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What Is Ganbatte

What Is Ganbatte?

Ganbatte Meaning

Westerners vaguely familiar with the Japanese term “ganbatte” sometimes think of the English translation as “good luck” or “hard work.” However, ganbatte is less about one’s luck and more about defining one’s own destiny. A more specific and appropriate translation of ganbatte is “do your best.”

Cultural background of ‘Ganbatte’ in Japan

Ganbatte is more than just a Japanese word; it is a core language component of the country’s culture and ethos. Ganbatte describes something rooted in the citizens of Japan from birth, a sentiment carried with them throughout their entire lives. It is a call to persevere whatever the challenge at hand may be, whether it is a simple daily task, an important job interview, a youth sporting competition, or something as serious as battling a life-threatening illness.

While there is an element of empathy in ganbatte, and a similarity to suggesting that someone “hang in there,” it is also a rallying cry in times of adversity. It is a charge to “give it your all.” And it is easy to see how some people could end up feeling patronized or even offended by the use of ganbatte. Expressing it to someone struggling with depression, for example, can be tricky. The depressed individual already feels unable to give it his all, and ganbatte might feel like the equivalent of twisting a knife in the open wound. Or the spouse whose husband has left her for the nanny might bristle at the mention of ganbatte, being told to persevere and “keep her chin up” when she feels her entire world has been shattered.

For the Japanese, however, ganbatte is indeed a way of life, no matter what kind of adversity one faces. It is related to the term gaman, from Zen Buddhism, which is ultimately about persevering with dignity no matter how difficult one’s circumstances may be. These are defining elements of Japanese culture, on display in myriad ways from their commitment and loyalty at work to the respect earned by those who persevere with humility and without complaint. To better understand ganbatte and its variations, we will walk you through some additional terminology.

How to Pronounce Ganbatte

First things first. If you read the introductory section of this article pronouncing the term “gan-bat,” then let’s clear up the confusion. The correct pronunciation is gahn-baht-te, which has been transliterated from kanji characters or Japanese script. Now that we have the correct pronunciation under our belts, we will move on to how it is used. 

How to use Ganbatte

Ganbatte and Its Variations

Depending on the person or situation, the Japanese use ganbatte in a number of different ways, each calling on the central theme of persevering and trying your best. But just as you might alter your statement to a runner at the start line versus what you might tell her at the finish line, there are a number of different variations here as well.

Ganbatte kudasai

“Ganbatte kudasai” is a more formal or polite way to tell someone “do your best,” whereas ganbatte on its own would be considered the more casual way. The addition of “kudasai” turns the phrase into “do your best, please.” In either case, it is a call for the hearer to strive to reach their highest potential, to give their all, whatever endeavor lies before them.


The appropriate response to Ganbatte kudasai is “Hai, ganbarimasu!” and the appropriate response to ganbatte is “Un, ganburu!” Both of these are an acknowledgment to the other party that can be translated as “yes, I will do my best.”

Two important distinctions exist in terms of how you might use ganbatte with peers versus your superiors.


Ganbare is the imperative form of ganbatte, and it can still be translated as “do your best,” but in this instance, it is more of a command than a wish. You wouldn’t necessarily say “ganbare” to a superior at work, for example (whereas ganbatte is still suitable). Ganbare is more appropriate between peers or from a superior to someone ranked below her in a working environment, for example.


The collective rallying cry form of ganbatte is “ganbarou,” which translates to “let us all do our best.” Ganbarou is about a team meeting its challenges together; it is a commitment among all members to put forth their best effort.

Ganbatte iru

While a task is underway, or even once it is finished, there are additional variations of ganbatte used in Japanese culture. “Ganbatte iru” is one example used when the task is underway, and especially if the struggle is difficult, to emphasize “I am doing my best.”


“Ganbaritai” can be used when the task is underway to express some form of doubt, “I am doing my best, but I may not be able to overcome these obstacles.”

Ganbatte ita

“Ganbatte ita” would be used to describe doing one’s best in the past tense, as a way to reflect on a past struggle or difficult task and confirm that one did indeed try their best.


“Ganbarankatta” is an admission that “I was unable to do my best,” and it is a humble way of taking responsibility for one’s own failure, without casting blame on circumstances or other people.


Similarly, as a measure to console or encourage someone in the above scenario, you might tell them “ganbatta daro,” which can be translated into “you did the best you could.”

In a case where a task has been accomplished, regardless of the outcome, an individual may tell their friends and family “ganbatta,” which means “I did my best.” “Ganbarimashita” would be a more formal way of saying the same thing.


As mentioned earlier, there may be times when you are reluctant to use ganbatte or any of its variations, when you fear the recipient could feel insulted by the phrase. An alternative for this would be the Japanese translation of a popular American phrase: “keep your chin up.” If this seems more appropriate for the individual and circumstances, tell them “genki dashite” instead.

