In the internet age, one of the biggest challenges when studying a foreign language is picking the right study reference out of thousands and thousands of competing sites, books, and videos. Of course finding accurate and error-free material is a concern, but a bigger problem is whether the source is providing you with relevant information that will help you efficiently understand, speak, and write in a way similar to a native speaker.
Back when I first started studying Japanese, one of the first study books I discovered really wasn’t that great material-wise, and to this day I still remember one or two strange expressions that I’ve never heard anywhere else.
Fortunately, at the time I decided to pick up the Japanese textbook that was used by the college I was attending at the time, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I’d stumbled on.
Of all the Japanese study resources I’ve been through, Youkoso: Invitation to Contemporary Japanese is one of most comprehensive out there and as close as you can get to a one-stop-shop for Japanese study. Though it’s been quite a while, I’ll iterate the few important points I remember about it:
- Use of real kana very early on and avoidance of romaji for the most part
- Real-world conversations with accompanying vocabulary words listed
- Interesting cultural notes
- Accompanying workbook/lab book with many exercises
- Accompanying CD set with listening exercises
- Written by a Japanese professor who is a specialist in second language acquisition
- Follow up book “Continuing Contemporary Japanese Learning” with the same high quality
The third edition (I read the second) looks like it also comes with some online learning supplement which is a great addition to this series.
The biggest drawback of these books is they’re quite expensive, at around $150 for one of the books. But they are quite sturdy hardcover books, and this pricing is actually quite reasonable when compared to many other college-level textbooks. For those on a budget you can always buy used or even rent on Amazon.com.
Another complaint I have seen about this series is that there isn’t enough explicit explanations on grammar. I agree that this is one of the weaker points of the series, but supplementing with a much lower costing grammar dictionary (I’ll try to review one later) makes this an unbeatable combination.
Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not trying to say this resource by itself will make you fluent and you should ignore all the other myriad study tools out there (including my blog), but rather that it’s good to have a strong foundation when you are starting out, and this is the perfect way to get your feet wet.
If you can find a class which uses this book as it’s main textbook, it’s probably a good idea to take it. Otherwise, reading this on your own will make great use of your self-study.