Review: Minna no Nihongo

Review: Minna no Nihongo

The first textbook I picked up was minna no nihongo. Back then I had no idea what I was doing and just picked up the most common suggestion I could find. Ordered it conveniently at amazon and when it arrived the next day in my mailbox it was a big surprise: The whole darn thing was written in Japanese. And mind you I barely managed Hiragana back then not to speak of any grammar. I mean it was my intention to learn all that with this textbook. Sorry if I were a little too demanding.

What I didn’t know when I picked up minna no nihongo was that the main textbook is completely in Japanese. You need to order a second accompanying book with translations and grammar notes which is available in most languages. I know it’s been my fault but they really could have communicated this a little better. The fact that you actually need to buy two books so that you can use it. That wasn’t the best possible start minna no nihongo and I could’ve had so we were already off to a rocky start in our relationship.

But I still gave it a try, I wanted to learn Japanese after all, right. The grammatical explanations were not bad everything was a little stiff in my opinion. Teaching Japanese is treated as a serious business in this textbook. When you can just explain something in a simple manner without having to dig deep into the world of grammatical terms, why do so? After all, simplicity is king.

  • Buy Minna no nihongo at cdjapan or WhiteRabbitExpress
    If you buy the book through my link, I’ll get a small referral fee which will be used to buy even more awesome books for review.

I didn’t know about the Genki textbooks back then but everything minna no nihongo fails to do is done perfectly in there. The explanations are down to earth. You feel like you would be sitting at a table with a buddy of yours (who is fluent in Japanese) and explains you the first simple quirks of Japanese grammar. This textbook here on the other hand is a little tight ass in comparison.

In 2012 they released a new version of minna no nihongo which features a CD as well. And the cover-redesign was not a bad idea either. In contrast to the Genki textbooks where you have to buy an additional answer key (so you can use the book comfortably in class), everything is included here. Except for any grammatical explanations of course. The pictures are mostly from the second book you have to buy with the explanations and not from the initial textbook.

If you get the subtle feeling that I don’t like Minna no nihongo you’re completely right. Because it sucks. Especially if you’re self-studying Japanese. A friend of mine is using it in her Japanese classes in Australia and in a classroom setting it probably isn’t as bad because you can always get a personal second explanation of things. But when you’re studying for yourself, alone, in the dark you need something that lifts you up a little and motivates you to stay focused. But that’s just a personal choice!

Maybe the harsh tone and overly academical style of minna no nihongo is right up your alley. No offense. I mean the textbook looks nice, the pictures are on a healthy kawaii level and if you like the explanations why not go the minna route.

And that’s how my German version of the explanations and grammar book looks like.

Final thoughts

You noticed it, I don’t like the Minna no nihongo textbook. It may work in a classroom setting but even there a textbook like Genki can be put to better use. The content is nearly the same and when you add the additional workbook to Genki you have a ton, really a ton of content you can practice with. My old textbook here didn’t include a CD but they changed that with their new edition from 2012. A nice improvement which is definitely necessary. Pronunciation is a key factor to understand and properly learn a new language, but you all know that. And because I think the self-learning market for Japanese is huge in comparison to other languages (at least that’s how I feel) a CD with spoken dialogues is an absolute must. A little bit like the Japanese Graded Readers series should be implemented in every textbook. Small stories separated by grade with a CD attached. In their own way, Genki and Minna no nihongo did this but I still think that there is room in that area to improve.

In the end, everything comes down to preference so you should at least give this textbook here a proper look. The content is alright even if I personally struggled with the presentation.

  • Buy Minna no nihongo at or WhiteRabbitExpress
    If you buy the book through my link, I’ll get a small referral fee which will be used to buy even more awesome books for review.
Comments 18
  1. Hi Jakob!
    I’m also a self-learner, and found a textbook called 日本語がいっぱい (Nihongo ga Ippai) – the one with the green color on the cover, which is the second edition (the red one is the first edition). I started not long ago, but so far I find it very good and clear. It’s only one book, and it uses Japanese and English.
    Maybe you want to take a look.

    1. Hey Enric, thank you for sharing. Never heard of that book before but really glad that you enjoy it.
      Keep it up and just write a line in the comments if you have any questions.

  2. Hey there” I am currently learning japanese in my University, and we use Minna no Nihongo (sadly). Our teacher is japanese, but her Portuguese isn’t very good (I live in Portugal). She doesn’t have a license for teaching or anything, so it’s all a bit sketchy you know. So I dont like Minna no Nihongo, because it really doesn’t have any grammatical explanation, just examples, and all in japanese; i am okay with the japanese, but you know, still no explanation.
    I can tell you for sure that if i was learning japanese on my own I couldn’t have learned anything from minna no nihongo. And still nowadays It’s really hard, considering my teacher is not very good, so I would definitely recommend genki over this book.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with minna no nihongo. Exactly what I felt when using at at the very beginning. Hope you found my study tips because the Tae Kim grammar guide could probably be exactly what you need.

