speak of any grammar. I mean it was my intention to learn all that with this textbook. Sorry if I were a little too demanding.

What I didn’t know when I picked up minna no nihongo was that the main textbook is completely in Japanese. You need to order a second accompanying book with translations and grammar notes which is available in most languages. I know it’s been my fault but they really could have communicated this a little better. The fact that you actually need to buy two books so that you can use it. That wasn’t the best possible start minna no nihongo and I could’ve had so we were already off to a rocky start in our relationship.

But I still gave it a try, I wanted to learn Japanese after all, right. The grammatical explanations were not bad everything was a little stiff in my opinion. Teaching Japanese is treated as a serious business in this textbook. When you can just explain something in a simple manner without having to dig deep into the world of grammatical terms, why do so? After all, simplicity is king.

  • Buy Minna no nihongo at cdjapan or WhiteRabbitExpress
    If you buy the book through my link, I’ll get a small referral fee which will be used to buy even more awesome books for review.

I didn’t know about the Genki textbooks back then but everything minna no nihongo fails to do is done perfectly in there. The explanations are down to earth. You feel like you would be sitting at a table with a buddy of yours (who is fluent in Japanese) and explains you the first simple quirks of Japanese grammar. This textbook here on the other hand is a little tight ass in comparison.

In 2012 they released a new version of minna no nihongo which features a CD as well. And the cover-redesign was not a bad idea either. In contrast to the Genki textbooks where you have to buy an additional answer key (so you can use the book comfortably in class), everything is included here. Except for any grammatical explanations of course. The pictures are mostly from the second book you have to buy with the explanations and not from the initial textbook.

If you get the subtle feeling that I don’t like Minna no nihongo you’re completely right. Because it sucks. Especially if you’re self-studying Japanese. A friend of mine is using it in her Japanese classes in Australia and in a classroom setting it probably isn’t as bad because you can always get a personal second explanation of things. But when you’re studying for yourself, alone, in the dark you need something that lifts you up a little and motivates you to stay focused. But that’s just a personal choice!

Maybe the harsh tone and overly academical style of minna no nihongo is right up your alley. No offense. I mean the textbook looks nice, the pictures are on a healthy kawaii level and if you like the explanations why not go the minna route.

And that’s how my German version of the explanations and grammar book looks like.

Final thoughts

You noticed it, I don’t like the Minna no nihongo textbook. It may work in a classroom setting but even there a textbook like Genki can be put to better use. The content is nearly the same and when you add the additional workbook to Genki you have a ton, really a ton of content you can practice with. My old textbook here didn’t include a CD but they changed that with their new edition from 2012. A nice improvement which is definitely necessary. Pronunciation is a key factor to understand and properly learn a new language, but you all know that. And because I think the self-learning market for Japanese is huge in comparison to other languages (at least that’s how I feel) a CD with spoken dialogues is an absolute must. A little bit like the Japanese Graded Readers series should be implemented in every textbook. Small stories separated by grade with a CD attached. In their own way, Genki and Minna no nihongo did this but I still think that there is room in that area to improve.

In the end, everything comes down to preference so you should at least give this textbook here a proper look. The content is alright even if I personally struggled with the presentation.

  • Buy Minna no nihongo at or WhiteRabbitExpress
    If you buy the book through my link, I’ll get a small referral fee which will be used to buy even more awesome books for review.
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