What's new

My Experience With Genki And Jref

Get a Textbook
Ever since I created my first thread here at JREF, one comment I kept receiving was to get a textbook to learn Japanese, more specifically Genki:






and more and more examples.
My Experience with Textbooks
Having had my share of experiences with textbooks in the past, I wasn't too inclined to comply mostly for motivational reasons. To put it simply, I had never experienced a textbook which provided content which I found stimulating. I had tries several including Minna no nihongo and never got into it. I ultimately found those textbooks not to be a good investment at all as I never finished any of them due to lack of motivation and general boredom.
Intrinsic Motivation
The theoretically best method in the world is useless if you don't have the motivation to use it. I knew from my personal experience that the textbook approach wasn't therefore for me.

In his book Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy, the author mentions the following in his chapter about intrinsic motivation:
''Certain cognitive psychologists (for instance, Hunt, 1971) focus on the importance of people deciding for themselves what to think or feel or do. We define ourselves by making our own decisions, rather than simply by reacting to others. Motivation is the highest when one can make one's own choices, whether they are in short-term or long-term contexts.'' (p.87)
I was already aware that individual differences matter when it comes to learning anything, including a second or in my case a fourth language. I also knew that I had never used textbooks to learn languages for a significant period of time in the past. In other words, I empirically knew that this approach wasn't for me.
I would've much rather done what had worked for me in the past than given in to the pressure: ''When learners get things shoved down their throats, motivation can wane, according to this branch of theory, because those learners have to yield to others' wishes and commands. (p.87).

I ignored suggestions to use a textbook as my motivation would wane if I was forced to use one.
Alternatives and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
From Lyrics to Genki
The general consensus regarding Japanese at JREF is that a textbook, more specifically Genki, is the most efficient way to learn (or at least the consensus of the most vocal individuals).
self-fulling prophecy is: ''[...] is a process through which someone’s expectations about a situation or another person leads to the fulfillment of those expectations.'' While the research didn't discover a strong correlation between expectations and results, there seems some influential impact on the ultimate results.

What I'm driving at is that approaches which differ from the textbook approach are likely to fail not necessarily because they're impracticable or poor, but because the agents involved have preemptively decided that it would be:
A member said exactly the same thing previously when I recommended using a textbook in my reply in the thread where she tried to translate a Japanese lyrics. She said she had learned Germany in the same way (translating lyrics), so I pointed out that Japanese was quite different both in grammar and vocabulary from Indo-European languages she would be familiar with. She was skeptical, but here's what she said in another thread after reading Genki."
Followed by:
I never got to thank you for bringing Genki into my life. If I hadn't bought it when you told me to, I probably would still be running around in circles guessing every second word. Now I successfully watched 1 episode of an anime and it wasn't all that terribly difficult."
What this demonstrates is that Genki does work for some people but it doesn't demonstrate that using lyrics wouldn't have worked if she persevered with that approach. The fact that she switched to Genki further reinforces the belief that Genki is the only way to learn Japanese but I think that'd be an incomplete interpretation of the change in methodology.
Another example: Issue understanding the の particle's usage in a book title
There's another example of a beginner who wanted to use a book to learn the language. He was criticized for not using a textbook to learn. He eventually left.
This can again be interpreted that his method was unsound; if it had been, he wouldn't have quit (confirming that using a textbook is the way to go).
It can also be interpreted that he got tired on being criticized/undermined on his approach instead of getting answers he was looking for and eventually left.
In one instance, the method was faulty. In the other instance, the reaction to the method was the problem.

My Experience with Genki
So I decided to look into Genki for myself and spend some time using it, if only to make up my mind about it and find out what the fuss was all about.
I think the book is really well produced as it covers all aspects of language learning with listening, reading and writing exercises. The explanations contained in the books are clear and easy to understand. It has good production values and is without a doubt the loving craft of professionals...

...and yet, it's not for me.
The (personal) problem I have with Genki is the classroom format it provides. It was clearly designed as a classroom textbook to be used with a group of students along with a teacher. There are for instance conversational activities such as "ask your classmates" and so on which are of no use to me at all.

While it encourages language production in writing (which is certainly a positive), what requires to be produced didn't appeal to me at all:

Doing those types of exercises bored me. Maybe it's because they were too easy, I couldn't say.

Another thing I discovered is that the way I was learning Japanese and criticized for (translating) was also an integral part of the exercises in Genki:


Yet another aspect that I didn't care for was the listening comprehension. Not because it wasn't well produced, just because the content wasn't interesting and therefore motivating to me:

My Own Conclusion
Genki is a great resource for a lot of people but not for everyone. I'd much rather read my dictionary of grammar than work in Genki for example or translate some other form of texts. While a lot of people succeed in learning Japanese thanks to this material, I wonder how many eventually quit because it's not an approach tailored to their needs and their interests?
Many people unfortunately ignore or disregard individual differences when it comes to learning languages despite what the literature has to say about it. This leads to a very dogmatic approach as to how Japanese should be learned as individuals who have learned a certain way conclude that it's therefore how everyone else should learn successfully learn.
Maybe there'll be more flexibility about this in the future as the current dynamic is disheartening when it comes to newcomers and beginners:


Might as well clearly advertise that beginner questions which are covered by textbooks are now welcomed in the Learning Japanese section and save everyone some time I think, at least people would know what to expect.

Thanks for reading!


  • Like
Reactions: thomas


You've been writing your opinions in the blog section, not in the forum, thus, that means you wouldn't want to get replies from readers, so this must be a complete 余計な世話 or 要らぬおせっかい, but I just want to point out a general flaw in self-teaching. No one points out your mistakes, your misunderstandings, mistranslations, miswritings, etc.. You might think your translations are correct, or at least you got the gist of it, but some translations in your blogs are completely wrong. You might realize those mistakes sometime in the future eventually, so I hope you will finally succeed in learning Japanese in your method even if your way seems to be extremely inefficient for others. Good luck.

Journal entry information

Last update

More entries in Blogroll

More entries from Zizka