Recommend? Heck, yeah!
- Solid foundation for Japanese language learning
- Straightforward progression
- Lots of useful vocabulary
- Thoroughly and well explained use of grammar
- Gradual introduction of the use of hiragana and katakana
- Gradual introduction of the use of kanji
- Plenty o’ practice exercises
- Common reference
- Common baseline from which to gauge oneself and each other in Japanese learning
- The stories can be a social bonding experience
- Can definitely be used for self-study
- Reasonably priced
- Can be used as a sleep aid
- Can be tough to follow without an instructor
- Doesn’t really teach hiragana or katakana
- The explanations can seem dense if you know little about the Japanese language
- The speed of the conversations in the recordings can be a little too fast for some people to follow
- No heads up when 尊敬語 (そんけいご) is being taught
- Can be used as a sleep aid
Genki is a set of books used in Japanese language classes at colleges and universities all over the US. This review is of the Genki books published in 2011, the 2nd Edition set. The first set of books from this edition, with the orange covers, is Genki I. The set with the green covers is Genki II. Each set contains two books, the textbook and the workbook. Genki I goes from Chapter 1 to Chapter 12 while Genki II goes from Chapter 13 to Chapter 23.
I recently passed along my Genki I textbook and workbook to another Japanese language learner. I’m a little surprised that I’m feeling a little nostalgic for them already. I don’t really need them any more and I’m excited to help add another Japanese speaker to our community.
So what gives? How can these books mean so much to me? Well, for one thing, I bought them over two years ago at a big online retailer. When I realized that the University of Minnesota Bookstore sells them at a cheaper price, I told everyone who needed them to buy them there. Now that the Bookstore is closed because of covid-19, I direct everyone to the Japan Language Center to buy their books. Their prices and delivery are terrific and their selection not only includes the Genki series but it also includes the Marugoto and Minna no Nihongo series. See our Resources page for more recommendations.
The other reason these books mean so much to me is that I’ve learned a ton from them. I’ve gone over them at least twice and several sections multiple times. The exercises in both the textbook and the workbook are invaluable for cementing one’s understanding of the mechanics and vocabulary of the Japanese language. They helped me mostly figure out when to use the particles に and で. Because of Genki, I’m so spoiled for exercises that I now expect a lot of them from all my books.
When you work on the exercises, Seth Clydesdale’s Genki Resources is also another invaluable tool to learning Japanese. He created a downloadable website with all the reading, writing and listening exercises and their answers. If you don’t want to use his free product, you need to buy the Genki, 2nd Edition, Teacher’s Manual and then flip back and forth between your answers and the answers in the manual. The manual has a purple cover and costs between $60 (Japan Language Center) and $90. With Clydesdale’s website, I don’t need to buy another book and my answers are immediately corrected when I hit the orange “Check Answers” button. Hooray for immediate gratification!
If you’re fortunate enough to take a class which uses Genki, these books are rather straightforward and an instructor can really help clarify the grammar and vocabulary. If, however, you decide to use them for your self-study as I’m doing, you may find them so packed with information that it’s difficult to track what goes where and why.
At first I was able to work straight up to Chapter 7 of the textbook. What got me stuck here was the speed at which the Japanese was spoken in the audio recordings. They were speaking too fast for me to follow and I couldn’t figure out or didn’t put the effort into how to slow down the speed of the recordings. I ended up just kind of floundering around for about eight months before my daughter-in-law saved my Japanese studies with the Marugoto A1 books.
Genki is probably considerably easier to use with a teacher. It can be used by oneself especially if you’re able to follow the recorded conversations. If you aren’t, I recommend Marugoto to supplement Genki. The good news is that because I was able to finish 6 chapters in Genki I, I finished the Marugoto A1 かつどう and りかい books in three weeks.
What Genki doesn’t teach is hiragana and katakana but you already know where to learn this and that. Genki, p 23, shows some of the typographic fonts used for hiragana and clearly states that rōmaji is dumped by Chapter 3 so, hint hint, learn the hiragana and katakana on your own or you’ll be in a world of hurt if you haven’t by the time you get to Chapter 3.