The 10 Best Korean Textbooks for Self Study

(Updated April, 2019)

Until recently, Korean was a rare language for Westerners to learn. But thanks to the rapid economic development of South Korea, and increasing interest in Korean culture in recent years seems to have led to more Korean learning materials being made available (I’m lookin’ at you, Korean Dramas and K-Pop).

Unfortunately, there are still less high-quality learning resources than you can find for learning Japanese or Chinese. That said, we did find some super useful books that helped us to get started with this challenging but beautiful language.

It’s true that textbooks are no substitute for immersion into the language via culture (movies, dramas, podcasts, music), not to mention practice speaking with native speakers. However, a good textbook gives you the foundations to work with, by teaching you grammar, how to construct sentences, pronunciation rules, and how to read.

Here are 10 of the best textbooks that we’ve come across for learning Korean.


The 10 Best Textbooks for Learning Korean

1. Elementary Korean (Second Edition)

Elementary Korean is the gold standard for learning Korean by self study. It is the most thorough and all-round introduction to Korean that I know of, and the logical structure makes it easy to follow.

One thing that might turn you off is that it ‘feels’ a bit like a university textbook, in terms of the writing tone and level.  All that said: this book will give you a comprehensive base in Korean. If you only buy one textbook for Korean, get this one. You get 384 pages of material and tons of practice exercises to boot.

As a companion exercise book, there’s the Elementary Korean Workbook, which is really good for putting things into practice. (Note: The reviews on Amazon for this one are a little skewed because of some people complaining that their audio doesn’t work on their device, but I never had any problems.)

The higher levels in the series, Continuing Korean and Advanced Korean are also highly recommended.


  • Lessons and grammar notes are clearly presented and in a logical structure
  • You’re essentially forced to learn to read Hangul (it’s not that hard!), as the roman readings aren’t given from the fifth lesson onwards
  • The pronunciation guide is better and easier to understand than other textbooks


  • There aren’t a lot of pictures to break up the content so it can be a bit heavy reading
  • Some people have trouble getting the CD or Audio to work


2. Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean

With its tricky pronunciation, complex grammar and elaborate honorific forms, the Korean language can present a daunting prospect. This was the first book I used when I started. It’s a nice option if you prefer a gentle introduction to Korean. It’s also entertaining with plenty of cultural information packed in. The $11 price (on Kindle) is quite reasonable when you consider that audio downloads are provided too.

Side note: this must be the first textbook I have seen that makes use of emoticons. The times they are a-changin’!  ^_^


  • Slower pace than Elementary Korean; good for learners that need more time to
  • Lots of cultural information within the text
  • The Authors focus on making the learning fun and interesting


  • The slower pace might be frustrating to quicker learners
  • Despite the title, the focus is more on learning grammar/structure than on speaking
  • Not enough practice dialogues


3. Integrated Korean Series

This is another university-style textbook, developed by the University of Hawaii for its students studying Korean. It’s a very good textbook for a university classroom, which doesn’t always translate 100% to self-study, but this one does a pretty good job.  It’s more of an academic approach, which might appeal to some people over the more ‘conversational’ textbooks above.


  • Lots of examples of grammar points
  • Some good cultural context and authentic materials within lessons
  • Has 10 volumes, so if you like this style, you can follow it all the way to advanced.


  • Can feel a bit too ‘academic’ or stuffy
  • Outdated in places (older expressions)


  • Avoid the Kindle edition! (missing pages and complaints)
  • Some copies being sold don’t come with the audio


4. Talk to Me in Korean Series

If you started studying Korean using online resources, you’ve probably come across the website Talk to Me in Korean — a site that’s been around since 2009.  The team that run this website created this series of textbooks, and they’ve used their years of student feedback to get it right in textbook form.

As the title suggests, the focus is on speaking right away, with minimal focus on grammar or learning to read.  There’s tons of accompanying audio for you to speak along with.

In this same series, there are also additional levels and a workbook with more exercises for each level.


  • Made for absolute beginners
  • Designed to get you speaking Korean fast
  • Lots of audio you can use for shadowing and quizzing yourself


  • Possibly too basic if you already know some Korean (it starts with greetings like ‘hello’ and goodbye’)
  • Focuses on speaking, not so much on reading or grammar


  • If you prefer learning online, you can access the same material without buying the book on their website

5. Korean Grammar in Use

This book is the next logical step after Korean for Beginners. It goes into the grammar in more depth but still in a digestible form.

I picked this book up in Seoul so I thought it might be tricky to buy online (update: I found it for sale on Amazon).


