Learn Japanese With Genki: It Will Be Your Best Investment

Is Genki Good for Learning Japanese?

It’s hard to know where to start on a big endeavor like learning a new language, especially as a self-learner. For learning Japanese, there are many resources. For beginners, a good resource is one that is structured, comprehensive, easy of use, and enjoyable. Significant time investment is needed to learn Japanese. Getting a return on the investment in your chosen resource while enjoying yourself in the process may very well determine whether you choose to continue learning Japanese. Fortunately, the choice is clear.

Genki provides the Japanese language learning beginner an ideal foundation for success in the pursuit of Japanese language acquisition. It is the top textbook resource used by English speaking learners of Japanese. Addressing all four language skills, Genki comprehensively covers the full beginner level.

Officially called Genki: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese, the Genki series of textbooks are one of the best investments you will make on your Japanese language learning journey. These were the first textbooks that I used. They were essential in building my Japanese language foundation. Even ten years later, I still have them and continue to refer back to them.

Genki excels at providing a structured approach to guide you through the beginner stage of Japanese. This what you need as a beginner, a fully structured approach. Furthermore, focus is given to all four language skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. With Genki you will conquer beginner level Japanese and come away as a competent lower intermediate learner.

Reasons why Genki is the best:

  • Long standing: in print since 1999, in its third edition since 2020
  • Over 2 million copies sold as of 2018
  • Over 50% of higher education institutions in English speaking countries use Genki
  • Completely structured approach to learn and complete beginner level Japanese
  • Beginner level competency in Japanese sufficient to start living in Japan
  • Available in paper and digital format for use on your phone
  • Can be used for self-learning and offers a Self-Study Room online
  • Audio and video files available
  • Lots of practice exercises with additional workbooks and answer key

Genki has been in print since 1999 and is in its third edition since 2020. In November 2018, the publisher announced that over 2 million copies had been sold. These books are used by over 50% of higher education institutions in English speaking countries. These are impressive numbers as there are upwards of 10 viable beginner Japanese textbook options. This is testament to the authors who worked with real beginner Japanese language learners and made significant effort over the course of four years to create the ideal textbook for learning Japanese. And I must also say, these books are a pleasure to read and even downright entertaining at times.

Is Genki Worth It?

For learning Japanese, there are more and less expensive resources out there. When trying to decide, its normal to ask whether a resource, such as Genki, is worth it. Learning Japanese is an investment in yourself. But of course, you want to allocate your funds wisely to get the best return on your investment.

Genki is worth the investment of time and money. For less than one dollar per hour of study, these textbooks are the best resource for helping learners acquire beginner level Japanese, while enjoying the process. Fulfilling a learner’s need to be able to understand and communicate in Japanese is priceless.

The sheer popularity of these textbooks is testament to their effectiveness and return on investment. Let’s take a closer look at just what level of investment is required. At the time of writing, all printed Genki materials can be purchased for about $150 USD. There are 3 optional phone apps for about $6 each. The total cost then is about $168 not including shipping and taxes. On the Genki’s website, they estimate that it takes about 200 hours to complete both volumes of Genki. In my own experience working through Genki, I probably spent 360 hours. Based on your initial investment and the number of study hours you require you can learn for less than a dollar per hour. The range of cost per hour works out as follows:

Cost of using Genki per hour of study:

$168 (max. cost)200 hours (min. study hours)$0.84/hour
$150 (min. cost)360 hours (max. study hours)$0.42/hour

Beyond the Genki textbooks and workbooks themselves, a lot of additional support is available to learn with Genki. With Genki’s high adoption rate among English speaking learners of Japanese, there is a large community of users. Community support can be invaluable for a self-learner. There are also entire YouTube channels dedicated to learning with Genki. Finally, on the publisher’s website, there is a page called the Self Study Room which contains lots of free additional resources. More on this below.

As mentioned earlier, you need to enjoy your learning and feel motivated and encouraged to continue. Your chosen resource can have a significant impact on this. Many elementary Japanese textbooks come in two volumes, including Genki. According to webjapanese.com, in these cases, only 30% of learners who use the first textbook continue to the second. This is not to say they did not like their first textbook and switched to another one. It means they gave up. For my part, I can say that Genki is your best bet to avoid this pattern of discontinuation. When I finished the first volume of Genki I was so excited to graduate to the second. I thoroughly enjoyed both.

By the end of Genki you will have a great foundation with sufficient breadth and depth that you will be able to go live in Japan. This is exactly what I did. I went to Japan for an internship. I couldn’t believe it; I could communicate with Japanese people! Of course, my abilities were still very basic and there were many things that I could not understand. Ultimately, it would still take me many years to progress to an advanced level. But what I could do after Genki felt pretty amazing for just the short amount of time I had been learning Japanese. So, for me the investment was worth far more than I could have hoped for.

What Will I Learn With Genki?

High level statistics about Genki from Genki’s website:

  • Approximately 1,700 basic words used in everyday life
  • 317 kanji characters
  • An average of about 6 grammar points covered per chapter (~138 points)
  • Accompanying audio files easily downloadable from a free App
  • Two textbooks, 23 chapters total
  • A workbook for each textbook
  • Answer key available (definitely get this)
  • 200 hours to complete

You will start off with learning hiragana and katakana which are similar to the alphabet in English. You will also learn how to pronounce all the Japanese syllables. Even before starting chapter 1, you will be ready with the required foundation, and before you know it, by chapter 3 you will be reading Japanese!

