Recommend? Heck, yeah!
- Solid foundation for Japanese language learning
- Straightforward progression
- Lots of useful vocabulary
- Natural use of conversational Japanese
- Gradual introduction of the use of hiragana and katakana
- Gradual introduction of the use of kanji
- The speed of the conversations in the recordings are appropriate for the level taught
- The speed of the conversations in the recordings are gradually increased
- Plenty o’ practice exercises through A2
- Exercises include recording yourself so you can hear how well you pronounce Japanese
- Very easy to follow without an instructor especially through A2
- 尊敬語 (そんけいご) sections are clearly marked
- Accompanying website, Minato, makes learning Japanese extremely straightforward and super easy
- Additional materials can be downloaded from their website, Marugoto.org
- Can definitely be used for self-study
- Reasonably priced
- The grammar explanations can seem sparse after A2
- Could use more exercises beyond A2
- Doesn’t really teach hiragana or katakana unless you sign up for the Minato course.
- Not many people in the US use Marugoto thus making it difficult to be a common reference or a bonding experience
I mentioned earlier that my daughter in-law saved my Japanese studies. She did so by gifting me her Marugoto A1 books.
Marugoto is a series of books created by The Japan Foundation. If you haven't heard of them before, they're the peeps who administer the Japanese Language Proficiency Test which is otherwise famously known as the JLPT. So they know a thing or two about teaching and learning the Japanese language.
The books are ranked according to the Council of Europe's CEFR or Common European Framework of Reference. The framework can be used for any language, not just European ones. This is nice because anyone who has studied a European lanugage is familiar with these levels of language competency.
Like any CEFR structured teaching system, the Marugoto books start at the A1 level. I just looked at my A1 books and for the first time noticed that 入門 (にゅうもん) was printed on the cover. This means that it's a primer or introduction manual.
I had caught a comment on reddit saying that Marugoto uses a lot of ローマ字. Anyone who's read my blog or experienced my impatience when I've seen their ローマ字 knows that I'm not a fan of it. In Marugoto ローマ字 is used only in the A1 books and then is seen no more once one advances to the A2 books. I finished the A1 books, both the 活動 and 理解, in three weeks and somehow failed to notice the ローマ字 too much. The thing is, I started using the Minato website before I finished A1 so that may be why I didn't really notice or maybe I was having so much fun recovering from Genki.
In the introduction to any Marugoto book, is a link to their website. On this website, you can find additional materials to download such as the audio files, vocabulary lists, comprehension checklists, and worksheet exercises. I recommend downloading all of these.
You can also find a list of additional websites which support Marugoto learning. The phone apps are okay but the link I found most useful by far was the one for JF Japanese e-Learning Minato or Minato for short.
The Minato website contains all the material in the A1 through A2 books, both 活動 and 理解, so that you don't even need to buy them. I recommend that you do buy the books because then you have them for review or reference later.
The site lists a bunch of courses to learn Japanese in different languages. All of these courses are free. Languages include English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, Brazilian, French and more.
While the website lists courses for standalone 活動, I recommend against taking any of those courses. I recommend taking the courses which contain both 活動 and 理解 because there are extremely important grammar points and exercises in the 理解 sections.
There are so many useful exercises in Minato but probably my all-time favorite is the one where you choose a role in a dialogue and record yourself. When I first did this, it was in front of my adult children. Since I'm supposed to be role playing with another person during the recording, the other person's voice is played to simulate dialogue. I wasn't fast enough saying my part but the other speaker started speaking as if I spoke at a faster speed. One of my kids howled with laughter. I mean, I was kind of hurt but it was funny and I learned my lesson quickly after that: practice beforehand.
After I finished recording, I played it back to see what I sounded like. This was very valuable. I could hear my American accent in so many things and would work to remove it. I'd repeat the exercise until I sounded as close as I could get to pronouncing the sentences as a native might.
When I reached the A2 courses, the ability to play back what I recorded was gone. I could record just as before but I couldn't figure out where I could play back what I had recorded.