  • Probably the best Korean grammar textbook out there
  • Focuses on understanding the structures and constructing your own
  • Most people like the structure of the book (look up things on a need-to-know basis)


  • Not for beginners — you’ll need a decent foundation of Korean before this will be useful
  • You should know how to read Hangul before using this book


6. Korean Grammar for International Learners

This is the most comprehensive Korean grammar book we could find. It includes all the grammatical forms in plenty of detail. The book is also based on the official grammar textbook that is used in schools to teach grammar in South Korea, so you can rest easy knowing that you’re getting the correct answer when you’re looking up a point.

One of the best points of this book is that each grammar point is packed with example sentences. Reading the examples really helps the reader to understand the point and see how it’s used.


  • Comprehensive, and covers most grammar points you’ll need
  • Not bogged down with too much technical language; instead uses multiple examples to demonstrate


  • No romanized writing (you’ll need to learn Hangul first)
  • Not for beginners of Korean
  • If you don’t know English grammar to start, this might be difficult


7. 500 Basic Korean Verbs

If you studied French or Spanish in High School, you probably have experience with this style of verb conjugation book (and maybe not a pleasant experience…).   500 Basic Korean Verbs is an incredibly useful book for students of the Korean language.

You can check out our full review of the book here but here are the bullet points…


  • Romanization is provided
  • Example sentences to demonstrate verbs
  • Smart layout and organization


  • You probably won’t find the high-level verbs used in your favorite Korean Drama
  • Unnecessary romanization  (if you already know Hangul, it can be distracting)
  • Example sentences difficult for true beginners


8. Klear: Korean Reader for Chinese Characters

While it’s not for the beginning student (you don’t really need Chinese Characters until later), this book is a solid introduction to the Chinese characters (hanja) used in Korean.

This book teaches you the most common 500 hanja by frequency of usage in modern Korean. It’s a good choice if you want to learn to read Korean literature or you’re simply curious about the Korean hanja like I was.


  • Not for the average beginner
  • Stroke orders included in the appendix
  • Reading selections to demonstrate the hanja
  • Covers mnemonics to learn the different characters


9. Spoken World: Korean

Living Language have always made top notch course materials, and Spoken World — their latest offering for Korean — is no exception. The focus in on learning conversational Korean in a comprehensive way, via listening and repeating, as well as the text.

There are six CDs included with a separate course book. The dialogues are easy to understand and introduced in a logical order. You won’t get much grammar from this one but it’s a nice little audio course. Highly recommended.


  • Made for absolute beginners
  • Good for listening while in transit
  • Conversations feel natural and useful


10. Pimsleur Korean

This one might be a bit controversial (why so much hate on Pimsleur??), but here goes…

A lot of people find Korean a difficult language to pronounce correctly. The sounds are “different”, which can make listening quite challenging. In this respect, it was certainly much harder for me to get started than Japanese or even Chinese.

In this Pimsleur audio course, the Korean speakers break down every syllable of each word which helps train your ear. Keep with this course and you will be speaking and understanding whole Korean sentences within a few days.

You can try out Pimsleur Korean for free with an Audible 30 day trial. Download a taster course here.

Side note:  Audible is AMAZING for learning anything, not just languages. I listen to audiobooks probably 30% of my day, when I don’t need to be 100% focused:  when I’m on the train, doing the dishes, etc.


So there you have it. Those are the 10 best books we have found so far for learning Korean. Do you know of any other quality resources? Leave a comment below!

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The 10 Best Books To Learn Japanese

(Updated April 2019)

Japanese language students are lucky:  There’s so much competition for Japanese learning materials that the quality of Japanese textbooks out there are extremely high compared to some other less-pursued languages (even compared to Korean for example).

In the 10+ years I’ve been studying Japanese, I have bought piles and piles of Japanese language books, always with the idea of looking for the one to rule them all. In the end, no textbook is perfect: all have their strengths and weaknesses, but there are clearly some that are exceptionally well thought out, and will help you get you the best ‘bang for your buck’ in your Japanese study.

Without further ado, here are the 10 best resource books we’ve found for Japanese self-study.

The 10 Best Books to Learn Japanese

1. GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese

If you took Japanese in University, this is probably the textbook you used. And love it or hate it, it’s still probably the best beginners Japanese textbook out there.

There are no shortcuts with this textbook — you have to put in the time to learn and absorb the material.  If you can work through to the end of this textbook, you’ll the necessary foundations of vocabulary, grammar, hiragana, katakana, and some basic kanji to build on.

The book is divided into 2 sections:

Conversation / Grammar focuses on learning vocabulary, sentence structure and culturally useful expressions via studying dialogues.

Reading / Writing focuses on teaching you kanji and reading comprehension via lessons that correspond to the Conversation part of the book.