  3. I have the two Minna no Nihongo books but the ones I have have different covers than the ones you posted. Do you have any idea if there are any differences? I saw the books you posted at the bookstore but still not sure what is the difference between them and the ones I have. I uploaded images of the editions I have.

    1. There is a new edition with included Cds. But I’m not sure if there are any differences with the books itself. Never used them too much :)

    2. He said that Minna no nihongo has a new edition with a CD,probably you have the new edition.

  4. Hi Jakob,

    da kann ich nur zustimmen. Ich habe die ersten zwei Bände während der Unizeit benutzt und werde jetzt in München wieder einen Kurs besuchen, der den zweiten Band verwendet. Beide Teile sind bescheiden (der dritte wird nicht besser). Am meisten stören mich die viel zu kurzen Texte und die recht knappen Grammatikerläuterungen.
    Meine Favoriten:
    1) これからの日本語 (Japanese Now): Für die High School, schon etwas älter, aber mit langen Texten/Dialogen in Alltagssituationen und ab Band 3 mit Texten über die Geschichte Japans. Nur zu empfehlen, wenn man die Reihe noch findet.
    2) Modern Japanese: Was Grammatik angeht, einfach grandios! Meist deutlich ausführlichere und genauere Erklärungen als in anderen Lehrbüchern. Den zweiten Band krieg ich aber einfach nicht in die Finger…
    3) A dictionary of * japanese grammar: Teuer, aber die Anschaffung hat sich zumindest für die N3-JLPT gelohnt. Schau ich immer wieder gerne rein.

    Viele Grüße

  5. Hallo Jakob :)
    Ich hatte Minna no Nihonga in meinen ersten 2 Semestern an der Uni, weil unsere Dozentin in der Zeit dachte, dass es für den Unterricht am optimalsten ist. :’D Man muss aber sagen, dass wir bevor wir mit dem Textbuch gelernt haben, Hiragana und Katakana und immer die passenden Vokabeln und Grammatik Seiten lernen mussten. Alles nur, damit wir vorbereitet sind :’D Jedoch ist es für Anfänger wirklich nicht gut geeignet, da muss ich dir Recht geben. :)
    Immer weiter so mit dem Blog! :)

    1. Hey Rito,
      vielen Dank für Deinen Kommentar :) Ich glaube gerate, wenn man alleine lernt, ist Minna no Nihonga ziemlich hartes Brot. Da braucht man schon etwas, das ein bisschen motivierender ist. Merci für das Lob, kommt immer gut an :) Freue mich natürlich, wenn die Sachen gefallen. Mit was habt ihr denn Minna no Nihonga weiter gemacht? Hast du noch irgendwelche Empfehlungen mit Japanisch-lern-Büchern allgemein?

      1. Hallo Jakob,
        bei solchen informativen Beiträgen in deinem Blog, sollten es eigentlich nur von positiven Kommentaren bei dir regnen! :D
        Mit dem Minna no Nihongo I-II (Ha! jetzt schreibt es mein Mac richtig xD) haben wir zu meiner Zeit noch mit dem “Kanji und Kana 1” Handbuch von Langenscheidt gelernt, damit wir uns zu jeder Lektion mit Hilfe einer Lernliste, die uns die Dozentin gegeben hat, einprägen und auch richtig schreiben können. Richtig schreiben, weil es ja immer eine Schreibrichtung gibt und weil unsere Dozentin mal gerne Zusatzpunkte in Test gibt, mussten wir manchmal das 3. bzw. 6 Strichzeichen markieren usw. :). Zusätzlich hatten wir auch von dem einen Arbeitsheft Übungsblätter ausgedruckt bekommen und auch unsere “Kanjitests”. Hat sich nach unserer Dozentin nicht gelohnt, immer die zusätzlichen Arbeitshefte zu kaufen, geht ja aufs Geld und Kopieren kostet ja nicht die Welt! :D
        An Japanisch-Lernbüchern gibt’s leider nicht sehr viel, das Genki hattest du ja schon in ‘nem vorherigen Blogeintrag erwähnt (hab auch nur positives gehört von anderen Studenten, die vorher damit gearbeitet haben^^). Die meisten Unis arbeiten wirklich nur mit dem みんなの日本語 und mit den jeweiligen Nachschlagewerken. Ich hatte zu dem Zeitpunkt neben dem von Langenscheidt noch das “Essential Kanji – P.G.O’Neill”, ist auch kompakter und nicht so ein riesiger Bolzen wie das Langenscheidt! :) Zusätzlich noch das Grammatikbüchlein “Barron’s Japanese Grammar” schön klein und handlich. :)
        Ansonsten hatten wir noch “E-learning” an der Uni, wo man gewisse Aufgaben innerhalb einer Zeit machen musste und dann nach 100% aufhören konnte :D Was für mich gut war, ist “Kanjibox” und die App “意 (=imiwa)”.
        Ich hoffe, ich konnte deine Fragen gut beantworten! :’)
        Freue mich schon auf deine nächsten Blogeinträge!!

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