Tobira for Self-Learners: Find Out if its Right for You

What Level is Tobira?

With a name like Gateway to Advanced Japanese, it might lead you to think that Tobira is an advanced Japanese textbook, but Tobira is squarely intermediate.

Tobira is an intermediate level Japanese textbook designed to bridge the gap between beginner and advanced Japanese. Learners will be at approximately JLPT N3 level by the end of Tobira. Especially if using supplementary JLPT study material, learners should be able to pass the JLPT N3 exam.

With active study, which means working through the practice exercises and working with a native speaker for speaking practice, your Japanese level can increase significantly over the course of Tobira. It will feel so amazing to be able to speak the amount of Japanese that you will be able to speak by the end of it. There is still l long way to go to be advanced though. The creators’ hope with Tobira is that “students who finished it would find themselves standing confidently at the final stage of their intermediate level studies, ready to open that gate to advanced Japanese [1].” So, you will not actually cross through the gateway to advanced Japanese. But you will be brought right to the threshold and the next step you take after reading the book will be into advanced Japanese.

Is Tobira Worth It?

Tobira is a name that will come up when searching for resources to build on the foundation you made during the beginner level of learning Japanese. Among other options, its tough to know if it will be a good choice, but if you are really committed and want to push your Japanese further, you can be confident with this decision.

Tobira is worth the investment of time and money. For less than one dollar per hour of study, Tobira is the best resource for learners ready to take up the challenge of intermediate Japanese. Learners will be immersed deeper into the language and engage with content that will increase their abilities.

At the time of writing, all printed Tobira books can purchased for about $145 USD. In a university course it would take about 130 class hours to work through Tobira, and for every hour in class about an hour of out of class supplemental study time is also required. So, in total it will take about 260 hours to finish Tobira. Based on your initial investment and 260 study hours, the cost per hour works out as follows:

Cost of using Tobira per hour of study:

$145 (initial investment)260 hours (approx. study hours)$0.56/hour

How about being able to talk about technology, history, and politics in Japanese? One of the real powers of Tobira is the variety and depth of content that goes beyond the typical daily life topics seen at the beginner level. University learners and self-learners of all ages can pick up Tobira and find content that interests them. This goes back to one of the goals with which the creators made Tobira: to satisfy learners intellectual interests.

Is Tobira Difficult? How to Use It as a Self-Learner

Transitioning to Tobira will be a new challenge. It takes a bit of a leap to get from a beginner level textbook to Tobira. This leap can seem intimidating, especially for self-learners, but fear not. If you are committed to learning Japanese, Tobira will be great.

Tobira can be used for self-learning Japanese. Designed to be the right level of challenge for learners starting the intermediate level, Tobira can be effectively used after about 250-300 hours of beginner level study. Workbooks and unique online resources are available to support self-learners.

Tobira is the top textbook used by universities in English speaking countries for teaching intermediate Japanese. Tobira will introduce a large volume of new grammar, vocabulary, and kanji. As the building blocks of Japanese, getting equipped with more of these will enable you to understand more complex language and improve your ability to express yourself. The activities in the main textbook as well as the Grammar and Kanji books are your opportunity to practice what you learn. The long form reading passages are a focal point of Tobira that will really push your reading and general comprehension ability.

You will notice that there are no side-by-side English translations for reading passages and dialogues. This marks the intermediate level. Even at the beginner level, you will have noticed that the way ideas get expressed in Japanese vs. English can be quite different. There is not always a one-to-one translation. It becomes more apparent as you get deeper and deeper into the language. The important thing to do here is just to try to understand as much as you can of the raw Japanese without looking up any of the words you don’t know. This is how you can acclimatize yourself to the Japanese, so to speak. Enough of this type of exposure will help you start to recognize sentence patterns and the way things are expressed in Japanese.

One good technique is to listen to the content in audio format first (the audio of the reading passages and dialogues are on the companion website), then read the content in printed form. Next, you’ll want to look at the vocabulary and grammar, much of which will probably be new to you. Then try listening to and reading the content again. You still probably won’t understand everything. It’s ok. It just takes more exposure to the language which you will gain over time.

Managing the Challenge of No English Translations

If you feel really lost, rest assured that English translations are in fact available and can be found in the Teacher’s Guide. If you don’t have the Teacher’s Guide, you can try using machine translators, one of which is google translate. With the free google translate app for you phone, you can make use of the OCR (optical character recognition) functionality by pointing your phone’s camera at the Japanese text and either have it translated instantaneously on the screen or press the ‘scan’ button in the app which will take a picture and output the side-by-side translation.

Translating Japanese text with the Google Translate App OCR

Google translate is not perfect, for the best available machine translation, use DeepL, which is also free. With DeepL, the text will need to be manually typed in, which for short sentences is not so bad. But for long texts, you could technically use Google Translate or another OCR to capture the Japanese text, and then copy and paste it into DeepL. Note that DeepL is not perfect either, but it may be enough to help you understand. But before seeking any translation, the best thing you can do for yourself is to put in a solid effort to try to understand what you are reading in Japanese first. 

Making Use of Practice Materials and Going Beyond the Textbook

For practice, make use of the grammar and kanji workbooks. These books have an answer key (with many but not all answers) at the back so you can check your work. For the activities throughout the main text, the answer key does not seem to be available. When it comes to activities in the main text, such as role play and pair work activities, a private tutor is the best option as they are not only someone to practice with, but they will give you real time support.

And of course, make good use of the audio and video resources as well as additional practice exercises which are available on the companion website. One thing that I found especially unique was Language Partner Online. These are video files meant to simulate a role play in which you take an active role in the conversation.

If you find that a given grammar point explanation is not quite sufficient for you to fully grasp it, you can supplement it by searching online. One of the easiest things to do is a google search which can be done by writing the grammar point in Japanese and then the word ‘grammar’ in English right after it, for example, “~など grammar”. There are so many sites explaining Japanese grammar. One of the most detailed is Maggie Sensei. Another great resource is YouTube, the same type of search can be done in YouTube as in Google. One of my favorites is 日本語の森 Nihongo no Mori’s YouTube channel. But if you can’t find what you need, make use of communities such as Japanese Stack Exchange and HiNative to ask questions.

[1] Oka, Mayumi, et al. Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese. Kurosio Publishers, 2009.

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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