Genki really focuses on the Japanese required for daily life. Each chapter has one or two themes such as: shopping, taking a vacation, going to school, working part time… Over the course of the two textbooks, you will learn vocabulary and grammar that enables you to communicate in these types of situations. Competency with daily life basics really is the starting point that you need to communicate in Japanese and live in Japan.

Each chapter contains the following sections: dialogue, vocabulary, grammar, practice, and (sometimes) a bonus section. The dialogues are presented in Japanese first, followed by English translations. Try to understand as much of the Japanese as you can before looking at the translation. You will be exposed to a few things you already know in a new context, and you will also be presented with new things in context. Seeing vocabulary and grammar points in context will really help your comprehension and retention.

There are about 6 grammar points and about 75 vocabulary words per chapter. For vocabulary, especially as a beginner, it is most effective to learn groups of words according to a category or theme. This is exactly the delivery method used in Genki. You just need to build a foundational repertoire of vocabulary first, and then as you reach a higher level you’ll be able to implement more creative memorization techniques.

In 10 years of studying Japanese, I have never come across clearer grammar explanations. You will love the grammar sections! Grammar points are explained with just the right amount of detail in a really friendly and understandable manner. Grammar is key to expressing yourself in Japanese. You will get just what you need to get started speaking right away. In fact, Genki’s grammar explanations just on their own are worth your investment in these textbooks.

Can I Self-Learn With Genki?

For self-learners, it is completely valid and necessary to question whether a particular resource, such as Genki, is amenable to solo use. Fortunately, the answer is very positive.

Genki can be effectively used by self-learners. Care has been taken to present the material such that it can be understood and used without additional instruction. Especially with the third edition, many new online resources have been made available specifically to help support self-learners.

To help you self-learn, Genki has an online resource available called the Self-Study Room. It contains videos of the dialogues, sentence patterns and culture notes that you will encounter throughout Genki acted out and narrated by real people. There are also web-based flash cards on Quizlet that help you review vocabulary, kanji and grammar. Links to four additional apps are also available, one of which enables you to listen to the accompanying audio files on your phone. The other three are for purchase. They are flashcard type apps for studying vocabulary, kanji and verb conjugation. Finally, there are links to various external resources developed to help supplement your learning with Genki.

Quite a bit has been done to make Genki a self-learner friendly resource. Please note though that Genki was originally mainly written for use in a university classroom setting. The dialogues and exercises form a storyline centered on the daily life of the main character, a foreign exchange student in Japan named Mary. You will meet Mary, her host family, her boyfriend, Takeshi, her classmates, and teachers. I did in fact learn with Genki this way, but I studied with the first edition originally published in 1999. I am really excited about this third edition because it is modernized, contains additional content, and contains extra resources for self-learners! Especially with the third edition, I think self-learners can confidently pick up these textbooks and get the most out of them.

Now that I am a little older and a little wiser, I know my own learning style a lot better. I am a self-learner, and I have been self-learning Japanese for many years since I graduated from university. But I do often have questions and need support, which I discuss and give some recommendations for below.  

How to Self-Learn and How to Get the Most Out of Genki

By reading these textbooks you will gain knowledge of beginner Japanese and doing so will be a pleasure. But reading alone is passive. Genki provides a lot of exercises to get you learning actively.

To get the most out of Genki allocate ample time for and make full use of the practice activities in the textbooks and workbooks. Practicing newly gained knowledge of Japanese with these activities is the most effective way to solidify it. When questions arise, use support resources to get answers.

If you want to learn Japanese, it is likely because you want to be able to use it, not just have knowledge of the language. You may have heard the expression an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory. Well, one of the best parts of Genki is the amount of practice activities that comes with it. It can be tempting to skip over these activities, but practice is needed to really reinforce your learning and be able to internalize it so that you can use it. Without practice, when you try to speak Japanese, it just won’t come out naturally.  As mentioned, I spent about 360 hours learning with Genki and quite a bit of this time was spent on taking advantage of the practice activities.

Within the two textbooks there are lots of guided activities to practice new grammar and sentence patterns. There are also reading and writing activities as well as role play activities. Each textbook also has an accompanying workbook with lots more exercises, mainly focusing on grammar and sentence patterns, but also some kanji practice as well. Make full use of all this practice material and be sure to get your hands on the answer key as well.

You will get stuck and have questions. When this happens, use resources such as Japanese Stack Exchange and HiNative. Try watching ToKini Andy’s Genki teaching videos on YouTube. But the absolute best resource for help is a private tutor. A private tutor can of course answer your questions, but their real superpower will be in helping you with conversation practice. The role play activities in Genki are important, and a private tutor is not only someone to practice with, but they will give you real time support to correct any mistakes and help you formulate sentences that you struggle with. So, with lots of practice and a bit of support, it is so rewarding to finally be able to start expressing yourself in Japanese!

The Power of Genki

The learnings of these textbooks have stayed with me forever. Allow me to share a story. I had just written N1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December 2019. I went to Japan on a business trip shortly after. I got sick, went to see a doctor and I basically acted out the dialogue in chapter 12 of Genki Volume 1 in real life. I was sitting in a hospital behind a curtain. The doctor came in and we went through my symptoms. As we spoke, I could see the page of the textbook containing the dialogue in my mind. This was eight and half years after first reading Genki. To be sure, my Japanese was at a higher level, but Genki was what all I needed in that situation. This is a true testament to the power of Genki.

Where do you go after Genki?

Once you finish Genki you will have completed the beginner stage. Congratulations! If you would like to know where to go next, I have written about it here.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

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