Category Archives: reading

4 ways to find interesting Japanese content to read for the Kindle

It’s one thing to learn Japanese but another to find interesting content to read in the language. In a previous post, I wrote about the Kindle Paperwhite and its significance for Japanese learners.

Since then, Amazon have made some progress in harmonizing much of the Japanese Kindle Store with the Amazon.com site. This is great news for Japanese learners around the globe. It is now possible to access Japanese language titles without all the previous hassle. From classic novels to manga in the original, there is a lot to choose from.

So how can you find some good content to read in Japanese?

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The Kindle Paperwhite: A godsend for Japanese learners (if you’re in Japan)

EDIT: The situation has greatly improved since this post. Please read this update on how to find good Japanese content for the Kindle.

Happy New Year everyone! I don’t know about you, but the New Year has got me motivated to get back to studying languages and reading more Japanese. I also plan to take the N1 this summer. I will touch on that in future posts. Another of my long-term goals is to become more literate in Japanese and to read books that Japanese people read.

I like reading Japanese news and blogs like Itai News on my PC and iPad but I have always wanted to read more Japanese content offline. It’s more relaxing with a book and looking at a screen all day makes my eyes sore. However, I hate looking up kanji and new vocabulary manually. It takes a lot of time and distracts me from the book I am reading. This and a lack of space in my tiny Japanese apartment has meant that, over the years, I haven’t bought that many books in Japanese. Up until now, there haven’t been many Japanese e-books available either. Well, I have finally found my solution.
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More good books for learning Japanese

We got some good feedback for our best 10 books for Japanese post so we thought we would add some more to the list of worthy study aids for Japanese. The books we present here are somewhat more advanced than the previous post. If you are just starting out, we recommend you check out the books in the top 10 post before getting these.
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Our 10 best books for learning Japanese

In the 6 years of Japanese study we have bought many many books always looking for the one to rule them all. It became almost a weekly habit and an obsession, so after all that here is what we think are the best ones we would recommend to others starting the journey.

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

There’s a reason why this book is known as the “Yellow Book” or “The Bible” among Japan expats. It is probably the best Japanese learning resource I have ever come across. Clearly and thoroughly written with great example sentences. If you are at a more advanced level, check out the “Blue” and “Red” books by the same authors.

Pimsleur Japanese

Not strictly a book, but it’s a great audio course for starting out in Japanese. Gets a bit too corporate for my liking towards the end of the 3rd series, but you will remember and be able to use what you learn with Pimsleur. You can sample Pimsleur Japanese for free with a Audible 30 day trial. Download the taster course here.

Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary

Best Japanese-English dictionary out there. Lots of example sentences.

Remembering the Kanji, Volume 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters

An invaluable book for mastering the kanji. Required reading for all serious learners of Japanese. I haven’t used books 2 or 3 much but some people seem to like those too.

Kanji Study Cards

Kanji study cards that accompany James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji (above). It is definitely nice having all 2048 kanji with their readings in one set and it saves you the effort of making the cards/notes yourself. If you’re lazy like me it’s a no-brainer!

Kanji in Context

Wow..I guess I have a lot of kanji-related books! This book allows you to build a strong vocabulary after using Heisig’s book. Might be hard to get outside Japan, but I also recommend the accompanying workbook.

The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary

Great kanji reference. Used this so much it brings back good memories of my first stint in Japan.

Remembering the Kana: A Guide to Reading and Writing the Japanese Syllabaries in 3 Hours Each

In this book James Heisig applies his mnemonics method to learning to read and write the Hiragana and Katakana. I found it helpful when I was starting out.

How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese: A Vocabulary Builder

This is a very useful Vocabulary Builder but more importantly, just owning it makes me feel smarter 🙂

Making Out in Japanese
Had a lot of fun with this book! Not a serious one but definitely had a lot of laughs with it.

So there you have it. There are probably more (I have spent $$$s on Japanese books over the years) but those are the books that stood out for me. Enjoy!

Update: We have since posted up some more helpful books for studying Japanese. Check them out here.