The thing is, Genki doesn’t need to teach us hiragana and katakana. There are so many online references on how to learn hiragana and katakana that there’s no reason to waste pages in a book. Tofugu’s Learn Hiragana: The Ultimate Guide is how I learned hiragana and it’s what I recommend to all new learners of Japanese. To learn katakana, I learned from Tofugu’s Learn Katakana: The Ultimate Guide and I highly recommend it, too.
Something which irks me about Genki is that it doesn’t tell you when they’re teaching 尊敬語 (そんけいご). 尊敬語 is respectful language in Japanese. All the 〜んです stuff in Chapter 12, Feeling Ill, is about using 尊敬語. It’s when Mary visits the doctor and has to tell him about her tummy ache.
If I didn’t have a language exchange partner, I wouldn’t have known that this chapter was about using 尊敬語. When I mentioned to Chang that I was having trouble with 〜んです construction and when to use it, he said that it was 尊敬語 and that I wouldn’t need it with my family and friends. 尊敬語 creates emotional distance between the speaker and the people with whom they’re speaking. It's used with strangers or people we hardly know and it's a way of showing respect. I returned to Chapter 12 and looked all over for the 尊敬語 label and couldn’t find it. The chapter only says that this is a mode of speech used to explain things. This doesn’t even come close to saying that it’s respectful language. grrr.
I used to use the Genki I textbook as a sleep aid. Whenever I had trouble falling asleep, I’d open up Genki and be asleep within 5 or 10 minutes. That includes putting the book down and turning off the light. This was even after I had finished some of the Marugoto A1 and A2 books.
There came a point in the Marugoto series, however, where I was asking myself, why am I learning this grammar point? There’s a way of using the Japanese language which is different than learning the English language. When it was explained as such in Marugoto, I’d acknowledge it without truly understanding it and then move on. Unfortunately, I hit critical mass of moving on too much and had to go elsewhere for clarification. That’s when I picked up Genki I again.
The Genki series is a solid set of instructive material for the beginning and early intermediate Japanese language learner. It has a way of explaining and reinforcing how the Japanese language is used to communicate. The further I progressed in the Marugoto series, the more I turned to Genki for additional information. At some point, I decided, what the heck, I’ll use both for my self-study. They’re both fun and educational. :)
The Genki series is a solid set of instructive material for the beginning and early intermediate Japanese language learner. It has a way of explaining and reinforcing how the Japanese language is used to communicate.
Another great thing about Genki is that it can be used as a common reference among Japanese language learners since many people have used it. When members of the Twin Cities Japanese Conversation (TCJC) meetup used to gather around a table, we used to almost always reference Genki for grammar clarification or vocabulary reference.
When I meet other Japanese learners who are using Genki, I ask where they are in it. Their answer instantly tells me how much Japanese they’ve learned.
One time I was FaceTiming with my children and couldn’t come up with a Japanese word. My son said, oh, it’s this. That’s in Genki I. (marp. I was embarrassed.) So, if you learn all the vocabulary in the Genki books, you won’t be embarrassed like this and you probably won’t find yourself in a situation like this either.
And the stories! Anyone who’s read Genki will recognize the story where Mary visits the doctor. It’s Chapter 12, the last chapter of Genki I. In TCJC it seems we regularly bring up Mary san and Takeshi san's romance whether we're studying from Genki or not. The stories are another one of those social bonding experiences which occur as we learn Japanese together.
I’m still working through Genki II and have reached another 尊敬語 chapter, chapter 19. Again, Genki doesn’t label it as such but at least they use the heading, Honorific Verbs. oh, and, by the way, my 日本語がペラペラ son passed along his Genki II books to me in December 2018. That's why it's my turn to pay it forward. :)
What’s great about reaching the 尊敬語 chapter in Genki II is that the Monday and Thursday groups have also reached a 尊敬語 chapter in Marugoto (and, yes, Marugoto clearly labels it as such). What a coincidence and what great reinforcement! I need it.
Update, July 10, 2020, 3pm CDT: One of our members brought their Genki I, First Edition, textbook to group once. When those of us with the 2nd Edition referenced page 50-something, the 1st edition person found the same material on page 30-something. So between editions, the authors added at least twenty pages of material. We probably would've discovered that many more pages were added by the time we finished but then covid-19 happened.