Minna no Nihongo VS Genki: which Japanese language textbooks should I choose?

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Minna no Nihongo VS Genki: which Japanese language textbooks should I choose?

It's the question on every Japanese Language student's mind: what is the best Japanese language textbook for me? There are plenty of Japanese school books out there. If you're asking yourself this question, you're very likely studying by yourself because no series has been imposed on you. The choice of the textbook you are going to use is crucial, especially if you are self-studying.

We are going to compare two very popular series: Minna no Nihongo and Genki.


What is Minna no Nihongo?

Minna no Nihongo is one of the most famous Japanese language book series. It is published by Three A Network (which also publishes the New Kanzen Master book series among others) and it is widely used in Japanese language schools. If you study in a language school in Japan, you will very likely be using this series.

The series is divided into two levels, Shokyu (Beginner) and Chukyu (Intermediate). Each level is then divided into two further sub-levels with their associated textbooks and workbooks, Shokyu 1 & Shokyu 2 and Chukyu 1 & Chukyu 2.


What is Genki?

Genki is the other Japanese language book series that makes every student doubt which one they should go with. It is also widely used in university courses and Japanese language schools.

Subtitled 'An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese', it is published by The Japan Times and features 2 volumes for their Shokyu (Beginner) level. A third volume in the series for the Chukyu (Intermediate) level goes by the name An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese without bearing the name Genki.


We will focus on the Shokyu level for both series in this review. 

Textbooks

Both series feature a main textbook (Honsatsu, 本冊) with lessons and a workbook(s). The structure of the textbook is fairly similar for both series: we follow the adventures of a foreigner learning Japanese in Japan. In Minna no Nihongo, Miller-san works for a Japanese company (and is featured in its own dedicated novel) while in Genki, Mary is a university exchange student. They're not just Japanese grammar books: each lesson features a situation with a dialogue that makes you go through new grammar points, vocabulary and kanji while practicing reading and listening comprehension and doing some writing as well. Both textbooks are about the same size, but across their 2 volumes for beginner level Genki is composed of 23 lessons while Minna no Nihongo features 50 lessons.

Although the overall structure is very similar for both series, one of the main differences for the textbooks is that the instructions are given in English for Genki while there is no English featured in the main textbook for Minna no Nihongo (the translation can be found in a separate workbook). Genki also tends to feature more images in its textbook compared to Minna no Nihongo.

In that sense, Genki is more adapted to beginners who want to self-study while Minna no Nihongo is more immersive from the start and requires more from the learners.


Workbooks

Even though the textbooks feature numerous practical exercises, buying the workbooks is necessary for both series to study efficiently. And that's where the biggest difference lies between the two series.

There are up to 8 different workbooks for Minna no Nihongo and an additional textbook focusing on Kanji characters only.

(The volumes listed with ※ are sold as part of our discounted Minna no Nihongo Complete Set with the main textbook although all volumes are available to buy individually on our store as well.)

On the other hand, Genki features only one workbook per textbook and one Answer Key volume for both textbooks. For those worrying about Kanji character study, there is an appendix at the end of both main textbooks that focuses on Kanji.

Again, Genki is more concise while the Minna no Nihongo series offers you a whole variety of materials to study, practice and specialize. 


Self Studying

Now that we have reviewed all of the components for both series, we are left with our initial question: which one is the best for self-studying?

  • First and foremost, it is important to specify you should at least have learned some basic Japanese before using both books. Although both books have a section dedicated to Hiragana and Katakana in their introduction, those two syllabaries should have been mastered before tackling the content of the lessons itself. This is especially true for Minna no Nihongo, whose main textbook only features Japanese (the translation comes in a separate workbook).
  • Second, even though some activities are designed to be done in a class environment, those books can also be used for self-study.
  • Third, both series will go through the levels N5, N4 and N3 of the JLPT. 

If both series target the same level, Genki is a steady beginner-friendly series: it will be harder to give up studying with Genki because the study environment is in English and it is easy to follow the flow of the lessons. The series also features both an app and online resources for self-studying so that's another big plus here.

On the other hand, Minna no Nihongo is more demanding: it features more lessons, more practice and vocabulary. It is a great study tool for passionate people dedicated to learn and improve, especially with all the different workbooks available for people craving for more.

If Genki is already thorough, Minna no Nihongo pushes you even further. It can be offputting at first but you will get good results if you commit to it. However, it would be a mistake to think that it is harder to study using Minna no Nihongo rather than Genki: the approach is different. You learn Japanese by using Japanese in a Japanese environment.


Now, it is up to you to decide which one is the most suitable for you. If you have not made up your mind, you should consider the following:

  • Why are you learning Japanese?
  • What kind of learner are you?
  • What do you want to do with it? 
  • How fast and how thoroughly do you want to learn it?

For your reference, sample pages are available on each product page for you to see which one will suit you best. Good luck for your Japanese studies!

  • Maxim Lebosse
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