Despite this, the courses on the Minato site make learning with Marugoto so much easier. All the recordings are bundled up into the exercises so I didn't need to search my computer for the correct audio file. I could also repeat exercises over and over without seeing what I had written before in order to practice specific concepts as much as I would like or need.
The other exercises I really found helpful were the writing exercises. I would write the exercises out by hand and bring them to meetup or post photos of them to Discord for corrections. This helped accomplish at least three things: handwriting practice, vocabulary practice and grammar practice. My son doesn't write Japanese by hand so my daughter-in-law was ecstatic when she saw me practicing mine. I have to admit, I think this practice helped me appreciate writing more and helped me recognize the shapes of kanji better.
There's no way I would've made it this far without Marugoto. This and more are why I highly recommend it.
Another great thing about the Minato courses is that you have six (6) months to finish each one. The A2 books are divided into four (4) courses so that gives us two years to complete all of the A2 coursework. This is more than enough time to complete them. I even went to Japan for almost two months in the middle of one of the courses and still finished it with time to spare although it was a push because I was away and the material was getting more difficult.
The 6-month deadline is terrific incentive to finish a course. If you don't finish it within six months, the course ends and you lose all the work you did forever. That means, if you repeat a course, you need to do all the work you did before all over again. At least I think this is what happens. I was too motivated to finish to find out for myself.
At the A2B1 level, I was back on my own searching for the audio files and what not but I was very fortunate. Around this time, covid-19 struck so our meetups went virtual. We found that it was a little difficult sustaining a Japanese conversation for two hours. Even the German group to which I belong found it difficult for an hour and most of them are fluent. So when Mike asked where I was in Marugoto and then suggested that we work on it in meetup, I was elated. It's wonderful to be working on Japanese together with other people. It not only makes learning more fun, but it also provides a common goal to reach.
After Genki, Marugoto seemed like a breeze. As I said earlier, I finished the A1 books in three weeks after getting stuck on chapter 7 of Genki I. Somewhere around the second set of books for Marugoto A2, I started to wonder why we were learning certain grammar points. I could do them but I wasn't clear as to when or why to use them. The reasons given seemed too subtle or too specific for me. For a change of pace, I opened up Genki I again. I figured out where I left off and played the audio file for the dialogue which started the chapter. I was so amazed: I could understand it now. Sometimes it's difficult to gauge how far you've come along in studying a language but this made it so clear. I no longer felt as if the Japanese spoken in the Genki recording was too fast. In fact, I thought it was a little slow. I could tell that the Japanese spoken in Marugoto was becoming a little faster but I had no idea just how fast. Thank you, Marugoto!
While the speed at which Japanese is spoken becomes subtly faster from Marugoto A1 to A2B1, the speed jumps up a notch or two in the B1-1 book. We're now working sometimes on the B1-1 book in meetup and both Mike and I need to listen to the audio files several times in order to understand what's being said. While these times remind me that I still have a long way to go to become proficient, I'm also glad that Marugoto thinks we're capable of listening to faster spoken conversation.
Along with the quantum jump in conversation speed, the amount of vocabulary also goes up seemingly exponentially in the B1-1 book. I have added each unique word from the vocabulary lists to my Anki deck thereby adding over 1,000 new words in the process. I'm only at Topic 2, Part 2, and there are a total of nine (9) topics with five parts apiece.
Luckily, the grammar in B1-1 doesn't appear to have increased exponentially. Around the same amount is introduced as in previous books. I could be wrong. I could be overwhelmed by the number of new vocabulary and the lightning speed at which the conversations are spoken but I don't think so.
You can buy the Marugoto books at the Japan Language Center. The prices are the best here and shipping is timely and reasonably priced. Sometimes they run specials where shipping is free but for the 7-day or ground delivery, it was only $5 when I shopped there less than a month ago. Even with additional shipping costs, the price for books is far less than anywhere else.
My daughter-in-law had the Marugoto A1 books because she used to teach Japanese to English speakers. She said most of her students preferred Marugoto over Genki. I've come to like and appreciate both after almost two years of not using Genki. I'm now on Chapter 23, the last chapter of the Genki series. There's no way I would've made it this far without Marugoto. This and more are why I highly recommend it.