Overall, while the Genki series still has some flaws that other textbooks have (for example, it teaches ‘Sayonara’ for ‘goodbye’, which isn’t very commonly used day-to-day in Japan), it’s still the best book out there to start learning Japanese on your own.


  • Accompanying CD for practicing pronunciation
  • Lots of exercises to practice at the end of each chapter
  • If you finish this textbook, you’ll have a fairly large vocabulary (about 50 words per chapter)


  • Unusual standard of romanization:  ie. kiree instead of kirei
  • Doesn’t include stroke order for kanji
  • Sometimes not 100% logical in its presentation (ie. teaching 5 color words, but then skipping the rest)


  • If you get Genki, we also recommend you get the workbook too.


2. 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.


  • Comprehensive and thorough
  • Grammar points are explained clearly and with helpful examples
  • Learn the difference between similar and often confused grammar points


  • This book is not a textbook — think of it as a dictionary of grammar (as the title says)


3. 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 Japanese writing systems of Hiragana and Katakana. I found it really helpful when I was starting out.


  • Mnemonics that really help to remember each character
  • Can teach you how to recognize hiragana and katakana in 3 hours each


  • If you already know kana, skip this one and jump ahead to Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji book
  • If you’ve learned some kana without much difficulty, you may find this book ‘overcomplicates’ the learning


4. Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary

This has to be the best Japanese-English dictionary in print form. Kodansha really gave a lot of thought to the layout and functionality of this dictionary — and it shows.  This furigana dictionary is a must-have in the library of any serious Japanese learner, from beginner to N1.


  • Great section on how to conjugate regular and irregular Japanese verbs
  • Example sentences to show how words are often used


  • If anything, it’s not big enough for some more intermediate or advanced users
  • No information on intonation


  • Organized alphabetically by kana, not the roman alphabet
  • No romaji, all furigana


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

Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji is an invaluable book for mastering kanji, and this book should be required reading for all serious learners of Japanese.

My personal anecdote about this book: I struggled terribly with remembering Kanji before I came across this book years ago, and it helped me immensely. Although I’ve forgotten many of the mnemonic ‘stories’ I first learned, I still remember the meanings of most kanji.


  • Learn the ‘parts’ that make up a kanji
  • Teaches you how to remember the meanings of hundreds of characters


  • Some of the keywords chosen in the book are ambiguous or strange (ie. rarely-used English words instead of its regular-use equivalent)
  • You’ll only learn the basic ‘meaning’ of the kanji, so without further study you won’t be able to ‘read’ Japanese kanji or compound words


  • Some people report not being able to view kanji stroke order on the kindle version. Buyer beware!
  • Most people pair this book with Anki flashcard software. I did this and 100% recommend it


6. Kanji in Context

So this is another kanji-related book. Kanji in Context allows you to build a strong vocabulary after using Heisig’s book.


  • Over 150 lessons that teach kanji within the context of writings


  • Might be hard to find or expensive outside of Japan


  • Not for beginners — more intermediate to advanced


7. The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary

This is the best kanji reference dictionary that I’ve come across.  The newest edition has the most common 3000 kanji, in a book that almost could fit in your pocket. An invaluable resource.


  • A visually appealing, well layed-out dictionary
  • The ‘SKIP’ method used to look up kanji is quite ingenious
  • Up to date, reliable definitions and examples


  • Some people find the lookup method unintuitive (however I think this is rare)


8. How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese: A Vocabulary Builder

This book is aimed at students who already have a good grasp of Japanese and want to be able to sound, well, smarter by building their vocabulary with intelligent sounding words. If you’re looking for words and concepts that would impress a native Japanese with your ability, this is probably the one.


  • Good structure and categorization
  • Fun learning for advanced students


  • Often vocabulary is quite specialized and difficult to use


  • Recommended for N3 or above (not lower).


9. Making Out in Japanese

Ok, so not really a serious one, but you’ll definitely have a lot of laughs with it!


  • Fun and entertaining (and possibly useful, if you end up in Japan)


  • You might consider the phrases ‘too lame’ to use in real situations


  • Contains language not suitable for younger readers


10. 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.


  • A lot of people hate on Pimsleur (Why???), but it’s really good for beginners to get you speaking.  Try it out if you’re just starting Japanese!


Honorable Mention: Kanji Study Cards

This is not a ‘book’ per say, but flash 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!


  • Very helpful if you’re using Heisig’s method for learning the kanji


  • Expensive and difficult to find (used to be $100 on Amazon, now difficult to find retail)


  • Only useful in conjunction with the Remembering the Kanji book
  • Cards haven’t been laminated so you can write your own notes on the cards. The downside of this is they can become ‘boro-boro‘ quite easily


So there you have it. There are probably more (I have spent a lot of money 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.