Our 10 best books for learning Chinese

Continuing the book collecting obsession into my Chinese studies, I have amassed around 20 books and courses in Chinese over the past 3 years. Of the ones I’ve purchased, borrowed, or been recommended by friends studying in China and Taiwan, here are what I can say are quality and useful to others.

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide

If you buy only one book for Chinese, get this one. Easily the best book I have found for everything. It is split into two parts, Part A for the structure of Chinese and explaining all the grammatical features, and Part B for situational Chinese like how to describe things etc. Explanations are solid, provides tons of example sentences and everything is in Simplified and Traditional characters.

Pimsleur Chinese

Strictly speaking, it’s an audio program, but Pimsleur is a great method for learning Chinese conversation. It’s also one of the best tools out there for getting an authentic sounding accent. You can try out Pimsleur for free by signing up for a 30 day Audible trial. Download the Chinese taster course here.

Practical Audio-visual Chinese (Traditional)

My friend in Taiwan swears by this series and he used this at his language school when he studied in Taiwan. He was on book 3 and was at a very impressive level of Chinese. Comes with CDs and has workbooks if you want them. Only Traditional characters and starts with teaching you Zhuyin, but also has all the sentences in Pinyin as well. I am on book 3 now also and have to say it is my favorite course book.

Colloquial Chinese: The Complete Course for Beginners

This was actually the first book I used for Chinese that a friend recommended when I was starting out. A solid beginner course that is lesson based and comes with CDs. Spent a good bit of time with the pronunciation using this one. Another good option if you are looking for a starter course. Also has an intermediate book as well in the series.

New Practical Chinese Reader: Textbook 1

If you want more of a course-type book this series is a good introduction. I did the first book in their series using Simplified Characters. Concise and nicely organized. Would recommend it as your first introduction to Chinese and Chinese characters. Especially good if you like the dialog lesson format. Comes with CDs.

Conversational Chinese 301

Bought this one when I was in China. It goes at a faster pace than the above course, but would still say it is good for beginners. Either one of these are a good introduction course. No CD though, so take that into consideration.

The Michel Thomas Method: Speak Mandarin Chinese For Beginners

For working on speaking this is probably the best starter course. Harold Goodman does a good job of introducing the tones with concept of colors as an aid for remembering them. I love the Michel Thomas method and have used this series for other languages as well (French, Russian and German!).

Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters

I don’t actually own this book but I’m a big fan of the method and used it to learn all the Kanji in Japanese with the original “Remembering the Kanji” book by the same author (see my Japanese book reviews). Comes in Simplified or Traditional versions.

Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters

Since I did Japanese before Chinese, I had already done my time learning 2000 characters, so I don’t actually own this one either. My friends at a language school love it though, and the method sounds very similar to the “Remembering the Hanzi” mnemonic system. So I would just pick either one and stick with it.

Chinese Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide

A good overview of the Chinese language. I personally would buy the Modern Chinese Grammar over this one if I could only choose one, but that one can be intimidating since it is rather thick and does read a bit like a textbook with alot of explanations using grammatical terms. If that puts you off and you want a gentler overview of Chinse, but still with solid content, I would recommend this one.

Japanese and Chinese Resource Links – 8/17

Found some great resources today.

Japanese
I found a blog awhile back called MutantFrog Travelogue which offers up interesting viewpoints on Japan related news/politics. In a recent post about which reports on Japan he respects he trivially tossed a link in his post to http://www.gregoryclark.net/ who is a used to be famous/is still famous australian who has lived in Japan and written many an article for Japan Times and other publications in Japan (in Japanese and English) and has these posted on his website. The articles are all in 2-column form with English on the left, and Japanese on the right–a great resource for learning political or recent news vocabulary!

Chinese
This also applies to Japanese, but a resource I found a loooong time ago (before I was studying Chinese) then remembered is MIT’s OpenCourseWare program. Everything is released under the CreativeCommons copyright and therefore is 100% free. You can download the whole course or go thru all the homework assignments, tests, handouts, and in the case of Chinese (and others I suppose), even textbooks are online for free. They also have culture and history courses available for the interested. Amazing resource and quite handy since I’m still at the starting out stage in Chinese. Highly Recommended.